So this was it. I'd passed through years ago
as a hitch-hiker, spinning out our 25 pounds
max allowance, over three hot weeks of France
until I was sick of tough-skinned monster tomatoes
and baguettes without butter; as we made our sweaty way
to Monaco's, surprisingly, Communist youth hostel
beyond the gas works and the soccer ground,
around the path at the foot of the cliffs...no romance there.
But here I was, as a journalist, two nights in a hotel
of grand aspiration, where guests left empty
the spacious restaurant and its tasteless menu.
Monte Carlo out of season; shrunken to a provincial town;
the waves hitting hard and cold against its promenade.
Tired after a day of work, foot-hot amid white-gloved uniforms,
I felt I should squeeze something memorable from the single day
as the lights went on. Too travel-stained to enter the Casino,
placed where the pier would be in an English seaside town -
but I hovered. It was a stage set which had rashly intruded
into real, daily life; and waiting for a cast
rehearsing somewhere else. I made my way (the phrase
is singularly inadequate) back to the deserted hotel
where even the lights were sad and still.
In the deserted square outside the Casino,
a woman passed me, returning home, I guessed, from the Casino,
but hardly dressed for gambling's evening glamour;
a middle-to-ageing Englishwoman, from her walk. Her room,
I would think, would be small, high
on the steep hill of the working class. She visits
every day; for several evening hours
under the shaded table lights,
everything in the world is possible...The doorman
at the Casino only acknowledges her
out of season, when the locals and the regulars
are tolerated, with their modest bets;
almost seen as staff.
As she passed,
she placed some ticket in her purse -
one of those large purses (as the English call them)
almost hand-bag size; dark soft but rough material, it spoke
of 19th-century gentility in the dimly lit and empty square.
A large purse, waiting; filled with empty hope.
That was my Monte Carlo moment. From that capacious
but not, not stuffed-with-banknotes bag, reality and romance
hit me together, as if my brain had been
bludgeoned with the truth. Here in its lonely addiction
was the tawdry face of the Casino, denying all the myths,
the glamour, the stories, the accretions of second-hand
imaginations, the distant history that might have fired me
in some bygone age, of cigars and diamonds, furs and powdered
faces, champagne and caviar, marcelled hair, wild laughter, eager
for the glittering promise of the best of life; written up
by some envious, cheap journalist.
The square deserted, the smell of petrol lingered in the roses
in the warm, tired Mediterranean night. You, this way; I, that.