Paris 1968-1969: Student Strikes – Michael DeLucia – France 1968

My Fulbright to Paris was 50 years ago, during the chaotic period 1968-1969. My year began with the student strikes that swept Paris, that undermined the government and ended with the resignation of Charles de Gaulle as President. For me, it was a momentous year. I met my wife Alice, a graduate student from Middlebury College, in Paris. Paris was also where I began my life-long fascination with photography: student demonstrations, Parisian workers, children in the Luxembourg Gardens, and daily life in the city.

While I did research daily inside the National Archives for my Ph.D., history was being written outside those walls with students and workers demonstrating and the police responding in force. Coincidently, my dissertation topic was the French working class and the First World War. Reaching the National Archives meant a daily morning walk through the Latin Quarter, past Notre Dame Cathedral, past the magnificent Hotel de Ville, and past the book stalls along the Seine. I saw Paris in the morning, in the evening, in the autumn, in the snow, in springtime and on Bastille Day. I even descended underground to marvel at the archeological history of the city 2.000 years past.

Paris introduced me to opera – or, more precisely, the Opera Garnier with its Chagall murals. I was at the opera almost every Wednesday evening, watching La Traviata, or Rigoletto; or at the Opera Comique, watching La Boheme. Alice, my future wife, introduced me to the Impressionists, to Medieval and Renaissance art, and to the magic of the city.

It was in Paris, at the U.S. Embassy, where I voted in my first Presidential election via absentee ballot (a write-in vote for Senator Robert Kennedy, assassinated months earlier).

Despite the upheavals, the National Archives remained open and I finished the research for my dissertation. But the Fulbright experience was not finished with me. In 1970, at Brown University, along with dozens of other students, I watched Senator Fulbright’s pivotal hearings into the Indochina wars. And, in 1993, I was elected President of the Fulbright Association and presented the very first Fulbright Prize to Nelson Mandela.

In retrospect, Paris was a gift to a young man eager to see other societies and ready to appreciate centuries of history. I have visited Paris many times since the student riots of 1968-1969 and I always retrace my steps to the National Archives. However, on my last visit (2019), because of the fire that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral, I could not retrace those steps. Instead, I walked to the outer edge of the Latin Quarter and discovered the impressive Grand Mosque de Paris.

For me, Paris is both a museum, filled with intense memories, and an old friend, helping you to discover parts of the city you had not explored before.

Michael DeLucia – Fulbright to France 1968

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