It was the merry month of May, 40 years ago.  I had been living in Paris for a decade, had just moved into a beautiful farmhouse ten miles west of the city, had recently become a bachelor again at age 31, and had given up competitive tennis for polo and the Bagatelle polo club.  My horses were young and mobile, the girls were plentiful, and life seemed to be as go­od as it gets.  There were some clouds on the horizon: The Tet Offensive had the hippie crowd cheering the little men in black pajamas back in the states, and North Korea had captured the U.S.S. Pueblo without firing a shot; but all in all, May in the City of Light (and laughter and girls) looked brilliant.  It got better when that great con man LBJ announced that he would not seek another term; and then, suddenly, it all went down the you-know-what.

In quick succession, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, followed by Robert Kennedy; 1968 suddenly turned from the 1967 Summer of Love into the Summer of Hate.  Radical feminism in America reached its apogee with the “radical writer” Valerie Solanas’s shooting of Andy Warhol, while the brave Alexander Dubcek of the Prague Spring uprising against the Soviet invasion was given the cold shoulder by the “Free World.”

Still, the polo season began in Paris, the elegant crowds turned out every weekend to cheer us on, and the first ball of the season, that of Baron Rothschild’s, had been a success.  It was the last ball, and the last polo match, for awhile.  A red-haired self-publicist named Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a perennial student at Nanterre University, staged a sit-in.  Cohn-Bendit was a cultural icon, elevated to that exalted state by lefty newspapers.  In fact, he was a con man, a German-born opportunist who knew that radical politics in the late 60’s meant money in the bank.  During his sit-in, he was afforded the sort of coverage now reserved for NFL and NBA stars.  (He is still treated with indulgence in the European parliament, where he now represents the German Greens).

To Cohn-Bendit’s delight, student after student went on strike, and, in no time at all, all universities and schools in France had shut down.  To his even greater delight, the workers then decided to join their overindulged brethren.  Here were Czech students fighting against the Soviet invasion, and their French counterparts were joined in a general strike against—no one has ever found out exactly what.  They demanded free books, but all higher education in France was already free.  The workers struck for free and paid for overtime with their mistresses, or so it seemed.  Baron Rothschild, vice president of the polo club, called me in and told me the season was canceled.

I was furious.  Playing polo lands one more females than owning a large yacht.  “You’re not going to give in to the rabble!” I pleaded.

“I don’t want them coming here and burning down the club,” said the baron.  It got worse later that day.  We went out to play a practice game before we locked up, and a ball hit Ely de Rothschild flush in the face, causing him to lose an eye.  It was his last game.

Paris turned into a lover’s paradise, as if it weren’t already.  Everything shut down—theaters, restaurants, the metro, most nightclubs (except for Jimmy’s, my favorite haunt), and then the petrol pumps went dry.  No cars moved, only ambulances and black Marias.  I used my ponies to get around; others used carts or bicycles.  I met a young, beautiful Austrian princess who was playing hooky from school and was visiting the barricades every night in the Left Bank.  She was to become the mother of my children and wife, in that order.  De Gaulle got nervous and went to Germany to ask General Massu, a great parachute officer in Vietnam and Algeria, if the French 3rd Army stationed there was reliable in case of civil war.  Like the soldier he was, the imperious De Gaulle asked: “Alors, Massu, toujours con?”  (“So, Massu, always a c–t?”)

“Oui mon general, toujours Gaulliste.”  (“Yes, my general, always for De Gaulle.”)

Nights were spent following the action.  The students would put up barricades in front of Les Deux Maggots, the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité would charge them, and we would hide in the alleys to escape their wrath.  Rich, fat bourgeois men and women would scream “Nazis!” from their expensive flats above at the CRS—tough, out-of-town peasants who hated the spoiled students and workers.  And sometimes, the heavyset threw flower pots at them.  Once, I spotted such an incident and directed a CRS sergeant where it came from.  He shot a teargas grenade at the third-floor flat and placed it perfectly between the Picassos.  Watching the fat ones running out on the street, tears running down their pink cheeks, was worth losing a polo season.

It ended without a bang.  As the summer arrived, the students decided it was too hot to fight.  Ditto the workers.  The right staged a large demonstration down the Champs Elysees, led by a bleary-eyed Andre Malraux under the influence of morphine—or something stronger, I suspect.  I left Paris in my Mini Cooper on July 6.  The polo reopened the next year, and everything went back to normal, as they say.  I quit polo to go to Vietnam after two years, but I shall never forget that wonderful summer without cars or power in the City of Light.