There’s Rich, Then There’s Monte Carlo Rich

When it comes to living the high life, the super wealthy do it like no one else.

Monte Carlo is fantastic this time of year. It’s warm and sunny but not too hot. Just warm enough for the beautiful people to start parading around all over town wearing almost nothing but their carefully honed physiques and whatever baubles they have recently acquired. Monte Carlo, I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone, is where the rich come to play, and where the gold-diggers search for prey.

It’s where people go to be seen and to see. Me? I’m neither gold digger nor rich enough to be targeted. So I fall into the category of watchers. I’m here for research.

I enjoy sitting at my usual table at Café de Paris (booked months in advance) sipping my exorbitant hot mocha and just watching the decadence of luxury parading all around me. There is the middle-aged, morbidly obese Russian with his early-20s girlfriend who’s wearing nothing but a bikini and a diamond-clasp Crocodile Birkin. Over there’s the young Arab prince with a bevy of ultra sexy model-types sipping Cristal at 10am. And there’s the heavily botoxed octogenarian heiress with her pocket sized Chihuahua and brazillian sun-bronzed Adonis stepping out of the Maybach right into Van Cleef and Arpels.

The scent of money is everywhere in the air and the usual standards of wealth don’t apply. On one of my visits here I was with someone whom I regard as a very wealthy fellow Malaysian, and even he told me he felt insignificant against the opulence of this utopia for the moneyed class. You think you’ve seen wealth with your Mercedes Benz, your First Class Jet setting and your 6-star resorts? Well, as Ronald Reagan once famously said “You ain’t seen nothing yet”.

A whole new level of wealth exists beyond the ken of most of us mere mortals, and every year at around this time they come out in force in Monte Carlo. Meet the Super Yacht set. So you have a 70ft boat with a couple of nicely appointed rooms on board for your occasional island hops around Langkawi or Redang and you think you’ve arrived? Think again. Here, if you own anything less than a 100 footer, you may as well just own a tugboat. ‘The Monte Super Yachts’ are in a league of their own. The Monte Carlo Yachting set are those who are so fabulously and securely rich that to speak of cost and bank balances is, to them, vulgar. (After all, having to actually think about how much one spends is very middle-class isn’t it?)

Every summer these money minters will make their individual grand entrances , sailing into the coast of this principality with their mighty vessels. Like birds of paradise displaying their plumes, these super yachts will be moored in all their majesty within sight of each other and just a short boat ride from the shore. Beachgoers would gawk at their splendor and tourists on miniboats would sail past while snapping as many photos as they can. On board, the fortunate occupants are sipping daiquiris and champagne, quite enjoying the attention while trying inconspicuously to eye the competition around them. (Being super rich apparently doesn’t cure you from trying to keep up with the Joneses)

Over the years I’ve become familiar with some of these Super Yachts, having been invited on some of them for lunches, dinners and the occasional weekend pool party. I remember my first time on the Alpha Nero, an 82-meter floating palace that has an infinity pool on its rear deck. It was a pool, by the way, that changes from sea water to fresh at the press of a button with a floor that can hydraulically be raised to become a helipad at the press of another. If that’s not enough to bowl you over, consider this: it has seven suites, three separate dining areas, a grand piano, theatre, dance floor, gym, and a beauty salon all finished in exotic Italian marbles, goat skin wall panels, and touches of sycamore, Makassar and mahogany. Its hull stores three tenders (smaller boats) and four jet skis in case you are bored floating in luxury and have a need for speed. Even the playing cards are from Hermes!

A friend of mine chartered one of the yachts for the whole summer last year and I spent a few days on board. The yacht had 15 lavishly decorated staterooms each with its own bath, satellite TV and digital film library of more than 500 films. At the top deck was a Jacuzzi and open-air bar that’s manned by one of the 50 staff and crew members employed on board full time. It was a luxury experience to end all others, except that because vessels like those often played host to holidaying Hollywood celebrities, one would every now and then be bugged by pesky paparazzi helicopters whizzing overhead trying to get a sellable photograph. Evidently I was a disappointment to them as none of my photos surfaced anywhere. Oh well.

Every now and then a big-name yacht would sail in and even the other super yachts would have to concede their superiority. Like the Qatar premier’s seven-storey royal-blue beauty named Al Mirqab or that famous Russian billionaire’s 500 footer named Eclipse that is widely rumoured to have cost more than $300mil (RM1192bil) to build and features among other things its own missile defence system and a ‘snow room’ in case you ever get tired of the scorching sun and feel like a quick frolic in –you guessed it- snow.

Obscene wealth? Well that’s Monte Carlo for you. Only here it’s not obscene, it’s just day to day living. Taking a $250 (RM993) helicopter ride instead of a taxi for that 45-minute drive between Nice and Monaco is as common here as people taking the airport shuttle in other parts of the world. The extravagance in every single mundane thing will soon have you losing your sense of worth and your grasp of the value of money.

I love luxury, but Monte Carlo gets a bit much even for me. I can do one week at most. Then I’d need to get back to my nasi lemak and roti canai for less than RM20, just to touch base with reality again. And sometimes enjoying that kind of food in a tugboat around Langkawi or Redang is really perfectly enough. Until I miss the decadence again, anyway.

■ Snobama thinks a freezer and some shaved ice is cheaper than a snow-room.

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