Ambassador Maguy Maccario Doyle on the Richness of Monaco Culture

Maguy Maccario Doyle

Her Excellency, the Ambassador for Monaco to the United States and Canada, is as gracious and charming as you’d imagine her to be.

Maguy Maccario Doyle is also delightful company — passionate about environmental, women’s and humanitarian issues, with a particular focus on ocean conservation, for which her head of state, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, campaigns tirelessly. Despite its size, and its international reputation for style and glamour, Monaco has a huge environmental and social conscience.

Ambassador Maccario Doyle was a recent visitor to San Francisco, so what had brought her to our City by the Bay?

“First of all,’ she smiled, “I’m always delighted to be back in San Francisco. It’s truly one of my favorite cities in the US. And of course I’m very fortunate to be part of a trip organized by the State Department, called Experience America, arranged for the diplomatic corps in Washington DC. I was joined by 30 of my fellow ambassadors here in San Francisco for an insight into the vibrant economy of the city, and we were fortunate to meet with a number of local leaders and businessmen.

“The crowning of it all, though, was the reception at the Shultz’s (the residence of former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Mrs. Shultz) – and I was very happy to learn that Experience America was something that was launched by George Shultz while he was in office in Washington DC. He saw the need for foreign diplomats to get out of DC and really see the US, especially if they want to foster deeper economic and long-lasting ties with businessmen here.”

Happily, this visit coincided with a month-long event at the San Francisco Alliançe Francaise — le mois de la francophonie — during which a fascinating black and white photographic retrospective, “Monte-Carlo Legends”, was on display, to mark the establishment, over 150 years ago, of Monte-Carlo. Also, a new book, In the Spirit of Monte-Carlo, has recently been published, and the author, Pamela Fiori, was in town for some book-signing events, so everything came together beautifully.

It’s hard to believe that Monte-Carlo, as glamorous as it now is, had very humble beginnings (“a rocky hill where farmers grew olive trees, and shepherds led their flocks to graze,” in the words of the Ambassador.) I was curious to know what it was that had turned the fortunes of Monte-Carlo, setting it on a course which would result in it becoming what is probably the world’s most luxurious playground of the rich and famous.

“First of all, it was a bold move from one of the princes of Monaco (Prince Charles III, after whom Monte-Carlo was named) to give back 80 percent of their territory to France (significantly reducing tax revenues), and also to bring gaming to Monaco while it was still prohibited in France and Italy. And of course he negotiated the extension of the railway track — that was going to connect Nice to Genoa — to include the Principality of Monaco, so that it became accessible by road and by train.

Monte-Carlo in the 1860s

“In the beginning,” explained the Ambassador, “the Prince’s efforts to develop gaming were not very successful until, through the help of his mother, he heard of a couple (Francois and Marie Blanc) in Bad Homburg, who had been very successful in developing gaming there, and bringing in tourists, but it was very seasonal, so they were looking for another spot where they could bring the same kind of concept.

“Prince Charles invited them to come down to Monaco, and they fell in love with it, because they saw the potential right away, and they negotiated a 50-year licence for gaming, with rights to develop the barren plateau that was just across from the Palace. That was the beginning of Monte-Carlo. They established a gaming casino and of course also hotels, and that was the beginning of the concept of a resort.”

In 1848, Prince Charles established the Societé Anonyme des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Étrangers à Monaco – the forerunner of the powerful Societé des Bains de Mer (SBM) – the hospitality, catering and casino giant, which still controls much of Monte-Carlo today, and the Blancs became major shareholders.

“They were able to bring in money by selling pieces of land to some of their investors who become shareholders of the company,” the Ambassador continued, “and they paid the Prince a fee every year, and a share of the profits, so eventually Monaco started to make money – that’s when the Prince decided to exempt the locals from taxes.

Monte-Carlo as Depicted by Artists of the Late 19th Century

“The Blancs brought with them their money, their savoir faire, and their contacts, and it was the beginning of the Belle Époque. People were really enjoying life, spending money in what we could call the frivolity of the time. I mean, gaming was a sin, and it wasn’t very welcome at the time!” the Ambassador laughed.

I then asked Her Excellency about the most famous Monaco royal on the international stage, Princess Grace, and her contribution to the Principality after her marriage to Prince Rainier III. The Ambassador drew an interesting parallel between Princess Grace and Marie Blanc.

“Like Marie Blanc and her husband,” she said, “it was amazing to see that it was again another woman who really helped to create Monte-Carlo. They invented it. He was a great businessman, but she was a woman with great taste and style, and she didn’t really have any problem spending money to get the best. So she she really invented Monte-Carlo with her husband, and when Princess Grace married Prince Rainier, they reinvented it.”

Princess Grace at the Red Cross Ball and Bal de la Rose from 1956 to 1982

Remembered for her talent, beauty, elegance and compassion, Princess Grace endeared herself to the Monegasque people with her commitment to the role she had so completely embraced. In addition to taking on local charity work, the Princess also brought to international prominence two annual charity events, the Bal de la Croix Rouge (Red Cross Ball) and the Bal de la Rose. She was also, says Her Excellency, a tremendous support to her husband, particularly in matters of State.

The Bal de la Rose in 2015, a tradition Founded by Princess Grace in the 1950s

There was, however, another side to Princess Grace’s philanthropy. With her enduring love for the arts, the Princess harbored a desire to help emerging artists in the world of theatre, dance and film, to pursue their dreams, and after her death in 1982, Prince Rainier founded the Princess Grace Foundation USA, which has, over the past three decades, provided grants to help over 800 artists develop their talents.

The Princess Grace Statue Award was created by sculptor Kees Verkade

From the ranks of previous winners of the Princess Grace Foundation Awards, some recipients — who have displayed consistent excellence in their chosen field — have been selected for the Foundation’s highest honour, The Princess Grace Statue Award, a monetary gift and a bronze statuette of the Princess, created by Dutch artist Kees Verkade. To date, only fifty-four of these awards have been made.

“This September,” the Ambassador beamed, “the Princess Grace Awards Gala will be held in Monaco, for the first time, in the Palace. It’s amazing to see what this Foundation has been doing over the years, and to see how you plant seeds, and now see the results of people to whom grants and scholarships have been given. It’s a full circle. In Monaco this year, only two awards will be given, the Princess Grace Statue Award and the Prince Rainier III Award.”

The Prince Rainier III Award –which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year — is presented to film makers who have not only been highly successful in their careers, but who have also made significant humanitarian contributions in their field.

At the time of the interview, the names of the recipients of these honors had not been made public, but I can now reveal that the Prince Rainier III Award will be given to Robert Redford and his wife, Sibylle Szaggars Redford, and the Princess Grace Statue Award will be presented to Emmy Award winning director and writer, Cary Fukunaga – winner of a Princess Grace Award in 2005.

Despite its size, Monaco quite obviously has a broad sphere of influence in the world – so I asked what it was that had made this tiny Principality such a major player on the international stage.

The Best of Monte-Carlo

“Monaco is rich far beyond its geographical size,” Her Excellency agreed. “First of all, the Blancs were the ones that really gave the foundation for what is today Monte-Carlo. And it’s beautiful. Every time I go back, and I look at that Casino overlooking the water, and the light, it’s really gorgeous. It’s like here, when you go out and you see that magical Bay. So we were very fortunate, by a gift of nature, and having the right people who invested in it and built Monte-Carlo.

Salle Garnier, home of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo

“After that,” she explained, “it was also the artists that were brought there. When Marie Blanc opened the Opera House, the Garnier Hall became the temple of creation, and at the time, of course – the beginning of 20th century – it was the centre of creativity. The wealth was also located on the Cote d’Azur, not only Monaco, and that brought a lot of artists – and the great weather also!”

One of the most influential of those artists, was, of course Serge Diaghilev, who, when he left Russia, first took his ballet company to Paris. He was, however, looking for a home for it, so he went to Monaco, saw the Garnier Hall, and his decision was made.

“He was really a visionary. He revolutionized ballet as we know it in the 20th century. And not many people realize,” the Ambassador pointed out, “that George Balanchine worked first as a dancer for the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo and eventually became a choreographer for the ballet before the war started.”

Ballet in Monte-Carlo, 1924 and 2014

This, we agreed, forged another important link between Monaco and the United States, because Balanchine went on to found what is now the New York City Ballet.

“And that comes totally from the vision of Diaghilev,” Her Excellency continued, “who changed everything, from the décor to the movement, to the costumes ….. If I could take you back in time you’d be in the Garnier Hall and you’d be seeing Nijinsky on the stage, décor done by Matisse, and Debussy would be creating scores for the Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo. It was just …. Belle Époch!”

I asked how Monte-Carlo had become a center for sporting events as well — motor racing, tennis, showjumping, football.

“These evolved over the years. They go back to the very influential Prince Albert I who was himself a visionary in his own way, and co-founded the Oceanographic Centre in Monaco. During the 1870s he was already sailing the oceans and trying to understand the effect of sea currents on climate change. He traveled all over Europe, came to the US, and gave a speech on the oceans at the Academy of Science, for which he received the Alexander Agassiz medal, the highest honor awarded by the National Academy of Sciences. The oceans were his passion, and he understood how important they are for mankind. He was also a great humanitarian and pacifist.

And Prince Albert II, I suggested, is today carrying on the tradition of concern for ocean conservation.

“Prince Albert II has inherited the legacy of the Grimaldis, to be involved in environmental issues,” the Ambassador agreed. “Last year, the Prince and I attended the second World Ocean Summit, held in Half Moon Bay (attended by 250 leaders from business, government, academia and NGOs). It was put together by The Economist, and for me what was really very heartwarming was to see how everyone was so supportive of Prince Albert’s efforts as a spokesperson on saving the oceans and the environment. I was very proud.”

In March this year, the Prince hosted a conference in Monaco, “Plastic in the Mediterranean: beyond observations, what are the solutions?” and he has also put together a task force charged with finding and promoting practical solutions to stop the influx of pollution into the Mediterranean.

“By next year,” said the Ambassador, “Monaco will stop the single use of plastic bags, and by 2019, stop the use of plastic completely. There’ll be no more plastic around foods and vegetables, only paper, from sustainable forests. There will also be a ‘picnic law’, to try to get producers to change the ingredients of disposable plastic plates and utensils, to become more biodegradable. The big question about plastic is that we have no way of measuring the ‘print’ as we measure the ‘carbon print’, so that’s one of the things that they’re looking to change.

“For me,” she said emphatically, “there’s no discussion. It’s man made. We are the ones over the past 40 years who have polluted the oceans, and there’s nothing we can do now about the plastic that’s already in the oceans. It’s already broken up into small pieces, is being ingested by marine life and we’re eating it. So it’s only by curbing the use of plastic, which you’ve already done here in California, and if everyone started, it would make a difference.”

Protection of the Ocean is a Major Concern in Monaco

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The Ambassador said that she had recently represented the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation at a joint conference of the International Sustainability Unit and the Global Ocean Commission, which was held in Washington. The objective was to explore and discuss immediate actions to counteract the negative effects of plastic waste on the ocean environments. Also in attendance was H R H the Prince of Wales who was in Washington to receive the Teddy Roosevelt International Conservation Award, which was given to Prince Albert II in 2009.

In November, Monaco will be hosting the Blue Ocean Film Festival, which will in future be alternating, year on year, with St. Petersburg in Florida. The purpose of the festival is to honor the best in ocean filmmaking, and to give ocean leaders, film makers, photographers, scientists and explorers, entertainment executives, as well as the general public, an opportunity to learn more about the issues facing our oceans.

“This year’s Festival in Monaco is quite important,” the Ambassador explained, “as we have the United Nations Climate Change Conference coming up in Paris in November/December – a meeting to make a statement about our goals for stopping pollution in the environment and the ocean, and climate change in the future.”

Finally, we talked about the similarites between Monte-Carlo and San Francisco in terms of the vibrant cultural life which both enjoy, and about the links which already exist, forged by Jean-Christophe Maillot, Choreographer-Director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and San Francisco’s own visionary choreographer, Alonzo King, who was commissioned by Maillot to create a work for the Monte-Carlo Company in 2010.

Alonzo King Lines Ballet’s “Scheherazade” was commissioned for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 2010

“The Ballets de Monte-Carlo will be returning to California next year,” the Ambassador told me, “although not to San Francisco, I believe, just New York — with Cinderella — and Costa Mesa — with Maillot’s Choré.” Choré, appropriately, is set against the emergence of musical theatre in the United States.

I asked — hopefully — whether there were any future plans to strengthen the links between Monte-Carlo and San Francisco with regard to our internationally renowned orchestras, ballet and opera companies.

“Of course, it’s on our wish list, there’s no doubt!” laughed the Ambassador. “We’re working with the Alliance Française which is wonderful, and they were very helpful in showcasing Monaco during le mois de la francophonie. We’re trying to get the Monte-Carlo Ballet to expand and do other cities, and sometimes things happen that I haven’t planned, but so far, it’s been to New York and Southern California only.”

We in San Francisco can certainly hope that this particular item on the wish list will one day become a reality.

Gilly Lloyd is a freelance journalist and writer. Her links with Monaco go back to the early 1980s, and she lived on the Côte d’Azur prior to relocating to San Francisco. She was the lead writer of a book entitled ‘Monaco and the Sea’, has written for ‘Harrods Estates’ and ‘City to Cities’ (London City Airport) magazines, the Millennium Commission, and currently writes on the performing arts for Examiner.com, Riviera Buzz and Preview – links to all of which can be found on her website www.pier55.co.uk

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