When I was a student in Monaco, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace reigned supreme. The Principality had an aura of magic and everyone was in love with the Royal Family. Monaco’s reality seemed like a dream. Movie stars arrived on yachts in the harbor and race car drivers stopped for an aperitif at the Café de Paris. Millionaires from the world around made or broke fortunes in the Casino. Celebrations, fire works, fairs and performances were everyday events, and we students of the American College of Monaco felt like we owned the Principality.
Our school occupied most of the rooms of the Hotel Splendid. Throwing open my fourth floor windows, an amazing view greeted me. Far up and to the right, La Turbie, the Roman Trophy victory monument, perched on gray cliffs high above the Principality. Below, a maze of steep streets and terracotta rooftops descended to Monacoville, the Palace peninsula, its harbor and the glistening Mediterranean Sea. I could even spot Corsica, an island of mystery and intrigue, from the rooftop in the early morning before the haze appeared.
Living in a land of fairy tales, anything seemed possible. Soon after arriving in Monaco, we were invited to the Palace to meet His Royal Highness, Prince Rainier of Monaco and his American wife, Princess Grace. Prince Rainier was the president of the American College of Monaco, Jacques Cousteau, the chancellor, and Princess Grace’s brother, its founder and director. Twenty five American and European students comprised our student body and fifteen professors provided our education.
As we completed the garden loop, Princess Grace invited us to go for a swim with the children. “I didn’t bring my bathing suit”, I replied, both disappointed and a bit relieved. As most seventeen year old females, I was quite self conscious about my figure.
“I have a bathhouse full of bathing suits. Just help yourself to one of mine”, Princess Grace replied, gesturing towards the room behind the Palace.
I scurried into the spacious quarters and found bathing suits fit for a princess lined up on hangers. I chose an orange one with diagonal tucks across the tummy and a top made for someone who was quite well endowed. It would be a challenge to fill.
Venturing outside draped in a towel, I quickly descended the pool steps and floated around with the children. Their adorable miniature French Poodle paddled circles around his charges. We laughed and carried on until it was time for lunch.
Spending the afternoon with the Royal Family was a pleasure and delight I’ll never forget. I was amazed and happy to see that they passed their Sunday afternoon together, like any other family, enjoying one another and sharing their warmth, hospitality and down to earth humor with an assortment of college students who were most fortunate to inhabit the Principality of Monaco.
Princess Grace’s brother ran the school from Philadelphia, which made economizing quite impossible. With our privileged faculty-student ratio, it is no wonder the school fell into bankruptcy by the end of its second year. Alas, Prince Rainier, came to our rescue and kept it open until the year’s end so we could receive credits and complete our studies.
After all, princes do gallop in on white horses to rescue students in distress. And that is how, my friends, I learned that fairy tales do come true!