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Updated: 09/10/02

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"A Beautiful Mind"
by Sylvia Nasar


moose (mice?)

Tuesday, 10 September, 2002

Well - I've been busy. On Saturday evening I flew to London, arrived early in the morning on Sunday, then transferred to Nice. Collected my bag, exchanged dollars for Euros - they're about equal these days - and found a cab for my annual terrifying insane French cab driver experience.

[Vite, vite, vite!!]

I checked in to the Grand Hotel Monte Carlo, along with what seems to be about half of the reinsurance world. I mentioned that this was my eighth visit and the nice deskclerk upgraded me to a HUGE room with a king sized bed. Still wasn't overlooking the ocean - oh well - but nice and quiet, and it wasn't the usual half mile hike to the other end of the hotel.

I went upstairs to Le Pistou, the al fresco restaurant on the top of the hotel, and had my usual Salade Nicoise for lunch. Back to the room to freshen up before the Sunday evening party circuit.

My company has a cocktail party each year on the terrace of the Hotel de Paris overlooking the Place du Casino in Monte Carlo. It's lovely. I met up with Andy Fisher, my London colleague with whom I will be having meetings for the next few days. I saw many friends and co-workers before having to leave for dinner - the time always flies by.

I had made plans to have dinner with my former boss, Jed, and one of his colleagues, along with Andy. We walked to "Bar et Boeuf", which is an Alain Ducasse restaurant along the ocean looking over a beautiful Japanese garden. "Bar" is French for sea-bass, and "Boeuf" means beef and those two things are the basis for the entire menu. I had a delicious ceviche of three different preparations of sea bass, and a beef tenderloin with a slice of grilled foie gras and foie gras/truffle mouse on toast points. We had a bottle of Stap's Leap "Hawk Crest" Chardonnay and an Australian Shiraz - both were yummy. We waddled back to the hotel and ran into a group of friends that I haven't seen in a few years, so we stayed and talked until after midnight.

On Monday I had a breakfast meeting at 8:00. It was pretty hard to get up when my body clock was insisting that it was 1:00 in the morning. Andy and I met our market and sat up at Le Pistou overlooking the water and eating our extremely expensive croissants and cafes. We then moved to the Cafe de Paris for the remainder of the day.

Most of the meetings at Monte Carlo are done at the Cafe de Paris which is set with cafe tables side-by-side. Every half hour a little dance occurs where everyone gets up, looks for their next contact, then sits down and talks for a half hour about insurance and reinsurance. We're all wearing our convention name tags, and some of the companies have color coordinated shirts that their attendees wear.

[*ahem* Yes, I do have them. No, I do not wear them because they are men's sizes and the small shirts come down to my knees. So I have a matching scarf that I tie around the strap on my purse.]

We made all of our meetings in the morning, had a bite to eat and went back to the hotel before our next meeting in the afternoon. I got on the computer and checked e-mails and made a few calls. Oscar left a message for me to call him but he didn't answer. I left several messages for him but he didn't call back. I spoke to Richard who said that no one had shown up for work - again. He has hired a couple of guys who are doing some work in the garden area, and if Oscar continues to not show up, I will hire them to do additional work in the house.

We hit another cocktail party before dinner, then met at the Piano Bar in the Grand Hotel for the Dinner Formerly Known as Ten Francs. The concept of the Ten Franc dinner originated following days and days of meetings talking about business, and the only rule of the dinner was that the attendees were not allowed to talk about business or else they were fined ten francs (about two dollars). This dinner was usually held on the Thursday night of the conference, and I was first invited to attend in 1994. I went for the next three years, but for the past few I haven't stayed until Thursday night so I couldn't go. This year they moved it to Monday night and we headed to dinner at a nearby Italian place.

There were seven of us: Alan, Peter, Monika, Anncharlotte, Pierre (also known as "Cato" because his accent is very similar to Inspector Clouseau's), Andy and me. With the introduction of the Euro, we figured that ten Euros was a bit steep, so we made the fine one Euro. As it turned out, however, no one was fined, despite quite a few mentions of jobs and business. Mostly we just laughed and ate and drank some lovely Italian red wine.

And at the end of the evening we all pulled our chairs closer and Alan recited "The Moose."

The first year I went to the Ten Franc dinner, Alan recited Woody Allen's short stand up story called "The Moose." Alan did this completely dead-pan, with a slight Belgian accent. The rest of us were literally wiping the tears from our faces and struggling for air to breathe. It became a tradition:

The Moose

I was hunting up-state New York and I shot a moose. I strap him on to the fender of my car and I'm driving home along the West Side highway. What I didn't realize was that the bullet did not penetrate the moose. It just creased his scalp, knocking him unconscious. So I'm driving through the Holland Tunnel, and the moose woke up. Now I'm driving with a live moose on my fender ... and the moose is signalling a turn. And there's a law in New York State against driving with a conscious moose on your fender Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

I'm very panicky ... and then it hits me. Some friends of mine are having a costume party. I'll go, I'll take the moose. I'll ditch him at the party. It won't be my responsibility. So I drive up to the party. I knock on the door. The moose is next to me. My host comes to the door. I say, "Hello ... you know the Solomons?" We enter. The moose mingles ... did very well ... scored. Some guy was trying to sell him insurance for an hour and a half.

Twelve o'clock comes, they give out prizes for the best costume of the night. First prize goes ... to the Berkowitzes, a married couple dressed as a moose. The moose comes in second. The moose is furious! He and the Berkowitzes lock antlers in the living room. They knock each other unconscious.

Now I figure here's my chance. I grab the moose, strap him to my fender and shoot back to the woods. But I got the Berkowitzes. I'm driving along with two Jewish people on my fender ... and there's a law in New York State ... Tuesdays, Thursdays and especially Saturdays. The following morning, the Berkowitzes wake up in the woods in a moose-suit. Mr Berkowitz is shot, stuffed, and mounted at the New York Athletic Club - and the joke is on them, 'cause it's restricted.

Following the traditional recitation of Moose, Alan then related to us the story now and forever known as "Moose Two." Earlier this year, Monika and another colleague, Eva, were visting Alan and Pierre in Brussels. Monika had a very bad day and was not in a good mood. Alan said that he and Pierre would take them to a quiet, local restaurant for dinner and they would have some good food and wine. And, he would recite Moose.

Off they went and at the end of dinner, Alan recited Moose. Monika felt so much better. Eva then mentioned that her grandfather was a moose-hunter, and had several guns that she inherited after he died. Pierre, in his very thick French accent, looking very puzzled, asked Eva what kind of guns her grandfather had. She said that they were long rifles and shotguns. Pierre looked even more confused, and said (a la Inspector Clouseau), "You mean he used those great big guns to shoot the little tiny MOUSE??"

[I about fell off my chair laughing.]

Moose Two made an appearance at the Cafe de Paris today. Alan walked past the table where Andy and I were meeting and showed us the present that Monika found for him: a tiny little moose finger puppet. Brilliant.

Meetings went well and we finished up at 5:00 and had a chance to phone the office and check e-mails before dinner. We walked down to the harbor and had a lovely dinner right next to the marina. We walked past some of the HUGE motor yachts and sailboats that are moored there. There was the biggest sailing ship I have ever seen there - the Star Flyer - a sailed cruise ship that carries over 100 passengers. It was so big that we didn't even recognize it as a ship when we walked past it - it looked like a building.

We came back to the hotel, had one last Kir Royale for the road and went up to our rooms. Unfortunately, I had put my key next to my magnetized name tag in the pocket of my purse and erased the coding, so I had to make a trip down to the front desk to get it recoded. Despite that, this has been a really good trip and I've enjoyed seeing so many people that have been friends for many years.

~ ~ ~

Quote du jour:

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882) US philosopher, poet, essayist

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