MONTE CARLO, Monaco – Our ship is beautiful. Whenever it's in port, it makes a sizable stir. In Cochin, India, for example, as we sailed away from the Mattancherry Wharf, there were hundreds of people lining the harbor, looking like so many baitfish swept up by the village fishing nets and cast wriggling upon the shore. Women waved, fathers danced with their children, and car horns honked.
But when the Crystal Serenity sailed into Monte Carlo on a sparkling Sunday afternoon, it caused nary a ripple, and this had nothing to do with the captain's skill. The models at lunch didn't look up from their sushi, their poodles yawned, and even the paparazzi didn't reach for a zoom. It takes more than a fancy cruise ship to raise the plucked eyebrows of Monaco, home to some of the wealthiest people in the world.
After being in some of the poorest, filthiest places on earth just weeks earlier, Paul and I are in a semi-glaze. There are rows of yachts with names such as Sweet Doll and Bravelove, valet-parked like motor homes at Disney World. There are Ferraris, Maseratis, and Rollses, not in showrooms but on the road. There's a tennis match at the country club, Nadal versus Federer, the finals. Plus, there's a luxury-goods show by the beach. (Check out the contraption that automatically uncorks and pours your Chateau Lafitte.) And there's people-watching at the Grand Casino. (Rumor has it the prince's third cousin is hosting a late brunch.) And, oh yes, someone said they spotted U2's Bono at a café on Rue Grimaldi.
How rich is Monaco? Monaco is so rich that it makes Crystal's passengers look like poor country cousins. The only thing Paul and I can afford here is an opinion, but of course that comes with no guarantee anyone will listen.
Later that night, we play the role. We suit up and head for the Grand Casino to impersonate Bond at the roulette table. But we're thwarted by a 15-euro per-person cover charge and table minimums near our maximums. So after a stroll about town, we hop back on the complimentary shuttle bus, which is, if we're honest, the type of high-rolling we're best at.
The next day we take a side trip to Eze, a quaint cliff-side village in adjacent France that overlooks the Provencal coast, and, in the distance, Nice and Cannes. We get lost in its cobblestone streets and, as usual, work up an appetite. We stop at a patisserie to buy some baguettes and then at a little supermarket for some Camembert, garlic olives, and red wine. We find a bench overlooking the Mediterranean, pound the cork into the bottle with a stick, rip off chunks of bread to swipe through the cheese, and then blot our fingers on our pants. Paul burps. I burp louder. The whole meal costs us less than one ticket to the Grand Casino.
Despite what the world will tell you, price is not the arbiter of perfection and neither is pretension. I've seen parts of Appalachia that are just as spectacular as our view from here. Money may bring you value and worth, but it does not make you worthy. Only you and your own ingenuity can do that.