Former Minister of State of Monaco
Monaco’s Minister of State Jean-Paul Proust, who entered office in 2005, first rose to prominence as a Parisian novelist in the late 19th and early 20th century. Proust’s literary career began with a gossip column in Le Mensuel in 1890, and from those modest beginnings he went on to write what some consider to be the greatest novel of the 20th century: À la recherche du temps perdu, which has been variously translated into English as “Remembrance of Things Past” and “In Search of Lost Time.”
Many historians believe the standard version of Proust’s demise: that after spending three years living in a cork-lined bedroom at his parents’ home, he succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 51 in 1922.
However, recent evidence suggests that Proust did not actually die. Instead, like so many French authors, he faked his own death. Proust placed a papier-mâché facsimile of himself in his bed, and tunneled through the soft cork floor of his bedroom into the sewers beneath Paris. Once in the sewers, he shaved his moustache with a broken wine bottle, dyed his hair blonde with guano, and conned his way past the constables guarding the sewer entrance by claiming to be a disoriented Charles Lindbergh. Sleeping under bridges by day and traveling across fields and meadows by night, he made his way southeast until he reached the Republic of Monaco.
For his first several decades in Monaco, Proust maintained a low profile. He secured a modest job as a baccarat dealer, taking the money of the decadent aristocrats who frequented the city-state’s casinos. Over the years he watched first with shock, then with bemusement as these aristocrats began to drop his own name, and the titles of his books, as proof of their erudition. He never corrected these dilettantes when they misquoted his characters, or commented that their analyses of À la recherche du temps perdu suggested they had not read all seven volumes. He was content to know that he had become a watchword for profundity. Even if no one actually read his books, they wanted people to think they had.
His life could have proceeded in this fashion indefinitely, and he would have been satisfied. But in Monaco, the Minister of State is chosen every five years by way of the roulette wheel. Each citizen and slave must spin the wheel, and the first whose ball lands on 18 – the number of months on the Monacese calendar – is appointed Minister of State. Proust, as you will have guessed, was the first player to land on 18. “Vive le Minister! Vive le Minister Proust!” cried the gay crowd, and Proust, with a wry grin at his unusual luck, accepted and donned Monaco’s ancient bear-skull mask.