Hindsight is 20-20 vision. “20-20” is a measurement of perfect vision as defined by the “Snellen Chart” meaning that if you were to stand at a distance of 20 feet from the eye chart, then you would be able to clearly see each row of letters. It’s a phrase we use often to reflect on things in the past, as we can see them a whole lot more clearly now than we could then, either when they were happening or even before they happened at all.
As I’m packing my bags and preparing to leave for the U.S. on an Air France direct flight to Los Angeles—that cost half of the fare in “normal” times—I can’t help but reflect on this past year, the one to which we so happily said “bonjour” last January 1st. Little did we know then what was in store for all of us, all across the globe, for 2020.
Up until mid March, life was pretty normal. I held my annual Artichoke Day dinner with close friends on February 2nd. I taped three House Hunters International episodes in the span of about six weeks. And I prepared for a complete renovation of my kitchen to start on March 13th.
The Covid-19 virus was rearing its ugly head in Wuhan, China as early as December 2019, but that was far away and not of our immediate concern. According to the World Health Organization WHO timeline, it wasn’t until the 31st of December that a cluster of cases was reported, originally thought to be pneumonia. The WHO immediately set up a management team the next day, on the first day of 2020. Our vision wasn’t at all clear at the time. A few days later, the virus was identified and on January 12th, China shared this information with the public. A day later, a case was reported in Thailand. That was just the beginning. Even then, they didn’t know if the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern. By the end of the month, cases were reported worldwide, but I was busy preparing artichokes and thinking nothing of it.
By mid March, things had drastically changed with alarming levels of the spread and finally calling it a “pandemic.” At the last minute I cancelled the renovation of my kitchen, with a not-so-perfect view on how much I was going to need that kitchen fully intact—for someone who “normally” dines out twice a day and uses a kitchen mostly for making coffee.
France had its first cases as early as December 2, 2019, but that’s hindsight, looking back at the test results. Air France reduced its flights from China in late January in the interest of containing the spread of the virus and the first confirmed case in Europe was in Bordeaux, a 48-year-old French citizen from China, who arrived in France on January 22nd. On January 31st all the countries of the Schengen Area, except for France, suspended issuing visas in China. Masks were scheduled to be distributed to the French population. Meanwhile, we were busy taping the TV episodes as if nothing was happening.
French municipal elections were scheduled to take place on March 15th and the first round did, but the turnout was low, the second lowest in history. By March 17th, we were in full lockdown. It was our last chance to settle in for a while to wherever we wanted to be. My assistant, Patty Sadauskas, grabbed a last-minute train to her Nîmes home. I stuck it out in Paris with my old, but functioning kitchen. For the first time in many years, I stocked up on food supplies while Americans were depleting the grocery shelves of toilet paper (we will never understand why!). I had one last meal at Café Charlot before calling it a day and said “à bientôt” to the waitstaff. No one had masks to wear at the time—there was a serious shortage worldwide for the life-saving gadgets and we were learning how to construct them from our neckerchiefs.
Life changed drastically. We called it “the new normal.” For the next three months, we were solitary with ourselves or our families. The lockdown originally planned for 15 days, became 30 days and then extended again, and again in different ways until June 2nd. If we wanted to see our friends, we’d have to do it by Zoom or other online services. We loners would meet up with one friend with whom we could walk for exercise, distanced and masked, but only as far as one kilometer from home and for no more than one hour. All the travel plans I had for my 50th high school reunion in New Orleans, an International Living Conference in Portugal and a vacation in Greece were all cancelled. Vouchers to use the air fares at a future date were issued. The year, that in my not-so-perfect vision seemed to be filled with activity, suddenly went dead.
Business came to a virtual standstill, leaving time to concentrate on ourselves—our bodies and our minds. I took up daily Qigong, began a regimen of natural herbal immune boost remedies, started reading more and all in all, eating a whole lot healthier. My cooking talents came back and I looked forward to making myself a satisfying dinner on a daily basis. The fridge was full for the first time in many years. “FOMO” was eradicated (fear of missing out) removing stress from those of us who suffer from the disease. For the first time I started listening to audio books while walking the silent streets. This was “the new normal.”
Paris was never more beautiful. The streets were like a ghost town. The silence was almost deafening. No cars, no motorcycles, no nothing. The skies were a clear blue. The air was fresh and pure. There wasn’t a ripple in the Seine except for the trail from the swans and ducks. There was something so peaceful and tranquil about it all. We joked that wouldn’t it be nice if a lot of this “new normal” could stay that way forever.
Zoom became a preferred way of doing business. We held webinars and began a new program of “Intimate Group Consultations.” Never were we busier. Some webinars drew hundreds of people. What was happening in the U.S. politically with the upcoming elections and with Covid-19 out-of-control stirred our clients to begin making plans to buy property in France…as soon as they can, even sight unseen. Our monthly Après-Midi, rather than held upstairs at the Café de la Mairie on the second Tuesday of the month, is now a regular event on Zoom—later in the day to allow our West Coasters to attend, even if early in the morning for them and early evening for us. The audience has grown as a result.
On June 2nd, the cafes, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen. I ran to Café Charlot, where I once lunched daily. They presented me with a small gift—one of their souvenir mugs—as a welcome back. The main chef wasn’t there, having contracted the virus. Life went back to a kind of normal. I took a train to Nice for a couple of weeks to have some fun in the sun and float on the waters of the Mediterranean. Nice was as pristine as Paris had been—with few planes flying overhead, the skies bluer than ever and the color of the sea as gorgeous an aqua as I had ever seen, almost blindingly blue.
Life was relatively normal. I ate in restaurants, visited with friends, visited properties for sale and business started to boom again. At the end of the month, my daughter came to visit from the U.S., but only people with visas could travel in to France. The tourists were missing and while that wasn’t great for business, we residents enjoyed hearing more French on the streets than English. By July 1st, borders reopened and on July 10th, the State of Health Emergency in France came to an end, essentially ending the lockdown, but still with restrictions on social distancing.
Bastille Day, July 14th, was a far cry from the normal, when we annually spread our blankets on the Champ de Mars to wait for the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. That didn’t happen. Instead a small group of us met at a café for lunch under rainy skies. It was better than nothing. On the 15th, mask-wearing was compulsory, even outdoors. I hightailed it down to Nice shortly after to spend the rest of the summer, and my daughter came down not long after me. For weeks, we beached, sunbathed, visited with one another, dined out, and enjoyed the summer almost as if nothing was very different. That was then.
The easing of the lockdown proved unsuccessful. While we were having fun in the sun, in Nice and in Corsica, and celebrating the launch of the Tour de France in Nice, the Covid-19 cases began to rise again. Our vision had been blurred. We thought we had been behaving so well, making big strides in reducing the number of cases…but our rosy-colored glasses were clouding up.
By mid September, after the summer break when things seemed to be “normal,” France recorded more than 10,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period for the first time. Yikes! Shutdown…cafés, restaurants went dormant once again, first in Paris then in Marseille. I went back to the market to fill the fridge. Curfews were imposed in some of the hotspots in France. Mid-October, just as I was celebrating my 68th birthday, France reported more than 30,000 new cases in a single day and by October 25th, daily cases topped 52,000 for the first time.
The U.S. elections at the beginning of November brought positive results (for most of us Expats, who are largely Democrats) and that brought a sigh of relief considering the country’s lack of solidarity toward controlling the spread of the virus. With the new leadership, and the advent of a vaccine, there seems to be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But it’s not in 20-20 sight yet.
Back in lockdown we went as the numbers hit record highs. And here we sat until just yesterday, when confinement eased up again, but with certain restrictions. A curfew is in place, but we’re allowed to travel and an attestation is no longer required. Cafés and restaurants still have their doors shut tight as a drum. Schools remained open, but it’s not a perfect scenario for the kids or parents. Covid-19 testing is available everywhere now, even at most pharmacies, and almost anytime. Everyone is masked and not complaining, plus their price has gone down to less than 10 cents each, available for purchase in every corner of every store.
I’m looking back and the picture is so much clearer now. But that’s hindsight, for you. And now I wonder what 2021 is going to look like for all of us.
How’s your vision these days?
A la prochaine…(from the U.S. desert, so stay tuned!)
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian celebrating a past birthday at Chez Omar in Paris
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