In July 1969 I was with my family and seven University of Minnesota students in a little hotel a half block from Place de la Madeleine. We were resting on Bastille Day when the students announced they were going to go look at the Bastille and would be back by dinner time. Though I joined the college kids on many occasions that summer, usually to the dismay of my parents, this time I returned to David Copperfield, one of my ninth grade vacation reads.
My parents were tour guides for the group that summer, headed for two months of college credit in Portugal. The stipend luckily allowed for my younger brother and me to come along. I was excited; it was my first return home after being yanked away from my friends five years earlier. We were in Paris because my Dad wanted to purchase two cars so the students could see a bit of Europe on the way. Our destination lodging for the summer months would be at the Presbyterian seminary in Carcavelos, near Lisbon.
I remember the eleven of us piling into the dark blue Renault and gray Peugeot one morning near the Madeleine, ready to make our way south to Bordeaux and across the north of Spain into Portugal. My brother and I were armed with practical joke tricks to play on unsuspecting waiters and missionaries, and I would learn to play counterspy roles as dutiful daughter one night and college-escapade interpreter the next, throughout Lisbon's Alfama and Rossio neighborhoods.
But the tone for the summer was definitely set that day in Paris, when the U of M students returned exhausted to the Madeleine hotel after hours of unsuccessful searching for the Bastille. "It's not there anymore!"
True, we were a few centuries late.
Just as well, though, not to be in the enraged crowds storming the old prison during the French Revolution, people desperate for a world where all would be free, where judges would be just and rulers rule with decency, where children could grow up without fear, and the pursuit of happiness promised as law of the land.
Such a dream.
Protests today in Paris as well as in Moscow, Hong Kong, in Venezuela and Bangladesh, against ICE raids in the US—is it just a dream once again?
14 JULY 2019