That would be the Casino de Monte Carlo.
First, I studied the rules for all the games that we’d find at the Casino. I did it at the private beach after I shooed away the annoying British tourists (read Toying). I’d picked up a beautifully illustrated brochure, designed for novices like us, from the concierge at the Hotel de Paris.
Alan, my ex-husband, announced that he wanted to play roulette. The game spoke to his desire to appear worldly and debonair. Like a dutiful wife, I read the section on roulette carefully, concentrating on which bets were most lucrative, and studied the illustrations. I told Alan the points he most needed to know about the game, especially the etiquette of interactions with the other players and the croupier.
He nodded his head from behind his newspaper. “This can’t be too difficult, Georgia,” he finally said. “I’ll just watch a while and figure it out.”
Back at the hotel, the next part of the evening preparations began; a long nap to avoid droopy midnight eyes, a shower, make up, cocktail dress and perfume for me (Poison by Christian Dior); silk suit for Alan, purchased on the Champs Elysee, and cologne (Bel Ami by Hermes ).
Ready to dazzle and be dazzled, we stepped out the front door of the hotel, down the steps and across the plaza to the Belle Époque wonder that is the Casino of Monte Carlo.
The first room disappointed us. Full of boisterous tourists in bad clothes and bad haircuts clutching plastic glasses of cheap drinks; we could have been in Las Vegas.
Then we discovered the magic door into the next room where the guests were better dressed. The women wore cocktail or dinner dresses, with diamonds, pearls and gold clicking on their wrists, dangling from their ears and nestled between their breasts. The men wore at the minimum a suit. Some wore tuxedoes with diamond studs and patent leather dress shoes.
The minimum bid was higher in this room, so Alan and I each bought $150 in gambling chips. This was to be the cost of our night at the Casino of Monte Carlo.
We both chose roulette as our game. Since I had carefully studied the brochure on gambling, I knew some of the bets with the higher chance of success. Of course, a win using this technique didn’t pay off as high, but the strategy kept me in the game for an hour. I quit when I still had $40 left.
Remember back on the beach that afternoon, when Alan said he’d watch and figure it out? This strategy led to him lose every penny of his $150 in 15 minutes.
His next-to-the-last play resulted in me disowning knowledge of him. Hence, I missed the final moment of bankruptcy.
He placed his bid correctly, this next-to-the-last time, and won. This was his first winning bet. The following all happened almost simultaneously:
He reached down to the table to scoop up his winning bid.
I hissed under my breath, “Alan, don’t!”
He looked at me and said, “What’s your problem? I know what I won.”
The croupier rapped his knuckles with his stick and remonstrated forcefully, “Monsieur!”
I could hear Alan ask, “What did I do wrong?” to the empty space where his wife had previously stood. Said wife was now melting into the crowd, with an expression on her face that broadcast, “Who is this gauche American? Aren’t they all impossible.”
I told him, back at the beach, that a player never touches a chip once it’s laid on the table. The croupier keeps track of each bet, calculates all winnings in his head, and uses his stick to distribute them around the table.
Within a few minutes, at a table distant from the one where he had committed his faux pas, I graciously acknowledged him once again as my darling husband, and he watched as I spun out my play for another 45 minutes.
What we never did figure out was where the James Bond room was. We knew it was near by. Through a door that was hidden by a curtain, up a stair case that we couldn’t find, somewhere was that even more magic door into the room where the stakes were impossibly high, the women impossibly beautiful and the men unimaginably cool and cultured.
That was not us. Never would be. We contented ourselves with the room of almost-cool, almost beautiful, almost rich people. Right where we belonged.