In today’s episode, we travel to one of the Parisian neighborhoods named Montreuil to talk with Rebecca Dry, founder of the media platform Love Montreuil. Montreuil is to Paris what Oakland is to San Francisco, a vibrant multicultural young dynamic and creative suburb of Paris. (This interview has been edited for the purpose of this blog post)
One of the most secrets of Parisian neighborhoods, Montreuil is well-known for its left-wing politics and its diverse immigrants' population. The city has been led by a succession of Mayors affiliated with the French communist but also the Green party.
One of the most diverse Parisian Neighborhoods: an Incredible Melting Pot right at the door of Paris.
Montreuil is one of the most diverse Parisian neighborhoods. The result is an incredible melting pot of culture, diverse languages, and a deep artistic community that goes back to the early century with the movie industry. Today, the town is home to more than one hundred thousand people. Known for its cultural diversity, its working-class and recently a more Parisian Boheme lifestyle, Montreuil hosts a tight community of artists and counts more than 800 artist workshops. You can listen to any genre of music and live music any night of the week. Restaurants serve food from all over the world.
Rebecca Dry, a creative British immigrant adventurer has been living in Montreuil for a long time. Her background in media and branding made her attracted to the interesting texture of Montreuil. The result is Love Montreuil, an online magazine showcasing the wonderful things that go on in the Paris suburb of Montreuil in France. Both locals and tourists can find the best places to eat, drink, see a show, or just read about some unique, creative people in the area.
“So it's almost like a hidden jewel and lots more people from Paris are coming to live here now, which is good. They wouldn't have touched it 10 years ago and now it's kind of trendy to live here, you know, so they call it the Brooklyn of Paris…and it tends to be where people maybe dare to be a bit different.
Just how Montreuil is a melting pot of identities, so is Rebecca Dry. Her day job is in communications, but she is a person full of passion. Rebecca loves to sing and tell stories and she combines those two loves to build Love Montreuil to what it is today.
A Tireless Explorer of Parisian Neighborhoods
Rebecca: I'm English. I’ve lived in Paris for 21 years. Half of my life. I'm someone who does a lot of different things, a lot of different activities. I launched the online magazine called Love Montreuil, which is obviously about my hometown, where I live now just outside of Paris, where I've been for now 17 years.
So what made you decide to move from Paris to one of the most unknown Parisian neighborhoods?
Rebecca: Paris was a kind of accident but it was kind of wished for as well. When I was a student in England, I came to France for my third year. I went down the kind of the beginning of the Southwest of France in a town called [inaudible]. And I was there for a year between the age of 19 and 20…20 and 21 absolutely adored it. Came back to England to finish my studies. And when I graduated after my fourth year of studies, I only wanted to come back to France. It was like an obsession.
I used to work for the French government as an English assistant. Two years after, that was over, I received a letter saying that they have a lack of English assistants in the system and asking me if I would like to do it again? And we have a job in Paris or a job within a village with 300 people in the mountains in the Pyrenees. And I was like. I like nature, but I think I might go to Paris. So this thing was like a godsend.
Rebecca’s Parisian’s Neighborhoods Life
Well after one year I've been in Paris. I absolutely adored it, loved it, then got a job in advertising. I started working and communication was what I wanted to do and then I've never been back. So it was kind of a coincidence. I wasn't even to stay a year or two and I've been here 21 years. Four years after living in one of the most bobo Parisian neighborhoods, the 11th district which is kind of a mixed area, very arty, very trendy, I wanted to invest in something. I could not afford an apartment in Paris, it was too expensive for me at the time.
Montreuil first experience
Rebecca: I was young, so I knew Montreuil, which was just outside of Paris. Very arty, very kind of cool. But very can people like, Montreuil is dangerous, you know, there's loads of, you know, it's kind of a scabby area. But I'd been going to funk parties there at night for years. I'd never seen it during the day, but I kind of was familiar with it. I thought I'll come to check out Montreuil. It's not too far from the East of Paris where I lived. And I found a flat there that was probably half the price and five metro stops away. So I thought I'll invest here. And I came to Montreuil.
It is an amazing place there's nowhere like it in France. There's nowhere like it here. 1,500 artists live here. There's something like eight to 900 artists workshops. There's tens of fab labs. There is a punk and rock music culture but also a gypsy culture.
Montreuil’s commitment to Nature: The ‘Mur de Pêches’
Culture in Montreuil is everywhere and along with culture, there is the environment with many public vegetable gardens and the famous ‘Mur de pêche’, which means the wall of peach.
Rebecca: There is a kind of cultural heritage in Montreuil. The Mur de Pêche is the peach wall. There are acres and acres of peaches. It used to be grown for the Royal family. They are now being restored. The walls are covered with peaches. It is now an artistic area where there's a festival and three beautiful parks. And there's just this feeling of creativity everywhere you go and feeling of an alternative lifestyle as well.
People from Montreuil are different. They are rebellious.
One of the most diverse, artistic and rich Parisian’s neighborhoods
Rebecca: The press has called Montreuil, the Brooklyn of Paris. It tends to be where people maybe dare to be a bit different. Creating new projects, places as well, which are really cool and trendy and alternative. And the cultural offer is amazing: dance, theater, and music. There is a huge amount of music studios here at least 12 different recording studios, quite well-known ones.
It's buzzing and a great vibe everywhere you go. You can feel it in the streets. It's colorful. There is a lot of street art and artists are respected in Montreuil. Artists get helped with housing and funding for the art as well.
The inspiration behind Love Montreuil
Rebecca: I've been living here for 17 years. I was very Parisian when I first came here. It wasn't the same offer here either, so I used to go to Paris all the time and the last few years I've been noticing, I've literally been staying in Montreuil. Not hardly going into Paris apart from work. There are some beautiful exhibitions or you know, still amazing things you can find in Paris. But the offer was getting better and better in Montreuil. It used to be a couple of places to go out on at night, but now there's lots of choice, amazing DJs, amazing live acts, brilliant exhibitions, festivals, et cetera.
I thought to myself, there isn't a website about this town that I myself would love to read and fall upon. You know, I would love to know about what's going on in this town. So there was nothing. I thought, why don't I create one? So I decided to do it and I decided to create it myself from scratch, like the website, everything, the photos, everything, the content, with a view to valorizing and valorizing my town and also the people who make it move and shake.
It’s all about storytelling
Rebecca: I created different sections I'm passionate about think are important. A guide with information about where can you eat, drink, where to go out, where to see an exhibition. The main section is the story section. It's four to six new people stories every month. It can be about a founder of a jazz festival or the owner of a new restaurant. It can be the portrait of a sculptor or street artist. There are all sorts of different stories.
Love Montreuil is a cultural snapshot of what's going on here. It's not a guide to go out. There's already a guide that exists in Montreuil.
Juliette: That's a very interesting combining all of these different almost asset of the city. I don't like that word when you talk about culture and art, but kind of the richness and mixed city. I think that mixing art and with anything is very powerful,
Rebecca: Extremely powerful, it elevates it to another level. With my normal job, I organize events and do communication strategy and, and loss for the things we do with communication. But I worked for two years was in an agency in Paris and we used art to communicate with for brands.
And, you know, as soon as art's involved in anything, the opportunities are endless. It becomes more fun. It becomes creative. It's just such a great platform for anything.
A collaborative approach
Juliette: I like the approach you're having, which is kind of making sure you link all these different labels of the society and then really trying to make them collaborate together.
Rebecca: Exactly. Because obviously in Montreuil, there's a lot of trendy places and people think it's getting too gentrified and et cetera.
But on my website, I showcase all the old shops as well, the traditional shops. The kind of places which are not chic. I'm interviewing some of the guys who live in the African home here. There are lots of African workers' homes and maybe a photography project with the girl I've met with them as well.
The Paradoxe of diversity and gentrification of one of the Parisian Neighborhoods
Rebecca: Montreuil is kind of a paradox. Some very wealthy people live there even though it's still very considered as a kind of working-class area. It's obviously the fact that it was cheaper. It attracted a lot of wealth and people invested here. But I don't want my website just to be some of the kind of snobby reading destination. Montreuil ‘s cultural mix like you said is fantastic. I want my website to reflect that as well. When I interview people, the same thing comes back for every single person is the cultural mix city here, the cultural mix. Everyone's said it.
Everyone is like, that's why I love Montreuil. I want to go to a shop run by these Iraquis guys and have all these products from the Middle East. All these amazing things you’ve never seen before. I want to have an African traditional meal. Turn the corner and go to a Vietnamese restaurant. Walk further up and go to the Indian store. Shop at the Portuguese supermarket, and check out I these amazing Italian restaurants. This is what Montreuil is about.
If we loose diversity, that wouldn't be Montreuil anymore.
Meet Rebecca, the singer
Juliette: Rebecca is kind of an artist herself. And the reason that today I think you're doing a media site, which is kind of, promoting art and in mixed city and stories refers to the last 17 years where you've been mixing your communication background and music and publishing your first album and second album. So where does this love of art and music come from?
Two albums of original music
Rebecca: It's strange when I think about it. I tried to answer this question myself a lot because I'm a singer. I've released two albums of original music in France. I had a lot of radio play as well on national stations and which is still absolutely unbelievable to me. But I had a very classic and lovely childhood. My family expected me to go to university and get a job. We lived in the North of England and it's a small town. So it wasn't a big city with lots of opportunities like London. And the art world was so far away from my reality when I was young. Being an artist, a dancer, a singer was like, that's for the other people.
I had musical abilities as well. I used to play the violin. The piano in orchestras for about 10 years and sing in the choir. But I was good at it, I won a few talent shows, but it was never like, I'm going to be an artist now. Looking back, I sometimes wish I had tried to make it as an artist, as a singer because I knew I was a good singer. I was nine, 10 kind of thing, but it wasn't for us. It wasn't our type of family. So I always did it as a hobby on the side.
It was normal for me to love music but to be an artist myself was something else. And it's something I developed later on in life when I was maybe 35 or above, which is quite late really.
Regrets about not becoming a professional singer earlier in life?
Rebecca: I didn't really believe in myself and I wish I had when I was younger. People who make it, they push themselves forward. I don't like putting myself forward.
Rebecca: And I never, still to this day, don't see myself as an artist even though I am. And I write songs and I can sing and I've got people telling me I have a great voice and professional level and everything. I don't know, it's just, um, under the side to me, once again, it's on the side and it's never been the main job. And
I think in life things are just circumstance of where you're from, where you are born into.
I've always been torn between two things. Being academic and then being artistic. When I was young I was, I just wanted to have my degree, doing a normal job, have security. Not at all Bohemian, not at all artistic at all.
A traditional childhood
Rebecca: My family was always like, you know, making sure you have some stability in life and then artistic thing is on top. You're not going to be an artist. For me, artists were equaled poor, being in a hovel somewhere and never getting any work, you know, like being a singer, like as a career that is just so, that was so scary to me. You know, it would never even cross my mind anyway. But yeah, doing it as a hobby and keeping it always on the side is something we should kind of **confusing** the need in you to be creative kind of relieves you of this thing.
But there's always that frustration of, and what if I had have become professional and I think I would have loved to have been professional singer because when you sing you are in a complete bubble.
It is just an amazing feeling. There's nothing like it. It's just euphoric and thanks to music as well and all the people I've met through music, it's helped me with my creativity and my writing as well.
Does your art sensibility has influenced your journalist’s work?
Juliette: I asked Rebecca how she thought her singing and art has influenced her journalism approach?
Rebecca: Thanks to my singing, it all binds together because the singing got me another job in journalism, which hones your talent for meeting people, empathizing, finding the right words, getting them to express themselves in an interview, which then helps you again for what I’m doing now. So all these worlds combined, I think it’s quite logical. If you’re interested in art and culture in yourself, then you can be creative in different domains. So to me, it kind of all links back.
Well that's a very rich, busy life as you see is super active women. Never satisfied with yourself…
The need to give back
Rebecca: I just think what do I contribute to society? It always just gets me. Am I going to leave a trace? What have I done when I've left this earth to leave a trace? I'm always wondering. And this website is about doing some positive for the community I live in . Working in communication and marketing, you sell things, you organize events, it means nothing in life.
I'm trying to give some sense to life as well, through creativity, through my music, through this project, through other things. I always have this constant thing of like, what are you actually doing for this world? I feel it's still not enough.
How to choose what you like the most?
I've always been torn between lots of different things in life. Should I be in a singer? Should I've stayed in England? Should I have to come to France?
And I think it's good to be creative, but I also think it's, it creates a lot of frustration in people who are always kind of wanting to do more projects.
Juliette: It sounds like you're on a beautiful journey.
Rebecca: I am on a journey definitely.
And the most important thing for me is people. I like people, I like meeting people. I'm nosy. That's why I'm a good journalist. Probably. I like getting stories, meeting people, getting to know people. I think it's just so interesting. I'm constantly curious about people and I think it's so amazing what we're surrounded by people who can help each other. People can inspire each other, you know? And I think if we don't get to know people enough, we can stay with a small circle of friends, but there's so much more out there, so many amazing people who are doing amazing things.
Montreuil, one of the most vibrant Parisian neighborhoods.
Talking about Montreuil is like talking about the incredible diversity of France often invisible in the mainstream media, in politics or in corporate France. For me, that’s what I love France, not the pretty postcard but more this incredibly complicated mix of cultures and history. Close to 9% of Muslims live in France, but the country still does not offer the option to learn Arabic in school. My hope is that Rebecca’s work can shine a new light on French culture far from the usual postcard.
So, if you get to Paris, get in the metro and go on a journey of Montreuil.