On September 27, I celebrated 22 years. Not my birthday (ah, to be 22 again!) or my wedding anniversary, but 22 years of working at the French Cultural Center.

I first set foot in what was at the time the French Library in 1995, as I was pursuing my master’s degree in Film Production at Boston University. I saw a flyer on BU’s bulletin board about Krzysztof Kieślowski coming to the “French Library,” fresh off the release of his Three Colors trilogy, and I attended his lecture. That beautiful brownstone with its French and American flags was impressive, the reception area austere and a bit daunting for a student.

A few days after the lecture, I returned to the building to discover its library. I spoke briefly to the librarian, stationed at an antique desk on the side. She laid down “the rules” in a strict manner. Little did I know that a couple of years later, she would become a mother to me, as she was to many young women in the house. There was no circulation window at the time. Discovering all the treasures of the library was a wonderful experience but quite lengthy, as the signage of today did not exist. The far back room after you pass the children’s DVD collection was not part of the public library space, it was the Film and A/V office.

Upon graduation, I started working in that office as a part-time assistant. From then on, I did a bit of everything in the house, from teaching French to running the cultural department, to editing a forty-page magazine every two months. I lived through the phone system upgrade, when we said goodbye to those horrible pink sets with clunky square keys, when we stopped by the receptionist’s desk to pick up our messages on slips of paper, because we did not have direct lines. I saw the bulky VAX machine exit the building, and all those rolls of computer paper being recycled as we finally entered the 20th century and converted to an online database.

My first office became library space; a circulation window was created; a teachers’ lounge was built; the kitchen got a makeover with new cabinets and appliances; we sent the Marcel Carné archives that lived in our basement back to the Cinémathèque in Paris; Bastille Day evolved from a small dinner under a tent on the street with a musette quartet playing on the side to the 2,000 guests, concert and street fair it is now; we developed a full program for children, who were a rare sight in the house 22 years ago…

In 2000, I took pictures at the signing of the agreement that would make the Alliance Française part of us; I held the poster that unveiled our new name and logo, French Cultural Center, with my director in 2010. I was Director of Operations at the time, and I finally took over the director’s position in 2016. A couple of weeks ago, I welcomed my board for a visit to our newly renovated space on the Berkeley side, where we now have a lift for people with limited mobility and two brand new accessible classrooms.

I could write several books about everything I lived through inside these walls, but there has been one constant, something that has not changed and that is at the heart of who we are and why I am still here: walking on Marlborough Street towards number 53, on a sunny day, admiring the surrounding gardens and climbing the steps under two nations’ flags; or at night when you can see silhouettes of people laughing together, a glass of wine in hand, the faint sound of music, the gas lanterns on the fence, the strings of lights on the two magnolia trees; taking in this festive, communal sight, knowing you are about to join friends, make new ones; enjoying the warm feeling as you walk up those steps and arrive chez nous, à la maison.

Barbara Bouquegneau

President and Executive Director

Barbara has worked at the French Cultural Center for more than 20 years. Barbara has represented the Center and Alliance Française of Boston throughout the years and has most recently been appointed vice-president of the Federation of Alliances Françaises USA. She is committed to pursuing the extraordinary mission of the French Cultural Center and believes that the Francophone world is worth exploring in all its different cultures.

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We invite parents and children (ages 2+) to come to the Cambridge Public Library (Community Room) for an in person winter themed story time in French!

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