Here's the poop on Monte Carlo.

And over there is some more poop on Monte Carlo. And here's a pile by this palm tree. In fact, there's quite a number of little doggie droppings on the sidewalks of the world's ritziest village. And some aren't so little; these lapdogs hold nothing back on their hurried breaks from high-rise restraint. There goes one now, a tightly coiffed little white snowball led by a capri-clad blonde. The woman has a coffee cup in her hand but no plastic baggie in sight. The very rich, it seems, don't scoop.

I'm not telling you this to be gross. It's just that in this sanctuary of ostentatious wealth, I find it strangely comforting to discover streets paved with something other than gold. And frankly, there's not much else I can relate to on my breakfast walk along Avenue Princesse Grace. On the left is a curbside phalanx of Sultan-class Bentleys, Jags and Beemers. On the right is the cobalt Mediterranean dotted with mega-yachts, aboard which, no doubt, Europe's bronzed elite, wearing thick white robes, is buttering the morning croissant. And here on the sidewalk, regular-guy me slaloms between the leavings of dogs who probably own better sweaters than I do.

I'm not alone. A lot of average tourists come to Monaco to look at billionaires in their natural habitat. It's a sort of Williamsburg of the well-to-do: Instead of wigs and muskets, the rich wander among the normal wearing two-pound Rolexes, all-over tans and top-to-bottom haute couture. They are a sight, even without Robin Leach to narrate.

Monaco is tiny. The whole "country" -- technically an autonomous principality ruled by the Grimaldi family -- is jammed onto a mere square mile of Southern France's steep rocky coast. Glittering high-rises and pastel mansions stack up in oceanfront layers connected by tight, winding roads. The air seems shot through with Riviera sun, salt breezes and Chanel No. 5. It's a crowded harbor geared to the pleasures of the very top percentiles: tax-free citizenship, no-questions banking and discreet-but-pervasive security.

There are attractions here for the traveler without a trust fund. I found a good Internet deal for a fine seaside hotel, Le Meridien. There's a whimsical antique toy museum, a decent public beach and an oceanographic museum dating back to the interests of an earlier prince. The giant salt-water pool at the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel -- an immense azure pasture -- is a truly great swimming hole at the ocean's edge. There are plenty of French and Italian restaurants that will leave francs in your wallet, and the palace is surrounded by souvenir gimcracks as tacky and cheap as you'll find in any seaside town.

But what regular folks really want to see is where the Best People come to be bad: Monte Carlo Resort proper, the mothership of the jet set.

A hill in the center of the waterfront, Monte Carlo is a little urban mountain topped by a snowcap of swank hotels, once-in-a-lifetime restaurants and the world's most famous casino. Recently, of course, they've added a spa, Les Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo (which must mean "Where the Pampered Come to be Pampered").

Like I said, as I scaled the steep path (past Le Metropole, a shopping mall lighted by crystal chandeliers), it's comforting to know that the Guccis that ply this sidewalk are occasionally at risk of stepping in something earthier than pa^te{acute} de fois gras. The classless peril of poop is a tiny bit of egalite{acute} in this French adjunct where, so far at least, fraternite{acute} and liberte{acute} have been scarce. (No one's been particularly brotherly, and absolutely nothing has been free.)

"Our dinner last night cost a fortune," wailed Catherine Wood, visiting from London with Michael, her husband of exactly 16 years. They're on an anniversary junket. Her eyes grow wide: "But it was absolutely incredible."

They ate at the Grill, the second-best restaurant of the Hotel de Paris. (The first is Alain Ducasse's Louis XV, a place of such Versailles-scale elegance and expense that you need more than a 16th anniversary to justify petitioning for a reservation. Christening a new freighter would be more like it, or surviving a coup.) Michael had lamb with rosemary; Catherine had a raspberry souffle that must be ordered as soon as you sit down to give it a chance to bake. They cautiously partook of the hotel's wine cellar, which -- at more than 300,000 bottles -- is the largest on the planet. At 10 o'clock, the entire ceiling of the rooftop restaurant rolled back and the Woods found themselves dining under the Mediterranean stars. "It was charming," she said.

The Woods are camped out next to me, nursing coffees at the Cafe de Paris. There may be no better people-watching stations in the world than these bistro tables on the Place de Casino. Right here is where the doors to the hotel, Louis XV and the casino itself all come together. We sit and watch the Rolls-Royces and Mercedeses come and go. The small valet-parking corral next to the casino is like a MotorWeek pinup calendar. There's a crowd gathered around a bright yellow Maserati Spyder Cambiocorsa with its top down. A mere James Bondian BMW Z3 roadster -- powder blue, alone in the corner -- is the junker of the lot. (In May, the real muscle cars take over when this very driveway forms one of the sharp curves of the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.)

As the sun lowers, traffic picks up and a regular parade forms of second-wife types -- Cosmo-thin and dressed to spend -- on the arms of portly industrialists in blazers and open collars. They practically conga-line into the immense, vaulted lobby of the Hotel de Paris, a space as open and grand as an imperial train station. (It was designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera.) They fill up the pre-dinner tables at two of the world's great bars: the American Bar (a see-and-be-seen jazzy wood enclave off the lobby) and Churchill's (a quieter 11th-floor idyll with $50 single malts and a billion-dollar view of tout le Monaco).

After dinner, the Cafe de Paris is more crowded than ever. Waiters in white (all men) ballet through jammed tables, whipping trays laden with steak au poivre and croque madames over the heads of tourists and swells alike. Along one side of this tableau, the exquisite Belle Epoque face of the casino is artfully lighted in the deepening dusk. The effect is spectacular, a shadowy vanilla wall of windows and friezes and copper turrets. This was, in fact, a featured backdrop in the Brosnan-era Bond offering "Goldeneye."

Everyone keeps a weather eye on the brilliant front steps as the nightly prom gains steam. It's still early, but after dinner (and maybe a cabaret, or a concert, or a circus performance) and before the younger Lords and Ladies of the Universe head to the thumping wee-hours vibe of Jimmy'z, it will be time for a few hands of something in the casino.

There are other, less fantastic casinos in Monte Carlo, including the nearby Sun Casino (with an extravagant Latin floor show), and a Vegas-style slot parlor right next to the Cafe de Paris. But every tourist who knows enough to throw a sport coat into his bag wants to at least stroll through the casino. (More than 600,000 visitors a year wander through; in fact, no jacket is required in some of the outer rooms.)

It's nearly midnight when I'm ready. I shoot my cuffs, straighten my tie, psych myself up ("Think Sean Connery! Think Sean Connery!"), get realistic ("At least David Niven! At least David Niven!") and go in.

I'm only a few steps through the grove of marble columns in the two-story atrium when I'm handed a tumbler of Laphroaig (no water, one cube) by a hard-eyed brunette with a come-hither sneer and shoulders as smooth as prewar brandy. Her lips are the red of a million-franc chip, and her legs are longer than the odds of a natural straight flush. "Ve've beeeen vaiting," she says in an Eastern European accent. Dubrovnik, maybe?

No, wait. That didn't happen. But it could happen, I think, looking around at the sumptuous Salon de l'Europe. This is just the kind of place where intrigues really do come true. This is exactly the sort of well-done, over-the-top explosion of real-thing grandeur that all those VIP lounges and hotel lobbies lamely aspire to. It's a rococo temple to gaming (and all the other midnight arts, no doubt), lined with mirrors, frescoes, bas-relief panels and gilded mahogany. The ceiling soars and the carpet is sumptuous enough to reduce the chant of croupiers and the clink of chips to a soothing murmur. And this is only the first room of four equally huge table rooms, not to mention private rooms, high-roller salons, three restaurants and a very tasteful room of slots and video poker.

I tour around, kibitz some of the action and finally settle in for about two hours of $20-minimum European roulette. I make quite good friends with my table mates, two British fellows and one crisp Parisienne who is tossing around 200-euro bets with a breezy insouciance. At one point, fortune sees me up by about $140. I finally end the morning down $40.

I've had luckier nights of gambling, but never a more enjoyable one, thanks to the setting. Dare I say, it was a privilege to play here?

It was.

And that's the straight poop.

Favorite pastimes for regular folks in Monte Carlo include watching the high-rollers gamble away small fortunes and counting the Rolls-Royces parked outside the Hotel de Paris, left.At the Monte-Carlo Resort, the wealthy parade their riches -- win or lose. Monte Carlo and its same-named casino light up the night sky like diamonds on an heiress's neck.