May was a pretty busy month here, with visitors coming and going, and I seem to have taken a lot of photos. Most of them are the same views of the area but with different people walking up and down the paths or gazing over the village, of interest mainly to the people in the pictures. So here are some of the other things that have been going on.

monaco1-640The highlight of my month was the result of a casual invitation by a friend who lives nearby and runs a garden design and maintenance company. The company, whose clients are mainly wealthy residents of Monaco, was short-handed on Grand Prix practice day, needing to deliver some orchids to an apartment and water some plants on one of the yachts in the harbour. The casual invitation was for me to help out as assistant gardener for the day, and this seemed an opportunity too good to miss.

The client in question owns half of the roof of the Roccabella, a rather severe 1960s 27-storey block right on the waterfront, plus two floors of penthouse underneath. Our job was to deliver a couple of dozen orchids and to tidy up generally, involving hosing down the marble floor and sweeping away fallen leaves and flowers. Harder work than you might think; white marble under the Monaco sun makes it very hot work. But the view takes in the entrance to the Grand Prix tunnel and the air was full of the sounds of the cars as they did their practice laps.

After finishing the work at the Roccabella we set off on foot to the harbour, carrying the tools of the trade – a plastic watering can. Normally this would take about ten minutes, but on GP weekend the circuit area is closed off and it took over an hour to find the only footbridge over the circuit giving access to the harbour. The noise level from the track and echoing off the buildings is truly incredible; far too loud for conversation, so what the people with mobile phones clamped to their ears were achieving can only be guessed at. A Frenchwoman was tugging along a small white dog that looked not so much terrified by the noise as totally resigned to its impending demise. I myself may have to sue the gardening company for damage to my hearing. (Just joking.) Over the footbridge in the harbour was much quieter than the same distance away inside the city. Presumably the water and open air absorb the sound instead of bouncing it round and round.

monaco7-640The job here was to water some plants on Lionheart, which according to my Google searches is probably the biggest yacht in the harbour. It’s certainly among the most expensive, with polished woodwork and marble floors everywhere. We had to water a total of about a dozen cycads in pots, this specialized work of course far too important to be left to the dozen or so permanent staff of the vessel. It never struck me before how demarcated the work is among the personal employees of the super-rich, but I suppose it’s inevitable; the cost of a simple mistake is far greater than that of employing a specialist.

We stopped for a cup of tea in the galley (if that’s what it’s called on a boat the size of a cross-channel ferry), and were told how foolish we’d been to hike it across town when all that was needed was a quick phone call to send out the tender. Well that sorted out the return journey at least; a high-speed ride across Monaco harbour, bouncing across the waves in a thirty-foot inflatable driven by an unseen diesel engine with enough muscle to power a small town.

rochetta2-640Closer to home, we paid a couple of visits to Rochetta Nervina to paddle in the rock pools. We’d discovered a path that leads up the side of the river, and along it many more pools than at first suspected. The path ends at the pool shown, with a man-made wall that acts as a small dam for the pool above and a waterfall to the one below, both quite deep and wide enough to swim in comfortably. On the other side of the river a path leads on and up into the Maritime Alps and a marked trail over to Breil sur Roya in France, an advertised seven and a half hour walk. Each way.

The water comes straight off the mountains, but by the end of May it’s not as cold as might be expected. It’s also far prettier and more peaceful than the beach, though on summer weekends we hear it gets busy.
Nonetheless, there are times when only the beach will do. Here we’re at Sanremo, on the western edge of the town. There’s a large free car park and this beach is right in front of it. The water is safe, being enclosed by a ring of granite boulders.

This beach is also just across the road from the Russian church and a short walk from shops, boutiques and the casino. Sanremo is highly fashionable and a popular destination for Milanese and Torinese holidaymakers.

wasp-640We keep discovering little wasps nests like this one, attached to one of the windows of the guest apartment. I found another when fitting the roof-rack to the car; it was inside one of the locking covers at the end of the bars, that have to be removed for fitting. I was in the gloom of the car park at Nice airport at the time, and it gave me quite a shock to suddenly discover the nest, complete with two attendant wasps.

Sorry to say we disposed of the nest pictured, in the interests of the safety of our guests.

whiteman-640We’ve seen several of these performers in the weekly markets. This one was at Bordighera. It must be very hot sitting or standing motionless in the sun for hours. It seems this form of street performance is quite popular here; although I’ve run across one or two elsewhere they seem to be more common here in Italy.

Even having come across several of these it’s still a little uncanny to see a statue move and respond to you. But at least they work to earn whatever the public throws into the hat, unlike the beggars that position themselves beside the supermarket trolley parks in the hope of persuading us to part with the euros used to unlock them.

Finally, an update on broadband. Yesterday morning we had to go to the post office, and popped into the commune office on the way back to ask the usual question about how much longer to wait. But this time our visit was rewarded by a demonstration of the new high-speed internet system, that had been up and running for just ten minutes at the moment we arrived. The plan now is to hold a public meeting, to which will be invited all those who registered an interest back in the autumn, who will also be those to be first equipped with the service. I had about a half-hour discussion with the man who has been chiefly instrumental in getting the system provided, and who is clearly proud both of the system and his ability to negotiate the Byzantine maze of Italian politics that threatened to stand in the way of achieving it. We still have a few weeks to wait but the way is now clear and it’s only minor logistical problems that have still to be overcome. At least we have a direct view of the transmitter on Monte Bignone; those who don’t are less fortunate and will have longer to wait.

The gentleman in charge of all this – who happens to be the son of the mayor – runs the village website and invited me to contribute by translating some of it into English, for which there is regular demand but as yet nobody to do the job. I’ve been hoping to find some way of getting involved with village life and this is probably the best way in. It’ll help me with my Italian, too, as there are bound to be phrases I’ll need to ask about for a clear understanding of their meaning.

When he gave me his card I glanced at it and noticed he also has a business supplying solar heating and electricity systems, so we had a side discussion about that. Apparently the state is currently providing a 50% subsidy for water heating systems and there’s a more complex financial arrangement for solar electricity involving selling excess generated wattage back to the state electricity company. But at least I know who to go to as and when we can afford to install a system.

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