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!