Louisette Azzoaglio Levy-Soussan was Princess Grace’s personal assistant for 19 years. During her time with Princess Grace, she got the idea for CREM, the Club for Foreign Residents in Monaco (Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco). She founded CREM almost a decade ago and is the current president. Her wealth of life experience allowed her to share some philosophical insights with HelloMonaco; she spoke about how to make people feel welcome in a foreign country, what makes Monaco so special and what working for Princess Grace was truly like.
HelloMonaco: The Club for Foreign Residents in Monaco (CREM) is celebrating its ninth anniversary. How did you get the idea to create the club?
Louisette Azzoaglio Levy-Soussan: I got the idea when I was in Paris working for Princess Grace. Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie were at school there and Prince Albert was in the States. And I was feeling very lonely. Because, although I had a few friends in Paris, it’s a big city and it’s very difficult to get into the social life. When I came back to Monaco, I thought of all the foreign people who left their countries to come and live in Monaco and I thought how difficult it may be for some of them to get into Monegasque society.
HM: CREM is an amazing venue, which is sometimes very rare for Monaco, taking into account the size of the Principality.
LL: What was the most difficult was to find accommodation and premises and we were very lucky that Prince Albert helped us, along with Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who lent us this beautiful place. I’m very grateful to them because if not, the club would not have existed. We are very lucky to have these premises and to have a venue where people can meet, have a drink, read newspapers, meet friends, have meetings. And I was also very happy to have friends who assisted me from the begining such as Tina Green and the Comitee founding members.
HM: What are the main features of CREM?
LL: I believe in dialogue in life. Dialogue is the best way to make friends, to get acquainted… So, I think, it was my small way to help them get to know more about Monaco and to feel at home because, when you arrive here from Russia, from France, from Belgium, from India, from wherever, you don’t know exactly what Monaco is. It’s a very special place and you have to be given some keys to how to live here more easily.
HM: Does the Club have a motto?
LL: CREM is a home. For foreign residents. That’s all.
HM: Is anyone from the Princely family a member of the Club?
LL: No, but Prince Albert is the Honorary president and he’s the one who really helped us. Princess Caroline was here the other day with her daughter, Charlotte, for the discussions around philosophy. Prince Albert comes every year to our anniversary. They really encourage us and the government is also is very nice to us.
HM: You were the personal assistant for Princess Grace, an outstanding personality, beautiful inside and out. Can you tell us how that happened?
LL: I was already working in the Palace. I was working for Colonel Ardant, father of Fanny Ardant, the French actress and he was the Chamberlain of the Palace. He told me: «In three days, Princess Grace’s secretary and personal assistant is leaving because she’s going back to Canada to rejoin her family; so before she finds someone else, in the meantime, could you replace her?» It was partly because I spoke English, not so well at the time because I learned a lot later with her, but I was the only secretary there who spoke English. So I said: «Ok», and I went with her. I was very impressed, she was a very wonderful person because she was simple in a way but she was impressive as a person. So I stayed with her for one month and after one month I told Colonel Ardant: «Would you find someone», because I was working for both of them. And he said: «Well I think I’m going to find someone else because Princess Grace wants you to stay with her». So I was very happy. And I stayed for 19 years until her death.
HM: What did you discover about Princess Grace which is not written in books about her?
LL: Princess Grace was someone who was curious, she had something stately in her personality and she was taking her role as a princess seriously. She wanted to adopt Monaco as her new city and she wanted to know everything about Monaco and everything about the people, because she wanted to be close to them. And so, she had a great intelligence and a great sense of humour, which, sometimes you don’t always see. But when you are with her every day, she could turn something very simple into something very funny. And that was wonderful. For me, she has been the person who has most impressed me in all my life and really changed my life.
HM: If you had to choose someone as a role model, would it be Grace or someone else?
LL: There are so many admirable people in the world, Mahatma Gandhi, people who really changed the world and took on a great role in helping humanity. I have too many interests to just think of only one person… Michelangelo is someone, for instance, I would’ve liked to meet, a few centuries ago. George Sand was a woman who was a writer and is known mostly now as the lover of Chopin, but she was a very courageous woman. At that time, she had a very free spirit, which I always admire.
HM: What about your life’s purpose? Something that makes your life more important, brings some kind of value.
LL: Well, I suppose it’s important to have a life’s purpose…When I was young, I dreamed of getting married with someone who loved the countryside and who would give me ten children and allow me to live in the country with animals. Well, it was a purpose but I couldn’t follow it, because life was different for me, you see. So we can change purposes in life many times. I think the most important thing is to adapt. Life is a process of continual, perpetual adaptation; you adapt to everything, to your family, to your friends, to the world, to the difficulties of life, to yourself, your own qualities… But I think it’s important, if we can, to know ourselves. That would give us the opportunity and the key to go in one direction or another. But, we are all human, that means we are weak and stupid sometimes. We all come from the same place and we all go to the same place. Now, what is in between depends a lot on either luck or circumstances.
HM: Do you believe in God?
LL: I believe in God… When you look at nature and you look at human bodies, the perfection of it, the perfection of life, the perfection of a flower, the perfection of a bird, you cannot think that what you see in the sky at night is something that just appeared like that and continued for centuries. It’s created by God — or call Him whatever you want. You have to believe in something, believe in God, believe in Allah, believe in whatever you want. Religions are something that are helping us to live… I think we need religion just because we all have personal limitations and we need help, to be able to go through life, which has a lot of difficulties.
HM: You said the most important thing is that we need to adapt to circumstances and conditions. But what about yourself, do you accept yourself unconditionally?
LL: No. And I still don’t accept myself now.
HM: How do you deal with that?
LL: Well, I think I can be better. I can do better things or do things more intelligently, so I think it’s a process of continually questioning yourself, at least for me. I think I will die like this, I will never be happy with what I am and what I have done. The only thing that I’m happy about is my family. I have two beautiful sons, beautiful in the meaning that they are good persons, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is something that, I suppose for a woman, is important to have achieved…
HM: You said that you don’t accept yourself unconditionally. But would you agree that loving yourself is important?
LL: Well, love is a different thing. I know that you can’t love other people if you don’t love yourself… I have empathy for people because I think, as I told you before, that we all go to the same place. Some of them do it in a Mercedes, some of them do it in a Maserati and some of them do it on a bicycle, but we all go in the same direction. Some start very high and finish badly, some start small and finish big, I think this is what we have to accept. I love that we all have the same fate, so why shouldn’t I love… because we are all on the same planet and we have to be all together… I think it should be our principal aim to get along well together because that helps us to survive without fighting.
HM: If you had the power to change just one thing in the world, what would it be?
LL: Hate. I would make hate disappear. And I think education is one of the most important things. You educate children to live better and you give them the tools for life. Total education would certainly be a way for people to be closer to each other and understand each other with all the differences we have. When we talk about equality, nothing is equal, not even a clone is equal. Your mind is not my mind. So, we have to accept the differences…
HM: Outside forces sometimes hurt us and make us look for harmony. Has something happened to you which caused imbalance? Do you have a method for achieving peace and harmony?
LL: I should say prayer, but when I had bad moments in my life, I did not always pray. For instance, at a certain point I lost my husband; he was 40 and I did not accept it. I thought: «Why should I be left alone with my children». I don’t think there is a recipe. There is what they call «resilience» now, to get over bad moments in life. But I think if we were closer to nature, we would maybe understand that nature teaches you patience. When you have a bad moment, what is the best healer? It’s time. For instance, my mother was Italian, but a very strong and religious person and she gave me a strength that helped me through very hard moments. And if you survive, then the sun shines again. But I couldn’t give advice apart from trying. When this happens to people around me I do what I can and give them love… I think that the basis of everything is love.
HM: How does one overcome loneliness and depression?
LL: It’s so personal. You have some people who can overcome loneliness. I myself, for instance, I couldn’t accept loneliness a few years ago. This is a big problem in our world. It’s funny because there’s a word called «communication». Communication is everywhere. But it has never been so bad. Everybody is on their own phone, on their own device. You communicate with your friend, but not the rest of the world. Things come so much quicker than ever before; it’s even more difficult for our generation to cope. Before, you had a lot of time, the pace of life was much slower. Now everything goes so quickly, that you have to adapt very rapidly to things and it’s not always easy. So this also brings a certain loneliness to people because they feel extricated and separated from the world that they don’t understand. We are disconnected, in the end, in a moment when we really need each other.
HM: Perhaps this is an ambitious statement, but Monaco is an ideal place because we all live here together. Different nationalities, different cultural backgrounds, different traditions all live in peace in a very small territory. Maybe because we all have almost the same financial status or wealth. Do you think that money brings equality?
LL: No, no, no. Money doesn’t bring equality, money brings jealousy and envy. But because we are in a peaceful country, we feel secure in Monaco even if we are not all billionaires! We have a good climate, we have a Princely family that is dedicated to the people, to their subjects. So we are in a very special place in the world.
HM: What role does money play in your life?
LL: When you work and can raise your family in a decent way, you can say that money has its role in it. But I also think that money can be used to help others in need. I’m very happy to see, for instance, heads of big companies, like Bill Gates, dedicate half of their fortune to help the world… For that, Monaco is very good because we have a lot of associations that help the world. For such a small country, we have many people who just dedicate themselves to helping other people who are not so wealthy. We always say that, la richesse n’apporte pas le bonheur, richness doesn’t bring you happiness; that’s something else, another aspect. You can be very rich and very unhappy… For some people, it’s impossible for them to be happy. Happiness and peace of mind is something that teaches you to accept what you have and make the most of it. That doesn’t mean that you should not have ambition to have more; ambition is something that is given to everyone. But being content with what you have is important, because hate and envy can ruin your life.
HM: What are your favourite places in Monaco?
LL: I’d say I like all of Monaco, I’ve been here most of my life. The place I like very much is where I live. It’s on top of Carrefour; there’s a little garden called «Le Jardin d’UNESCO», which is a little marvel in Monaco that not everybody knows. I like the harbour, I like Monte-Carlo and the Casino. Monaco is beautiful. It’s difficult to talk about Monaco because it’s so small, everybody knows it more or less… I like the gardens in Monaco-Ville, Les Jardins St-Martin.
HM: How did you find these questions?
LL: A little bit difficult… I’m too simple of a person to give you clever ideas or solutions! But I liked your questions.