The view from Normandie

As of Saturday, Paris will have a 9pm curfew. So will eight other cities in France. Germany and Ireland are joining the emergency measures to slow down the quickly rising number of cases of Covid-19. Hospitals are at capacity. “Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called on Parisians to respect the measures and “remain united”. “Faced with the heavy circulation of #Covid-19 in France and in Paris, we must remain united and apply the measures announced by the President of the Republic, even if they are harsh. It is a new ordeal, and we will face it, together and in solidarity with caregivers”, she tweeted.” France24.com. Macron says the second wave is coming on fast.

Maus, the cat!

So, thinking that this might be happening, I left Paris on Tuesday and came to Normandie where my friends live. They are visiting their first born grand-child and I am kitty sitting and housesitting. It is glorious here. The trees are golden and greenish and many bushes are flaming red. The ivy that has crept up the walls of this house is burnt umber, deep maroon and yellow. It is completely quiet. The apple trees have already produced buckets of apples and I get to gather ones that still remain on trees and make apple puree tomorrow. The mornings are crisp and cold. The temperature rises as much as 20o as the sun rises and warms the air. On my morning walk, I see many of the same horses I saw this summer but they are friskier, dancing around, nosing each other and cantering in circles. What a wonderful place to escape the curfew even if just for a few weeks.

In the evenings, I have been watching Netflix. Wednesday night, I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma. I felt smacked in the gut. I’ve been wary of Facebook for awhile but I post this blog there and I have a Facebook page for my book: Saving Sara. I have tried to learn Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and it is definitely a younger person’s thing. And now there is Emily in Paris, also on Netflix which is a walking advertisement for Instagram. After watching the documentary last night, I understand why I’m wary of Facebook but now I know I should be scared shitless. Dozens of ex-technologians of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Uber, Pinterest talk about how what they designed was meant to be fun for all of us but now has turned into a lawless monster that knows EVERYTHING about all of us. It is Big Brother for real. It is the promotion of so much hate and divisiveness. If I sound like I drank the kool-aid, it was not just believable, it all made perfect sense. The documentary illustrated it all with a docudrama of a family in which two children become addicted to their phones. I am in awe of the people who have taken a stand against this worst idea of Capitalism, that the almighty profit is God. There are no laws that govern what these companies can do. Watch this documentary: The Social Dilemma and be scared. https://www.humanetech.com/the-social-dilemma

Thursday night, I watched another documentary called My Octopus Teacher. This documentary is about a filmmaker who forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. It is as feel good as the other is frightening. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s0LTDhqe5A

The filming is so beautifully done and the connection between the filmmaker and the octopus is told with such love that I found myself falling in love with the octopus also. I laughed and I cried and I was mesmerised. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Last night, I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. For some reason I thought it was also going to be a documentary but it turned out to be a film made for Netflix by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. If he was trying to make a political statement, it worked for me. I was in Chicago in 1968, the summer of the Democratic Convention but barely remember these events. As this election grows closer, I find myself fearing that awful violence may follow. I remind myself that violence was happening all the time in 1968–most of it instigated by the police. This film tells the story of those days of the Convention in flashbacks. The trial took place after Nixon was elected and he was determined to make an example of the seven Vietnam protestors by sentencing them to prison. As soon as I graduated college in 1969, I left the United States. Both my parents wanted me to stay and join in the protests to end the war. My mother called me a parasite as I was just hitching around Europe not really paying any real attention to the political situation. I was much more interested in sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman

When it came to showing the police beating on the crowds with their night sticks, Sorkin put in real footage. It was shocking then and it is shocking now. Fifty years ago and what has changed? The Republicans have gotten craftier and sneakier at winning elections. The Democrats have made an art out of shooting themselves in the foot.

The real Abbie Hoffman.

The acting was superb. Mark Rylance, who played Cromwell in Wolf Hall, was Kunstler, the lawyer defending the 7. Reviewers may not agree with me but his American accent was very good. Sacha Baron Cohen played Abbie Hoffman. I thought he was terrific.

Mark Rylance and Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden

And that’s how I’m passing the time in France as I await the election and respect the severity of Covid-19

A bientôt,

Sara

Pays d’Auge, Normandie

I spent the last eleven days visiting friends in Normandie. They live south of the city of Lisieux which is the centre of the Auge area. Forty-five minutes north are the beach towns of Honfleur, Trouville, Deauville, Huelgate and Cabourg, known as the “Côte Fleurie”. The Auge is lush, green, well-known for its cheeses, especially Camembert cheese named after the small village of Camembert, and apple products. The famous cider is made in Brittany but the Auge also has cider and Calvados.

The hilly landscape of the Auge area of Normandie.

The area I was staying in is also known for its stud farms. From my bedroom window, as far as the eye could see, were hilly pastures with horses everywhere. The horses are usually raised for racing. Did you know that horses have higher body temperature than humans? Therefore, they attract flies that descent on them in the heat and, to me, look unbearable. Many are given bonnets for their heads so that everything but eyes, nose, and mouth is covered. I even saw a few horses that were completely blanketed to keep off the flies. They don’t get fleas but they attract other miserable bugs just like humans and other animals during the summer.

Mother and foul at a neighboring haras

My hosts and I were inventing a new form of house exchange. Before the pandemic, I loved exchanging my home in California for different places to stay in France. I always say yes to French people if at all possible. And often, we have non-reciprocal stays. Before my friends went to California last summer, they were in Paris, called me and asked if I’d like to meet up. We had coffee at La Rotonde in La Muette. We hit if off immediately, promising to see more of each other once they had returned to France. Off they went to California while I finished my book and got it published. I was looking forward to spending extended time in Normandie while they were away this summer. Then Covid-19 happened to all of us. They didn’t go away but did encourage me to come stay there even though they were also there. House Exchange Covid style.

Sunset from Lessard

Their home is an old Haras (stud farm) that still has all the stables which are rented out in the winter when it is too chilly for the horses to stay outside overnight. They converted the infirmary into a huge, enviable kitchen with a dining room and massive fireplace. Each evening, we would gather in the kitchen–whoever was there (I brought two friends with me for the first four nights), and start dinner. We’d sit down to eat anywhere between 8:15 and 10pm then clean up before I’d go to bed. The kitchen and dinner time are sacred and worthy of a top-notch production. The protein was marché bought but most of the vegetables were grown in their garden. We feasted on corgette, green beans, purple beans that turn green when cooked!, heavenly cherry and pear tomatoes, lettuces, and cucumber. We picked fresh dill, thyme, bay leaves and basil for cooking. Then cut verbena for making tea last thing in the evening. The days are still long, there are stunning sunsets around 9:30pm and it gets dark after 10pm. It isn’t difficult not to miss Paris.

Looking out the 1st floor window onto the stables.

The only blip in this perfect picture is that it hasn’t rained in a long time. When I took my morning walks, I would look out on golden hills with greens trees and think, ‘this looks just like California.‘ No official notice has been sent to limit water consumption but unless there is rain soon, it can be expected.

A manor house that I passed each day on my walk.

It gets clearer and clearer to me why so many Parisian families have “country homes”. They work in Paris, their children go to school in Paris but on the weekend, they can spend forty-eight hours in the heavenly calm of the countryside that is never far from Paris. Lisieux was an hour and forty-five minute train ride from Gare St. Lazare.

A new friend’s dog at the entrance of their home.

Back in Paris, it is hot, very hot. It has been hotter. There was the summer of 2003, when it was so hot, that 1500 people died. I have been bound and determined to put in a drip system on my terrace so that I can leave my plants for two weeks at a time in the summer without worrying about them. I only have one last thing to do but it has been an such an obstacle: screwing on the entire system to the faucet on the terrace. By minuscule mm, it isn’t large enough or the screw systems are different. I’ve been up and back to the hardware store but since I can’t take the faucet with me, I’m dependent on my iPhone camera and my french! More will be revealed.

As of today, Monday, it is mandatory to wear masks outdoors in busy areas. That would be along the Seine with the Paris Plages, and most of the places that young people can go and sit in this heat. The cases of Covid-19 are rising in France as they are all over Europe. I haven’t heard that there have been more deaths. From France24.com “French airports have begun compulsory testing on arrival for passengers from 16 countries where the coronavirus is circulating widely. The rules came into effect on August 1 as the number of new Covid-19 cases registered daily in France continues to rise.” If someone tests positive, they have to self-quaranteen for two weeks.

The Louvre museum where, before the pandemic, the lines of tourists waiting to get in would be a 30 minute wait minimum. Now everyone, except Amis de Louvre, has to make a reservation so that the museum has crowd control.

Summer 2020 in Paris will be one for the history books, likely remembered as the summer of masks and hand sanitizers. It will also be one of the quietest summers in decades, with dramatically reduced numbers of international tourists and many locals on holiday around France instead of going abroad.–France24.com

Stay kind, stay safe and cool and please stay healthy,

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

Personal Update from Paris

A lot of you in the US are writing me and asking “How is it in our beloved Paris?” Somewhat different and somewhat the same as what you are reading in the papers. Last Thursday, President Macron spent 26 minutes on national tv outlining what has happened so far and what will happen. He was very serious and didn’t try to make this pandemic sound less than it is. At that point, only four days ago, he urged all people seventy and over to stay home unless absolutely necessary. He said transportation would stay the same but hoped that work and people would work from home. As of Monday, he closed all schools and universities. He said this was up to each and every one of us. The virus knew no borders and didn’t carry a passport. That was Thursday.

I’m discovering that the French are very stubborn and obstinent people. They proclaimed that nothing was going to stop them from living their lives. So they were out and about. The metros were a bit less crowded but not by much. So on Saturday, the French administration announced that as of Saturday at midnight, all public places that weren’t necessary for our survival were to be shut down, closed, fermé. That got some people’s attention. By Sunday noon, the markets caught up with the US and all the toilet paper and such were gone. However, the municipal elections were not postponed. On websites, times were posted when best to go vote. A friend went back and forth about whether she would vote or not. Finally she decided to. She went at the last moment, waited till everyone was gone then went in to vote. Everyone was wearing masks and keeping all the voting paraphenalia as antiseptically clean as possible. I went out for about forty-five minutes just to walk, and the streets in the 16th arrondissement were full of people walking with children, with dogs and, since it was a lovely day, filling up the parks and green spaces. That was yesterday.

This morning at 8:45am, I received a notice from the administration that since the French were not doing as asked, we had forty-eight hours to decide where we wanted to spend the next forty-five days. As of tomorrow, there will be a 6pm curfew and the police will be in the streets urging people to go home. I dropped everything and headed out. I was prepared to be homebound for two weeks but not for forty-five days. I first went to the grocery store. Still no toilet paper. Then I headed for Picard which only sells frozen food, absolutely delicious frozen food. They were almost out of food and not taking any loyalty cards for discounts. I then headed for Marks and Spencer who sells my favourite yogurt. They looked like they had plenty of food though the yogurt was in short supply. When I asked, I was told they would be staying open. Picard, on the other hand, said they had no idea. On the way to M&S, I passed a florist. It wasn’t really open but the door was open. I asked if I could buy. They gave me 3 beautiful bouquets for about a third of the normal price. That will be the last of my fresh flowers I’m afraid. Finally, I went to the pharmacy. Not my normal pharmacy on Av. Mozart which had a long line snaking out the door and winding to the corner. I stopped at the one near M&S. I was the third person in line. We’ve been told pharmacies will stay open but…. I had no trouble getting what I needed.

Forty-Eight hours to decide where I want to spend the next 45 days. I knew my friends in Normandy and in Brittany would probably love to have me and my crazy cat come join them. I would love to go to Le Gers where I think my heart resides. But…..I have here, in my small apartment in Paris, everything I need to survive the next 45 days if I never go out. I have Netflix, I have enough books to read for at least a year. I have the expanded tv that has HBO series, Showtime and Canal+. I have the wonderful Zoom. Which allows me to have video conversations one on one or in large groups. I have my work which I do at home anyway. I just learned yesterday that ten of the world’s best museum’s are totally on-line and I can tour it visually. I was even given a jig-saw puzzle with 1000 pieces. That would take some time!

Yesterday, I defrosted my freezer. Something I should have done months ago And thank goodness I did. After shopping at what was left in Picard, I was able to fit for more things in the freezer. I have plenty of ‘projects’ to do. So as long as I talk to friends at least three or four times a day, I think I can do this! And that’s whats happening in Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

PS As I was about to hit ‘publish’, I received an e-mail saying all non-essential travel to EU is to be banned for 30 days.

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy

Another blogger that I read wrote this on her blog today. She found it posted on one of the ex-Pat Facebook pages available to all of us over here. It is so wise that I have to post it myself:

I’m a doctor and an Infectious Diseases Specialist. I’ve been at this for more than 20 years seeing sick patients on a daily basis. I have worked in inner city hospitals and in the poorest slums of Africa. HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis,TB, SARS, Measles, Shingles, Whooping cough, Diphtheria…there is little I haven’t been exposed to in my profession. And with notable exception of SARS, very little has left me feeling vulnerable, overwhelmed or downright scared. I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil.  I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19.

What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world. I am scared of the N95 masks that are stolen from hospitals and urgent care clinics where they are actually needed for front line healthcare providers and instead are being donned in airports, malls, and coffee lounges, perpetuating even more fear and suspicion of others. I am scared that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with anyone who thinks they ” probably don’t have it but may as well get checked out no matter what because you just never know…” and those with heart failure, emphysema, pneumonia and  strokes will pay the price for overfilled ER waiting rooms with only so many doctors and nurses to assess. I am scared that travel restrictions will become so far reaching that weddings will be canceled, graduations missed and family reunions will not materialize.

And well, even that big party called the Olympic Games…that could be kyboshed too.

Can you even imagine?I’m scared those same epidemic fears will limit trade, harm partnerships in multiple sectors, business and otherwise and ultimately culminate in a global recession. 

But mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, open-mindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it.  Stop waiting to be surprised further.

The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous. I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.

Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts.
Our children will thank us for it.
#washurhands #geturflushot #respect #patiencenotpanic”
By ABDU SHARKAWYdr-abdu-sharkawy

A bientôt,

Sara

Covid-19 in France

Today, all ex-Pats were sent an e-mail by the American Embassy in Paris. “France has confirmed cases of COVID-19 within its borders.Since January 24, 2020, there have been 1412 confirmed cases in France.  There have been twenty-five confirmed deaths.The French government has reported cases throughout the country. Five “clusters” of concentrated cases have been identified in l’Oise (communes of Creil, Crépy en Valois, Vaumoise, Lamorlaye et Lagny le Sec), Haute Savoie (commune of La Balme), Morbihan (communes of d’Auray, Crac’h and Carnac), Haut-Rhin (Mulhouse), and Bas-Rhin (Strasbourg).”

Walking around Paris, nothing seems different. All my markets are open and no one seems to be stockpiling food. People are sitting outside on the sidewalks at their favourite cafes. Possibly there are a bit fewer people walking around but it’s hard to tell. The biggest indication that there is a dangerous virus is that all the pharmacies have signs saying they are sold out of masks and hand sanitiser. Even Amazon says it will take three weeks to deliver hand sanitiser. The people who have been counted as having Covid-19 in Paris are in hospitals and don’t necessarily live in Paris. Other than the Minister of Culture, who tested positive yesterday, there aren’t reported cases. “The prime minister’s office said that the rules for ministers with the virus “are the same for all French people” including acting with caution and taking measures to minimise the chances of the disease spreading.” France24.

Probably most Parisians feel extremely cautious about public transportation: the metro and the buses. People hang on to poles and grab handles from above to steady themselves. Persons without gloves touch those surfaces thousands of times a day. Wearing gloves is the best idea and figuring out how to clean gloves is smarter. As everywhere around the world at the moment, we are told to wash our hands often and for twenty seconds. Hand sanitisers come in second to hand washing.

The papers say that France is now sounding the alarm since Italy has shut down its borders. But most of all, they are asking all of us to remain calm and use good sense. Compared to what the news says is going on in the US, the French are positively snoozing. Events larger than 1000 people have been cancelled but I haven’t heard any complaints. “Having banned large public gatherings at the end of February, France will see its first match with no fans in 10 years at PSG’s stadium on Wednesday.” France24 The Louvre is open and restricting who enters. Flights to Asia have been cancelled. None of my friends have reported cancelled flights. It’s a wait and see attitude.

I have reservations on the Eurostar to go to London March 25-29. I think the only reason I would cancel is if I thought that, for some reason, I couldn’t get back into France. So I guess the next two weeks will be very telling as to how France and her people will handle this.

One thing of note: my home town, Oakland, California, has allowed one of the Princess Cruises to dock at the Oakland port (5th largest in USA). Listserves that I’ve read have people extremely worried/angry as to why the Oakland City Council would allow that. One person, ONE PERSON, wrote how proud they were of Oakland that it would offer its hospitals and emergency services to help the people who have been quarantined on the ship.

The next chapter will unfold soon,

A bientôt,

Sara