20:49, 11 April 2012
03:01, 12 April 2012
She was the glamorous icon who went on to become the First Lady of Camelot.
But in 1949 Jackie Kennedy was just a foreign exchange student slumming it in Paris who was forced to get by on rations just like everybody else.
John F Kennedy’s wife-to-be stayed in a modest home with a French family where the boiler broke down so often she had to wrap herself in a shawl to stay warm.
Life’s a beach! Jackie Bouvier and Claude de Renty sit on a beach during their year abroad
She had to squat on old-fashioned toilets and use newspaper instead of tissue whenever she needed the rest room – before rushing quickly in case it backed up.
The unglamorous account is in a new book: ‘Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis’, which details the travails of the three women during their time in the French capital.
Mrs Kennedy was one of 35 girls there for a semester between 1949 and 1950 as part of a foreign study programme at the Sorbonne through Smith College.
In 1952 she would meet Mr Kennedy and begin her ascent to the White House, but the trip allowed her a chance to explore her personal history after finding out she was one eighth French.
Exchange: American university exchange students on the deck of an ocean liner taking them to France where they lived for a year. L-R: Elizabeth Curth, Margaret Snyder, Jacqueline Bouvier, Mary Ann Freedman, and Hester Williams Jacqueline Bouvier, Mary Ann Freedman, and Hester Williams
Aged 19 at the time, Mrs Kennedy was treated no different to others and as Paris was still recovering from World War II she was given a ration card for sugar and coffee.
Author Alice Kaplan writes that off all the ‘culture shocks’ for her and the other girls ‘the most intense was the most necessary aspect of everyday life: the toilets’.
She stayed with French family the de Rentys and in their home there was just one bath and one toilet for the four bedrooms.
That was nothing however compared to restaurants where there were ‘standup Turkish toilets’ unchanged in a century with two elevated pads over a hole, forcing the user to squat.
Even toilet paper was scarce, forcing the future First Lady to use newspaper instead.
Slumming it: In 1949, Jackie Kennedy was just a foreign exchange student slumming it in Paris (left), forced to get by on rations just like everybody else – before she rose to become the first lady
Kaplan writes that the peril did not end there and ‘that squatting over these devices was treacherous in skirts…you needed to be at a safe distance to flush and there wasn’t much distance to be had in the tiny water closet’.
Her host family’s house on the the avenue Mozart on the 16th arrondissement had a gas heater but it ‘conked out regularly’, forcing Mrs Kennedy to bundle up at night when she did her homework.
But in spite of her 12.15pm curfew Mrs Kennedy appears to have lived her time in Paris to the fullest, describing how she had ‘two lives’ – that of the student in the day then mixing with the highest social circles at night.
She ‘constantly’ went to the theatre, hung out in cafes, visited museums in what Kaplan describes as ‘a rush of chateaus, hunts and parties’.
Her riding ‘became a passport into the social life of the French upper classes’ and she spent time with writers like Ormonde de Kay and John Marquand who were in Paris at the time.
The most vivid accounts however come from the times when Mrs Kennedy was faced with circumstances far more prosaic than what she was used to.
Raw: The unglamorous account is in a new book: ‘Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis’, which details the travails of the three women during their time in the French capital
Before arriving in Paris she and the other girls were sent on an intensive language course near Grenoble where she stayed in a chilly chateau which had a single toilet for 12 people.
She was fond of mocking her teacher’s accent and would read passages of ‘Madame Bovary’ with an identical intonation so that when he spoke himself the class would roll around laughing.
Mrs Kennedy also got a reputation for being a good friend and once on a train trip in France – they travelled third class at the time – gave a friend a hat pin to stab a man she was sitting next to in case he tried to grope her.
In 1961 Mrs Kennedy made a triumphant to France as the First Lady when even her husband admitted that she had a closer relationship to its people than he did.
At a news conference, the President said: ‘I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.’
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Her curfew must have been 12:15am–unless she was required home over the noon hour…
check your facts: Jackie married JFK in 1953, you wrote they met in 1959.
Jackie played up her French ancestry, but it’s said she was as Irish as the Kennedys.
Creepy, but OMG…the third photo of Jackie in profile puts me in mind of ‘wee’ Suri Cruise!!!!!!!!! Do you think the families are related:)?
Not much changes, then. When you travel in France on the road, you can stop at ‘aires’ – rest areas where sometimes there is a café, sometimes not, but there’s usually a toilet block. Most of the toilets are still the ‘Turkish’ type, but there might be one in the block that isn’t. However, experience taught us that it was best to go in armed with your own toilet roll – there never seemed to be any! And fresh ‘aires’ they ain’t…..
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