Paris, FRANCE - Lawyer, Writer, Journalist
Interview made by Cyril Bruyelle in June 2017
Charles is a French lawyer, writer, and TV chronicler. He welcomed me in his flat in Paris. He is known to be straight forward and sometimes provocative. Having the chance to ask him questions that are pretty different from the ones he’s normally asked – about politics, or literacy– allows us to discover a friendly, honest and sensitive person.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I think I dreamed about being a general, or something like that in the army.
With whom would you like to have a coffee?
Maybe with Trump, it’d be fun to spend time with him. I find it pretty sick that a figure like him who is as punk, cleaving in his choices, was still able to become the president of the United States.
I believe that since he’s been elected, he led a surprising policy. He has no fear at all of what people think. He is an unexpected person, who is in my opinion quite underestimated and hated in an unproductive way. Personally, I like this kind of person, who does not care about what people think or gossips. It might be my lawyer side. I like people who live with their instincts and empower all their freedom.
If you could choose something to be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?
Maybe French because when we speak multiple languages, which is not really my case as I just speak very basic French and English, we develop two views of the world. It gives us a richer understanding of things. Today, for children who are lucky enough to learn another language, most of them learn English. If they learned French, a very different language, they could access to all the French literature. That would be nice since we have so many wonderful pieces of literature, music, and cinema.
To you, what’s that main characteristic that all human being have in common?
Those questions are very interesting.
I think it’s the need of love.
To you, who is the happiest person on earth?
I won’t say children because kids are not really happy. Maybe they are careless and reckless, but they also have a lot of anxiety and fears. I think maybe Macron (the newly elected French president). He’s a bit on a high right now, maybe he had for a few seconds the feeling to be the happiest man on earth. But that’s just a matter of perception. If he was aware of the reality, he might smile less. (laughing)
So I don’t know who it is, I really think that happiness is linked with simple life.
I still feel that everything that the world literature is trying to teach us or whatever piece of art, goes towards this feeling. Victor Hugo said that the poet was a formidable messenger between the after life and mankind, and I also think he qualified Rimbaud as a wonderful messenger if I remember well.
I believe the main message is that a life made of love and fresh water, simplicity and connections with a tribe, a family, with one person or many, with or without children but a life with others and filled by simple moments and joy, is what makes people happy.
If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?
For this question, I am once more going to be a bit “bobo” (a French expression for “Bohemian Bourgeois”), but I do believe that ecology, even if I don’t know much about it and it’s not a subject that I’m passionate about, is an urgent matter. Since the United States are also big polluters, my first reform would be a vast project reforming everything for the sake of the planet.
What do you need?
I need love, like I said earlier. I need money, I need vacations, I need others, I need sleep… that’s enough. (Smile)
What would you do if we gave you 1 million dollars now?
I would pay my debts, especially to my parents.
I used to think about it a lot because I loved to buy lottery tickets when I was younger. The pleasure of this game, apart from winning, relies on imagining everything you could do if you won a million euro.
Because I was a childish adolescent, I had a fascination for luxury, I loved avenue Montaigne in Paris, I loved objects with brands, I loved Vuitton bags, Gucci. I had Gucci shoes with the brand on it so we would see they were real, it was exquisite taste [Laught]. I kept a little attraction towards “bling bling” things. I feel there is a kind of joy in it, gold watches etc. So at that time what I imagined with 1 million euros was to go down avenue Montaigne in a car with chauffeur and buy a lot of clothes.
What I would do today, I don’t know… I would give money to my parents, like 100,000 each. Maybe I would take 500,000 to buy an apartment. I’m sorry my answers are very basic. I would then quickly spend the rest to do everything I haven’t done yet. I say this now but I actually have no idea of what I would do.
Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?
A machine to stop time, it would make my life easier because I always feel like days go by too fast and I don’t get anything done. I’m always late, always in a hurry and I hate that, so that innovation would help me a lot.
There is a Hermes watch, I’m talking about brands again which I usually don’t do, but there is a very beautiful and genius Hermes watch that is called “suspended time”. You can just stop time by pushing a button, and once you click back on it, it shows you the actual time. It allows you to forget about time for a moment of your choice. Maybe what would help me.
Do you think your life is easier or more complicated than the life of your parents?
I feel like I live worse. I’m not saying that because of the current conjuncture but they reached a simple life faster than me, as I mentioned before. They had children quite early. What they told me is that at their time, when they had my age, they were much more unconcerned. It wasn’t very hard to find a job and even to keep it. Today I feel like I have to fight constantly to keep the 3 euros that I’m earning, to keep my place in the media, to keep my job in the law firm, to take care of my clients.. There is always someone trying to fuck us up and I find it tiring.
So I do believe that it’s less easy for my generation than for my parent’s generation, mostly moneywise. Companies do not want to pay people well, as they used to. Things got heavier; there is a general depressing climate, which I feel a lot. I don’t know what happened over the last 10 years. I feel like there is a certain change, an obsessive moralization of everybody, a need to check that everyone is clean, pays their taxes, doesn’t break the law... Something that also extends to private life; we wish to know everything about people, know their intimacy.
In France, we are undermined with our obsession for equality and it has been like this for years, century even, since Tocqueville was already talking about it. French people are sick with equality. And it is true, this victorious socialism depresses everyone.
You shouldn’t want to earn more than your neighbor.
You shouldn’t want to own a beautiful car or a beautiful tux… Francois Fillon lost the presidential elections because of his suit.
So we all have to be the same, to fit into this administrative model with a Peugeot 208 and our summer holiday at Pierre & Vacances (a French famous holiday resort).
Personally, I don’t want that, I don’t find it interesting at all. I think it cuts people’s wings off. I believe that people are given imagination and need diverse accomplishments. To do this, they should not always be stopped by the power of Public State or envied by their neighbors. France has become a country where the State takes up all the room and people keep being jealous about each other instead of loving each other.
I have a very good friend called Richard Texier, a renowned French artist. He is kind of a saint, spending half of the year in Asia, talking slowly, moving slowly, working only 3 hours a day. He told me one day: “the simplest thing in life is to love people directly instead of being fearful or leery.” Personally, it’s not my natural mindset (laughs) but every time I force myself to do it, it’s true that it changes everything and facilitates everything, it’s very calming, even for you. So we should, even for selfish reasons, have an altruistic approach and love people around us.
What’s the news that affects you the most in your country these days?
Right now, like everyone, but a little against my will, it’s the obsession for our new president and its political party.
What actually affects me, because the problem is unsolvable, is how we welcome – or how we don’t welcome - refugees. This way that we have to notice that they are entering our territory, and yet doing nothing for them, hiding behind their “illegal situation”. We can’t really send them back to the borders, so we let them here with just nothing. From time to time, we sent them some policemen, which are not always polite.
On the one hand I think we can’t be too naïve. We can’t start saying that we will welcome everybody, having apartments ready for them, sending every child to school or giving jobs to adults… I think a country is somehow obliged to decide who comes and who doesn’t and with which conditions.
On the other hand, I think the way we act is unworthy. We are a rich country, even though money is concentrated in one place and a lot of money is spread by the politicians and auto distributed for the people who govern us to glorify their crests, which ends up costing a fortune to the French people, but we have a lot of money. We always make speeches about France and human’s rights - Villepin at the UN, the French Revolution, the abolition of privileges, etc. Supposedly, we’re a country with a big heart, which is actually a joke. Just come to France to see it’s not a French thing, at least not at first sight.
The situation in jails it also chocking. I work in a law firm and we have a lot of clients detained behind bars. I am flabbergasted that we know that people get raped, fight each other, kill themselves, live in constant smoke of cannabis because they all need to get high to get through this... We know this and still there are judges in France who send people to jail for things that did not always merit such a punishment. I believe that a lot of things we punish today should not send people to prison but that is for another discussion…
So the fact that we look the other way, that we seem satisfied with our position, whether for the migrants or the prisons type of situations, demonstrates for me that France isn’t a very developed country when it comes to civilization. For instance, compared to Norway where jails are completely empty or Japan where people are polite and respectful, I believe that France remains a barbaric country century after century.
If you had to create a company, what would it be?
A lawyer firm.
Can you draw something beautiful?
I absolutely do not know how to draw.
Can you sing something beautiful?
Oh no no no, I can’t sing. Did other people sing?
It is embarrassing to sing like this acapella.
Actually, it would be a pity not to do it.
Singing: Le Tourbillon by Jeanne Moreau.
What are you afraid of?
Of many things, of diseases a lot, hospitals, all of that terrifies me. So I stopped smoking, I do sport try to not end up at the Hospital but I drive a scooter in Paris so I’m increasing my chances of dying. Mostly I’m scared of myself, to become crazy, to block on mental things from which I wouldn’t get out. I’m mostly afraid of myself.
What is your dream?
I don’t know, I can’t answer this question.
It would be too basic; I have very simple dreams, a small happy life in the countryside. I do have glory dreams, like any dominating man like I mentioned earlier. But I don’t think I’ll be eternally able to fight. So, my dream is to be able to move in the south of France with my family, on the beach with olive trees and a lot of books; stay here, reading, sleeping and working a bit and that’s it.
Close your eyes, you are in 2100, what do you see?
Amazon drones delivering objects to people’s windows, I see people who are even more angry, grey and tired, fighting for three euros.
What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve seen in your life?
I’m trying to search into my memories. The problem is, if I talk about it I’m going to start crying, it’s going to be terrible I’m not going to be able to tell it right with the emotion, it’s stupid. It’s very intimate what you’re doing but since it’s in between 500 people it’s fine. (laughs)
I have an older sister who is two years older than me. I can’t say it’s the most beautiful but it’s the first thing that came up to my mind. She is very brave, hard working. She is the first kid of the family. When she was 17 she studied to get to Sciences Po (a well established university in France). She worked for two years like crazy. I remember her at 6 am before breakfast she would be studying, when in parallel the rest of her brothers and sisters were completely cool and relax so it was even harder for her to find motivation. She really worked hard and scarified a lot for this, with a persistence that still fascinates me today. Ultimately, she failed and did not get in Sciences Po Paris. She was completely depressed. One summer during our summer holidays, she received an acceptance letter for Sciences Po Bordeaux. She was very emotional and we were also very emotional. See how I am still today getting emotional about it. [Starting crying]
If you had to write a book about the current world, what would be the title?
The ones I wrote, that I would regroup under a third title but at least they explain my perception of the world right now.
What does religion mean to you?
Which of your country's cultural specificities are you the proudest of?
If you could do any job regardless of money, what would you do?
Mine, Lawyer. By the way, it’s the only job that I know in which a lot of rich people still become successful lawyers, meaning that they are not driven bythe money but by the job itself. There are very important criminal lawyers, like Olivier Schnerb who died recently. He was born in a very wealthy family but he still worked fifteen hours a day. It’s a passion job.
If you had to explain our planet to an alien what would you say?
I would say it’s a planet on which living beings coexist. Some are given the capacity of speech and reasoning – humans - others act on instinct - animals - and others are silent – plants. You’re coming onto a planet where we cracked none of the mysteries.
And you, which question would you like to ask to the world?
Maybe one of your questions: what they dream of for their lives? And I would use the most popular answer to know what I should do with my life.