new and stricter measures imposed by the government, Thurs March 26

The weather is still mocking us. Never have we had such a prolonged spell of gorgeousness: it’s still nippy (10°C/50°F), brilliantly sunny and an azure blue sky. Plus, the air is unpolluted and the birds are happily chirping. “Come out and play!” they are saying.

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standing on my balcony this morning, look at that sky.

How I long to put on my walking shoes and go for a long strenuous trek across the city, or even around my neighborhood. But I cannot, or rather I can, but there are conditions. We are in strict confinement since last Wednesday March 18th. And I applaud the French government for imposing such measures. It’s the only way to slow and eventually halt this terrible virus in its tracks, the only way. When I read the international newspapers and see other countries who are not putting strict measures in place, I shudder with disbelief. By not doing so, they’re putting everyone in danger. How can government leaders be so désinvolte (casual, cavalier) in the face of this pandemic sweeping the globe? How can citizens be so dumb as to not care or understand the gravity of the situation? Do they not read the papers or watch the news?

Below is the document we need to have on our person when we go out, downloaded from the Ministry of the Interior website. For those who don’t have a printer at home, which is my case, it needs to be written out by hand on a sheet of paper, signed and dated (and now timed.) Every day a new document.

The idea is to discourage travel as much as possible by making it complicated, and to prevent people from improvising excuses when they are stopped by a police officer on the street. The reason for each trip must therefore be precise, and planned in advance.

The idea of confinement, the government says, is to limit movement to the strict minimum. Each journey increases the risk of contact and contamination, and therefore the potential duration of confinement for the whole of France. So, beyond the rules and the risk of fines, we have to ask the question before each trip: is it really necessary?

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The only valid reasons for going outside are:

– commuting between home and work when telework is not possible;
– basic necessities like food and medication;
– health emergencies;
– imperative family reasons, such as assistance to vulnerable persons or childcare;
– short trips, near the home, to do sports individually (walking, running) and for the needs of pets.

As of Tuesday March 24th, however, the rules have been tightened:

Can I go out and do sports (jogging, cycling, gym, etc.)? (I have translated this from Le Monde newspaper):

Only brief trips, close to home, and linked to the individual physical activity of people, are allowed.
Only one outing is authorized per day, for a maximum duration of one hour.
You must bring your certificate by checking the box “individual physical exercise” and specifying the time of exit.
You must go out alone (unless you are with your children).
Keep a distance of one to two meters from any people you might cross in the street.
Stay within a kilometer around your home.
Contrary to what was initially announced, cycling sports outings are now prohibited, as is the practice of team sports. It is also not possible to go to a gym.

In case of violation of these travel rules, a fine ranging from 135 euros to 375 euros will be applied to offenders. In the event of recurrence within 15 days, a fine of 1,500 euros will be incurred. Verbalization more than 3 times within 30 days constitutes an offense punishable by a fine of 3,750 euros and six months’ imprisonment.

comfort food, we need comfort food

It’s as if the weather is mocking us. It’s gorgeous here. Cold, sunny and a luminous blue sky. And here we are, confined in our homes. Yesterday, I decided that I needed comfort food, so I whipped up a batch of peanut butter-oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. Normally I would share with neighbors and colleagues, but considering the current situation I’ll have to eat the whole batch myself. This confinement thing is not helping anyone’s diet and fitness program.

I had not been to the grocery store since last Wednesday when everything was more or less normal. Today, however, was quite different. There were no more spirits (hard liquor.) Luckily, there was wine and beer, so I stocked up on that. Somehow I can’t imagine France ever running out of wine. Then I wheeled my cart to the bread section: nothing but empty shelves. No problem. I bought flour and yeast. I will make naan (recipe below.) Super easy to make, it’s similar to making pizza dough. Other than that, there were lots of fresh eggs and dairy products, fruit and veg, bacon and meat. How depressing, though, to see my fellow shoppers wearing facemasks and no one looking or speaking to one another! One man coughed at the fish counter and everyone sprang away.

When will this end?

I applaud all the grocery store employees working on the front lines: the cashiers, especially. We said “bon courage!” to the young woman cashier in whose line I stood; all shoppers were spaced obediently several meters apart. I hope their employer, MONOPRIX, gives them all a generous bonus for working throughout these difficult times.

Tonight I’m going to make a gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes.) Super easy to make, and so good with a glass of red wine and any kind of grilled meat or sausage (or on its own or with a simple green salad.) The recipe below doesn’t call for cheese, but it sure looks good. For decades I’ve been making gratin with grated gruyere or emmental cheese.

Following that is the naan recipe, and following that is a link to comfort food cookies I made yesterday. So good! We need this, folks.

 

Oatmeal raisin cookies and oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate cookies (the trick is to not overcook them) –

https://thefoodcharlatan.com/best-oatmeal-raisin-cookies/

listen to Naomi Klein. she’s Canadian.

An American former Labor Secretary (D) said: “use taxpayer dollars to bailout families and unemployed workers rather than airlines, hotels, and other corporations that are expected to receive billions from the proposed stimulus package.”

‘Socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.’

‘Trump will make sure to hook up his buddies. They will get the goodies.’

‘Why are we bailing out millionaires (again)?? Are you kidding me?’

‘Corporations with tens of billions of dollars in the bank will get help before average Americans, including BANKS! Time for a revolution.’

To that last comment, Juliet in Paris says: You had your chance, and she slipped through your fingers. Her name was Elizabeth Warren!

 

Saturday evening, aperitif hour, and old movies

There comes a time in the day when you have to switch off the bad news, it’s too overwhelming, not to mention depressing beyond words. If you read it all day long on the internet or watch it on television (or both!), you’re going to develop a neurosis. Like yesterday, for example. Convinced that coronavirus can be spread through the air and float into my apartment from the street below, I shut all my windows.

I refuse to let this thing bring me down. It’s currently 6:30 pm on a cold Saturday evening and I’m chilling at home (where else would I be?) while enjoying an aperitif. During my grocery store run a few days ago, I bought essentials:

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Last night I went through my DVD collection and watched two excellent movies: Revolutionary Road with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (the book by Richard Yates is superbly written), and the 1950 noir classic, In a Lonely Place, with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. Netflix doesn’t entirely satisfy me. I need a larger stock to draw from. Thankfully, I have my DVD player and 50 or so good, old DVD movies.

YouTube has some good stuff. If you’re into old movies like I am, here’s a sweet one, perfect for a Saturday night (click on “Watch this video on YouTube”):

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??