Critical scorn has been poured on a three-part BBC documentary about the principality of Monaco (Monaco – Playground of the Rich, now available on iPlayer). It’s been widely described as a tedious portrait of silly rich people talking drivel.
Monaco – once also known as Monte-Carlo – has always attracted a certain amount of disparagement. Somerset Maugham, who lived nearby on the French Riviera, famously said it was “a sunny place for shady people”.
But it does have some virtues and benefits, of which the late Princess Grace was its principal adornment. And a book I recently read revealed that Grace came to reign in Monaco through an indirect connection with (or intercession of ?) Lourdes.
In 1955, when Prince Rainier was looking for a bride, his chaplain and advisor Fr Francis Tucker suggested the actress Grace Kelly might be “the one”. Rainier organised a viewing of her movies and “was smitten” – but still wasn’t sure whether to ask for an introduction. So, according to Colm Keane and Una O’Hagan in their book The Village of Bernadette, Rainier and “Father Tuck” drove off to Lourdes to pray for guidance.
The Lourdes trip clinched the deal. Rainier, who believed that his prayer had worked, proposed to Grace and after a year’s courtship they married. When Father Tuck subsequently described to Grace the grotto’s role in her courtship, she replied, “Why, Father, you will never believe this, but my confirmation name is Bernadette!”
Princess Grace not only adorned Monaco, she revived its fortunes. Paris had been threatening to absorb the principality – De Gaulle thought Monaco pointless – but Grace enhanced its status and the French backed off.
While the programme did feature a fair share of air-headed plutocrats, I thought Prince Albert came across as sensible and dutiful – and I’m always fascinated by the way bilingual people switch easily between their mother tongues, as he does with English and French. The Grimaldis have also championed marine life and oceanography, and they’ve supported the circus and its people, too. The most famous clown of all time was called Grimaldi, and like many funny men he was prone to depression.
Meanwhile the Grimaldi dynasty has survived since 1297. Quite something!
Anglican vicars often making fleeting appearances in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues – they’re often described as “popping in” to see some old person or other. The author sometimes treats the vicars rather critically, with them dressed in an unchurchy way, such as wearing trainers and an anorak.
In one, the sensitive but mentally fragile Graham is told by his mother that he’d make a good vicar. When he replies that he doesn’t believe in God, his Ma ripostes: “That’s no problem these days!” Alan Bennett seems to have a fondness for the Anglican church, but can’t help mocking it just the same.
During lockdown we grew to appreciate the “key workers” who are keeping the country going – including all NHS staff, those in the caring professions and in public transport.
May I add chiropodists to the list? Like dentists, they were shut down for a time, but as soon as they were fully equipped with protective gear and re-arranged spaces, their work was categorised as “medical” and they were allowed to practise again.
My toenails had come to resemble rhino horns, and I was grateful indeed to avail myself of the chiropodist’s services. Feet are important for mobility and having them properly attended to is vital for health and wellbeing.
It does make you realise that Our Lord washing the disciples’ feet was not only a symbolic gesture, but a practical form of health care, too.