Pension Milou whilst her owner has her face lifted. I think I might end up an expert on facelifts judging by the number of clients who drop their dogs off and then return a few days later with swollen, bruised faces. But yes, once the swelling has gone and the bruising disappears, they all look younger - which of course is the point although sometimes, you can tell - there's a slightly unnatural slant of the eyes, the skin is that little bit too taut, but hey, if it makes a lady feel good and she can afford it - and is brave enough - what the hell. I know I couldn't do it but I'm lucky - the dogs don't care. Dogs don't see wrinkles. If you want unconditional love, you don't need to look younger to get or keep a man - you need to get a dog! Not that I'm knocking love and marriage - when I see a good marriage, I'm all for it. Just that I don't think I was ever too good at it myself.
Madame C. arrives to collect her dog and pops in for a coffee. Covered in thick makeup to disguise the bruises and wearing massive dark glasses to hide the stitches around her eyes, she tells me it has been rather painful. I make the right noises to reassure her that it won't be long before she feels a lot better. Madame C is one nice lady and very pretty too and I can't imagine why she's put herself through all this agony.
Talking of facelifts, or any beauty treatment, reminds me of the time, maybe fifteen years ago, when I first came to live on the French Riviera. Friends, Philippa and Casper, generously gave me a birthday present of three beauty treatments at Margy's which is a well-known beauty salon in the luxurious Galerie du Métropole in Monte Carlo. You'll find top designers in the Galerie, great coffee shops and the FNAC store, which sells music, books, DVDs, telephones, cameras and everything you could want for a computer. I love FNAC - there's always an energetic buzz about the place.
I had an appointment for a facial, parked and walked across the Casino gardens to the Galerie. The waiting room, lined with beautiful old cupboards filled with her beauty products, is just inside the entrance to Margy's Beauty Salon. A couple of expensively dressed ladies were chatting, another was handing over in excess of 3,000 francs for the bag of beauty products she'd just bought. I felt a bit like a country bumpkin - after all I was working as a gardienne at the time, looking after the gardens at Casper and Philippa's Roquebrune villa. I'm sure Margy's didn't have too many gardeners who came in for facials.
I asked to use les toilettes. I suppose I was a little nervous - somehow I'd managed to get to this point in life never having had a facial and didn't know what to expect. When you've been surrounded by a dozen or so Old English Sheepdogs, as I had for much of my adult life, the last thing you are thinking about is the condition of your skin.
The loo was tiny with hardly any room between the toilet bowl and the opposite wall. As I went to sit down I leaned forward and wham! - I bashed my forehead on the edge of the glass shelf in front me. I rubbed my head, pulled myself together, did what I needed to do and wondered how larger ladies managed. They must majestically lower themselves onto the loo without ever bending forward. And if so, how do they use toilet paper? Don't let's go there - but don't you have to bend forward, at least just a little?
I was shown into a narrow, dimly lit cubicle by a striking young girl who introduced herself as Sandrine. She told me to lie down on the raised bed and proceeded to pamper me. If this is what a facial meant, I could stand a lot of it. Whilst applying the creams and potions, she told me that should I ever want a facelift she knew 'just the man in Milan.' She explained that I should go to Milan, stay for a few weeks and then, when I returned to the south of France, no one would know. I told her that if I ever had enough money for a facelift - fat chance - then I'd want the world to know about it. Actually, one of my husbands - the Australian one - offered to buy me a facelift when I got to 'a certain age.' I never took him up on it. It's bad enough having to go into hospital for an emergency. I knew I'd never be brave enough to go through pain by choice.
Sandrine then astounded me by saying she was going to Milan the following spring to 'get her eyes done.' I looked at her fresh, young and beautiful face and asked how old she was. 'I'm 26,' she said.
It was all rather marvellous until the face mask went on and suddenly, within minutes, it had set rock hard. I could hardly breath. Sandrine had left the room, saying she'd be back in twenty minutes. I tried to slow my breathing by relaxing but it wasn't easy. Believe me, I was fast going off facials by this time and when Sandrine re-appeared, I was more than happy to have her pick at a corner of the, by now, solid mask and rip it off me. It crossed my mind that at least when a death mask is made, the person doesn't feel anything. Lucky them.
No matter, I'd loved being cosseted and once it was all over, I was so relaxed I almost floated back to the car park. Opened my bag. No car keys. Panic! I turned out my bag, my pockets - definitely no keys. I must have left them in the beauty salon. I dreaded walking back there. Of course everyone had been so polite but I'd felt intimidated by the slim elegant owner. My problem, not hers. I crossed the Casino gardens and sat for a few minutes on a bench. An English bulldog, with his beautiful ugly face and wearing a rather nifty Scottish outfit, doubtless bought in one of Monaco's upmarket toilettages, waddled onto a grassed area in front of me. Interdit, of course. Dogs are not allowed on the grass. He sniffed the ground, ambled towards a tree, lifted his leg and let out one long satisfying pee. He looked at me with his skew-whiff eyes, his tongue hanging out, one tooth poking up from his undershot jaw. This was a face that needed Margy. I walked back to the salon and was told I'd have to wait as another client was in the cubicle having a massage and couldn't be interrupted. I sat in the waiting area for about 40 minutes, watching Monte Carlo ladies go about the business of paying to look beautiful. Eventually the cubicle was free and I was allowed in to look around. I searched under the table, looked under various pieces of furniture, lifted the cover on the bed - no keys.
Perhaps I'd dropped them near to the car when I first parked? Once again, I walked back to the car and this time, got down on my hands and knees to look underneath. By now, any good the facial had done had long gone. I was fraught. I was aging by the minute. How was I going to get home? How was I going to get my car out of the car park? I couldn't leave it there.
I went to the Caisse on the ground floor and asked if any keys had been handed in. They hadn't. They suggested I go to the nearby police station. I did. No keys had been handed in there either.
I walked back to Margy's. The keys simply had to be there. I wondered if they might have been swept up off the floor and just dumped by an un-thinking cleaning lady. I recalled having seen a young Philippino girl walking about with a cleaning trolley. I asked if they'd turn out the rubbish bin in the cubicle. Once again I had to sit and wait. I felt such a fool. These women surely had chauffeurs to drive them home - lost keys wouldn't enter their beautifully coiffed heads. Time was passing. I had dogs at home that needed feeding and it was getting dark.
Suddenly, Margy herself appeared and said, 'Are these what you are looking for, Madame?' There, before my eyes, was a set of keys dangling from her beautifully manicured out-stretched hand. 'We found them down the toilet bowl,' she said and then, with a look of disdain, 'They have been washed.'