26 April – Risking my life and beautiful tulips

Location: Monaco

You take your life into your feet here in Monaco. The traffic is chaos. A road that would only contain two lanes back in Melbourne, carries at least four lanes here, with cars almost scraping each other as they muscle for space.

There are a surprisingly generous number of pedestrian zebra crossings.

But local laws dictate that cars don’t have to stop until you actually step out onto the road in front of them.

The locals take this seemingly reckless approach to road safety with casual indifference. They chat on their mobiles and move from the pavement onto the road completely oblivious to the screech of tyres and the near-miss nose-to-tail accidents they cause. I’m slowly getting used to it but it still feels like a dangerous game of ‘chicken’, especially considering how the road twists and turns. I find myself trying to peer around dangerous blind curves before gingerly stepping out into the mêlée cursing the goat that was obviously employed as the kingdom’s first town planner.

I left Bob on the boat this morning working his way through the multiple water, power, electronics and plumbing manuals to venture out by myself for a bit. I want to buy my daughters some Monaco souvenirs.

I walk up the same road I climbed just yesterday with Bob, dash across another road to the soaring rock crevice that contains an ascenteur (lift) in its shadows, and step into it, together with a crowd of well-dressed, beautiful shoppers. After a pause, and hardly any movement at all, the lift doors silently slide open and I disembark, feeling, rather than hearing them close behind me.

Exiting the lift, I’m in a dimly lit, completely deserted corridor. No shopping centre. No people. No noise. Nothing.

Feeling like Alice in someone else’s wonderland, I slowly turn and wait for the lift to return to deliver me somewhere else, anywhere really that’s hopefully more recognisable, and less like the world’s most upmarket dungeon.

I get lost multiple times but it’s not so bad. The locals are very friendly. As I walk past the Casino at the top end of town, I pass a city gardener systematically scything off huge bunches of flowering tulips that line the side of the road. The sad decimation is in preparation of the upcoming Grand Prix race.

He notices me looking wistfully at the terrible waste of beauty lying in his wake, then gallantly collects an armful and walks over to offer them to me with a formal bow.

“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful lady,” he says in a romantic accent.

I laugh and reluctantly shake my head. Where could I put them? We are due to sail out of Monaco very soon and the boat is not mine to decorate no matter how beautiful they are.

He smiles but doesn’t insist and I walk away.

I spend some time browsing shops before finally finding some beautifully made, horrendously expensive, nautical-styled tops in a tourist shop just outside the castle at the other end of town. The sales girls speak lovely English and are keen to please, helping me to try on the various sizes in an effort to decide the best fit. Although my daughters and I are all usually the same size, we are vastly different shapes, and the girls often put on or take off a kilo here and there, depending on the weather or their mood, upcoming parties or competitive sporting events. Buying them clothes is an activity fraught with stress.

When they were younger and we went shopping together they would hold up a piece of clothing in a store and ask, “Do you like this one?” If I said, “Yes” it was instantly relegated back to the shelf and they would move on. A “No” elicited a relieved smile and a response like, “Yes. I love it,” and it would be bought with absolute confidence that it was probably the latest in fashion.

Now in Monaco and so far away from their cheeky feedback, I agonise over my selection. Will they actually wear them? Will they fit? I finally decide on two slightly different styles, both in a medium size.

I run out of time and rush to return to the boat to prepare Bob’s lunch, via the post office where I buy a card and pen a note to accompany the tops back to Australia.

Dear Jesse and Stephanie,” I write. “Running out of time, but hope you like these. Now, I don’t wish to sound unreasonable but they cost the earth, so Jesse, if your top is too small, lose weight till it fits. And Stephanie, if your top is too big start eating till it fits. And if you don’t like the colour I sent you, swap with your sister. Love Mum.”

I re-read the note and realise it’s not quite what I wanted to say, but it does mention the most important fact which is that I love them. It’s late now, so I just give the whole lot to the man behind the counter with a grateful smile and dash off.

I arrive back at the boat.

“You’re late,” accuses Bob.

“Sorry. I got lost.”

“So all the directions I gave you before you left were a waste of time?”

“No, no. They were good. I found the right lifts but they just stopped at all the wrong places,” I say. “I now know how Alice in Wonderland felt,” I joke trying to lighten his mood.

He sighs and I quickly open the bag of fresh cheeses, figs and the crispy white French stick I’ve bought at the market for lunch, knowing as I do that the way back to his heart will be through his stomach.

“I bought us lunch,” I say enticingly. “And I got eggs so I can make you a fresh omelette for breakfast tomorrow?”

He peers into the open bag. “Looks lovely,” he says with a sudden smile. We kiss and his grumpiness appears to pass.