After a summer to forget — cold, lots and lots of rain, waiting, always waiting for warm weather, Paris and France have had the most glorious Autumn. Many days in a row of sunshine and warm days. And it lasted. Starting from the beginning of September until now. We are supposed to be in for a week of rain but 80% chance of rain on the iPhone usually means an hour or two and then it will be dry or a few sprinkles. At least so far this week.
Since the finish of the first lockdown at the end of May 2020, I’ve taken to walking more and more. I started requesting audiobooks from my library and listening as I walked and, as one does with a really good book, it’s hard to stop reading so my three miles turned into four miles turned into five miles a day. Not everyday but many days. So I’m not sure when it actually hit me how many people were out on the streets. Walking to the American Library requires crossing the Pont d’Iena which takes me almost to the foot of the Eiffel Tower. When Paris is full of tourists, walking is a bit like slalom skiing. Trying not to walk into people who are only looking at their iPhones as they take photos or are standing at the very edge of the sidewalk trying to take a photo of the girlfriend who is posing at the edge of the bridge. Someone like me either walks through them, waits, or steps into the road to get around the boyfriend. After a number of these opportunities to be polite, it gets old, and I just want to barrel through not caring if I show up in the photo 🙂
Here in the 16ème, it’s a lovely bustle of people. No tourists, plenty of Parisians going from small store to small store doing their daily shopping. The light is different. The air is different. It’s autumn and there is a sense of pulling in for the winter. Electric lights turn on earlier in the late afternoon and, if it has rained, it gives everything a sense of magic, a sparkle, a pause for a deep breath. I don’t care how long one has lived here, there are just moments of wonder, at the specialness of waking up in Paris and it always being beautiful, especially after everything has been washed clean by a good rain.
Eighteen months ago, we were sending photos back to the US of ‘Paris Vide’ – a Paris so empty of everything that it was easy to think that no one in any generation of us living sentient beings had seen anything like it. Slowly as the lockdowns became less strict, as people emerged from their homes, and younger braver people started walking the streets, ‘Paris Vide’ disappeared forever. The rules have changed over the last year as more is known about Covid and social distancing and the efficacy of wearing masks. Here in France, the majority of people still take the virus seriously although every week, there is a protest somewhere in France against the Passe Sanitaire, against masks, against protecting one’s neighbor from dying. But for the most part, everyone wears a mask in a store, on the metro, on a bus, and anywhere that it is impossible to socially distance.
Anyone who has ever visited Paris knows that this is a café society, a sidewalk culture. Paris is not Paris without people on the street, having a coffee next to the sidewalk, arguing with your friends so that anyone passing by sighs a sound of relief–Paris is being Paris. I don’t believe that we will go back to anything but, until this morning, when I read the French news, I did think we were emerging, as a city, with everyone’s health and best interests in mind and let’s get back to being Paris.
This morning, however, the news said that Covid hospitalisations has risen 15% in the past week. France is declaring it an epidemic again and masks will be required on the street. “The French public health body Santé Publique France says that the epidemic has returned with the increase in Covid cases and hospitalisations in France.” The Local. I shouldn’t be surprised. We were told that there would probably be a rise in winter as there has been in the past two winters. Yet, there was excitement getting the Booster shot and all my friends getting the Booster and, lest there be any doubt whether the vaccine works: “Among those who are admitted to intensive care, 13.8 per million are unvaccinated, 1.3 per million are vaccinated.” The Local.
I don’t want to end on a down note. The truth is that everything is much better than it was a year ago. The French government has done a great job of getting people vaccinated. We’ve all been told that a year ago 48% of the French said they wouldn’t take the vaccine. Today, over 90% of the French population has been vaccinated. Vive La France!