I was recently contacted by a woman named Helene Sotsky from Massachusetts from a mailing I did through a travel organization called WITIA. Helen was kind enough to share with me her vivid story about how she spent her junior year in Paris during the 1968 riots. I thought it would be interesting to read a first hand account of the historical events that changed France. Enjoy! Thanks Helene.
I have such vivid recollections of my time as a student in Paris--my daughters tell me that I still speak of that time as if it were yesterday--not just les événements--but the whole year. I remember the day it really started in Paris (no one paid much attention to Nanterre)--there were about 5 students protesting--we didn't know about what yet at the time--then 10 police came. Then 20 students came. Then 50 police came...and so on. The mother of the family I was living with in the 16e was of Russian origin, but had come to France as an infant and was very,very French. But still, she remembered all she had heard of the Russian Revolution. She actually went to the Théàtre de l’Odéon and gave a speech, telling the students that they didn't know what they were doing by fomenting rebellion (of course, she and her family always spoke about the good ol' days under the Czar) and disorder. She had courage, I'll say that for her. I think it's hilarious that Dany le rouge is now known as Dany le vert because he espouses ecological causes!
One of the most ridiculous memories I have is of the first day that the students began occupying the Sorbonne. Several people in my program were in a class at the IPFE (Institut des Professeurs de Français à Étranger) waiting for the teacher to arrive. The representative of the French students came in to advise us to leave since they were planning to occupy the building and it might turn violent. Sounded logical to us...we all got up to leave when the director of our program came running in, telling us that we shouldn't leave because the teacher was a full professor and we were required to wait 15 minutes for her to show up! We all left anyway. Ours was the only junior year program to remain in Paris. All the others brought in buses from Belgium to get their students out. Our program paid the various professors to come to Reid Hall and give us our final exams so that we could get full credit for the year. I walked from the 16e to Reid Hall and back every day, through tear gas, barricades, --all that les événements brought to Paris. It was a frightening time because no one knew if the government would fall. There were soldiers with machine guns all over and the city was surrounded by tanks. But we were young and believed we were invincible. When we finally left in the beginning of June, the ship was still flying a red flag when we arrived in the port--but we finally made it. I always loved the French flair for understatement and discretion--everything that was closed and boarded up, had a sign apologizing that they were closed 'en raison des circonstances'--
Each time I returned to Paris, I went to visit my French family--first with my husband, then with my daughters. Then one of my daughters visited the mother of our family when she went with a friend to Paris. We stayed in touch until they died. I still sometimes go back to the same street just to see what it looks like.
Photos courtesy of www.pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour
includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com