Marianne: Your book conveys a love for the city, or what remains of it. Do you live in the city? What do you still love about it?
Jonathan Siksou: I was born and have always lived in the city, specifically Paris – although I do explore other places and seek refuge in the countryside whenever possible! However, it is inconceivable for me to imagine a daily life far away from this backdrop. When one has “naturally” internalized certain inconveniences (noise, traffic, pollution, overcrowding, etc.), the rest presents itself with its indomitable majesty. We have before our eyes the materialization of human ingenuity: the perfection of urban planning, the precision of art, and the grandeur of architecture… it is also the tangible testimony of our history, its splendor and its horrors… To live in the city is to live among all of this.
The city life is also defined by unparalleled stimulation. The city remains a promise of encounters and success, and everything is within reach: museums, restaurants, and even work! But for a city to be complete and perfect, it must also offer retreats: to enter a door to escape the hustle and bustle, to seek refuge in silence, whether in an apartment away from the noisy street or a house hidden in a garden. This is how a Parisian can still remain a Parisian: by hiding; because they have against them officials – a unique case in the world – who do everything to ruin their lives, destroy the tranquility of their daily life, and the beauty of their environment.
Marianne: You wrote that silence is no longer allowed in the city. In what way?
Jonathan Siksou: The city has always been a noisy place, but it is becoming increasingly so. To compensate for an unprecedented collective inattention in human history (the overwhelming majority of people walking on the street or taking public transportation no longer pay attention to their surroundings: they have their eyes glued to their phones with headphones on their ears), the public space has become filled with sound signals. The city beeps and bleeps from all sides, traffic lights announce their colors with synthetic voices, the doors of buses and metros open and close with a cacophony of sirens, and the reversing of vehicles is accompanied by shrill alarms… All because fewer and fewer people are looking around them. Paradoxically, other dangers are silent: electric cars, bicycles, scooters…
Marianne: Why have twisted minds invented security codes, even putting two codes in one entrance hall sometimes?
Jonathan Siksou: The disappearance of caretakers is to blame! Without the surveillance of these domestic elite soldiers, the tranquility of a building relies solely on its security codes. And we can see the result: despite the multiplication of these small keyboards, burglaries have never been so numerous. We can draw the following conclusion: while a crook always knows how to open a door to commit his theft, the wanderer, the honest explorer, is now deprived of the fruits of his curiosity. When one knows how to steal a necklace from a bedside table, the other is prevented from admiring a staircase or a garden at the back of a courtyard. It would be impossible today to write “The Mysteries of Paris”.
Marianne: What do you think of the gigantic advertisements on the monuments of Paris? Like a smartphone poster on the Opera, or a ready-to-wear fashion poster on churches?
Jonathan Siksou: These monumental advertisements do indeed partly fund the works they camouflage. It is unfortunate, but it is so: the restoration of public monuments such as the Palace of Justice, the Madeleine Church, the Louvre Museum, the Hôtel de la Marine, or the Opera of Paris cannot be solely ensured by the state – its owner. In a way, it is a lesser evil: Apple and Vuitton compensate for the misuse of our taxes when they could be used to maintain our heritage. But on the other hand, the message is disastrous: these mandatory advertisements are a sign of the state’s resignation, its inability to ensure the maintenance and transmission of our common good – because we are all co-owners of it. Unable to sell family jewels, it rents them out, surrenders them for the duration of a construction site or a fashion show or a sporting event.
Marianne: The contemporary spectacle in public gardens frightens you. Why? After all, they bring life…
Jonathan Siksou: Until recently, the purpose of parks and gardens was to offer city dwellers a breath of fresh air, a moment of tranquility, a break from urban agitation. But athletic frenzy has crossed their gates and invaded their peaceful groves and pathways designed for leisurely walks. The “physical performance” of a “healthy body” now imposes its short breath and perspiration in the very places of contemplation and rest! Of course, you are not (yet) obliged to run when you simply want to stretch your legs along the lawns, but it is not uncommon to be the only walker among runners – especially on weekends. This hygienist exhibitionism is also evident in Asian relaxation sessions and other boxing and weightlifting classes. However, there are places specifically designed for that: the gym and the stadium – there are stadiums in every district.
Marianne: But in the end, I might end up being seen as an old grumbler! To answer you: yes, the city is full of life! And that’s what I enjoy telling in my book: the different ways we occupy this space, modify it, or simply traverse it. And how we all find ways to live together. In response, I can only offer one line of defense: laughter, humor, and lightness!