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Jean-Claude Trichet (2): Paris after the war, Brittany roots

I was born in Lyon, one of the largest cities in France and the ancient capital of the Roman Gaule. It was December of 1942, during the Second World War. My father, Jean, was 31 and my mother, Georgette, was 29. I was the oldest of three children.

   But all my memories are of Paris. I was born in Lyon because my mother wanted to have her first baby where her own mother lived. But my parents took me back to Boulogne-Billancourt, a city contiguous to Paris, soon after I was born.

   My parents then moved to an apartment on Rue de Miromesnil in the 8th arrondissement, and at the age of 5 I began attending a school on the Rue du General Foy, which was very close to our apartment.

   The 8th arrondissement, where the Arc de Triomphe is located, was not on the sophisticated "rive gauche" of the Seine, home to the Sorbonne, and not necessarily in the most notorious part of the "rive droite." It was a quiet residential area.

Lighting the imagination   

I played a lot in nearby Parc Monceau. As a child, my imagination was sparked by the poetry-inspiring buildings there: a pyramid, ruined columns around a lake and a rotunda. The boys and girls of the neighborhood would gather to play marbles. We were winning and losing with those small balls in an atmosphere reminiscent of a small market.

Trichet at about 5 months old, with his father and mother, left

   France was still a very poor place immediately after the end of the war. Paris was not destroyed, but living standards were very low and scarcity prevailed.

     The old ways were still very present at that time. Still imprinted on my memory are scenes of horse-drawn carriages that distributed milk through the streets of Paris. Shouts of "Vitrier! Vitrier!" from a man looking for customers in need of window repairs still linger in my ears.

     When I was around 7 or 8, my father bought a car. It was an 11 CV black Traction Avant Citroen -- the first with front-wheel drive -- with an 11-horsepower engine. That was before rapid economic growth ushered in a new era of prosperity, so it was still rare for a family to own a car in Paris.

    Nowadays, the streets of Paris are lined with parked cars. But back then, it was considered abnormal to leave a car on the street. I remember my father kept sidelights on all night to alert other drivers and prevent damage to his car. That was not a very good idea because it drained the battery!

Brittany in the blood    

My father's family came from Brittany, which faces the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. It was a fantastic trip going there for summer vacations, driving through small towns and beautiful forests.

     The port city of Saint-Malo, home of the Corsairs, was once a melting pot of lively sailors, warriors, traders and thinkers. There were mathematicians and physicists, like Maupertuis, who invented the "principle of least action", which is, even today, at the heart of quantum mechanics. Proud philosophers and explorers fueled one another's ambitions. This environment spawned great writers like Chateaubriand.

     My Brittany roots have filled me with both the violence and permanent roughness of the sea as well as with the serenity and tranquility of the countryside. This contrast is fascinating.

     Very close to the property where I spent my holidays was a place where the ocean waters moving landward with the tide regularly mixed with freshwater from the River Rance.

     I also loved to stand on a cliff along the river, which gave you a bird's-eye view of the calm, stately, meandering Rance, and of the bell towers of the city of Dinan.

     My favorite place was a small group of houses in the equally small village of Le Chatelier, where you could see extraordinary numbers of shrimp pulled out with nets from the water during high tide.

    Now I have a second home in Saint-Malo and spend holidays there.

Like father, like son    

My father studied at the Ecole Normale Superieure, Rue-d'Ulm, a prestigious university. He later became a professor of Greek and Latin. Former French President Georges Pompidou was a classmate of his.

     "Jean-Claude, you have to be excellent," my father would tell me over and over again. It was his way of telling me to never settle for mediocrity and always strive to make superior achievements.

     And he also strongly instilled in me the importance of mathematics and science.

    My father had a burning curiosity. He was interested in everything from literature to philosophy and science, and was eager to understand everything. What is the meaning of quantum mechanics? What is reality? My father frequently reflected on such questions. I inherited that habit from him. 

Jean-Claude Trichet is former president of the European Central Bank.

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