Friday, November 22, 2013

My November 22, 1963

Like countless people throughout the world, I remember distinctly the moment when I learned that John F Kennedy had been assassinated.

On 25 October 1963, in the port of Rotterdam, I had signed off as a sailor on the British Glory petroleum tanker, after a three-week voyage from Kuwait. Then, on Monday 4 November 1963, I started work as an assistant English teacher at the splendid Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter of Paris (where I would end up working for three years).

On 21 November 1963, I attended a reception for new foreign teachers (such as me) at the Hôtel de Ville.

I could hardly imagine that, in the course of the following decades, I would stroll almost daily across that magnificent square (when I was living in the nearby Rue Rambuteau). Meanwhile, I had moved into a room in a flat rented out by a sleazy South American fellow. It was located on the second floor of a building in the Rue Montorgueil, near the great Halles markets (which were still functioning at that time).

                                             — photo by Robert Doisneau

Today, it is a smart little street with boutiques and bistrots.

But in 1963, it was a gloomy and sinister address. That’s where I happened to be located, on 22 November 1963, when the South American fellow informed me that Kennedy had been shot. Needless to say, I was stunned, for many reasons. My maternal grandmother was an Irish Kennedy, and I had always felt a vague kind of kinship (totally unjustified) with the US president. As for my South American landlord, he seemed to quite like the idea that the USA could get rid of one of their leaders in such a spectacular fashion.

Not long afterwards, I was pleased to find accommodation at the Collège Franco-Britannique at the Cité Universitaire, to the south of Paris.

It was a far more pleasant atmosphere than my room in the Rue Montorgueil. Later on, when I was living in the Rue Rambuteau, I would often find myself walking past the southern extremity of the Rue Montorgueil, near the church of Saint-Eustache.

And this corner of Paris brings to mind invariably an image of Jackie Kennedy, in her pink Chanel outfit, on the rear seat of a big black automobile, leaning down over the body of the dying president.

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