It’s July 7, I have not yet heard from Stanford. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not anxious or letting the world pass by. In fact, the news of the world seems to be coming in fast and furious. Some bloggers I know are writing that their brains have gone on tilt-too much, too fast, too sad, too awful–and how hard it is to write at the moment. I absolutely concur. So I give you the things I’m focused on.
Today, Boris Johnson stepped down as Prime Minister. “It is clearly now the will of the parliamentary Conservative Party that there should be a new leader of that party and therefore, a new prime minister,” said Johnson. Ya think???? This morning I woke up to news that he was going to stick to it come hell or high water (my words). Four hours later, everyone who gets notifications on their phone got the same message as I did. CNN reported that Johnson is not planning to leave office immediately, however. “I’ve today appointed a Cabinet to serve, as I will, until a new leader is in place,” he said, in a televised speech outside 10 Downing Street. Hmmm. How much damage can he do between now and then?
Everyone I know is getting Covid. Two friends came over, vaccinated and boostered, got Covid here (Europe) and I spent time on the phone with them helping them figure out what to do. Three friends were over here and tested positive after their return to the US. This virus will keep mutating and figure out how to get around all the vaccines. The great saving point is that it does make one sick but not so sick as to go into the hospital or die.
Covid Rears Its Ugly Head Again The seventh wave of new Covid cases in France is getting worse by the day, over 125k cases confirmed on July 1st, with the Ile-de-France (Paris) and Brittany leading the pack, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal towns not far behind. The government recommends wearing masks, and encourages anyone over 60 or at high risk to get a fourth dose of the vaccine, but the government is too gridlocked to pass even the smallest of restrictions, so at the moment there’s no “risk” of the Pass Sanitaire or lockdowns making a comeback.
From ‘Secrets of Paris’ blog
In French Politics, Macron was forced to shuffle his cabinet around. “France has entered a new political era; or has reverted to an old one. Parliament is divided and therefore parliament rules. The President can no longer treat the National Assembly as his rubber-stamp or echo chamber. We have returned to the France of the 1950s or the 1930s, before Charles de Gaulle invented the supposedly all-powerful presidency (but left the ultimate power in parliament).”–John Litchfield in The Local. For more of his analysis, go to: https://www.thelocal.fr/20220706/opinion-france-begins-a-new-political-era-and-its-going-to-get-messy/?tpcc=newsletter_member
And on a sweet note, on a walk in the Parc de Bagatelle this past Sunday, I learned about two of the sweetest cats there. Their names are Zoe and Gaston. They come from a circus. Once the pandemic hit 28 months ago, the circus approached the non-profit that feeds and cares for the cats in Bagatelle and asked if Zoe and Gaston could stay there. The volunteer assured me that there was no abuse, nothing like that. The circus felt strongly they would be better cared for by the wonderful volunteers who come everyday to feed the cats. I went over and petted Zoe who rolled over on her back to get her belly rubbed. No wonder I see the two of them sitting on benches with people reading or just hanging out in the sun.
There is supposition that France is in for a long heatwave. Last summer, we had rain all summer and no canicules (heatwave). So far, we have had two that have been called a canicule and more is yet to come. Depending on where you are in France, it can be fine. In Paris, where the pollution is terrible, heatwaves are awful to bear. In the south of France where many people live in stone houses, one keeps the shutters closed, the lights off, and one stays inside cool as a cucumber until evening. As long as there is no humidity, these heatwaves cannot be compared to NYC or Philly in summer. However, if you have porcelain, British skin, it is hard to get through a french summer. I have dark olive skin inherited from my Russian grandparents and I love the heat of summer.
Two Sundays ago, June 12, the citizens of France voted in the first of two elections for seats in Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). For the past five years, President Macron has held a majority and been able to lead top down. Macron won his second election for President but is not enjoying the popularity he had in 2017. The parties on the left, who have a long history of fighting with each other, felt a resurgence of hope when Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in a very close third in the first Presidential elections. Now Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s party, LFI (La France Insoumise) has created along with three other leftist parties a new coalition known as the NUPES (Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale). On June 12th, the NUPES won a tenth of a percentage point more than Macron’s party, En Marche. Who are the NUPES why is this not good news for Macron?
Mélenchon has not been a popular candidate (He also ran for President in 2017). They call him the Bernie Sanders of the French, but he doesn’t have Sanders’s personality. You mention his name and people used to say, “oh Mélenchon, he’s crazy’. But he is a leftist and with his high percentage of votes during the first round of Presidential elections, people on the left are looking to him for guidance to create obstacles for Macron. He has become the defacto leader of NUPES. As Macron has been leaning more and more right in an effort to appease conservatives, he has neglected what has been happening on the left. The four parties that have allied together to become a new left alliance are Mélenchon’s LFI, the Greens, the Communists, and the Socialists. The Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale. NUPES (pronounced Newps or New Pays). If this alliance won a majority in the National Assembly on the 26th of June, Macron would be forced to reckon with this block and probably Mélenchon would become Prime Minister. The few times this has happened in the past, the president would deal with foreign policy and the Prime Minister with domestic. All 577 seats are up for grabs. Macron needs a majority, 289, to maintain the power he has enjoyed his first five years as President. En Marche, soon to be renamed Renaissance, could win 255 seats. NUPES is projected to win 150-190 seats. Marine Le Pen’s party could win as many as 40 up from 8 in 2017.
There is one other block of voters that made themselves known Sunday, the 12th. The no-shows or abstainers. According to the media, this is the largest no-show of voters – 52% — ever in France. It is made up mainly of young people who have stopped caring, who feel powerless to do anything about their circumstances. There is a chance that these people could be motivated to vote for NUPES. Followers of NUPES are out on the streets campaigning in every arrondissement of Paris urging these people to go to the polls on Sunday. Although the chance of NUPES gaining the majority of seats this Sunday is very low, this group of people if motivated to get to the polls, could make all the difference.
“Perhaps the most notable loser on Sunday was far-right pundit Eric Zemmour, who attracted vast media attention in the presidential race but has so far flopped as a candidate. Zemmour failed to advance to the second round on Sunday in his bid for a seat representing Saint Tropez. Nationally, his Reconquest party won just 4.24 percent of the vote, and did not send a single candidate to the run-offs.”—France24.
To keep leftist voters away from the polls or to convince them not to votes for NUPES, Macron and his buddies have reverted to some bizarre scare tactics. In a guest essay in the New York Times, Cole Stangler, (an American journalist based in France), wrote, “Amid tight polling and mounting anxiety, Mr. Macron and his allies have sought to tap into fears of this very scenario, reverting to red-baiting. The finance minister has likened Mr. Mélenchon to a “Gallic Chavez” who would “collectivize” the economy and bankrupt France, while a leading lawmaker from Mr. Macron’s party has warned of a “return to the Soviet era.” The chief of France’s top business lobby has said Mr. Mélenchon risks pushing the country “to the brink.”
In fact, the coalition’s actual platform is far from revolutionary. It’s inspired more by the golden days of European social democracy than by the Bolsheviks. The coalition’s two signature economic policy proposals — a hike in the minimum wage to 1,500 euros, or about $1,560, a month and a cap on the prices of essential goods — are modest measures at a time of rapidly rising inflation.
Plans to raise taxes on the superrich and boost investment in schools, hospitals and transport networks contrast with Mr. Macron’s embrace of the private sector, it’s true. Yet these are popular, standard-fare progressive policies in Europe. The alliance’s bold climate proposals — a five-year €200 billion, or nearly $209 billion, green investment plan driven by the principle of “ecological planning” — have led the ecology minister to accuse NUPES of “playing on young people’s fears.” But it’s hard to see the plans as anything other than an attempt to tackle the climate crisis head-on. The costs of inaction would be much greater, anyhow.” June 16, 2022
One thing is sure, since Macron will not gain a majority in Parliament, he has to stop governing top down. He and his ministers (some of whom may not even make it back to their seats in Parliament), will have to compromise with both the left and the right. The right is a solid unit that has actually spread from the southeast of France up North and northeast. The question will be – can those four entities on the left, the NUPES, who have vehemently disagreed with each other over the years stick together with an overall plan or will they fall in to in-fighting? I may be projecting my own fears of the US Democratic party which seems to shoot itself in the foot whenever possible.
My take on French politics has never been very clear. However I have found the rise of NUPES to be very interesting and I’ve caught the excitement that this alliance has incited. I hope I’ve been able to explain, albeit very simply, what is happening here in France and what the results on Sunday may look like.
Watch the voting news on Sunday, June 26, to see how all this plays out.
Janet writes a wonderful blog called Writing from the Heart. This blog spoke to me and for me. I wanted to share with you. The word ‘lassitude’ has now made it into my english vocabulary.
I had to look up the word “lassitude” this week. It is a word (in French) that is being spoken a lot recently. We have the same word in English, but it is one of those words we don’t use very often, so I had to look it up even in English. It means weariness.
Weariness is of course not quite the same thing as being tired. Being tired is something that can be cured by a nap, or perhaps a good night’s sleep. Weariness, on the other hand, suggests a fatigue born of an extended period of being tired of, or because of, something, something that wears down not only one’s level of energy, but also motivation, spirit, enthusiasm, and certainly joie de vivre.
And that is what we have here in France right now. Lassitude as we go into Year 2 of the Covid 19 pandemic.
There has been a lot of complaining this week, especially since, given concerning increases in the number of infections, especially in certain parts of France, and even more because, given frankly almost alarming reports of the increasing pressures on the hospitals in those regions, the government–some would sayfinally, others would say ridiculously–has imposed another set of restrictions.
This time only 16 departments of France (including Paris and the surrounding region, and also Lille, Nice, and their surrounding regions) are included. The theme of the lockdown this time is freiner sans fermer, which means “put the brakes on without closing down.” This has meant a rather complicated (and controversial) set of rules about what kinds of enterprises can stay open (bookstores, florists, hairdressers, bakeries OF COURSE) and which kind cannot (large-surface stores, museums, theaters, restaurants and cafes).
It’s been a terribly long time for some sectors of the economy, most notably restaurants and cafes, museums, theaters, and so on. It’s heartbreaking to hear restaurateurs in particular talk about their anxiety, about how they can possibly manage not to go out of business altogether, these people who in normal times provide all of us with such a wonderful service. (The word “restaurant” after all, comes from the French word restaurer (to restore). Think about that!) Managing a restaurant, it has always seemed to me, must be one of the hardest ways to make a living. How will they get through this?
The answers to these questions are not clear to me. In the beginning of the crisis, a year ago, one of the things that was most impressive and comforting to me about Macron’s address to the nation was the stress he placed on how the government intended to do everything it could to not only deal with the crise sanitaire (the health crisis) but also the economic consequences of having to shut so much of the economy down. Has this government kept those promises? I’m not too sure about that, but much of what I hear on French TV and radio suggests that whatever is being done is too little too late, or maybe in some cases not at all.
Some businesses have been spared the shutdown this time–bookshops, hairdressers, florists and of course bakeries and other food shops. The despised attestations that everyone was required to carry in the previous two lockdowns every time they left their homes is not required this time for people going out during the day and staying within the 10 kilometer limits of the restriction. And there is no time limit on how long you can be outside this time, for which everyone is grateful.
As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind for whom this year-long crisis is the most difficult, and calibrate our personal annoyance and lassitude with the situation accordingly. Of course everyone has had it with this crisis. (In French, the phrase is “on en a marre.”) But really, we do not all have an equal right to “having had it”: the health care workers who were being cheered in the streets as they made their weary way home after difficult days of saving lives a year ago are not being cheered anymore. Instead they are having to work just as hard (or harder) than they did a year ago with what must be an overwhelming sense of fatigue and pessimism about whether this extended trial will ever end. They are the ones who have the greatest right to being sick of it all. We have to just hope that they don’t throw in the towel, and be extremely grateful that most of them are not doing so. We need them!
I also would like to say something that I am pretty sure is going to be somewhat controversial, perhaps even downright unpopular. But I think it needs to be said. And that is that the amount of intense criticism that the government here in France is subject to is, I believe, somewhat unfair.
This is not to say that I do not agree with the thousands (millions?) of people who feel that the Macron government has bungled the managing of this crisis. What seemed to be a strong start in the beginning of the crisis is not as admirable by now, a year in. There are many reasons for this, some the fault of the government, and of Macron himself; but many of them are no one’s fault, really.
The problem is that this is so far, a very difficult crisis to manage. It may even be, to some extent, more or less impossible. One doesn’t have to look very far, all around in Europe in fact, to see that it is certainly not just Emmanuel Macron who is having a hard time figuring out what to do to keep his people safe, and prevent the economy from completely crashing.
This is a new disease, and new problems keep cropping up: shortages of the vaccines that almost miraculously have been able to be developed on such a short timeline; new variants of the disease cropping up all over the place in a most dismaying way. Europe is also struggling with trying to figure out how to function as a “union” rather than just a set of separate political entities that exist geographically adjacent to each other. It’s not easy (take a look at the United States to see how just how not-easy “forming a perfect union” can be, and how long it takes…)
So, while I do believe there’s been a lot of bungling in France since the fall. And while I personally believe that that is mainly because the government did not continue to listen to doctors as carefully as they should have, and did, in the beginning of the crisis. Where we are now was fairly predictable and probably could have been avoided by earlier, more aggressive governmental action. And by listening to the doctors, many of whom said “partial measures do not work.”
But I cannot help but think about what it must be like to be Emmanuel Macron, or Jean Castex, or Olivier Véran, the French minister of health, these days. I think we should all remember that these too are human beings, flawed like all human beings. They have probably made some big mistakes. But who among us would want to have the heavy burden of the responsibility that is on their shoulders? Who would want to have to keep guessing, or betting, or hoping rather than being able to plan in a way that was predictably fail-proof? Who would want to be any one of them trying to figure out what to do, trying to go to sleep at night, looking in the mirror and asking oneself if what they are doing is the right and best thing?
When I hear these people being criticized so strongly, I can’t help but think about their humanity, and how tired (and frightened) they must be as they struggle to keep up with this monstrous, protean virus.
The thing I think should be remembered is this: these are people who care and care deeply. We all saw the dreadful reality of a powerful leader of a nation who really did not care about the fact that hundreds of thousands of his citizens were dying, and who made things much worse, not better. (And his comment? “I take no responsibility,” and “It is what it is…”)
France is not in the hands of such people. I think they’re doing their best, or at least they’ve been trying to.
If we are going to blame anyone for this crisis, I suggest we look to the billionaires of the world, who apparently have been becoming even more obscenely wealthy, as the poorest of the poor bear the brunt of this crisis. It seems to me that the one thing that should be being done, and is not, is those very billionaires stepping up, and emptying their over-full pockets. Why couldn’t they do so? Why couldn’t they help the government by dumping some of their wealth in those places that need help the most? I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t.
Tuesday, I had an ophthalmologist appointment. A reader had written to ask me what the French thought of the insurrection in Washington D.C. last Wednesday. I thought I could answer that: that they were sad for us ex-Pats, couldn’t understand how we couldn’t see it coming, and that it was the nail in the coffin for America as the shining example of democracy. So I asked the good doctor. He laughed at me and said “Have you forgotten the Gilets Jaunes and all the destruction they did?” Actually, I had forgotten. Since the pandemic started last February, much of what happened before is gone from my mind. “The French love to dissent” he said.
“But they don’t use guns,” I told him.
“That’s true. But they did an awful lot of damage over the year of weekly protests. Remember the Champs Elysees?” I never saw it but I remember the photos of stores broken into, glass everywhere, looting, and fires in the street.
“And they weren’t goaded on by the President,” I added. He conceded that point. But he had also made his point. It is not unusual for the French to protest. They love to protest. When I was in university back in the late 60s, Paris was often shut down because of transportation strikes and postal strikes. Since I’ve lived here in Paris, there have been many transportation strikes. But the Gilets Jaunes was the longest protest I’ve seen. And who knows, if we hadn’t had a pandemic, they could still be protesting.
President Macron is not a very popular president. But, in my opinion, he has done a good job of protecting us, as best he can, from the virus. The pandemic has taken all the focus away from how he was handling the Gilets Jaunes. However, getting the vaccine out to labs and given to people has proved very challenging for him and his administration. I’m not clear where the breakdown is but of all the EU countries, France seems to be the slowest. It’s even hard to get clear information even though someone from the Administration comes on TV to talk to us most Thursday nights. As of today, there is not another lockdown, but the curfew has been changed and extended. For all of France, the curfew is 6pm to 6am. If one has to go out, the ‘attestation’ is absolutely required.
I have been reading Barak Obama’s The Promised Land. I don’t remember his other books but I am absolutely sure he is much improved as a writer. He is thoughtful, self-deprecating, and generous. Too generous. The book is long at almost 800 pages. He doesn’t repeat his earlier books. He skims over his growing up years, and then starts walking us through his many political decisions whether to run for office, their consequences, and how Michelle felt about each one. I couldn’t help but be awed. He clearly had written this book during most of the Trump presidency while Trump was publicly making it his mission to undo everything Obama. Yet, his elegant writing of his hopes and dreams, why he decided to run for President, and his basic humanity never miss a beat while, outside his study, the US was moving into crisis and the direction was clearly not what Obama has worked his whole life for. Visions of the insurrection kept coming to mind, as I was reading about the all the Hope put on Obama’s shoulders, the certainty on November 4, 2008 that finally things would change in the US. I thought once more of Van Jones’ question on CNN January 6, “Is this the death throes of something ugly in our country, desperate, about to go away and then the vision that Biden talked about is going to rise up or is this the birth pains of a worse disorder? Jones asked. “That’s where we are right now tonight. And I think the country has got to make a decision.” I thought of the Greek myths that I read in middle school. The hero has to deal with challenge after seemingly hopeless challenge as he gets closer to the prize. Is this violent outpouring of Trumpites one of the last challenges for American Democracy and the country can again move toward ‘equality for all’ or has the hero fallen and we will witness the sad flutterings of a dying dream?
And so, the world is holding its collective breath. Three and a half days until Biden’s Inauguration. The National Guard has been called out, streets are closed off in Washington. Already one person has been arrested using an unauthorised ID to get in past the “circle” of armed guards that is surrounding DC. He had a loaded Glock pistol and 500 rounds of ammunition in his car. People are being asked not to come to Washington. All 50 states have been warned that violence could erupt in their Capitols. I have canceled everything for late afternoon Wednesday so that I can watch Biden being sworn in. And, like most of my friends around the world, I’m praying for no violence. In the words of my old hippie self, “That may be a pipe-dream.”
One historical note that hopefully will get air-time: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first Black and Asian, to be elected to such a high office, has asked Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color to be nominated to the Supreme Court, to swear her in on Wednesday. Ms Sotomayor has sworn in one other Vice President: Joe Biden in 2013!
*apologies to William Butler Yeats
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? —–William Butler Yeats
A friend back in Oakland, Ca wrote to me this morning asking me if I was ok. He included a photo from the Associated Press that was titled: “Parisians flee, sidewalks empty, as France enters lockdown.” The photo showed a solitary figure walking an empty street and everything was grey. My friend said “Frightening to see this–hope you’re holding out ok.”
It has been an adventure of sorts. Wednesday evening, 8pm CET, President Macron announced that France was going back into lockdown. Although he claims that it will be slightly different than the last time, I haven’t seen what the difference is. I was still in Normandie and knew I had to get home. The lockdown started at midnight on Friday. I was able to get a train reservation for Saturday morning and began a whirlwind, frenetic packing generated by my sense of urgency. But as each hour went by, the urgency subsided. I was told that the shelves were sparse and so I packed a full bag of my groceries that I hadn’t yet used. By the time I left on Saturday morning, I had my one fairly large suitcase, my cat inside her carrier which is soft and can be worn over the shoulder, my ‘market’ bag in which I carry things I might need during the day, the full bag of groceries and another bag that held all the overflow.
I turned my car in at the train station and loaded myself up with all my ‘stuff’. I got about five feet and I knew it was all too much and too heavy. I started to do something I hate in myself and hadn’t done in a long time. I sighed very, very loudly, tried to look as miserable and helpless as I felt, tilted to the left with the weight of the grocery bag, sighed a little louder, all in hopes that someone would come rushing to my rescue. I must have looked a bit lunatic if not homeless, and I’m sure anyone who passed me gave me a wide berth. I made very slow progress. I realized I would have to go up and over the bridge to get to the quai where the train to Paris was. I was close to tears. Someone did say there was an elevator but didn’t offer to help. I was halfway across the bridge still doing my Sarah Bernhardt act when an employee of SNCF asked where I was headed, grabbed two of my bags, and, asking which car I was in, deposited me in Voiture 5. The train left within 30 seconds of my being inside.
Of course, I pulled the same stunt walking to the taxi queue in Paris. This time, a young woman stopped and helped me. I was home in my apartment three hours after leaving my friends’ home in Normandie. Ultimately I was glad for all the groceries as I had no energy to shop for food on Saturday.
Sunday morning, Day 3 of Confinement Deux, I went for my usual morning walk at 10:30am. On my walk, I pass a parcours with exercise machines in the Jardin du Ranelagh. My habit is to stop for about fifteen minutes, and every other day work out my arms and, on alternate days, my legs. The parcours was packed with people. I’m not sure if the area would be considered a space for gathering but there were well over thirty people. Three-quarters were not wearing masks. I got on one machine, felt scared, got off and went on my way to finish my walk. This morning, it was the same thing on a much smaller level, probably twelve people total, all the men not wearing masks.
Current Covid-19 numbers in France, according to the Health Minister: 1 new positive every 2 seconds; 1 hospitalisation every 30 seconds; 1 death every 4 minutes
When I left Paris on October 14th, everyone was wearing a mask. Was this a rebellion? I noticed a number of people not wearing masks just walking or wearing the mask under their nose. Not only did my neighbourhood NOT look like the photo my friend sent, it seemed teeming with life. Av. Mozart, my shopping street, had more people than usual. Only stores that sold necessities were open so my little clothing store was closed but the florists were open. They were not open the first time around. I was able to purchase my weekly bunch of flowers and that made me happy.
Macron said that the confinement would last one month but everything would be reviewed in fifteen days. If the cases of Covid-19 had stopped rising and looked to be diminishing, there was the possibility of some of the restrictions being relaxed. That is not likely to happen. Countries around France are following suit. The UK isn’t calling it a lockdown but much the same rules are in place. Germany is in lockdown. Spain and Italy had cities in lockdown for weeks already. Macron has said that this second wave is and will continue to be much more devastating.
Last Spring, the days were getting longer. It was a novel experience and people all over the world went out on their balconies to sing and clap for the healthcare workers. Now the days are getting shorter, the wind howls at night and no one is celebrating anything. And, for US citizens, tomorrow is a day that almost everyone has been awaiting for four years, many of us have been working at getting out the vote, making sure everyone over here knows they must register anew every year, and that it is an honour to be able to vote. So Please Vote. Now we, and the rest of the world, are holding our collective breath both hoping and fearing the results.
So, to my friend in Oakland, I will respond, “Yes, I’m holding up. My Paris doesn’t look like that photo and I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Both politically and health wise, I think we are in for a long, cold winter. Je t’embrasse.”
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Another Sunday. The end of five weeks of confinement. For me–seven weeks, almost 1/6th of the year. The weeks fly by, there is a sameness about everything which, in many ways, is comforting. Yet, early March, when I first had my cold (definitely not the virus) seems like an eternity ago. President Macron came on national TV last Monday to tell us that the confinement would last through May 11. Then he outlined a plan that would start on May 12, assuming the curve had flattened and France’s deaths were declining. It would begin with primary school students going back to school, a few stores opening up and some services that had been shut down re-opening slowly. There was an implication that the eldest, the frailist and the most vulnerable would be asked to stay indoors. That was confirmed on Wednesday when the government’s chief scientific adviser, Jean-François Delfraissy, said that people over 65 years of age would stay confined the longest. On Friday, he reversed what he said and promised that all ages would have restricitons lifted at the same time.
It is one thing to be in lockdown and know that all my friends and neighbors were in the same boat as me. Friday morning, before the reversal, I thought of people going out and walking along the Seine, crossing the Pont Neuf and Pont Alexander III, going to the American Library, and I had to stay at home. Some friends said ‘it’s unconstitutional. They can’t age discriminate.’ I didn’t feel picked on at all. All along I have felt as safe as one can feel during a crisis like this. I have felt that France is looking after me. So if the wisdom said “You are over 65. We think it’s a good idea that you use extreme caution and stay inside,” ok, I would follow it. But I knew it would be harder. I would feel more alone, that I’m saying I’m vulnerable.
I thought of the Serenity Prayer which I say a lot. Sometimes I say it without really thinking about what it actually says. But Friday, I said it to myself many times as a way to pray for acceptance. What are the things I cannot change? This virus, how others respond to the restrictions, when it will all end if it does ever actually completely end, my age among other things.
What can I change? and do I have the courage to act on my own behalf? I can always change my attitude if I get lonely or too tired or grumpy, I can do as much exercise indoors and use my hour outside to walk – they say the stronger a person is the better they can fight off the virus, I can keep working and writing which feels very good – and when I feel good, I feel more positive and stronger, I can keep connected with as many people as I can so that the world feels very small right now. Stephen Colbert, in talking about the virus and the One World Concert that was held last night, showed us a T-shirt he was selling to raise money for healthcare workers and food for people who are going hungry. The front of the T-shirt said “United we stand, Divided. we fall” He was urging social distancing for as long as we can and how these things are actually bringing us together.
Maybe… It seems there are two camps. There is the one camp that has turned some yucky lemons into wonderful lemonade–feeling closer to their friends and neighbors, not being self-destructive with food (Colbert said “order two of these T-shirts. One in the size you wear and one in the size you’ll be after we get out of lockdown and you’ve eaten everything available.”), allowing the slow-down of time to give birth to creativity, to meditate more, to rest more, to read more and learn more. Then there is the other camp. The ones who are scared and anxious, who listen to news that riles them up, makes them angry and provoked, who assume everyone is having as hard a time as they are, are basically miserable.
The wisdom to know the difference. When I was a young woman, I kept repeating some stupid behaviors over and over again. I ran into brick walls, bloodied my nose then did it all over again. I had some older women friends and I would go crying to them each time I hurt myself. Finally one of them, in total frustration, said to me “Sara, has it ever occurred to you, when you are headed for that wall, to turn left?” Intellectually, I knew what she meant. I got the metaphor. But I didn’t have the wisdom, or self-knowledge to know when to turn. I guess wisdom comes from making mistakes, sometimes years of mistakes. This extraordinary time has allowed me to show myself the wisdom that I have picked up over six decades of life. I will say “Amazingly, I’m finding that lockdown isn’t difficult.” Perhaps it isn’t all that amazing. Perhaps it’s years of saying the Serenity Prayer and, to the very best of my ability, putting it into action. Meditators will call what they do “a practice”. They keep practicing every day. I tell people a lot younger than me who are trying to change some behaviors to “consider it a muscle you haven’t used in a long time or maybe ever. Strengthen that muscle a little at a time every day, keep practicing” Then comes a time in one’s lifetime when all the practice pays off. For my parents, it was the Depression and WWII. For us, it’s the Covid-19 virus of 2020. Extraordinary times brings out the best in many of us and the worst in many of us. Thanks to the Serenity Prayer and a lot of love, I’m being a person I quite like these days. So, I’m not wild about May 11 being the possible end of lockdown but it is what it is. I’m prepared.
May 12, also happens to be the launch date of my book Saving Sara A memoir of food addiction. I have a radio interview that day and will celebrate with as many people as I can.
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
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.
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:
‘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 Coronaviruspandemic.’
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 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.
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.
The French in general, do not send out Christmas cards. They send New Years cards and have until January 31st to get them all sent. This is my New Year’s card for all you.
I spent New Years in Pacific Grove, California. I had come to Oakland to address issues in my home and various other problems. My oldest friend in the world–we went to High School together and have been close friends most of our lives since then–lives in Pacific Grove, as does her eldest daughter, one of my goddaughters, her husband and eighteen month old William.
I’m never excited to go to Oakland. It’s a long plane flight and often takes days for me to recover from jet lag. I am so spoiled in France having access to some of the best transportation in the world (except when there is a strike–more on that later). I do not like driving in the Bay Area–if sitting in rush hour traffic and listening to horns honking and people screaming at each other can be called driving. I planned my trip to Pacific Grove so that I’d leave with the least amount of traffic and arrive with the least amount. The drive takes about 2 hours and starts on I880, one of the ugliest, messiest freeways in California, winds its way through groves of trees as it gets further away from Oakland and ends up merging with Rte 1 right along the Pacific Ocean. The views of the Ocean have brought millions of people to California and it never disappoints. I could feel my heart skip a beat. Whatever anxiety I had brought down with me, vanished with my deep intact of breath. It was December 31, 2019, a beautiful, sunny day and for the 20 minutes that I drove along the ocean, nothing seemed problematic.
I arrived at Darcy’s door just in time for her to take me to my AirBnB, brighten up a little and go the Fishwife Restaurant where we were celebrating our New Years. We spent the rest of the evening sorting through all the presents and treasures I’d brought from Paris and from my jewellery box. Some was a walk down memory lane, some was just fun. My goddaughter, Elizabeth, was born in Paris when her parents lived there in the 1980s. Darcy has never recovered and longs for the day she can spend more extended time in Paris. As Audrey Hepburn said for all of us “Paris is always a good idea.”
Driving back up to Oakland on January 2, 2020, I listened to an interview with Christine Pelosi talking about her new book, The Nancy Pelosi Way; Skyhorse Publishing. Over the past two months, my respect for Nancy Pelosi has soared. In my daily life, I try hard not to let others provoke me when they disagree with me, but I’ve never had the barrage of tweets and attacks that have been aimed at her daily since September. She somehow manages to rise about it all. She’s clearly not white-knuckling the appropriate affect as her time and good sense seem impeccable to me. Many of the new House Democrats did not want her to be the House Speaker but, love her or hate her, she is a leader, she is smart and she knows how the game of Politics works. I look forward to reading the book.
Christine is remarkable in her own right. As she was being interviewed, I wondered if she would ever run for Congress. No sooner had I thought it, than the interviewer asked her exactly that. She didn’t say No but seemed clear that as long as she had children at home, the answer is Not Yet.
As I head home to Paris, I’m wondering what the taxi situation will be like at CDG. Everyone who would normally take the RER B will be taking taxis. I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the Strike but it is badly reported in the US. I’ve heard of people cancelling their trips because they were told nothing was running. Untrue. The buses were always running. The rest of us went onto RATP.fr every morning and learned what metros and trains were running and when. My metro #9, for instance, ran for 3 hours in the morning and three hours in the late afternoon. Starting Friday, Jan. 17, it is running all day long just 1 out 2 trains. The #1 and the #14 have been running full time all day long as they are electric. The #11 has been added to the all day long, full schedule. Getting around, definitely, takes more planning but not too much time is added unless you live outside in the suburbs. And anyway, isn’t one of the main attractions of coming to Paris is the Walking!!! It’s usually at the top of everyone’s to do list.
I did find a taxi at the airport after waiting all of five minutes. That gave me the experience of the worst part of the strike. The traffic. Until we reached the peripherique, it was bumper to bumper. So Parisians aren’t depending on the news–too bad, the transport does seem to be working.
Last night, I read that Macron was willing to keep the retirement age as is–IF the other side was willing to make some concessions. The problem as I see it is that this strike and the Gilets Jaunes are as much about Macron as the pension plans. At some point, there will be an end, the strikers are making no income. They would feel very satisfied if this whole thing resulted in making Macron look very bad.
BONNES FÊTES ET BONNE ANNÉE However you celebrate the holidays, Out My Window wishes all of you peace and joy. Paris has been relatively warm this past week but this morning, Christmas morning, it is a brisk 34oF/1oC. However, the sun is out, at least for awhile, and the bells at Notre Dame de Passy are ringing loudly. Below: windows in Paris.
Many of us wondered if the Gilets Jaunes and the many others who have joined them would back off for the holidays. After Macron’s speech and then the shootings in Strasbourg, a plea was made to not protest the following Saturday, Act V as the Saturdays were being called. The police were exhausted, many had been called to Strasbourg and there was hope that the GJs would give Paris a break for the holiday weeks. But no, they called for a protest. They intimated that the government was hiding behind a false statement that the shootings were by a terrorist and just lying to stop the protests. Paris geared up for yet another Saturday of protests and violence. Thirty of the metro stations announced in advance that they would be closed, the American Church and the American Library both closed on Saturday and the exhausted police were called out once more. However, the streets were much calmer here in Paris. A man was killed in a traffic accident near the town of Perpignon when the driver rammed into a lorry that had been stopped by the GJs at a roundabout. That was the tenth fatality during the six weeks of protests.
There seem to be a number of things happening: 1–the word of the protests spread by way of social media particularly Facebook. So, as a french friend reminded me, 175,000 people or less are deciding the fate of a country of ten million. Facebook has become the wild wild west of the Internet. One can expect all the dangers that come from a lawless entity with no boundaries and no rules. I, personally, have deleted my account. Not only do I not approve of anything that Facebook is doing, I don’t trust it to do anything at all in my interest. For any of you looking to delete your account, there was an excellent article in the NYTimes two months ago advising how to go about removing yourself. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/10/technology/personaltech/how-to-delete-facebook-instagram-account.html
2–Many Parisians are sick and tired of all the violence. Where once there was sympathy and empathy for the poorest amongst us, destroying monuments, burning cars and wreaking havoc has caused a majority to back off and condemn those that are still actively creating chaos. It is not clear how many of the original GJs are still involved. The protests have been hi-jacked by the ‘Black Bloc’, anarchists and right-wing extremists.
4–The far right politician Marine Le Pen is taking advantage of the chaos to make the protests her own. She has brought in hatred of immigrants as a part of the protesting. The frustration and hatred of Macron may actually make her words more palatable to the french public. After all, during the 2017 elections, many didn’t vote For Macron as Against Le Pen. As Populism (which in my vocabulary is another word for Facism) grows in Europe, it could easily go the opposite way.
LES SOLDES When all else fails, go shopping….. The Winter Sales start January 9, 2019. For those of you who are lucky enough to visit Paris in January and February, the Winter Sales are extraordinary. There are two state-mandated sales during the year: the Winter Sales and the Summer Sales that start end of June and go through early August. Almost all stores want to get rid of all their stock. Discounts will start at 50% and by the end of the six-week sale, be down to 75%/80%. People wanting high-end luxury clothing can find great deals. People will do a lot of research during the first week of January, then be ready to be the first person in the door of their favourite shop. Many, like me, wait until the mad rush of the first couple of days is over and then we go shopping.