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Paris, May 1968

Jean's memory of 11th May 1968 - 30th May 1968

[ADDED LATER, 1 MAY 2008: This article was written ENTIRELY from memory - after completing it I was contacted by the Saturday Live team to appear on their broadcast of 22 March to talk about my experiences. In preparing for that, I found a letter which I had written to my parents and which my Mother had saved and I have nowposted that letter as a separate "memory" I have however left this, somewhat inaccurate, actual "memory" here because I think it is interesting to see what of the whole experience had actually remained with me for 40 years! This original entry follows:]

Listen to Jean being interviewed about her memory on Saturday Live: web.splashcast.net/fs/?embed...
(This link will take you to the splashcast website.)

Jean's letter to her parents: www.bbc.co.uk/dna/memoryshar...

(I am actually not sure of the exact dates, although I have had to select some approximation on the web form.)
In May, 1968, I had a week's leave from my post as a librarian in London and I decided to spend it with an old friend and her husband who were living and studying in Paris on a Fullbright fellowship for the year. I flew into Paris on what I later realised must have been one of the last planes to land there before the whole of Paris was effectively shut down by the strikes due to "les evenements". All public transport had already ceased running and it was with some difficulty that I and a group of passengers from the plane managed to find a taxi and as I seemed to be the only one who spoke French I managed to negotiate with him to take us into the centre of Paris.

It was fortunate that I was able to stay with my friends as my week's holiday extended to nearly a month, there being no way of getting back to London till "les evenements" should be finished and the strikes end. It was an amazing time to spend in Paris - I was not particularly political and though we clearly saw a great deal of what was going on as my friends were living on the edge of the Quartier Latin - demonstrations and police dealing with them and the aftermath of overturned cars, barricades and so on - we didn't realy engage particularly with any of it and in fact rather prudently avoided much. But there was such an atmosphere of "we are going to change" and "things will be better" and a sort of spirit that even we felt. As there was no transport, this was also when I really got to know Paris well as we had to walk wherever we went, unless a passing motorist stopped and offered a lift which happened on occasion.

Towards the end of the month there came a moment when it was announced that de Gaulle had left Paris to go into hiding and there were rumours that there was going to be some sort of dramatic ending to the situation, possibly even involving the army marching in and taking control. At this point the American Embassy (I should have mentioned that my friends and I were American citizens) instructed all Americans in Paris that they should report very early the following morning to the Embassy with only one suitcase to be evacuated for their own safety. My friend and I quite wanted to stay and see the outcome but her husband was adamant that it was not safe and that we must do this. We were loaded into army buses, taken to a US airfield outside Paris and put onto a troop-carrier plane with no proper seats but benches down each side and a parachute each which made a handy footrest. They flew us to a US airfield in England, my friends came to stay with me in London - and "les evenements" fizzled out as the workers backed down and left the students with no support - the de Gaulle government did not fall and nothing really changed.

More memories from Jean

This memory was added 17th February 2008

Keywords: paris france may BBC Radio 4 - 1968

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