Interview. Sophie Reverdi : « This day I told myself I really wanted to live »

Blog of Dan BURCEA
11 Novembre 2019

Half Zero » by Sophie Reverdi is a part of those books that is comparable luminescence that at every vibration release overpowering emotions, consisting of tears and laughter, pain and joy, of everything that ultimately humankind, in its wish for brevity, has decided to call a memoir. Written as a letter to her two sons, this book should be read as the first part of an, as yet, incomplete testament made while alive, by a mother who has decided to recount and capture in words her portrait and that of those close to her. Far distant from any clichés and laments this autobiography rejects any embellishment to make room for truth and authenticity through its simultaneous inner regard and the regard on others. Sophie Reverdi has succeeded in conjugating subjectivity, which is the fingerprint of all autobiography, and the need to carefully observe the events around her to distill their essence and, thus, reveal the crucial moments that are the foundation of her life. These pages also contain her parents’ pain of exile, her suffering as a girl subject to her father’s savage love, « the love of a Carpathian bear » as she puts it, her determination to give a purpose to her life, her passion and compassion for those who are like her, her promise to succeed and so much more—the result being the beautiful existence that is hers–so many subjects that we would have liked to explore in searching for the guiding lights that illuminate her extraordinary book.

How does one decide to write a long letter to one’s two sons and how did it then become a book?

Simply out of love. My sons are everything to me, and I want their lives to be as wonderful as possible for them and by them, it’s what I’ve wanted for them since their birth. Their birth was a real turning point for me. The moment I saw them, I fell in love with these two gifts that the universe gave to me, they were so radiant and miraculous, and I felt a force rise up in me that has never abandoned me and that has enabled me to be there for them in every circumstance. This book doesn’t attempt to be a partial testament of my life, but a timeless declaration of love that will never know any limits, unless it is the dulling of memory of their own descendants. It seems important to me to tell them how much I love them, and also say it to the universe, « thank you » and how much I love them, am proud of them, these marvelous and talented young men that they have become, these beautiful beings that they are, each in his own way, of their shining souls, these compassionate persons, their kindness, their curiosity, their honesty, their creativity, and their unconditional support in every choice I’ve made for us.

How much time did it take for you to write all this? According to you, the writing began in 2016.

In reality, I began to write this in November 2015, and I dotted the last « i » one year ago. I had so much to say, and the first version was much thicker—almost 600 pages—then I cut some of the text, parts that were not essential to the story ; and then I wanted to illustrate the text with photos for my children, so that they could put faces on their ancestors ; then to make a kind of life album instead of an album of vacations and I still like this idea. Several people tried to dissuade me, but I persisted with my idea, and I’m happy that I did. When I leaf through my book, there is our marvelous life before me and the faces of those I love.

Can you talk to us about your parents, both exiles from post-war Romania? Who were they and why do you describe this exile as “ a voyage that no one finished without being harmed.”

My parents were Romanian immigrants that found one another in Paris in the beginning of the 50, after having met during a wedding in Bucarest in 1946 or 1947 My mother suffered a great deal during the war, my father less, but both were deeply marked during those years of terror, of discrimination, of exile as were their parents and grandparents, as I explain in the book. My father who came from a middle-class and conservative family in Bucarest, was a polytechnical engineer, and had fallen in love with my mother the day of the marriage of his brother who was to marry a cousin of the first husband (a violinist) of my mother whom she accompanied that day. I know it seems complicated, but to sum up, my mother had just had a child, and when my father spotted her in the marriage hall, because she was an exceptional beauty, she was carrying my sister Micky (Maria Michelina) who was just a few months old and she was on the arm of her then-husband. No matter if the scene was very clear, my father had decided at that instant that she would be his, and he began to court her through letters for seven years until the moment when he found her again in Paris in 1952. By that time, she had been abandoned by her husband, the Spanish violinist, and after several months she submitted to my father. My mother, this unique and bewitching beauty, came from a very poor background and from a different region of Romania, Bessarabia. Still was widely read as her father was a traveling book salesman, and she was gifted with a remarkable culture and a cutting sense of humor. At that time, she dreamt of becoming an actress and instead became a beautician because of her strong accent and worked at the Renaud laboratories. As to my father, he and my grandfather has opened an ironmongering shop, Docks of Issy-les-Moulineaux, where he worked nights to pay for his polytechnical studies at the Ecole Polytechnique of Paris because his Romanian diploma was not recognized. But my father, who had promised my mother upon the heads of all the saints to love and protect her until death, turned against her in order to better possess her, like a predator on his prey, and finished by destroying her to the point where the demons of the war who haunted her suddenly reappeared to haunt all of us…

Your childhood passed under the shadow of lack of love—the first trauma that your life was built upon. It manifested itself in two different—even opposing—manners: the absence of your mother “destroyed by the nightmarish memories of the war years” that she lived through in Romania and that of the presence of your abusive father whom you dared to describe as a “loser.” It is from him that the expression « half zero », the title of y our book, comes. Can you tell us more without spoiling the content of your book for future readers?

I wouldn’t describe it as a lack of love, and in several passages in the book I try to explain what we lived like at home, but rather a savage love, barbarian, raw, without a filter, without respect, without morals, without tact, a brutal and savage almost animal-like love. I hesitate to use that word because if a papa bear wants to teach one of his little ones the lessons of nature by giving him or her a few karate lessons, he does not insult him, nor denigrate him, nor punish him : he doesn’t hit him with a telephone book on the head so that no marks are left; he doesn’t confine him in a locked room, does not humiliate him. I grew up in that kind of love, and it is what I refer to today as the savage mountain love of Romania, the only kind I knew as a child. But deep inside me, I knew that love could also be tender, kind, serene, marvelous, recognized, splendid, full of sunshine, delicate, poetic, and that this kind of love I carried within me.

The second trauma—that of obesity—would not take long to show its ugly head. Your stay, at the tender age of 12 years, at Camp Colang in the United States saw the resurgence of “the most important promise of life”. What does it consist of, and what did it represent for you at that time?

Yes, after being dragged all my life from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, from one nutritional specialist to another, from one center of rehabilitation for difficult children to another, and submitted to every kind of slimming cure that the industry of diets of the time where we thought a solution for an unhappy and fat child like me resided, my father could not accept the failure that he considered me as and he attributed my obesity to a psychological deviance, a curse on him, where finally the disgrace of having fathered an obese child who was lazy, without motivation, useless, who wasn’t even worth half of zero (which he repeated to me over and over again), I landed in Pennsylvania at the first Weight Watchers colony. And there I was stupefied that most of the children were ten times fatter than I was, (so what did their parents call them? Infinitely small particles of zero?) and above all I was frightened by the intolerable and senseless manner in which we were treated, and I wasn’t complaining as I was far from the child in most difficulty. These poor super obese children were called by whistles like animals by the counselors and forced to practice difficult and constant sports all day long while their small hearts, already struggling with the extra weight their bodies were carrying along with the sorrow obesity brought to their lives. So, from my great age of 12-years-old (who learned English in one week to survive), I rebelled. I told anyone and everyone that this was inconceivable, that their methods were dangerous and put us in peril; that they had no right to impose that for only nourishment we were given celery sticks to dip in sugarless ketchup and a poor grilled steak flattened and without salt. My mistake, my life there became even more insupportable. I had the impression that I was re-living my mother’s life during the war years, and I decided to run away. So, I did by raising the barbed wire fence at Camp Colang and finding myself alone on a Pennsylvania road with only my back pack, but free at last. While walking, I made the promise of my life: if one day I managed to lose weight, I would revolutionize all these aberrant and senseless humiliations, all this incomprehension of what and who, we the obese children really were. If one day I lost weight, and I would, then I would rescue them all from this nightmare. When I think now that in China obesity is the most significant in the world with 500 million obese individuals, and the children are sent to military camps to slim down, and that this costs a small fortune, it makes me feel sick.

The escapes, the revolt and the impression of feeling uncomfortable, rather miserable, in your skin had a traumatic consequence in your adolescence that pushed you to the limits of your will to survive. You were told that if you did not lose weight, you would die. How did you live with this death sentence hanging over your head?

I experienced this death sentence like a strong electrical shock, then like a revelation, and finally as indispensable information and a conclusion as to my survival and my future. I did not know at 18 years of age and after having consulted over 50 doctors throughout my life until then that I was ill and it had nothing to do with a curse, but rather a deadly illness that had been present throughout my life. No one before Doctor Creff had ever warned me. That day in his office, I was transformed and my parents realized, particularly my father that it was not a simple trick of life, but that I was ill, and that I needed urgent care in order to survive. From that day on my father decided to never call me « half zero » again. But that day I decided that I wanted absolutely to live, and that whatever the solution I would embrace it no matter what. And that is what I did.

Your first guardian angel in your long list is Doctor Edward E. Mason. Can you tell us more about this encounter and the consequences it had for you?

The Doctor Edward E. Mason was a great man and he enabled me to be who I am today. When the Doctor Creff announced his sad and frightening conclusions
in his office, I declared: « Yes, but I want to live, you must tell me what I can try…there must be something.” It was 1988 and the Doctor Creff had heard of a new operation invented by Doctor Mason: Measured Vertical Gastroplasty which was the ancestor of the Gastric Ring. Doctor Creff described the operation that consisted of placing three rows of 12 staples in stainless steel and a ring in marlex that allowed the reduction of stomach capacity to the size of an egg, after of course, having opened the abdomen along its length, pried apart the rib cage, taken out the stomach and then joyously putting it back in place before stitching up all of that. My mother almost fainted and my father readied his categorical refusal speech. But I resisted, I resisted with my whole little heart enrobed in fat. And I did worse: I made recurring blackmail for several months by telling them that as I was going to die anyway, if they refused to allow me to have the operation, I would put on ten kilos a month and I put this protocol in effect with perfection. I would not listen, I wanted to try the operation. My parents consulted American doctor friends as to what their opinion was, and their answer was butchery for cowboys in Iowa, in the middle of the corn fields. So, I began to write desperate letters to the Doctor Mason, and I pleaded with him to help me. In one of his responses he announced that he was traveling to Boston where 300 surgeons from around the world would be present to learn about his new invention, and I had only to convince my parents to accompany me and he could reassure them. I succeeded in convincing them and we left for Boston. Arriving there, I secretly telephoned Doctor Mason from my room before the conference. He told me to come and see him. He carried out careful calculations and told me that I was not obese enough: I had to laugh. He didn’t feel like laughing at all, this magnificent man, so straight, so full of faith, and so humane, and he told me the following : Sophie it is a serious operation, very invasive, if I accept to operate on you, you must promise me to undertake at least 4 years of therapy in order to learn to live with your new body because nothing will ever be the same. My father obliged me to find a French surgeon to accompany us a few months later to Iowa, it was a sine qua non as no one in France knew of the operating procedures of Dr. Mason. Dr Creff put me in touch with a French surgeon, Dr. Berrod, who made the trip with my father and me in the spring. When I opened my eyes again. Dr. Mason was holding my left hand, and my father was holding my right hand. However, the pain of my split body was so unbearable that I turned towards my father and with tears in my eyes begged him to forgive me, but it was too late. For 8 weeks of convalescence they attempted to nourish me with little cubes of fruit compote and mixed food, but I vomited everything, even a sip of water. Dr. Mason reassured me by telling me that the nausea would not last more than six months, that I would get used to them, that I had to be patient. But the vomiting has never really stopped, and 35 years later I still have to vomit several times a week. Nevertheless, having such pain and vomiting everything, in 18 months I lost 80 kilos and I got used to it. But to what? For several years I was near anorexia, and I only ate « light » chocolate ice cream and swallowed aspirin because, undernourished, I had constant migraine. If you speak of a liberation…I was still far away from the Holy Grail that a gentle method, respectful and easy that I promised to offer to other obese children. I had lost weight, but could I promise to find well-being? Dr. Mason and I corresponded frequently to discuss the post-operation evolution and my general health—psychological as well as physical. I was the first French patient and for him it was essential that everything went well. I returned once a year for the next 15 years to Iowa to control exams, and I drank Barium, a fluorescent liquid that could detect and reveal the least alteration. And Dr. Mason, this admirable man, kept the register of Gastroplasties as he was conscious of the dangers of his invention. He wanted his patients to live and to live well, decently, and he was terrified that it may not be the case. He told me that I was part of the 5% that were considered a total success. It was certainly an honor, but a small percentage. What about the other 95% ? Were they total failures or half- failures? As for me, I spent my life with a finger deep in my throat and vomiting my insides!
Years later, after having met the Doctor Albert Chocron, my own living deity or at least his terrestrial reincarnation, and finished writing my project, Dr.Mason who had read everything about my method and having consulted our results, said: ,”her method was of major interest to me and for millions of individuals who were waiting to be treated. Smart and Light is the unique non-intrusive, yet effective alternative to obesity surgery…” What a gift he gave to me.

The encounter with Emmanuel Reverdi, the marriage and the birth of your two sons arrived as a sort of compensation for your suffering and a happy ending to your quest for love and a family life. What memories do you have of this time and what place does it occupy in your account?

Our encounter was like a strike of lightning and I immediately sensed that he would be the father of my children. We had a powerful love story that enabled us to conceive two babies that Emmanuel and I love to distraction even if our own story did not last. It was destiny because we were meant to bring those two little princes, our sons into the world. I treasure the memories of our meeting, our marriage, and our early years as parents. We inherited two objects from this time that are two albums of spoken poetry that we made during my pregnancy in New York, where the music and the lyrics describe this mystical and rich period.

After years of waiting, a new passion, the project of Smart and Light, is born within you. This time the guardian angels are called Françoise Courvalin and Doctor Albert Chocron. Is this a key moment in the birth of your project?

It was not a new quest; it was the natural outcome of all my experiences and 15 years of research. After losing weight, my sacred Grail was still that that I searched for and promised to save other obese children. Smart and Light as it exists now, existed in me since Pennsylvania, obviously not formulated exactly in the same manner, but what I wanted was precisely that, a well-intentioned program, respectful, reassuring, stimulating, drowning in good vibrations of love, of guidance, empathy but also healthy, natural, based on sensual pleasure and the liberty to and pleasure to eat delicious cooking, without restriction, without measuring and weighing, without constraints, cuisine with great tastes and colors, worthy of a great restaurant but easy to make at home. I wanted people to be happy and free from the usual restraints, and that there is no excuse not to succeed. Smart and Light is all that at once, a fusion between love and well-being with the extra of a delicious cuisine that is attractive, permissive and results in losing weight. It was not simple to do, and I needed time (15 years)but after my encounter with Albert Chocron who made me discover the ingenious principles of his list of foods, the program took its first breath. I had, at last, gathered all the elements that my program needed in order for it to become a reality. He is the undisputed godfather, if not the father, of Smart and Light. As for Francoise Courvalin, this exceptional woman, this great lady, she literally carried me in her arms to save the Smart and Light project from drowning, and for all my life I will owe her my gratitude.

Can you describe the large lines of your Smart and Light project.

Smart and light is the fusion of two concepts of accompaniment in change and culinary and therapeutic education that are different but indispensable one to the other as a guarantee of success, not only to lose weight, but to never again to put on the pounds and to find a quality of life that is a thousand times better than that before the changes. Not only do we accompany them in their transformative voyage, our coaches, with the best-intentions, with the strong ties that are woven, and much love, daily stimulation, every day during the two months of the program using Messenger, the telephone, text messages or e-mails (we are ultra-vigilant and respond immediately so that our clients never feel alone or lost,) but we assist them to become independent in many ways (also thanks to our tools such as the Roadmap the Bible of the method, while being both playful as well as effective, and also through 220 video tutorials that they can consult on our site in addition to weekly sessions and are available at any time, and that makes a huge difference in assisting them: the goal is to make them their own slimming coach in two months. In addition, we offert hem a priceless gift in discovering a gastronomic cuisine that is diet-conscious, as natural as possible, a cuisine that they cane at without quantitative restrictions as well as sharing it with pride with friends and family as these are recipes rom the greatest chefs adapted to my requirements and very easy to make at home.

Your project, with very encouraging early results, brings you to Tunisia, a very important time of your life. Can you describe the scientific aspects and the necessary official contacts briefly?

Yes, Tunisia was an enormous and unique for the project. The health authorities, and then the Tunisian academics had this incredible humility and idea, a bit like Dr. Mason’s in his letter, to impose me in front of the scientific scene in Tunisia as an obesity expert; and I was not a scientist, not even a nutritionist, and to recognize that I understood the pitfalls and dangers of this tortuous illness. Finally, it, according to them, should not be viewed from a purely scientific viewpoint to fight it and eradicate it. That my path, my experiences, brought me to understand better than most that the personality of the obese, their needs, their problems and their languages, their emotions, their desires, their basic needs, but also how necessary it was to repair their wounds that I could share with them to dissolve their terrifying memories of the long years of mental agony and suffering. The doctors were also convinced that through joy and the freedom of the program that I had developed, no one could really resist me, and that I had perhaps discovered the antidote to obesity that did such damage in their country and around the world. What’s more, as you have perhaps noticed, I don’t give up easily…not until the solution is found. And that was surely also one of the advantages of the program. We don’t give up, we struggle until we find the solution with our method, with our love, our energy, with everything we have at hand, and with our coaches we generally win.

The second aspect is the human one. You give such importance to the human values that the Tunisians happily worked with you, that they became your close friends as well as the noble and beautiful people that they are. How would you describe this today?

My family, and the Tunisians were our family, our nest, our soft and real nest, and we love them with our entire hearts. My program is marked by many Tunisian recipes, very Mediterranean and full of sunshine; what more can I say, we love them and we feel at home there. On another note, less joyous, Sidi Bou Said, that magical place, mystical and enchanting, healed many years of discomfort and physical and moral suffering. It brought me peace, and I have told my sons that I would be happy if one day they carry my ashes to the summit of this hill that is so poetic and enchanting, where I feel at home.

How did you experience the Tunisian Revolution of 2011 which you describe from the inside?

In Tunisia one speaks of the Tunisian Miracle, and at the time of this revolution, I felt that it was a kind of miracle, a total surprise that was powerful, unexpected, memorable, and highly symbolic even though the early days were so upsetting. People around us had dreamt so long of this, and without saying it they dreamt of a day where they could live in liberty and in a democracy that truly belonged to them. I do not understand everything that was at stake, and I’m not the only one, no one understood just what was going on with the Arab Spring, and my sons and I lived through it like many Tunisians, with hope and exaltation.

On your return to France, you begin again from zero. Where do you find this abundant energy?

Yes, or almost zero. What a number! Effectively we left Tunisia in 48 hours and returned in an urgent situation with a letter from the Interior Ministry two years after the revolution because I felt, as a French citizen, that we were in danger. It was two day after the fire at the American School in Tunis and one week after the assassination of the American ambassador in Libya. I left everything behind and boarded a plane with my two children and their school bags. I was terrified. Nothing and nobody waited for us in Paris: we had no roof, no money (I could not bring it back), nor much support from my family. My mother had died in 2004 and my father had Alzheimer’s. The return was abominable from every point of view, and i find it hard to believe that I could find the strength in me to leave. I don’t even know how we did it, how all three of us sustained one another. These are memories that I don’t want to discuss. The book will speak instead of me.
But to sum up, I held on, and I saved the project. I rebuilt, little by little, our lives, our home, and Smart and Light. It symbolizes our path, the sense of becoming sustains me and sometimes frightens me. I could never abandon this project that has save so many lives.

Where is Smart and Light these days ?

Smart and Light is doing well, and I am so happy to watch it take on colors and continue to bear witness to the gratitude of my clients. That is worth all the treasure in the world to me. We have opened two centers in Paris, and today we are located at the Muette. However, my ex-associate, Jana Vitezova (who was my first successful client because she lost 63 kilos in 13 months and was my partner in opening the first center in Tunis with me) is in Luxemburg and continues to coach from there. Another of my clients, Hela Jedidi, who lost 50 kilos, is preparing to open a center in Sidi Bou Saïd. We have a project, which is my dream (one of them) to open a fast food Smart and Light so that everyone can have access, for a democratic price, to the healthy and gourmet cuisine that makes one lose weight and not gain weight I also dream of meeting with the Chinese government to describe to them my vision of a vacation colony for children and I am beginning to research it despite the fact that I am treated as a dreamer. It’s too important. I also have the immense honor today to exchange and consult with one of the most eminent American specialists on obesity. He is also a specialist of the movement because I want absolutely to develop this aspect in and more concrete manner within my program in the coming years.
I am also finishing a certification program for my clients who have lost weight and want, in their turn, to coach and to teach the methods to others. There are many of them to request this.
All my tools are bi-lingual, French-English as well as my books and my online site. We have clients in the USA, in Great Britain and antennas in the USA. I would be very happy to open a center in London, which I adore, and where there are significant problems with obesity. My book, “Half Zero » (« L’intuition du zéro coupé », is being translated to English at this time as well as being translated in Spanish in Mexico. Things are on the move, and I am delighted. Oh yes, my son Valentin has launched a You Tube channel to present the work of his mother (laughs.)

Interview by Dan Burcea

Sophie Reverdi, « L’intuition du zéro coupé », CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2019, 218 p.

Pour d’autres informations sur l’autrice et le livre, veuillez consulter ces liens:

Le clip vidéo sur le livre de Sophie Reverdi, « L’intuition du zéro coupé »

Sur le Professeur Mason:

Les lettres de Pr. Mason sur le site de Sophie Reverdi