lockdown gradually lifts in Europe

kids running

I love this photograph taken by Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images of two girls and a dad running through the streets of Barcelona. You can feel their energy and exhilaration at being let outside after 45 days of lockdown. Poor kids.

Yes, all over Europe now restrictions are slowly being relaxed; there’s a tingle of excitement in the air. Yesterday, the French prime minister announced a progressive but tightly controlled exit plan.

“A fine line must be followed,” he said. “Too much carelessness, and the epidemic restarts. Too much caution, and the country sinks.” Since some parts of the country had been hit far harder than others, lockdown measures will be lifted by area, with regions classified as red, orange or green depending on their infection level.

Next blog post: a beautiful open letter written by Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the bestseller book, Sarah’s Key. I’m translating it for you now.

 

 

flowers, cocktail hour, and an interesting historical document

I found some fresh-cut flowers today to liven up my place. Fragrant freesia. I always place them on the side table beside my chaise longue where I sit (sometimes all day since the lockdown) working and surfing the net on my laptop.

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Went out at 5 pm to go food shopping at Monoprix. Despite the stress of having to stand patiently in line for 20 minutes before going inside, and wearing a face-covering while shopping, I must say that I’m very impressed with their organization. The shelves are well-stocked (still no flour. I’ve given up making my own bread) as are the produce, meat and fish sections. Everyone is well-behaved and mindful. They’ve installed plastic or plexiglass panels between the cashiers and the clients, and provided large bottles of disinfectant gel at the entrance to squirt on your hands (no, not to ingest) upon entering and exiting.

Because I have no masks left, I wear a scarf around the lower half of my face. But everyone else is wearing a proper mask. What I want to know is – where’s everyone getting their masks from? It’s a mystery to me. Tonight, my big plans for Saturday night are to make my own face mask from an old T-shirt!! I can hardly describe the excitement of my life since COVID began.

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Came home and made myself a cocktail because, well, it’s cocktail hour. And yes, I’m going to eat that entire bowl of potato chips.

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Saving the best for last: 

The historical document below reminds us of something. Three centuries before the current COVID-19 epidemic, the French already had to fill in displacement certificates, as evidenced by this archive discovered by a historian.

The document is dated November 4, 1720, and is similar to the Attestation that we need to carry with us today. So that’s where the idea came from! The document was written during a plague epidemic in the south of France, known as the Marseille plague, in which over 100,000 people died. It was, in fact, bubonic plague and one of the last large epidemic outbreaks that France experienced, with the exception of the Spanish flu.

In 1918, a virus known as the Spanish flu killed over 50 million people the world over, making it the deadliest pandemic in modern history.

ancient attestation

This ‘safe passage’ piece of paper authorizes Alexandre Coulomb, consul of 28 years “of ordinary size and with brown hair”, to leave Remoulins “where there is no suspicion of contagious disease” to go to Blauzac. The signatory, Judge-Consul Fabre, “begs those who are to pray” to allow the young man to circulate freely.

I looked on Google Map and saw that Remoulins and Blauzac are two towns due west of Avignon in what would have been the region of Occitania back then. The distance between the two towns is 21 kilometers (13 miles).

I wonder how he travelled (mule? carriage? on foot?) and what the consequence was if he was found to be traveling without a certificate.

a beautiful day, weather wise

You wouldn’t believe the weather here. It’s perfect! And here we are in lockdown, stuck inside. We’re allowed out only one hour a day, and within a one-kilometer radius of our home. If we get stopped by the cops without our Attestation – properly filled out, dated, signed and timed – we’ll be issued a fine of 135 euros.

Of course the date MONDAY MAY 11 is on everyone’s minds, that’s the day the government officially loosens the lockdown, at least partially, and it hasn’t been decided yet for who exactly. Erring on the side of caution, the government wants to take it slow because the risk of a second COVID wave is very real.

Yesterday, my exciting hour out was a trip to the Post Office (yoohoo!) But it was closed. And it was real sad to walk past all the shuttered shops, cafés and restaurants as well as my two local florist shops. I’ve been hankering for fresh-cut flowers since mid-March. Tomorrow, I’ll walk to my local organic food supermarket. Today I went out from 4 to 5 pm with my camera and took a few local shots. Impossible to stay indoors because of the magnificent weather.

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This woman was wearing pink rubber dish gloves. And guess what she wore on her face? A matching pink face mask! Ah, those Parisians … even in the midst of a pandemic they manage to stay chic.

the importance of keeping a diary

This morning I awoke convinced it was Saturday (it’s Tuesday.) The days just run into one another, which is why I’m keeping a diary of these extraordinary times. Actually, I’ve always kept a diary. Chronicling grounds me. It allows me to write freely and let my thoughts and feelings (and fears) ramble. At the same time, it helps me to focus, keep track of goals, see my progress (or not) and, best of all, look back to see what I was doing years ago. A diary is a marker of time. Bloggers do the same with their blog posts. It’s good to look back and review.

But what we’re all doing right now is reminiscing. Reminiscing about our past freedoms, travels and insouciance (lack of concern; nonchalance). Remember the days when we blithely jumped on a train or plane and travelled to wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted? Remember the days when we stepped outside, sans mask, to blithely go about our business outdoors? To go shopping or to the hair salon, meet up with friends, go to restaurants and parks? 

Here’s an excerpt from my diary at this same time five years ago, April 2015:

Soooooooooo relaxed sitting at home chilling coz as from 5 pm today I’M ON VACATION!!! It was a good idea to leave on Sunday instead of Saturday. That means I can totally chill tonight then do everything tomorrow.

I’m off to NAPLES and then to Capri. I hope it’ll be FAB FAB FAB. (No, it wasn’t. It was AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL and you cut your trip short.)

Thank you, universe. Thank you for giving me good health, a job, an income, a brain and two legs to walk on. I am truly grateful.

 

The following year, April 2016, I blithely jumped on a plane and flew to New York.

April 2017 I blithely jumped on the Paris metro and made my way to Shakespeare and Company bookshop to attend a reading of Karl Ove Knausgaard. To get there, I walked past Notre Dame cathedral which hadn’t burned down yet.

April 2018 I could not jump on any train because France was crippled by train strikes, and I had to cancel my trip to Lille.

April 2019 Notre Dame burned for two days, the 15th and 16th.

How will we look back at April 2020? A month from hell, of course.

A few people have asked me why Naples was so awful. Here’s the story here, entitled See Naples and Die:

https://julietinparis.net/2018/01/17/see-naples-and-die-2/

things I am actually enjoying during this lockdown

Lockdown. What a scary word for this modern 21st century society that we live in. It implies disturbance, isolation, prison inmates, authoritarianism. But that’s where we’re at, and we have no choice but to make the best of it (while it lasts.)

It’s troubling and oddly pleasurable at the same time.

One thing is sure: without the internet, we’d all be cut off (literally!) and feeling suicidal. Along with everyone else, the internet allows me to connect with friends near and far. And when I say near, I mean my next door neighbor who lives on the other side of my kitchen wall. The good news is that I re-connected with two old friends with whom I lost contact for more than a decade. Back in the 1990s, we worked together in a law firm in Paris. Then we all moved on, me to different jobs, F back to the north of Wales and A back to Glasgow. Well, thanks to F who found me via my blog, we’re all three of us back in touch again via email.

Here are some of the other things I’ve been enjoying since the world, as we knew it, shut down:

The quiet, the birdsong, the clean air. It’s like living deep in the countryside, but I know it won’t last. Already there’s more traffic than last week, and the irritating noise of scooters.

The radio. I’ve always listened to the radio, but the programs seem to be more inventive and entertaining now. Thank you France Inter, France Culture, TSF Jazz and comedy sketches at 97.4 FM called Rires et Chansons (Laughs and Songs). Oh, and BBC Radio Four.

Audiobooks! In fact, I only have one, purchased in London about twelve years ago. While I was reorganizing my CD collection, I found it pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. It’s William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, read by English actor Tim Pigott-Smith, and it’s brilliant! While I stood on a step stool dusting and reorganizing my book and DVD shelves, I listened in rapt attention. I’m going to buy more audiobooks, that’s for sure.

Rediscovering old movies and watching them in the middle of the afternoon. Again, while dusting and reorganizing my DVD collection, I came across some great old movies that had been pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. What a guilty pleasure to stretch across my bed at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to watch Thelma and Louise, American Beauty, Leaving Las Vegas, All About Eve, Frozen River, Woman in Gold (not all at the same time), to name a few. I’ve come to the realization that I have a pretty good DVD collection! Which is a good thing because the current offerings on Netflix bore me.

Spending less money. All the shops are closed, except for grocery stores. Nowhere to spend. I miss buying flowers at my local florist. The other day at the grocery store I bought a pot of fresh basil to pose as a plant.

Time, just time for oneself. What a luxury. Time to sort through papers, cupboards and drawers. Time to clean and do laundry. My apartment has never been so neat and orderly. Time to sit and read a book. While waiting to go out and buy Emily St. John Mandel’s new book, The Glass Hotel, I’m re-reading her previous best-seller, Station Eleven. If you haven’t read it, it’s a dystopian novel about a massive flu pandemic and “a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.” I’m also re-reading two other old favorite books: Donna Tartt’s brilliantly-written The Secret History and Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army.

And last but not least, time to work on my own book project. As Joyce Carol Oates says in her Masterclass presentation, “The great enemy of writing is being interrupted. Constant interruptions are the destruction of the imagination.” I have no excuses now.

 

 

the Twilight Zone

Remember Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone? I had an experience yesterday that reminded me of that TV series I used to watch as a teenager. It was a cold and sunny morning yesterday, temperature 6°C (42°F), when I left my apartment at precisely 9:30 am and strode briskly to the office. It should be mentioned that the last time I saw my office desk and chair was on Wednesday March 18th. Since then, the entire staff, except for top management, is (temporarily, I hope) laid off from work. Furloughed, as the Americans say.

It was a terrific walk, one of the best I’ve had in a long time. In fact, it was the first time since March 18th that I’ve ventured further than my neighborhood. I saw NO ONE. No one on the bridge, no one on the Esplanade, no one on the metro that passed by as I crossed the bridge, no cars or trucks, no noise. It was sunny and cold and the sky was a magnificent blue and the river Seine, as I crossed it via the bridge, equally blue as reflected in the sky. When I reached the pedestrian-only Esplanade de la Défense, the trees were blooming and the birds were chirping loudly in the branches and there were a few joggers and one or two people out walking their dogs. I stopped to stand still in the chilled air and feel the sunshine on my face and breathe in the clean unpolluted air. Clean air! Unheard of!

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Last summer, office buildings, La Défense

Arriving at the office building, I pushed open the door and stepped inside. The lobby was completely empty, save for one man operating a floor-cleaning machine in a far corner. I took the elevator to a higher floor then stepped out of it into an empty corridor. Using my security badge, I opened a series of sliding doors then walked into the large Open Space where I work, normally a clamor of voices, ringing phones, clacking machines and people laughing and shouting out to one another. Complete silence. I stood in that now Empty Space and looked at the rows of deserted desks: my colleagues’ desks, and my own. I saw half-filled coffee mugs, food wrappings, cardigans on the backs of chairs, shoes under desks. Unwatered plants. Signs of human life, but no humans. It was strange, very spooky, as if there had been a disaster: a nuclear attack or a viral pandemic, causing people to flee.

That’s when I thought of that Twilight Zone episode, Where is Everybody?

I hadn’t gone to the office to work, we’re not allowed to yet. I had gone to cancel my upcoming trips: Lille this weekend and Portugal in June. (I use the Booking website at the office because of the security firewalls there.) Also, to print out two dozen government-mandated Attestations because I’m tired of writing them out by hand each time I want to go outside. I don’t have a printer at home. Then I walked down the long corridor to chat with my boss. There he was, fidèle au poste (dutifully at his job), a lone lawyer working hard in his office. Keeping the home fires burning, or whatever that expression is.

Here’s the closing line of that episode “Where is Everybody?” that you can view on YouTube, written by Rod Serling:

The barrier of loneliness: the palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in The Twilight Zone.

Na na na na, na na na na.

“I do not wish Boris Johnson to die. I only wish him to suffer.”

This article, which eviscerates the right-wing politics of the British Conservative Party, is so brilliant that I had to post it here and now. Read it and applaud, then send it on to others. It should resonate too with American readers, just replace Boris Johnson with Donald Trump.

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel: Coronavirus and the British Establishment

 

ok, this is getting boring now

I’ve been off work since Wednesday March 18th, which is three weeks now. At first it was chaotic and creative, then well-ordered and clean as I scrubbed floors, cleaned shelves and cupboards, reorganized my CD, DVD, photo collections, and lifted up my bed to see what was underneath, gave a little shriek, and put it down again. There was, and still is, a ‘domestic goddess’ period as I made oatmeal raison muffins, peanut butter cookies, that divine blood orange syrup cake, pasta Bolognese, Korean sweet and sour meatballs, Indian dahls, and gratin dauphinois. Never have I eaten so well! Or so much! The problem is, all this food is for myself because I cannot share, so I feel like I’ve gained ten pounds.

But now, I’m bored. Three weeks of house arrest is enough, plus the weather is glorious. As I sit here typing, it’s currently 25°C (77°F) outside. Like a fine July day. I wonder where we’ll be in July. Will I still have a job? Will COVID-19 be a distant memory? Will the economic damage be worse than that of the Great Depression or 2008?

But most importantly, will any good come from this?

So at 2 pm this afternoon I wrote out my government-imposed attestation by hand, slathered my forehead, arms and hands with suntan lotion, put on my mask and went outside. It was so good to walk and feel the sunshine on my skin. I usually go to my local supermarket, MONOPRIX, but decided to go further afield to a small, independent organic supermarket. As I walked down the street, just me and my caddy, I thought – why am I wearing a mask? The streets were completely empty. Later, I read that since the outbreak of this epidemic 200,000 Parisians left Paris for the countryside, as if fleeing a medieval plague.

After I had done my food shopping – shelves well-stocked except for the absence of eggs, bread and flour (I did manage to score a bag of organic farine d’épeautre which is spelt flour) – I made my way to the cash desks and thought, this is the new normal: cashiers wearing plastic visors over their entire face and the rest of us wearing facemasks and standing in line six feet apart. It looked so silly, and yet no one was laughing.

President Macron is scheduled to speak to the nation next Monday night on the 8 o’clock news. As predicted, he will prolong the lockdown which was supposed to end April 15th. We are in the dark as to the new date.

Here’s a good video clip from The Economist I just watched because I am very concerned about the world economy: