About julesparis2013

Originally from Toronto, Canada, I moved to Paris about 20 years ago.

birdsong! clean air!

You wouldn’t believe the clean air I’m breathing and the loud and lengthy birdsong I’m hearing (while stuck at home.) It’s like being deep in the countryside. Since the Tuesday lockdown, clean air and quietude is the new normal here. This is how it must have been a century ago. Mornings, I lie in bed and listen to the birds chirp, and I try to imagine urban sounds from days gone by: the clip-clop of horses’ hooves, the tolling of church bells, the rumbling of carriages and wagons, factory whistles, street cries.

When I first moved to this apartment building, I was awakened very early in the morning by a gentle gurgling and swishing sound. The gurgling was a stream of water running down the gutter of the road, and the swishing was the movement of a broom, an actual twig broom (hand-made by who?) held by a municipal worker as he walked down the sidewalk sweeping debris from the street and sidewalk into the flow of water. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a pleasanter sound to wake up to. All this was as late as the early 2000’s.

broom branches

And then it stopped. No longer do I hear the gurgling of water nor the gentle swish-swish of twig brooms. These days, at least in my ‘hood, a small truck passes by with a high-powered hose to clean the streets, gutters and sidewalks.

Anyway, flash-forwarding to March 2020, we couldn’t be more in the thick of this pandemic as we are right now. There’s only one bit of good news: the spread of the virus has significantly slowed in China. That will be us one day. BUT WHEN? Three weeks? A month? Two to three months? Four to six months?

And here’s another thing: what will we learn from this ordeal?  Or, more importantly, what will our governments learn? Will it be ‘business as usual’ and all forgotten? Or will they turn to experts, invest heavily in R&D, develop vaccines, and put in place a serious response system for the next epidemic?

This morning on the radio I heard three significant things: (i) The Minister of Economy and Finance has invited companies to pay a tax-free bonus of 1,000 euros to employees for whom telework is impossible and who have no other choice than to continue to go to their workplace to allow their business to continue its activity, (ii) the 15-day period of confinement is not long enough and will be prolonged, and (iii) many people are still not taking this epidemic seriously. They’re still going out, still socializing in groups, still shaking hands and touching things.

Towards the end of this short video, you’ll see an outdoor market where people gathered on Wednesday – a day after the lockdown was put in effect –  to touch fruits and vegetables, chat with others and exchange money with the vendors. As if they were living in normal times.

 

a sudden burst of clapping on my street

Just now, at 8 pm on a coolish Wednesday night, I suddenly heard clapping coming from my street. It was as if the whole street was clapping. What the heck? I grabbed my camera, opened my window and saw, or rather heard, this. People standing on their balconies clapping. “What’s going on?” I shouted down to a neighbor.

“It’s a moment of solidarity,” he said. Nice, very nice.

 

this is scary

jules mask one

The situation is critical. And it’ll get worse before it gets better. This afternoon, my employer sent a bunch of us home to self-isolate for 15 days. Normally I would rejoice at such news, but in this context I’m not rejoicing AT ALL. I’m thinking this might be the first step before a wave of lay-offs. Companies big and small – not to mention individuals, freelancers, entrepreneurs, the self-employed, aid organizations, families – are hemorrhaging money now and will hemorrhage even more later. I’m one of the lucky ones (that is, if I don’t lose my job.) But how are migrants, refugees, the weak, poor and vulnerable managing? Now, more than ever, we need compassionate governments with humanitarian principles (and a generous safety net.)

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It happened so fast (disasters usually do.) Why were we caught unawares? Why did governments respond so late? Had they learned and taken away nothing from past viral epidemics? Singapore and South Korea and Hong Kong were on it straightaway and managed to contain Covid-19 quickly.

Below is a link to Bill Gates’ prescient TED Talk in which he urged greater preparedness for the next epidemic. He spoke in March 2015, exactly 5 years ago. No one listened.

Walking through my neighborhood on my way to the grocery store this afternoon (with my government-decreed travel document in my pocket), I took a few photos. The streets were deserted.

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Here’s Bill. The only sane man on the planet??

we are at war, said President Macron

The biggest question people are asking this morning, following President Macron’s televised and dramatic speech last night, is “How do I print out my mandatory attestation?” I don’t have a printer at home, neither do a lot of other people. As of noon today, and mandated by government decree, we have been ordered to print out and carry a travel certificate (attestation) with us if we step outside our home. (The document can be downloaded from the Ministry of the Interior website.) We can only step outside our homes for very specific reasons. Cops, apparently, will be roaming the streets and subways, ready to give us a 38 euro fine (soon to go up to 135 euros) if we don’t have said and signed certificate on our person.

As I write this, I can see Parisians scurrying past my building wearing face masks and anxiously pulling their shopping caddy, on their way to the food stores before the noon decree kicks in. Luckily, I did a big food shopping a few days ago and have the essentials: coffee, long-life milk, coconut milk, pasta, tuna, sardines, chick peas to make hummus, almonds to make almond milk, flour and yeast to make bread if I have to. Oh, and a big bottle of Martini Bianco and tonic water.

I don’t know what else to say. I need to wrap my head around this utterly surreal and disturbing situation. Fictional movies and books have been written about plagues and pandemics; but this isn’t fiction.

I’m keeping a diary, a chronicle, while copy-pasting the international online newspaper headlines into a Word document with their dates. So that I can look back to this terrible period years from now and remember what we lived through. (But there will be more pandemics.)

Here’s President Macron looking a lot more grave than he did before. As one commentator wrote: Macron said – “My dear compatriots, do not worry, we will find a solution.” And then five minutes later, “WE ARE AT WAR!”

 

 

 

Sunday night. How Covid-19 reveals the cracks in hyper-globalization.

Thank gawd it’s Sunday night and the weekend is over. Tomorrow I’m going to walk to work instead of taking public transportation. The office will be half empty because schools are closed and parents will be able to stay with their kids and work from home. I’m not a parent and I’m not ill (at least I feel no symptoms), so I am obliged to go to work.

Below is a TED Talk on Covid-19. I thought it fell short. Not once did the speaker mention globalization, the interconnectedness of our markets, worldwide out-sourcing, global supply chains, and all the risks that that engenders.

We’re living one of those risks right now.

Globalisation and surging trade and travel within countries and across national borders has lifted billions out of poverty, but it also spreads infectious diseases. The epicentre of Covid-19, Wuhan, is typical of many midsize Chinese cities. In 30 years, it has grown from 2 million to over 11 million people. As in other mushrooming cities, poor hygiene and lax enforcement of regulations coexist with people and animals living in proximity, near airports from which a virus can spread anywhere in 36 hours. (Financial Times)

Read the article below in which the author writes – “the Covid-19 virus is readying us for what could be the new reality. To really address the climate emergency, we must slow down economic activity, reduce trade, re-localize economies and severely restrict travel.”

“Pandemics tell us to put aside our money-making obsessions, and pay attention to the biological world around us.”

Up until now, the thinking has been – “Why waste money stocking up on supplies or making stuff locally, when you can order the cheapest stuff from a distant Chinese factory?” This mindset needs to change. We need to become local again.

More than 50 years ago, British ecologist Charles Elton warned that “we are living in a period of the world’s history when the mingling of thousands of kinds of organisms from different parts of the world is setting up terrific dislocations in nature.”

This is a wake-up call, folks. What is Covid-19 trying to tell us?

(read this article here, it is more edifying than the Ted talk):

https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/03/13/COVID-19-Brought-By-Globalization/

 

some light-hearted humor now that the whole world is quarantined

During my self-isolating weekend, I’m watching lots of funny videos. What’s funny is that the French cannot pronounce “th”. All day long, I hear them on the phone at the office saying to clients, “Sank you” at the end of a conversation, or “I sink zat’s a good idea.” Or “tree” instead of “three”. Once, I asked my 7-year old godson if he wanted me to make him a smoothie. He replied (in French) that it’s pronounced ‘smoozie.’ “Actually, it’s not,” I said, and explained to him why. I also showed him how to make the ‘th’ sound by sticking out his tongue a little.

The letter H is always silent in French, so ‘hair’ becomes ‘air’ and ‘hungry’ can sometimes sound like ‘angry’.

When I first moved to Paris and lived in the 9th arrondissement, I couldn’t pronounce a neighboring street called rue de Rochechouart. Or the metro station, Reuilly-Diderot. Here are two funny videos: Parisians trying to pronounce some English words and Americans trying to pronounce some French words.