Lycée Français de New York
as she stood on 9 East 72nd Street
These buildings were sold, along with the Upper School Buildings on 7 - 9 East 95th Street
and the school relocated to a different location on the Upper East Side to a facility that would be able to accommodate both the Upper and Lower schools.
Even when it came to education my grandmother played a vital role. When it was time for me to start my schooling La Jolie Grandmère thought it only natural that I attend a French school. At the age of four I entered the nursery school at the Lycée Français de New York. After all, if I was going to be summering in France I ought to speak the language. That year I had a French teacher Mlle Matthieu whom I didn’t like. She was French and strict. My other teacher was Miss Peck. I adored her! Our class was bilingual. Half of the children were French and the rest of us were American. I don’t remember learning French that year, per se, but I remember singing French songs and painting and playing in the large store in our classroom. I didn’t really master the language until the summer after my nursery school year and before my Kindergarten year. All of a sudden, after being immersed in the culture and playing with the French children on the beach for weeks on end I was fluent. I returned back to the States sounding much like a little French girl! I had the same two teachers in Kindergarten and they could not believe that suddenly I had mastered the language. Because I was so young I had a perfect French accent and I could have indeed been a little French girl. My teachers were so proud of me. Even Mlle Matthieu!
At the Lycée all of our classes were in French. As I got older I studied, Math, History, Science, Geography -- all in French. I had spelling tests. In French. In fact, I only had two English classes a week!
The French school system was very strict. From a young age I had lots of homework. Much more so than my peers who attended American schools. I was quite envious of their ability to go out and play (in front of their buildings) in the afternoons. Much of my homework involved memorization. For all my courses there were thick, heavy books with paragraphs at the end of each chapter that I had to memorize. We were quizzed on them almost daily. We also had dictation. All of our writing was done in fountain pen. No ballpoint. No pencils with erasers. I was left-handed. (Still am.) Writing in fountain pen and being left handed was no easy task. Inevitably I would write and my hand would rub over the ink causing an illegible, ghastly mess all over my notebook and hand. It was very disconcerting. I was always getting demerits for messiness. I wanted to be neat so badly and for the longest time did not know how to be. I had a friend named Yael and she had the most scrumptious, beautiful handwriting. I wanted to write just like her. My letters started out ok until my hand slid over the not-yet-dried ink. Not only did we write with pen but we learned how to write in cursive from the get-go. There was no printing whatsoever.
In the second or third grade my teacher held up my cahier
for the entire class to see. “Look at Jessica!” The teacher admonished. “What a messy notebook. This is a disgrace!” Needless to say I wanted to die right there and then. Today I have lovely handwriting. At some point, in the fourth grade, I think, I learned that if I turned my notebook just so, so that it appears that I am writing almost sideways, I could write without smudging the ink. Believe it or not I now love to write with a fountain pen!
We had uniforms at the Lycée. And they were the nicest, smartest uniforms of all the private schools in New York City. We wore navy (or brown or black) shoes, navy or grey knee-socks, grey flannel skirts, white blouses with navy or grey sweaters. We were a sharp looking bunch of children.
One day, it was the first day of Kindergarten, my mother and I were waiting at the bus stop for the bus to take us to school. When we got there two little towheads around my age were standing there with their mother, blond and beautiful. My mother noticed that the little girls were dressed exactly as I was and so she asked the mother if they were headed to the Lycée. Indeed they were. Samantha and Catherine were just a year apart, lived just across the street and were to be my best friends for many years to come. Samantha was in my class throughout my Lycée years.
We had gym every day at the Lycée. We wore white T-shirts with a navy rim around the collar and arm bands and the school’s logo, which was quite pretty, on the front. We wore navy track shorts to match. Sometimes we had gym class in the school’s lovely gymnasium and sometimes we went outside, to Central Park. The lower school in those years occupied a couple of spectacularly gorgeous brownstones on 72nd between Fifth and Madison Avenues. The park’s entrance was just a half a block away. Often we would go and run around the boat basin. Other times we would play ball in a large open field. There was nothing better than going to the park on a gorgeous fall or spring day! Sometimes we went to the park for recess as well. We even went to the magnificent playground in the park from time to time. New York City was a marvelous place to go to school.
The boat basin around which we ran
I usually brought lunch to school. My mother was very creative and I had all sorts of wonderful lunches. I would have sandwiches cut into various shapes from cookie cutters, or sandwiches on baguettes or bagels or soup in my thermos. Sometimes I bought lunch at school. The food was magnificent – as it should be at a French school! All the sandwiches were made on fresh baguettes and I never had a hot meal I didn’t like. School always provided milk. I never cared for the stuff so I never drank it.
When I was younger my Nanny would come and get me from school. (Please do not conjure up images from The Nanny Diaries. Ours were lovely and I adored them and my mother treated them well!) My nannies were always French and I always spoke French with them. In fact, the only time I spoke English was with my parents. By the time I was 10 I was allowed to go home from school by myself. I lived a mile away and I had a special bus-pass for students that I presented each time I boarded so that I did not have to pay. Often I walked home with my friends. Samantha, Catherine and Melissa all lived within 3 blocks of one another. Sometimes we went to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cone that we would eat slowly on our walk home. (Baskin Robbins was located just across Madison Avenue from what would become Ralph Lauren’s flagship store.) My father’s bank was on the other side of the street. Sometimes I would stop by and say Hello. My father’s office seemed so magnificent and fancy. His was not a modern day walk in of today. I would never admit to him that my hello was really an excuse to get a dollar for my ice cream. But my father liked those rare visits and I always felt special as the boss’ daughter. I was treated as though I was child royalty when I stepped inside the bank. Samantha, Catherine and I always loved Pralines and Cream. I loved the sweet crunch of the pecans and the caramel swirl of the vanilla ice cream. I ate my ice cream slowly, savoring each and every wonderful bite!
As much as I wanted to go outside to play when I got home I had to either do homework, go to ballet or take Piano lessons around the corner at Diller-Quaile. Sometimes I had activities after school. I suppose you could say I was over-programmed. We just saw it as busy! Even though I worked hard at that school, so much so that my parents decided to pull me after the Fourth Grade, I loved it there and had many friends and many fond memories.
The Hewitt School
45 East 75th Street
I was happy enough, however, to enter a generic Private all girls school just blocks away from my former school. I already knew a great many girls and they were all lovely and nice. I did, however, miss the boys and the girls at my new school were so much more realistic and so much cattier. Perhaps it was the age. We were all coming of age and growing up. So hard for anyone, add to it the competitiveness of an elite private school. Suddenly dress and designers were important. Labels became all important. Private School girls of the 1980s were indeed the Original Gossip Girls. We were smart, catty, too grown up, too intellectual and many of us (present company excluded) too rich.
We lived by The Preppy Handbook by day and morphed into Brooke Shields Wannabees by night. We wanted our Calvins (and Sergio Valentes and Sassons) and nothing to come between us and them! The days of disco were in full glory. Parties were held at Studio 54 and children had no curfews. I did but many of my friends didn’t and it was awfully difficult. We all donned Baird Jones invitations for all sorts of parties at the famed disco. (Baird Jones would eventually go on to create Jones curate artwork at the famed Webster Hall dance club on E. 11th St.) Studio 54 was in her glory during those years. It was the 80s and this was the place to be. I saw things that many my age, in other parts of the country, would not see until they were much older, if they ever did at all. I was really unaffected by the whole scene. I took in the sights and the sounds and the smells but I always had to be home by 11:00, which was when the parties really started. (Unless I was spending the night with a friend.) It’s a good thing I had a good head on my shoulders because many of my friends did not. I cannot imagine letting my teenager party at the infamous disco, and in the emergent years of AIDS and no cell phones! The parties were fun, but as much fun as they were I always wondered what it was like to be a “normal” teenager in the suburbs who went to high school football games and parties in people’s basements. Life in New York City was so very different.
Later I would go to Dorian’s Red Hand Bar on the Upper East Side, not terribly far from my home. This was around the time that Robert Chambers killed Jennifer Levin and what would soon be known around the world as The Preppy Murder.
Jennifer was my age. While I would never in my right mind agree to go off to Central Park with anyone to have sex, her untimely death hit close to home. We were all affected.
Photo courtesy Dorrian's Red Hand Bar
I was never afraid of the city. In fact I felt safer in New York than anywhere else. With all the people milling about during all hours of the day, and doormen at every building there was no reason to ever feel unsafe. I am much more afraid and aware in the suburbs!
To be continued…