Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Ecole Lamazou

on April 29, 2014

That summer of 1969, we moved again. The landlord, an airline pilot, was moving back to Paris and wanted to re-occupy his home. Uncle Lung found a very modern apartment in Nanterre, a banlieue (suburb) of Paris. Number 123, Rue de St Cloud (yes, yet another Catholic saint), was a compound of apartment buildings, quite new and modern, compared with the previous two homes, all white walls and large windows, sunshine and lawn. We occupied an apartment on the ground floor, or rather a sort of half floor, since we had to go up a few steps. We all absolutely loved it. However, there was a drawback.

Nanterre happened to be a hotbed of left-wing activists. Indeed, it was in Nanterre that the student riots had started a year earlier, before they snowballed into a nation-wide movement. The high school there was named Lycee Joliot-Curie, after Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie, the son-in-law and daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie. They had been jointly awarded a Nobel Prize too, for Chemistry, which was a good thing. But they had been known to have joined the socialist movement, which was a bad thing. So although the lycee was barely a 5-minute drive from our home (equal to a 14-minute walk), Uncle Lung was concerned. He wrote to Papa to share his concerns and both agreed we should not attend that high school. It would be safer to put us in a private Catholic school for girls. I can see my readers raising their eyebrows in disbelief. After all, today, no one sending their children to a high school named J.F. Kennedy would immediately be suspected of supporting the Vietnam War. But during the Cold War, being suspected of Communism was tantamount to high treason, especially in countries such as Communist China and Nationalist China, and even more so in two families that worked for the Nationalist government.

Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie

Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie

Through a couple of old ladies from among his acquaintances, Uncle Lung found the Ecole Lamazou, private, Catholic and run by nuns in full habit. By the way, Uncle Lung happened to know an inordinate number of old ladies who were very friendly with him and had known him since his student days. He once took us all to have tea with two old ladies who lived rather “a la campagne“, in the countryside. That was the first time I saw tea brewed so long it turned brown, and moreover mixed with sugar and milk. I was horrified. How could anyone drink this terrible concoction? And call it tea? And dip cookies in it?

But let us return to the Ecole Lamazou. I did a quick search on Google, and the marvel of modern technology showed me that it has now become simply a private elementary school. The high school is no more. The biggest surprise is that it is now mixed! Boys and girls! In everyday clothes… And I saw on the pictures MALE teachers! And the headmistress is not a nun! At least she is not dressed like one. And there are colors! Above the main door, the name of the school is shiningly multi-colored.

Ecole Lamazou today: the builidng is the same, but the sign is multi-colored and it is now only an elementary school.

Ecole Lamazou today: the builidng is the same, but the sign is multi-colored and it is now only an elementary school.

But back then, it was an all-girl school, with all the girls in uniform. We wore a knee length navy blue skirt (meaning below the knee, not above it) with two pleats in front; white shirt; navy blue cardigan; white knee-high socks; and a blue tablier on top of it all. There were lay teachers, but some of the teachers were nuns, and all the administration consisted of nuns. They were real nuns, the type you do not see anymore today. They wore wimple and veil, and a long ankle-length purplish burgundy frock. We called them Soeurs (Sisters) and the headmistress Mere (Mother). I am not sure which order they belonged to.

The school was located at 80, Rue Boileau in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. This meant we had to walk down the Rue de St Cloud — a very pleasant walk, mind you, along pretty houses with geraniums on the window sills — to the circle called Place de la Boule, where we took the bus to La Defense. There, we caught the brand new express subway called the RER to Etoile, where we disembarked and changed to the regular subway, the Metro which took us to the closest station to the school. That was quite a daily trek, and required three different tickets. We would buy the weekly type and keep them all in a transparent plastic holder.

Once, on the way home, Saadia was reading a book — as usual — and had kept her ticket holder as bookmark in the book. Catherine, our classmate, wanted to read it too, and kept bugging Saadia for it. “I’m nearly done, just wait a few minutes…” Saadia finally finished reading it, just as the train pulled into Catherine’s station. She slapped the book closed, Catherine grabbed it and jumped off. We continued our trip to Etoile where we got off. Just as we started walking down the brightly colored hallways, Saadia emitted a sudden scared cry, and stopped dead in her tracks. I looked at her. She had turned pale. “My tickets.. my tickets… I left the tickets in the book… Catherine took it…” she stammered. I understood. Strangely, when such emergencies occur, I seem to grow suddenly very cool-headed and my thoughts run perfectly well and clearly and come up with an instant solution or course of action. I wish my brain would act just that way during exams…

So I firmly said, “It’s all right, no big deal. We’ll just walk home. — But how?” Saadia now turned red and flustered.

Metro station Etoile

Metro station Etoile

I showed her how. Right outside or inside each station, there is a huge map of the immediate neighborhood. We walked there and checked out the streets to follow in order to reach the next station. At the next station, we did the same, checked out the route to the one after. And thus, station by station we made it to Place de la Defense. Then, all we had to do was follow our usual bus route. Somewhere along the way, around dusk, there was a group of teenage boys playing in the street. By then, I was too tired to cross the street to avoid them. We just walked past them. Which goes to show that extreme fatigue decreases phobias or anxiety. By the time we rang the bell, it was dark. I asked Aunt Lily whether she’d been worried about us. “Not at all,” she answered nonchalantly over her shoulder, finishing a seam on her sewing machine. “I figured there must have been some activity at school that kept you longer than usual…” Ah, how times have changed. Today, I would not dare send 12-year-olds all by themselves to take three sets of public transportation in a large city. Then I certainly would panic if they did not show up for a few hours past their usual time home.

Place de la Defense today

Place de la Defense today

In 1969, Place de la Defense was a construction site, with barely the first tower completed.

In 1969, Place de la Defense was a construction site, with barely the first tower completed.

 

 

 


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