Noureddine Mhakkak (NM): As a Parisian, what could you tell us about Paris? I am talking here about Paris of Arts and Letters.
Julie Guégan (JG): Paris is a city to visit by walking back and forth and across. It is all a question of learning to accept to waste our time, for better rewards afterwards. In fact, treasures are never where we look for them.
When I was younger, I worked in Boulogne in advertising and I had my little apartment in the fifth district, in the heart of Paris. The one that makes us feel like we live in a village. I lived two minutes from the famous rue Mouffetard. Do you know the witch’s street? I took three different subways morning and evening. It was quite painful especially when they broke down. So often, even when I was finishing late, I liked to walk home. It was a long road of almost three hours. But it was worth it!
Thus, on my journey, I crossed the Invalides, the Trocadéro or even the bridges of the Seine, such as the majestic Alexandre III bridge. Almost all risks in Paris are possible; Since getting lost in it, is impossible. I quickly understood it thanks to all my peregrinations. Between the Seine, Haussmannian architecture, but also urban design, made up of axes and landmarks, for those who have a compass in their head, Paris is foolproof readability! By the way, let’s use a simplifistic view over Paris to make it even more readable to you: did you know that the left bank (at the bottom of the Seine) is known for its sparkling and creative energy while the right bank (at the top of the Seine) is better known for its bourgeois and more conservative energy?
Paris is a wonderful hostess for students from all walks of life. But beware, this city is expensive! You have to know how to find the right formulas to enjoy it while respecting your budget. So, I spent hours and hours in Parisian libraries. My favourite was the national library of France, in the form of four open books, which the late President Mitterrand had built. You cannot imagine how incredibly beautiful and peaceful this place is. When I was not working, this is where I could be found during the day, in this luxurious universe.
Basically, contrary to popular belief, the most expensive activities are often the least interesting. So, I enjoyed the museums a lot too. But what I think nostalgically most is all those parties and other free concerts that we used to go to with my friends. Armed with our little guides, we had our nose for good tips and the most exotic artistic discoveries, because what we loved was world music. And when you’re young and full of curiosity, Paris, yes, it’s party time!
(NM): When I visited the Louvre, I was fascinated by its dazzling paintings, what could you tell us about this museum?
(JG): I can tell you that I dream of visiting its cellars and all these treasures that may never appear before us. As with everything, some decide for us what is presentable and what is not. There will be thousands of us jostling in front of the tiny painting of the Mona Lisa, without being able to take advantage of her particular gaze for a single moment. But we will have seen it! In my day, we often went to the Louvre on rainy Sundays. It was one of the only places in Paris where the shops were open, and where we could stroll through the luminous space of the pyramid.
Besides, I never understood the criticisms around the pyramid. It is an exceptional concept, which has transformed an aging museum into a work of art that spans all centuries. What ingenuity! Moving crowds out of the museum, allowing them to access the different universes gradually, with a feeling of space and freedom, the architect Leo Ming Pei, who died two years ago at the age of 102, was in my opinion a great genius! And I name him here, because from my point of view, he lacked recognition.
Paris, as I said above, is made up of several villages. There is the fifth district, my hometown, it’s the student district! Its specificity, very large high schools, renowned universities, cobbled streets and the famous rue de la montagne Sainte-Geneviève, a favourite landmark for Parisians in search of raclette and heated political discussions. Another village that I really like is the top of the twentieth, with its sloping streets, colourful flowers and organic markets. But there are so many other wonderful neighbourhoods to discover.
You can’t imagine what is hidden behind the facades of buildings in Montmartre, for example. I was lucky one day to be iinvited to a party in one of her architectural jewels. To get into the apartment, we had to go down several stairs. And once we got to our guest floor, we found out that we were actually on the second floor, with a beautiful view over a nice backyard. The streets are so steep that the buildings meet in a pretty brothel, creating a truly unique and surprising atmosphere. No building is at the same level!
(NM): Your way of reading poetry is so fascinating. Tell us about your relationship with poetry, and which poets do you prefer to read?
(JG): I began to appreciate poetry with my French teacher, Jean-Pierre Jacques, back in fifth grade. He introduced me to Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire and then alone, I discovered many others, such as Milton or Blake. Recently I was introduced to the great Tagore. But I don’t have any favourite poets. I am sensitive to the music of words, and I cannot write without reading it aloud. In fact, my biggest problem right now is that I don’t read for fun, but to learn.
I want to contribute better to this world around us, so I spend a lot of time trying to increase my knowledge. I hope one day that I can rediscover the simple pleasure of reading.
(NM): Ernest Hemingway said these words about cats: “The cat is absolutely honest: human beings hide their feelings for one reason or another. Cats no ”. Tell us about your relationship with your cat.
(JG): Two and a half years ago, my big boy Timothé went on a ski trip organised by his school. When everything seemed to be going well, after just 4 days, on a late Wednesday afternoon I received a phone call telling me that Timothé had been in an accident and that he should go to the hospital. As soon as said, as soon as we were on our way, I, Hadrien, my second son and their dad; we traveled the 800 kilometers between us, in order to be present for the operation which had been confirmed in the meantime. Fortunately, because he had been left all night on his own, as the hospital was almost an hour from the station where the group was staying.
When we got back to Brussels the next day, I took Timothé, who was going to find himself three long months without any sporting activity, and we went to buy Caramelle. I knew she would help make him smile. Caramelle is a British short-hair, she is magnificent.
But Caramelle does not have the caramel colour, it is gray. And when we got her, she was not the most docile cat either. Months went by and Caramelle still wasn’t moving from her chosen spot near the washing machine. So rather than forcing contact, I ended up buying another pet, a dog this time. As soon as Bille arrived, Caramelle started to change. It must be said that the little dog was a real tornado. In contact with Billie, Caramelle became curious, cuddly and above all she understood that we wanted her well.
Today, Caramelle is with me all the time when I work. And in the evening, she comes to rest near us for hugs before going to sleep. She’s a lovable animal that I fell in love with. Caramelle and Billie are my life companions, just like my children. And they upset me both as they bring us joys on a daily basis.
(NM): Marilyn Monroe said about dogs “Dogs never bite me. Just humans ”. Tell us about your relationship with your dog.
(JG): First of all, you should know that I have been passionate about collaboration for years. I think it’s because I played in a pretty tough competitive environment when I was little. And later, I found meaning in the collaboration, while I was working for this beautiful collective project that is Europe, which is nevertheless crying for more ambition. And so obviously when you are passionate about collaboration and spend your time trying to understand how to optimize it, inevitably, let me tell you that you will take everything around you for guinea pigs. Me, my kids, Billie and Caramelle, we’d better be good collaborators. I do this in a gentle way 😉
And I would tell you if we all got along like cats and dogs, the world would be a lot better. Unless they are an exception but I don’t believe so. Their collaboration is fruitful in a number of areas, such as when it comes to stealing all my pens! I took an Australian Yorkshire Terrier so I could travel easily! Because I define myself as an adventurer, I have a vital need for travel and discovery all the time. With the Covid, we can see that travel has been limited. But Billie is here, and although I love bigger dogs, she is here to stay and I would not swap her for sure!
You should know that Billie was a monster, small, she was jumping, running around, barking, a real crazy little girl, who was not afraid of anything. She ate my furniture, munched on children’s heels. Hell. And then one day I thought I had to do something constructive (I don’t believe in authoritarianism!) And I started running with Billie every day. Not a morning without running with her. And as I cured her of her hyperactivity, I began to heal my humanity, to come back to this quote from Marilyn. Every day we will run in the forest, reconnecting ourselves to the trees, to this pure and beneficent energy. We find the songs of birds for a moment out of time which I can no longer do without.
Billie also accompanies me on our long walks. And she reassures us, secures us, we are crazy about our little Billie! A little anecdote, my children are called Gyss after their daddy’s name. We chose to name our dog Billie, for Billie Gyss, a funny reference to the famous song “Billie Jean” by one of my sons’s favourite singers, Michael Jackson.
(NM): About Marilyn Monroe, what does the world of cinema represent for you?
(JG): I am defined as a pragmatic idealist, I think this is a very Franco-French peculiarity. I like author’s cinema, the one that takes us very far, in feelings, and emotions. The one to be deciphered, which intellectualises, makes the imperceptible beautiful and grandiloquent. When I was 25, I took lessons with Jack Walzer, in Paris and London. I could have pursued my career in film. And then I wanted a conventional life, mom, dad and their kids.
I have this sweet hope that one day I can live as an actress. I know I will end my life surrounded by animals, crazy friends and sculpture. In the meantime, I’m learning to be better for those I love. We have never needed everyone’s full potential so much.
(NM): I would like to have your opinion on European society in general and the relationship between men and women in this society in particular.
(JG): This is a very broad subject that I suggest we briefly discuss today. And, if you are interested, of course I would love to come back to it next time. I think we thought we were smarter than our ancestors and today we are paying the price. The post-industrial age will not have had all positive consequences. In an accelerating world, I think we need to put spirituality back everywhere. The temptations are too great and we are only human. It is our responsibility as adults to protect our children and ourselves. I think that our society lacks care, depth and it must be cured of its many ailments. Both women and men are sick. There is no one in particular to blame, but action must be taken. Because at the same time as ourselves, we have done harm to our planet and it is urgent to repair. I have a lot of hope for the future, because the awakening is collective.
If we are strong enough to defend ourselves against the forces of self-destruction, then we might even become happier after this crisis. I want to believe it, and every week I help bring about a new system in our European institutions. But, the arts and letters have taught me that you should never try to speed up anything. Patience is the mother of all virtues. If the impact is not enough yet, it is because we have to stop and think about what is blocking. So that’s what I’m doing now, on a regular basis, thinking and considering different strategies for always more impact.
This article was originally written in French and published in a shorter version in Al Bayane.