Monte Carlo Perspectives
For a while, my father was described in the musical press as "Britain's leading reed player". He played clarinet and saxophone, appearing onstage in Monte Carlo at the age of 16. In those (just) pre-war days, MC was the last word in elegance. If you could make it there, you didn't need to make it anywhere else.
Readers familiar with an earlier column published elsewhere some years ago will know that I am no great fan of the Principality. I described it as "a hellhole" after my only visit to the Rendez-Vous de Septembre. I've never been back, nor will I. But the approach of this year's bash reminded me of an aspect of that trip that I have never reported, which might best be tagged as How Journalism Works.
For a national publication in the US, I had negotiated at great length with one of Bermuda's leading reinsurance personages (Ted, not his real name) that I would shadow him for a full day at the Rendez-Vous and report just what that entails. He'd explained to me that the day would involve meetings, meetings and more meetings. We agreed I wouldn't sit in at any of them, but that I'd be told in broad themes after each meeting what had transpired, and given insight into what his clients were thinking about the markets. We also agreed that I wouldn't mention clients' names.
Ted was a gung-ho type, who held meetings in Europe for a week before getting to Monte Carlo, where he would hold meetings for another week. In a very old-fashioned way, he felt that the absurd cost of the trip should result in some business purpose. The trick in Monte Carlo was to see as many key players as possible, for 15 or 30 minutes each, plus breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings.
The Big Day began at 6:45am. Ted met me in the lobby of the finest hotel in town, where he was staying. He explained who his breakfast companions were. A few minutes later, they all trouped up and went off to eat. I sat napping in the lobby. At 7:45, Ted woke me up and we ran to catch the bus to another part of town.
Dozy me: I had only 50 Euro notes with me; the bus driver wouldn't give change; the bus driver wouldn't keep the change; the bus driver threw me off the bus. My story went west at 50 kilometres an hour and I'd gotten out of bed at 5:30 for nothing. As Bob Marley might have put it if he were a journalist: no story, no pay.
So this is how journalism works. I went back to my crummy hotel ($700 a night and as much arrant rudeness from the staff as you could stand (and then lots more), and slept until the late afternoon. Ted returned to his hotel at about 11pm and found me waiting in the lobby. I explained what had happened. I had a plan, but the man was in no state to listen to any more plans.
After we both got back to Bermuda, I interviewed Ted and had him tell me in detail what he'd done all day in Monte Carlo. From those notes, and not once referring to my hatred of Monte Carlo (where a multitude of other humiliations were inflicted on me), I fashioned an article that might have given readers the impression that I had spent the day shadowing Ted. If you read the article closely, it was clear that I might equally not have spent the day shadowing Ted.
My editor had approved the idea in advance and the piece ran. I got paid. Ted has retired from the game and now travels. I have retired from the game and almost never leave the house. Monte Carlo, I would imagine, goes on being a hellhole, and that, my friends, is all I wrote.