Atelier des Lumières

I arrived at Atelier des Lumières an hour early on Sunday. My friend, Barbara, and I had originally planned this outing to celebrate her birthday March 24th. Then life intervened. The Atelier kindly reimbursed me and, just short of, four months later, here we were: 38 rue St. Maur in the 11th. It was a glorious sunny day. People often say that Paris is grey. Certainly not these past five months.

I rode the #9 metro with my mask on. From my stop in the 16th to St. Ambroise in the 11th is approximately 40 minutes. Everyone wears masks on public transportation. We are encouraged by the 130 euro fine to be paid if we are caught unmasked. The wearing of masks seems to sober people up. There isn’t much talking, frivolity and no buskers in any of the cars. We get on, hope to find a seat which are marked so that, ideally, one would not sit next to another person, then get off.

Since I was early, I walked for awhile in the 11th. The streets are just as wide as in the 16th but the two arrondissements couldn’t look more different. In the 11th, there are no trees shading the sidewalks. Graffiti, much of it fun and artistic, grace many of the walls of buildings and store fronts. Whereas the 16th feels upscale, the 11th feels very working class. In both arrondissements, however, to support social distancing, resaurants, bistros, and cafes have taken over the parking on the streets. Some have thrown down green carpeting to simulate grass. Many have brought in small trees and plants and put them next to the tables to give the air of outside comfort. It works. It is a welcome addition to all the streets in this writer’s opinion.

Walking in the 11th arrondissement

We met at noon as planned and got ready to enter the Atelier. As with every other space in Paris, wearing a mask is obligatory to enter. Then we pass the sanitising liquid that everyone dollops on their hands before passing any of the staff. Our bags are checked, they make sure we actually have tickets, and finally our tickets are scanned and we are in. There are free lockers where we can deposit everything that might be cumbersome. Then we pass through two doors into the remarkable space. As we entered, the show was half-way through. Since it runs all day long, we knew we would see the beginning later.

The projections are accompanied by music, carefully picked from classical, modern, rock and roll, blues, whatever fits the creators’ idea of intent. Nobody speaks. At the end, everyone claps. In times other than a pandemic, the floor would be barely visible. Throngs of people, especially tourists, enter all day long and stay for hours. The lack of tourists is certainly fortunate for us as viewers but not so good for the museum, vendors and cafes that are outside on the street.

Video of Chagall projections with music

I’m sure a better writer than I could describe the awe with which one watches these astounding projections.  The paint work is so large and real that you can see the layers of oil, one on top of the other.  When projecting one of Chagall’s works, the plethora of colour that surrounded us filled me with a big inner grin, gave me reason to appreciate the minds and hearts that create these kinds of expos and helped me forget what is going on in the word. Thank goodness for videos that can give you a gllimpse of what we spent almost two hours watching!

After a boxed lunch in the park, we went to find a cup of coffee. Barbara had done me a huge favor the day before and I promised her a coffee. We sat down at a bright pink table across from the Atelier: L’Atelier de Lili. Lili turned out to be our waitress. She heard our accents and asked us where we were from. Both Barbara and I being social talkers, we had quite a conversation with Lili who is adorable, funny and entertaining. She took our photo for her collection and sent it to us.

Sara and Barbara having a birthday coffee across from Atelier des Lumières.

I told Lili that we were so happy because we were finally celebrating Barbara’s birthday–four months late. Five minutes later, out came a macaroon with a little candle in it. Lili sang Happy Birthday with all her heart.

No words needed.

I know that the serendipitous nature of the whole day felt very celebratory to Barbara. As I rode home on the metro, I was thinking how like a normal day in Paris this felt. I actually had not spent this much time out being social in Paris, only in Brittany. I felt happy, in love with Paris and all it offers. I had to literally tap my head to remind myself that there is nothing normal about any part of the world today. In the words of Charles Blow of the NYTimes, “I think I echo many Americans, and people of the world in general, when I say that I’m having a hard time fully grappling with the gravity of this moment. It is still hard to absorb that a virus has reshaped world behavior, halted or altered travel, strained the economy and completely reshaped the nature of public spaces and human interaction. It is also hard to absorb that this may not be a quickly passing phase, an inconvenience for a season, but something that the world is forced to live with for years, even assuming that a vaccine is soon found.” July 12 Op Ed.

A bientôt,

Sara

La Bretagne

After almost three months of lockdown in Paris, being in Brittany was a breath of fresh air-literally. I stayed with friends in Louannec on the Côte de Grânit Rose. That area is a large peninsula jutting out of the north side of Brittany just under the UK. The ink was barely dry on Macron’s decree that we could travel further than 100 kms, that I bought my ticket, packed my suitcase, put on my mask, and headed for Gare Montparnasse. The TGV car that I sat in was half-empty. If one wasn’t a couple, we sat, either as the only passenger in the double seats, or in the single seats along the other windows. J’adore le voyage par train en France. I have come to love train travel so much that it only seemed natural to take the train from Chicago to Ann Arbor to see my sister last summer!

This was a vacation like none other that I’ve ever had. The first two nights I slept so long that I realized I was far more tired than I had thought. My hosts didn’t change their lives for me. It wasn’t their vacation. They just wanted to give me a place to breath, to see the sea and walk without breathing in car fumes. So, for the next thirteen days, after I awoke, I made a breakfast and read the news on my computer, went for long walks along the sea (five and six miles), had lunch, took a nap in which I usually fell asleep, read, took another walk, wrote some e-mails, had dinner at 9pm then went back to sleep. On the weekends, we went to a tiny hamlet that isn’t even on the map where my hosts have bought a small house. No internet, no WiFi. So my day didn’t change much except I walked beside wheat fields instead of the sea.

View from my bedroom window: looking out on the Bay. The port of Perros is to the left.
The port of Perros Guirec

Brittany wasn’t hit with much Covid 19. There was one incident, before I arrived, where someone was admitted to hospital with an unrelated condition. It turned out that person had the virus, and within a week, fifteen people had it. My hosts believe that no one died. That was the biggest outbreak. One is required to wear a mask at outdoor marchés and inside any store. I saw no one break that rule.

Walking the Sentier des Douaniers, a summer ritual. Everywhere large and small boulders of pink granite.
Inside the small stone house in Kerprouet.
Back in Louannec: 11:15pm!

Within days of being in Louannec, it was hard to remember that there was a deadly virus in the world and that it was making a comeback in a number of countries, the US being the worst of the rising cases. I had gotten used to keeping a clean mask in my purse. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have been able to go into a couple of stores. It was so hard to remember: purse, keys, mask which has gotten automatic in Paris.

Picking the first lettuce (known in French as salade) in Kerprouet. Two families together have planted lettuce, tomatoes, winter squash, corgettes, rasberries, potatoes, put in apple trees and plum trees. They will be eating will all summer long.

One plant that grows beautifully and prolifically in all of Brittany is the hydrangea (hortensia in French). They become hedges in front yards, climb up walls near many of the beaches, and there is a Hortensia festival every summer. Maybe not this summer. I’m told that it loves to be sprayed. So though it’s important to water it regularly and deeply, it’s also important to spray it. In Brittany, water drops fly in from waves. It can cool down at night and there will be mist. They come in pinks and reds and pale blues and deep, vivid blues and violets and white. Each one of these colors will have different species. The hortensia known in France as hydrangea is a delicate flower with star-like shoots coming from the stamen and at the end of each little finger are four petals. Looked at from above, the flowers look like lace.

My hosts tell me that Bretons are not really french! There is France and there is Brittany. It’s an ages old joke that, like most of these kind of folk jokes, have a lot of truth to them. Bretons don’t like authority and if the government says ‘black’ Bretons will do ‘white’ on principle. It is the only department in France that does no allow any paying highways (because it’s not right). On the whole, they are extremely kind and generous people. Like much of France that isn’t Paris and Lyon, the majority are hurting financially. You would never know it by looking at their homes. They don’t get extreme cold at winter so they can garden all year around and it shows. Every house and its garden is clean and manicured to perfection.

It’s July in Paris. That means that everyone is either planning their getaway for August or have already left. School ended last week. The next seven weeks are a French specialty: “Leave Paris”. It is heavenly. So I’m already plotting my next trips to Normandie and then Le Gers. First, I have to put in a drip system on my terrace. Then I will have plants to come home to.

A bientôt,

Sara

Jardin du Luxembourg

I want to thank so many of you who have bought my book, read it and sent me feedback. I am deeply appreciative. I wonder if some of you would also post on Amazon. Especially those of you who are not compulsive eaters/food addicts and learned about it from the book. That’s an audience I hope to reach and the posts will help people decide whether to get it or not.

Paris has been in deconfinement for one month. On the surface of things, a walk outside seems much like it was 6 months ago but with masks. I don’t see any effort at social distancing. Yet…..the TV screen in the upper right hand corner says ‘Restez prudent’ Stay prudent’. Wise words. I read in the US news that a number of states are seeing a rise in cases of the virus. And certainly Brazil is right behind the US for most deaths in the world. The protest marchs all over the world have taken over front page news.

Walking into the gardens from Blvd St. Michel

In my small world, I rode the RER C to St Michel/Notre Dame and walked up St. Michel to the Luxembourg gardens. I met nine other people who are members of a tour group that I love. We meet during the academic year and go on 17 or 18 tours of places in Paris (also outside). Some are well known but the majority are not well known and we are treated to little vignettes of Parisian life both past and present. We are led by a wonderful art historian, Dr. Kelly Spearman. Yesterday, a beautiful, warm day, we spent the morning in the gardens. They are situated on the border between St Germain-des-Pres and the Latin Quarter. They cover 25 hectares of land. They are inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Dr. Kelly (yes, we call her that) regaled us with stories of Queen Marie de Medici who initiated the installation of the gardens in 1612.

Luxembourg Palace; photo by Jeff Waters

I again felt the illusiveness of time. I hadn’t been to this part of Paris in months, since long before the lockdown started. These gardens are usually packed with runners, mother’s and their children, little boys pushing wooden boats around in the fountain, and by noon, every chair would be full of readers and talkers. The gardens were not empty but certainly not what we are used to. Is this a lack of tourists? Perhaps being prudent? Or, perhaps, like me, many Parisians have lockdown fatigue and are getting out of Paris now that we can travel anywhere within the french boundaries.

Taking with masks.

I walked with my group and listened to the vibrant, living stories told by Dr. Kelly. But my mind kept being pulled away by a memory or something I needed to do. I was definitely not zen. (Did I happen to mention that a second laptop was delivered to me and…yes, it too had a french keyboard!). I have had a string of bad luck. I wasn’t aware of holding my breath wondering what would happen next but the truth is the bad luck and the time it takes to deal with each thing steals the present from me.

Little cafes like this are open on the outside. This one is in the eastern part of the gardens.

For three weeks, I have been looking forward to a trip to Bretagne. I have friends who live in Perros Guirec on the Cote de Granit Rose. Look it up. Look at photos. It is a wonderful area of Bretagne. Truthfully, all of Bretagne is wonderful. I will see the Atlantic ocean, walk trails, maybe go sailing,—all things many of you have been able to do as you don’t live in a city. Thanks to the bad luck, I also decided that I would take a vacation from commitments and responsibilities. I’m going to put myself in the hands of my hosts and when they say “let’s go to to X”, I will follow!

One wooden boat in the fountain. Boys hold long sticks and as the boats come close to the concrete sides of the water, they will reach out and guide their boats this way and that. They can play an entire afternoon.
The oldest carousel in Paris, active daily. It was the first carousel to have a ‘gold ring’. The young ones on the outside circle could hold a long stick and try to capture the ring as they went by. Photo: Jeff Waters
Pantheon in the background. Photo: Jeff Waters.

I wish you all a wonderful rest of June. I will see you in three weeks.

A bientôt

Sara

Brave, new World

Four weeks have passed since the beginning of ‘Deconfinement’ – the lifting of restrictions in France. Last week, June 2nd began the second phase—the most exciting being that we can now travel anywhere within France. Many services are open. Restaurants can open but only their terraces. Table must be 2 meters apart and everyone, servers and clients alike, are to wear masks. In many ways, when one goes outside, it is as if the Confinement never happened. On May 11, the first day of Deconfinement, workers descended upon the only house in this area. They built scaffolding to the roof of the four story home. Translated that means, there has been LOUD noise every single day since, starting at 7:30am and going to 1pm when they break for lunch. Afternoons are quieter.

Parisians enjoying sunshine at Bois de Boulogne. Very few masks and definitely more than 10 people in groups all over the grass.

In my arrondissement, the majority of people are wearing masks. Very few people are making an effort to move the required 2 mètres when passing each other on the street. The queues at Hyperstores and Supermarkets have disappeared and delivery is fast and efficient. I went into a Galleries Lafayette in the 15th a week ago and at noon on a Wednesday, it was practically empty.

I’ve spent some time being judgmental about people not following the suggested guidelines but lately it seems like a waste of energy. The guideline for the over the 65 year group is not to change much, stay at home, stay healthy. Today, the statistics in France are 153,977 cases. 30,000 dead. And, as I was reminded yesterday, the published deaths are hospitals and clinics only. It’s not known how many more deaths happened at home. But one can assume the numbers would be much higher.

Brave souls wearing masks at the Ranelagh metro

Thirteen days ago, I woke up to photos of Minneapolis on fire. I thought to myself “and so it starts”, having no idea how right I was. That morning, what struck me was the pentup energy of two months in lockdown. Fairly quickly, I got the backstory of George Floyd, his murder and it being the final straw for so many Americans of decades of Having frightened gown white men treating anyone who doesn’t look like them, as if they were vermin to stomp out or worse ‘invisible’. The anger has galvanized people in a way that I haven’t seen since the 60’s when I was in university. Here in Paris, people are willing to risk the fines of not social distancing and maybe risking their lives to join in solidarity with protesters around the world. I feel so proud of my fellow Americans. Yesterday, I read in the Times that a few Republican politicians are standing up and saying no more psychopath bully in the White House. They have committed to vote for Joe Biden. It hardly seems real. Four months ago, there was nothing of substance left of the Republican Party. Today, some brave souls are willing to go on record saying “He does not speak for me.”

Protests in support of George Floyd and police brutality in Paris.

My little struggles in the 16eme seem so minuscule and unimportant. But considering I’m a writer and most of my day is spent churning out three blogs a week, writing requested articles in support of my book Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction, and my volunteer work for various organizations, the fact that I have been pecking and poling away on an iPad for 5 weeks while waiting for my new computer seems huge. My new computer that I had ordered with an American keyboard arrived last Wednesday, June 3. I was so excited. As I was setting it up, I realized it had a french keyboard. I’m not sure I’m eloquent enough to describe how I felt at that moment. Horror, anger, frustration. All those words work. It took me hours to get a hold of the sales department in Europe to deal with this mistake. The upshot is that I had to re-order the computer, wait for UPS to deliver a label to me to put on the return box. However, they were not allowed to pick up the box itself. After finding two different UPS pick up points closed until who knows when, I was successful this morning at handing it in to a UPS point at an Office Depot. Now I have to wait until the end of the month for my new (again) laptop to arrive. I must have been praying for patience in my life. How else can one explain two months on an iPad.

One day at a time, we move out into this new world of ours, wearing masks, social distancing and fighting with every ounce of our beings for a better and fairer world.

A bientôt

Sara

Week 2 of ‘le deconfinement’

The weather in Paris is glorious. I LOVE summer. It’s hot enough to be summer and, at 6:30pm, when it’s starting to cool, it’s the kind of night one dreams of all year long. A night when the air just whispers on your skin, the light is just starting to mellow into a golden hue and, inspite of no bars or restaurants open, people are out on the street—some with masks, some without. There is that magic feelIng in the air—summer, the magic of summer.

Unfortunately, it’s probably a dangerous feeling, at least in Paris. It’s so easy to forget that very little has changed in the world. In many places, the curve has flattened but people are still getting sick and people are still dying. In France, 181,826 people have gotten the virus. 28,215 people have died. Summ63,858 people have recovered. As the restrictions have lifted, Parisians have hit the streets like dogs kept in a kennel for way too long. Last Thursday, I walked up to M&S to buy some food and go next door for my peonies. It seemed clear to me that people were acting as if the virus and pandemic had completely passed us by, and not just a few restrictions lifted. 200,000 people have been stopped driving away from Paris. The new restriction is that any of us can go 100 kilometres but not further unless for work or family. And then we must carry a new “passport” for travel. 9,500 fines had been given out before the long weekend started. (Yesterday was a bank holiday in France-Ascension Day. As in America, they often work in a four day holiday). The police were out in droves yesterday. I’m not clear whether they don’t want assymptomatic Parisians carrying the virus out of Paris or whether they fear Parisians picking it up and bringing it back in.

I personally didn’t venture out until last Thursday (except my daily excursion to Carrefour City on the corner to get daily produce etc). Walking up and back to M&S, one thing jumped out at me. THE NOISE. More buses were running. Many more cars were out. People were yelling into their mobile phones trying to hear themselves over the traffic. I had forgotten how awful the noise is. I will miss the quiet. Outside my building, off my terrace, work has started up on the outside of the only house in the area. There are hammers hammering, the dropping of huge steel girders, banging and banging from 8am until 6pm with a break for lunch. I’m trying to be very circumspect and telling myself to rise above the noise, don’t let it throw me off my day.

At the hair salon: not quite a hazmat suit but specially bought for clients!

Monday, I went to get my hair cut. I was too frightened by the prospect of crowds so I walked there and walked home-6 mile round trip. I was told to wear my mask, that the changing room would not be available so wear something light and be on time. I wouldn’t be let in before my scheduled time and maybe not after. Everyone wore gloves. I’m impressed that with these kinds of services where feel is very important, they are able to give just as lovely a haircut wearing gloves. Three inches later, I felt like the weight of the past ten weeks had been shorn off.

Pont Alexandre III et Le Seine

Tuesday, I met a friend at the American Library to go for a walk. She was the first friend I’d seen in person in 10 weeks. The Library had worked out “curbside lending”. Any member can request 20 books, make an appt with the Library and arrive at the scheduled time to pick up five of those books nicely wrapped like a Christmas present. My friend had made the appointment. I was just returning books—no appt needed, but the books would go into quaranteen. I saw two more friends who work at the Library behind the barriers and poof! the ten weeks evaporated. It was as if no time had passed. These friends also had relieved themselves of hair and beards and mustaches and looked just as I’d seen them ten weeks ago. Time is a strange and elusive thing. If I think of a specific incident on a specific day, pre-confinement, it seems eons ago—another age which, of course, it was. But seeing someone I know and care about, it feels like yesterday I just saw them (maybe seeing them on Zoom has something to do with it).

At the nail salon-masks and screens all around.

Wednesday, I took the next big social step and went to get a mani/pedi. My neighborhood nail salon is two blocks away. They were well prepared for us to keep us and them safe. See through screens had been installed on the bench for pedicures so if all three seats were taken, we couldn’t accidentally touch each other or sneeze or cough on anyone. The girls all wore gloves and, as at the hair salon, I was impressed with the job they did with gloves on. At the table for manicures, screens were up on the sides separating people and also in front between client and manicurist with a large hole to put one’s hands through. It was well thought out and very clean. I left wondering ‘is this the new normal? Similar to how TSA has been part of our lives since 9-11?’ Watching an old movie without TSA screening seems bizarre now. Ten, Twenty years from now will we be looking at photos of no gloves, no social distancing, no masks and say ‘Remember when’?

Following success with my hair and nails, I went after an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. My dentist has not opened up shop. There is no indication when he will. That must be a very tricky thing indeed to make both Doctor and patient feel completely safe. So I will wait.

I haven’t gone in any other stores. I see that many clothing stores are open. They have signs on the window saying only three people inside at a time and the wearing of masks is a must. Some of these little boutiques are just that—little! If three people tried to go inside the women’s clothing store on Av. Mozart, there would be no social distance between them. And what about trying on clothes? I’m sure they have worked something out in order to open and create a sense of safety for someone but……would I try something on if told I wasn’t the first person? I don’t think so. Even if time had passed.

I am still plucking away on my iPad. No one has been able to figure out a fix for my MacBook Air. Since Apple stores are not yet open, I ordered a refurbished laptop to tide me over. Then an American friend pointed out that if I bought a new laptop at an Apple store, it would have a french keyboard so I’d end up ordering one anyway. If I had ordered one two weeks ago, it would have been arriving this week! Which seemed so far away, too far away, two weeks ago. Today, I got a text saying they (Amazon) could not locate the refurbished one and if I wanted to “annuler” the order, I could. That one would have had a french keyboard also. So in a way, that is good news. Today, I’m doing what I should have done two weeks ago. Except…..I wanted to do research. So for someone who spends at least half her day, often more, in front of the computer, this has been a trying time. I will order my new computer today and pray that all is well in Apple land and in delivery land.

Summer blooming on my terrace

In the hopes that I’m keeping up with some consistency, I’m sending this blog to the Cloud. I’m learning more how to publish using an iPad but very grateful I don’t have to do long term.

Wherever you are, have a wonderful holiday weekend. In the US, it’s the celebration of Memorial Day. A day to honor military men and women going back as far as the Civil War. Different kinds of war than a pandemic. Ones that all passed but not without a great price. Here in France, it’s Ascension Day. For a country that is sometimes Catholic, and sometimes Socialist, this is a Catholic holiday that all are happy to celebrate and take long weekends.

A bientôt,

Sara

Bonjour de Paris vide

Last Friday, my computer and my Wi-Fi stopped talking to each other. I have reached out to savvy techy friends and to Apple support. A bit like taking two entities to a therapy session in hopes they will start to get along again. No dice. They refuse. As frustration built—I know nothing about how these things work internally, but am completely dependent on my computer for my work—I hit a wall and just had to laugh. It was one thing after another. By Tuesday evening, I was ready to impulsively buy a new laptop from Apple and have it delivered—even though it wouldn’t be delivered until the end of May. Meanwhile, through extensive searching through way too much stuff, I found an itty bitty keyboard that works with my mini-iPad. Wednesday morning, I woke up and thought “Just use your iPad Sara, make do. Take the time to do some research. Apple stores will probably open up by end of May.” So that’s what I’m doing. This is doing for me what the virus did not do: slowing me down. I can’t get to many of my files. Security for sites like Dropbox is so good, it is next to impossible to jump through the hoops to get to your own work when using a different device. Each time I say a Grrrrrrrr, this is so frustrating, I remind myself that I’m choosing the iPad. No one is doing this to me.

The Louvre and the pyramid. Photo: Brigid Blanco

Having most of my time taken up with problem solving, I haven’t written a blog. Now for the first time, I’m using my what seems to me to be giant finger tips, to type on this itty bitty keyboard. And I’m going to make it easier on myself by showing something no one in my life time has ever seen before two months ago. An empty Paris. A Paris with no tourists bustling around. A Paris without the busyness of cars frantic to get from one side to the other. A Paris where ducks and geese are swimming in the Seine, a river without boats and bateaux mouches.

Walking along the Quai, right bank, towards The Louvre photo: Brigid Blanco

Another gorgeous, sunny Spring day is unfolding in Paris. The irony to me is that this is the earliest Spring we’ve had in many years and most of us are respecting the Confinement guidelines by only being outside for short periods at a time. I read an article in the Guardian that said the change in ocean noise since the lockdown began, is so profound that whales are calling out to each other more. The Belin whale, who are always stressed by the ocean noise, are now destressing. Another reminder of the overwhelming impact, not just the virus is having on us, but our response is having on the planet.

Walking bridge over the Seine looking towards The Louvre, photo: Brigid Blanco

D-Day (J-Jour) is coming on Monday. I wonder if I will have a chance to get into the center of Paris before people hit the streets. I walked up to M&S yesterday and the sidewalks in the 16th were full of people, about 3/4s wearing the recommended face masks. The shoe store near the Passy Poste was open with no one inside. The e-cigarette store on Av Mozart was open. I couldn’t see inside. Two florists near M&S were open for the first time. I bought a bouquet of peonies. The florist made me wait outside while he wrapped the flowers for me to carry home.

Rue de Rivoli – May 5,2020 Photo: Brigid
Pont Alexandre III. Photo: Jeff Waters
side street looking towards Pantheon. Photo: Jeff Waters
Metro station at St. Michel/Notre Dame. Photo: Jeff Waters

Stay strong, stay safe and use your head when deciding whether or not to stay at home.

A bientôt,

Sara

Paris: in the time of Coronavirus

Today marks the beginning of Week 8 of “le Confinement” in France. Since the beginning, there have been renegade Parisians who have done whatever they wanted to do no matter what the French Government advised. The police have given thousands of fines to people who are out and about without their little “passports”. However, in the last week, since the government started thinking out loud on TV about what the “deconfinement” might look like, people haven’t been willing to wait until May 11 for the rules to lighten up. Many of my friends, it turns out, have taken long walks, way past the 1 kilometre boundary to see Paris without tourists, without shoppers, without workers bustling about, mostly without anyone. Those who are good with their phones have taken some wonderful photos as the New York Times did also when it published the above article.

The idea of seeing Paris as it may have looked 60/70/80 years ago is extremely tempting. A friend said to take three pieces of paper with me. One for each hour I’m out. That would give me three hours instead of one hour. I had a plan to do it today then got the weather report–rain all afternoon. I’m thinking that even in the rain, the sight of an empty Paris, would be worth it. Chances are I’ll never see it like this again. In two weeks, people will be out and about, albeit with masks on. Colorful masks, made-at-home masks, made to order from indigenous people masks, but masks nevertheless. No matter what the lightening of the rules is, two things that won’t change are the social distancing and wearing of masks.

The Louvre and Pyramid Photo: Jeff Waters

This was in The Guardian on Sunday: “

The pandemic has killed 22,614 people in France since the start of March, with officials on Saturday reporting 369 new deaths in the previous 24 hours. The global death toll from the novel coronavirus pandemic passed 200,000 on Sunday. Seventeen priorities have been identified for gradually bringing France out of lockdown from 11 May. These include reopening schools, companies returning to work, getting public transport back to normal, the supply of masks and sanitiser, testing policy and support for the elderly. Philippe’s presentation to the National Assembly on Tuesday will be followed by a debate and a vote. France’s move comes as the World Health Organization has warned against “immunity passports” for recovered patients, seen as a possible tool for countries preparing to reopen their economies. “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” said a WHO statement.”

Entering the Tuileries Gardens Photo: Jeff Waters

The French PM Edouard Philippe has now laid out plans for ‘Deconfinement’. D Day is May 11.

May 11th

  • Shops can reopen as long as social distancing and hygiene measures are in place. Local authorities can refuse shops permission to reopen and can refuse to allow shopping centres over 40,000 sq m to reopen. Masks are recommended for shoppers and shops can turn away customers who are not wearing a mask
  • Pre schools and primary schools will reopen. The process of reopening of schools and nurseries will be gradual and phased out over several weeks. Post-16 high-schools (lycées), technical colleges (lycée professionel) and universities stay closed. Sending children back to school will not be compulsory.
  • Work can resume for some people – people who can work at home are asked to keep doing that, but other businesses can reopen, provided the workplace maintain social distancing measures. This could include introducing part time working or staggered shifts
  • Public transport will increase – in Paris public transport will go back to 70 percent of its normal levels, in other cities it is up to local authorities. Masks will be compulsory on all public transport
  • The attestation permission form can be binned – except for trips exceeding 100km. Travel between regions and départements is allowed up to a maximum of 100km from home, but people are encouraged to travel only when essential.
  • Some cultural activities can resume, provided social distancing can be observed – so libraries and bookshops can reopen as well as some smaller museums and tourist sites but larger sites and cinemas, theatres and music venues will remain closed
  • Churches and other places of worship can open, provided they can ensure distance between worshippers. No religious ceremonies are allowed however.
  • Some socialising can begin again, provided it is in groups of fewer than 10. So going to a friend’s house for dinner would be allowed again
  • Funerals can be held, but with a maximum of 20 people
  • Individual physical activity such as jogging and cycling can resume without restrictions. Collective sports activities and sports involving physical contact will not be allowed yet. The Local
Looking straight up Champs Elysees to Arc de Triomphe Photo: Jeff Waters
Standing in line at the Poste in the 16th a week ago Photo: Sara Somers

May 11th is two weeks away but with everyone’s thoughts way ahead of ourselves, it’s easy to start planning. I realise one of the things I love about being in lockdown is that I don’t have to plan. I don’t have to be somewhere and hurry up and finish something. It’s probably true that life will never go back to before pandemic (BP) but I can already feel that I will miss just having to live in today.

A bientôt,

Sara

Aggressive Friendship

I’m reminded that this is a time to practice aggressive friendship with each other, to be the one who seeks out the lonely and the troubled. It’s also true that character is formed in times like this. People see deeper into themselves, bravely learn what their pain is teaching them, and become wiser and softer as a result. David Brooks, NY Times

Last week, David Brooks, columnist at the New York Times, asked readers to e-mail him with thoughts, feelings and personal experiences of being in Lockdown (or whatever it is called in your country). This morning, he wrote us all a letter saying he’d received 5000 responses and he quoted a number of them. Students and the elderly, for different reasons, were scared and in tears much of the time. Reading his letter, I once again felt a deep sense of gratitude that, except for a few moments last week, I have been quite upbeat. I believe I’m being realistic and planning my days and weeks with reality in mind. I don’t like it but nobody asked my opinion. As the above quote shows, Mr. Brooks is encouraging us to reach out to people–especially the elderly and lonely people.

Le Jardin du Ranelagh: didn’t get the memo that we are all under lockdown.

Since most of us are only communicating through e-mails, phone calls and Zoom meetings, a lot can be misunderstood and cause grief, unneeded despair and a pulling apart of friendship just when we need to pull together. I’ve been quick to judge others when I didn’t like a communication. Then it occurred to me, what if I were upsetting someone else? How would I want them to treat me? I’d want them to put my e-mail or Zoom statement in perspective. I’d want them to extend to me the benefit of the doubt, that in these extraordinary times, many of us may say things in haste that actually don’t express how we feel. I know a lot of my friends are very anxious, their children aren’t near them and they feel powerless. Many are scared–that looking into the future seems bleak and unpredictable. I have sent e-mails off to close friends and family and not heard back. First I got angry, then I felt scared. It turns out that 100% of those e-mails were either not received or lost in an onslaught of e-mails. I want to be forgiven for anything I said or did, unintentially or even intentially but blindly. If I want that, I’d better extend that to others. I find this hard.

Normally one of the busiest areas of traffic in Paris full of honking horns, gestures and impatience.

As the days have turned into weeks and the weeks are slowly turning into a second month of lockdown, I’m feeling the fatigue of this sameness. I look out my window where it is 75o in Paris. It is green and the birds are chirping away as if all was normal. I may not have the largest following with this blog but I must have the best of followers! Many people wrote me last week in concern. Was I okay? Why was I crying? A number urged me to go outside and walk where it is green. I did. I went out three times and found it to be more stressful than staying inside. I live near Bois de Boulogne. Last Sunday, I walked in that direction only to be stopped by a line of police saying it was forbidden to enter. Only the small green areas are ok. Monday, I went to a real grocery store for the first time. The streets were full of people, many not respecting the 2 meter distance guideline, joggers were everywhere, families were everywhere. I had to remind myself we were in lockdown. I kept crossing the street, back and forth, back and forth, so as not to cross the 2 meter line. Tuesday night, French administration banned jogging between the hours of 10am and 7pm. I haven’t been out since then to see if joggers are respecting this latest decree.

Walking home along one side of Jardin du Ranelagh. Some Mayors in France in an autocratic move have outlawed sitting on benches. Not Paris.

I feel thin-skinned. I can’t control what other people think of me. I can’t control the Parisians who believe they don’t need to follow the rules. I can’t control people on Zoom who, no matter how much you remind them to put as much security in place as possible, aren’t listening. No matter how thin-skinned I’m feeling, I have to remind myself that no one means hurt or harm. I’m quite sure of that (with the exception of some politicians we all know and don’t love). I can’t afford to let myself get stressed by what others are doing. The CDC says that stress lowers your immune system. I have to practice love and forgiveness. That’s what I want from others.

Scotch broom (or maybe it’s French Broom) in full bloom.

This brings me back around to “Aggressive Friendship”. We live in an age where one can instantly ‘friend’ someone. It is even a verb: ‘to friend’. David Brooks urges us to reach out to the lonely, the elderly, those that cannot do much to fend for themselves during Covid-19. The dictionary on my MacBook Air defines friendship: “noun [mass noun] the emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends: old ties of love and friendship | this is an ideal group for finding support and friendship. • [count noun] a relationship between friends: she formed close friendships with women. • a state of mutual trust and support between allied nations: because of the friendship between our countries, we had a very frank exchange | the foreign ministers extended to eastern Europe the hand of friendship.” A state of mutual trust and support. Almost by definition, this says that friendship is deepened by surviving the big and small bumps on the road of life. Mr. Brooks is asking us to extend the act of caring–doing something for someone whether you know them or not, just because. Isn’t it extraordinary that it takes a crisis for the majority of us to practice this basic act of kindness? This is a time to practice love and tolerance. To remember the old adage that we were all taught when we were young: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Never easy in normal times, but these are not normal times.

The beautiful Jardin du Ranelagh. It looks so manicured. Are gardeners out working? Is that considered a necessary work during this time? I don’t have the answer.

In the news: The French news says that President Macron is speaking to many of his advisors and will go on TV Monday evening to make new announcements. The lockdown has been extended but it’s unclear how long. Deaths have reached 13,482 in France. The number of ICU patients has declined as of yesterday. I don’t believe France has peaked yet. “Macron will have to steer a careful course amid the tentative signs of improvement, telling people they must still stay at home while giving indications about how the confinement may be relaxed.” France24.com. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s illness has brought much of the nation together wishing him well. That nation has been pulled into polarity for at least 5 years. How interesting that one of the main people fighting for Brexit should also be a unifying figure. He says he owes his life to the healthcare workers. I wonder if this will soften some of his more stringent beliefs. One also can’t help but wonder if he noticed how many of his saviors were immigrants.

A bientôt,

Sara This has been a very hard blog to write. For whatever reasons, I’ve lost paragraphs, been unable to upload a photo. and a few other things. For 48 hours it has been a test of patience to get this out to you. Makes me wonder what acts of maturity I’ve been needing to work on!

Just another day in confinement; Paris, France

I woke up at 7:30 after sleeping terribly. So badly that I’d pulled the bottom sheet away from it’s nice hospital corner tuck-in. Am I anxious? I don’t think so but I’ve never slept so badly that it appears I’ve been wrestling someone or something. I get out of bed yawning as I have for the last five mornings. After making coffee and filling a bowl with fruit and yogurt, I meander to my computer to read the latest bad news. I can’t watch the news. I have to read it. If I don’t like the headline I can scroll down. I can start with the sports pages or the culture pages if I want to and then scroll upward. What I read this morning was that the President of the United States of America said he would not send life-saving equipment to any state if the Governor “isn’t nice to me”. I started crying. I’m living in a nightmare. Maybe I hadn’t really awaken. My sister said yesterday that he was favouring red states over blue. She calls him malevolent.

A part of me wanted to crawl back in bed and have a re-do. Energy just seeped away from my body. I turned the television on, went to YouTube and clicked on Walk at Home with Leslie Sansone. I’ve seen more of Leslie in the past three weeks than any friend on Zoom. I chose a Boost Walk and hoped I could march away the blues. I walked and marched and swung my arms and stomped my feet and muttered.

The fun of walking at home with Leslie Sansone

Thirty minutes later, I sat down at my computer to work. I can’t catch up with work. I felt resentful. The Guardian, every day, has a list of movies and box set TV shows that we can binge watch since we have nothing else to do. HA! If I could watch every season of MASH, I might give up on work, writing these blogs, keeping up with e-mails and all the things my publicity agent wants me to do for my book which comes out May 12. I haven’t found MASH anywhere. If you, wonderful reader, know where I can stream MASH, please let me know.

MASH is no longer on Netflix but is now streamed on Hulu

I spoke with a close friend in California the other evening. She told me how she and her daughter are taking walks and respecting the six foot distance, how check out lines at the food stores have tape on the ground six feet apart and people respect that. I seemed to be hearing that she was spending a lot of time outside of the house. I told her I’d been out three times in the past two weeks. “You haven’t even taken a walk?” No I haven’t. So I told myself I would use my hour of outdoor time today to walk over to the Bois de Boulogne and back. Then I saw an interview with Bernie Sanders who told us, the listening audience, “stay at home unless you absolutely, without a doubt, have to go out.” I don’t think a walk falls in that category. I felt paralyzed. Go out, stay in. When in doubt, leave it out. I still haven’t completely given up the idea. In my heart, I know we are being given better instructions in France than in the US but then one friend writes about being at the beach and how beautiful it is and another about hiking on a lovely trail and another describes the eery, terrible, wonder of empty streets in the middle of the day.

Coronavirus Cases: 1,210,422 view by country

Deaths: 65,449 Recovered: 251,822

Thursday, as the US announced that the limits would last until May 3 and the newspaper publishes horrifying statistics of deaths doubling overnight (New York had almost 600 yesterday), it began to sink in that there was a good chance that we’d be in confinement for a minimum of another month and likely two months. Intellectually, I knew that that was probably going to happen but acceptance is a whole other feeling. That’s probably my nighttime tossing and turning. History books will describe this time in my lifetime as “unprecedented”. To me, it’s like trying to live one day at a time with the braille method, trying to sense what is the right thing to do for my own self-care but also for my fellow citizen of Paris. Hoping and praying that what I’m doing and saying will ultimately be the best that one can do. And isn’t that what we are all doing?: the best we can do with the information we are given.

In France24.com this morning, a reporter was confirming what most of us are already suspecting–that we are in this for a very long haul. He thinks that the lockdown limits will be lifted slowly but not all at one time. He pointed out that already China is getting a second wave as people travel around again. So government administrators will have to really be prepared to advise as to how to begin living our lives outside of our homes. “The prime minister cited the possibility of easing lockdown measures on a region-by-region basis and “subject to a new testing policy – depending, possibly, on age and other factors”. It’s a scenario similarly touted in Italy – one of the countries hit hardest by the virus – where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that a “return to normalcy” will have to be achieved “gradually”-(France24). But it’s not going to happen for awhile.

police checking on the reason for a couple to be sitting in a British park

The Guardian says that in the UK, people are starting to rebel against the going-outside restrictions. I don’t think they get fined the way we do here in France. I’ve rebelled against limitations so much in my life but this time, I’m more scared of getting sick than of following the advised restrictions. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, since 2018, is now live telling people if they don’t obey the restrictions and stop putting others’ lives at risk, all outdoors exercise will be banned. I think this might be called ‘lockdown fatigue’. I’m sure it is what I was feeling the other day.

“May you live in interesting times.” That is a Chinese curse. (There is actually no record of this being a Chinese saying or curse but an English saying from a translation. No one has ever found what it is supposed to have been translated from.) These are indeed interesting times, times when each one of us has to be creative, self-motivated to care for ourselves and others. Getting our high on being with others isn’t going to happen. The crowd euphoria of singing and dancing at a club isn’t going to happen. Taking a long hike in the beauty of our natural world isn’t going to happen. We have been challenged to find ways to entertain ourselves and our loved ones and live within the parameters set by our governments. I wish for everyone that they find their best selves within and call on that being hourly to stay safe, stay well, stay inside, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

A bientôt,

Sara

Paris–Day 20

Around the world 720,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported. Of those 34,000 people have died. Here in France, there are 40,174 reported cases and 2606 deaths. I hear people saying ‘just a little bit more time then we can go back to normal” I think that is wishful thinking. Not only will we not go back to anything but it’s my belief that we are in for some huge changes. This is all evolving organically. I think we will be living with some form of the virus for a year or two. Most people my age, the 70 and over group!, aren’t going outside unless they absolutely have to. But, we in Paris, have developed a marvelous sense of humor. Funny cartoons, songs, videos are going from phone to phone and it’s hard not to smile.

Someone sent me this poem:

Pandemic
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love— for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
    — Lynn Ungar  3/11/20

Walking home from shopping. Complete emptiness

I went out on Saturday to do food shopping. I don’t have to go far, just to the corner to get most everything I need. I’m wearing gloves but I stick them in my pocket until I leave the apartment building. Then, it suddenly occurred to me that I am assuming people have my best interests in mind. People are scared and probably not thinking clearly. How do I know they are wearing gloves when they push the elevator buttons? If I walk up the stairs on my way back, what makes me think the person before me wore gloves or didn’t sneeze on the handle. I don’t. I’m the only one who can take 100% care of me. My sister reminded me to wear gloves when I pick up the mail. She recommended leaving it outside for 24 hours. I asked and learned that the virus can live on paper for 48 hours. So I’m using gloves to also open my mail and packages and not taking the packaging to recycling until a good 48 hours has passed. I don’t like shopping with gloves on. I’m a tactile person and shopping for vegetables and fruit this way is terrible. But it may also save my life so…..I’ve learned to follow instructions.

rue de rivoli, paris

It has been recommended that Paris stay in “le confinement” until the end of April. Macron is reticent to do that. So it’s been extended two weeks and then “on verra”. The fine for being outside without our ‘passport’ has gone from 135euros to 200euros and then 3750euros for repeated offences. After the 4th offence, it’s 6 months in jail. From The Local:

Nice, France

‘Starting Friday March 27th, 2002, the Eiffel Tower pays tribute to people rallying around amid the covid-19 crisis by playing thank-you notes and encouragements to stay home. The City of Paris tells us that the Eiffel Tower will pay tribute to all people rallying around amid the Covid-19 crisis, playing thank-you notes and encouragements to stay home every evening from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. A tribute the Eiffel Tower was already paying by extending the sparkling session every night at 8 p.m. for 10 minutes. From now on, starting from 8 p.m. a “Merci” [Thank You] will be played on the Eiffel Tower to thank health caregivers, police officers, firefighters, agents of the City of Paris, paramedics, soldiers, cashiers, garbage collectors, store keepers, deliver men, volunteers, helpers, associations, and Parisians, all those rallying around amid the Coronavirus pandemic.’

The word “Merci”, the French word for ‘Thank you”, is emblazoned on the Eiffel Tower as France’s coronavirus death toll continued to climb, in Paris, Friday, March 27, 2020. Health workers fighting to save lives in France from COVID-19 have received a huge show of gratitude, from the Eiffel Tower. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

A startling fact is being reported. Since the pandemic began, since the real slow down of society started, airplanes stopped flying, cars stopped going everywhere, trains are virtually still, pollution in major cities is reversing itself, going backwards. Even if they have limited opportunities to enjoy it at the moment, Parisians have rarely breathed cleaner air. “The air in the Paris region was 20 to 30 percent cleaner in the first days of nationwide confinement two weeks ago, compared with usual levels the same period, air quality monitor Airparif reported Tuesday. The monitor said the decrease was due to a 60-percent drop in the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air: 41 percent when confinement began last Tuesday, 62 percent on Wednesday and then 64 percent on Thursday and Friday.” rfi.

A bientôt,

Sara