Paris in the early ’50s was an after the war city. The French were still traumatized by the war. So, they were not living in peace. They were not living in wartime, nor in peacetime. You felt a transition. They spoke of the war. The city was still dark, Malraux had started cleaning the facades of the — he passed a law that people should clean the facades of the house that it happened after. So, it was totally black and grey, like etchings, like black and white etchings. It was very — coming from Beirut, was a big impressive thing, intellectual life was an extraordinary — these were the years where Sartre and Camus were at their peak where people felt liberated, and started really speaking out loud.
And the political parties were intense, like the communists, the socialists, the anarchists, there were clear cut differences, and each were very, very free in their expression. So, you felt the intensity of political thinking, of questioning, what had happened with the war. It was fascinating. And then the professors, of course, all of them born before the war. And it happened that some of the best minds, people like Bachelard or famous people like Merleau-Ponty, Sartre was not teaching, but he taught through newspapers in the way young people followed him, took him for a master of thinking.
So, there were some great minds functioning, and the public was aware of them, because they expressed also in the newspaper. We don’t have that. They were public. Some of them, like Sartre, can be a public intellectual, and they stood thinking. Some poets were committed to the resistance, so their poems were also political, not only lyrical. So, it was — they were so happy to get out of the war, and these were minds prepared from before the war, shouldn’t forget that. So, they were blooming. So, Paris was fascinating in the ’50s and ’60s, intellectually.1 I find it much more subdued today.2