Notes from a Paris Lockdown
All of us on lockdown are doing things we never did before and not doing things we normally do. That’s the way it is when your life is turned upside down and everything on your agenda is getting crossed off or changed. My paper agenda (yes, I still keep one) is usually so filled up that it’s tough to decipher one event from another. Now, it’s blank…completely blank, or scratched through…every plan thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s an interesting turn of events that we didn’t see coming. At least, most of us didn’t. When the epidemic hit Wuhan, we took it seriously, but never dreamed it would hit so close to home. Even up until one week ago, things were fairly normal in Paris. We knew the tide was getting closer to the shore, but we hadn’t yet moved our towels back to avoid their getting wet. Now, we’re treading water and praying we don’t drown.
Some friends were scrambling to be in a different place from where they were. Geraldine and Jeffrey, friends from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who normally spend two months a year here in Paris and two months in Italy, canceled their Italian sojourn…not out of choice. They were lucky enough to get a flight home to Ann Arbor on Friday…one of the last flights out of Charles de Gaulle Airport. I urged them to take a taxi instead of the RER (is it really safer? I don’t know) and arranged for our favorite driver to pick them up. The trip to the airport from their apartment in the 19th district was an amazing 20 minutes door-to-door — record time. Geraldine described it as “eerie.”
At the airport, she reported that “some of the corridors were so dark that we couldn’t believe it was the way to the gate even though it was marked.” The tramway between terminals was deserted. Inside scoop from a cleaning lady in the restroom told her that by end of the month, there would be no more flights. I’m sure she was right. Yet, believe it or not, the people queueing to board the plane were not distancing themselves from one another. Geraldine was shocked! She and Jeffrey made it home safely.
Chicago friend, Barb Westfield, was lucky enough to get a flight on Air France this past Saturday to Paris with a changeover for a flight to Marseille. The cost was astronomical (three times the norm), but she’s happy she made the effort to be in her home in the Luberon (Provence) where she’ll have lots of solitude and space instead of her less spacious apartment on Lake Michigan. She calls herself “a high-class refugee!” One snag: Buddy the cat. Her mission was to bring Buddy to her brother’s, a veterinarian who has an animal hospital in New Jersey, prior to boarding the flight to Paris. She managed all of it and arrived safely in Ansouis Sunday about midday…elated as she took off her mask and latex gloves.
Air France posts regular information on their website. The latest update on Friday reported that they are reducing their flight capacity by up to 90 percent over the next few days and is planned to last two months. They are also working closely with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies to repatriate French and European nationals. Their motto: “COVID-19: Air France is by your side.” Maybe they should change that to “COVID-19: Air France is your only ticket home?”
I have travel plans for March 31st to Nice, two trips in May — New Orleans and the Algarve, Portugal, in June to Lesvos, Greece, and onward to Nice, July to Nice, and August to Corsica — all of which are likely to get changed. My paper agenda is going to see a lot more scratch-throughs as time goes on. I’m on a “wait and see” plan…called no plan at all. While I still have a train ticket for the 31st to go to Nice, SNCF is canceling trains right and left. It’s likely it will be canceled, too.
On Friday, the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, closed the Promenade des Anglais and will introduce curfew measures. Just when I was thinking Nice would be a safe haven, with the sun on my face as I while away the time on my balcony, or taking strolls along the Promenade des Anglais…it’s off-limits.
Going out at all is becoming more and more discouraged. No doubt, the less we commingle, the less infection we will encounter. I’ve been out twice in the last week, not counting trips to the trash bins…that’s at least 70 steps down and 70 steps up just to get a tiny amount of exercise, even if there isn’t much trash to empty! I walked both times with a friend to buy groceries at Monoprix, to move my body and get a bit of air, but am not sure that was such a good idea. The weather in Paris has been so beautiful…and such a shame to waste it!
Walking outside was not our concern — we walked in the middle of the street and avoided getting near anyone at all, but the market was busy. Not all the market staff was wearing gloves or masks…as I believe they should be. Mostly everyone tried to keep their distance, but it’s not so easy and some people are unconscious about it. Geraldine reported that before she left Paris, she was in line at a bakery leaving a good meter or so between her and the person in front. The man behind her complained to her that she was leaving too much space! Of all the nerve! All she could do was shrug her shoulders in disgust with his lack of care. The French idea of the personal space bubble has to change! (See leaflanguages.org/terra-personal-space-is-a-relative-thing/ for interesting points on this.)
Paris is simply not Paris, as is every city on lockdown. This video provided by France24.com is a hint of what the City of Light is like as a ghost town. Le Louvre is shut tight and Mona Lisa must have her feet up — she hasn’t had a break for a very long time, until now. (Have you seen this recent graphic?) My feet are up, too…among other things.
One thing I’m having more time for is reading… like when did that ever happen except for an annual beach vacation? Podcaster of Earful Tower, Oliver Gee, has a new book out, “Paris On Air” — at least the e-book version while the paperback and audiobook are still in the works. I’m getting a head start by reading it on my laptop or iPhone and enjoying his breezy style as he discovers Paris and all of its charms. I urge you to get your copy.
Other things I’ve done or doing to be productive are:
* Defrost the fridge and freezer. LOL! As it turns out, opening it too much or loading it up contributes to the frost. Guess until now, I wasn’t opening it much and it was virtually empty. I was shocked at how much frost suddenly accumulated! Or maybe it’s time to replace it anyway? Remember, I was about to renovate the kitchen! Either way, it was a big job to empty it, defrost it (a hairdryer does the trick), clean it up, and put it all back. That took one hour of my not too precious time.
* Fix new shoes. Normally, new shoes don’t need fixing, especially pricey ones, but these were falling off my feet…although I really have nowhere to go in them. Wide (4cm) elastic bands criss-cross over the arch, but that wasn’t enough, so online I found almost identical 4cm wide bands, ordered them and they arrived the next day (much to my amazement). And guess what? Not only did my idea work, but they are a whole lot more attractive! (Don’t you think I should offer Camper® my design ideas?)
* Mop the floors. Call me spoiled, but I have a weekly housekeeper of more than 25 years. She is not showing up and I don’t want her to. I’m known to clean before she comes (a mild case of OCD), hence her staying with me all these years! Every Saturday is her usual day to come, so I’m taking her place and doing it with gusto. She’d be proud to know that I mopped and polished all my parquet floors. It was good exercise and I am very proud of the shine!
* Exercise. Every morning and afternoon, I’ve taken to about 15 minutes of yoga stretches (yes, I know it’s not really enough) and then at least 10 minutes of hula-hooping. Yep, hula-hooping. Don’t leave it for the kids. It’s the best exercise you can get, especially at home. I have a Powerhoop® that comes in a box, ready to connect. It’s heavy (3.5 lbs or 1.6kg), so not for lightweights, and you need to find a space where you won’t knock over everything in sight. I stand at the edge of the bed so that it circles the bed and a bit of space in front of me while I watch the news on TV (unfortunately, the only thing on right now is about the coronavirus).
Here’s what hula-hooping does for you:
1. Burns calories
2. Burns body fat and inches
3. Boosts cardiovascular fitness
4. Challenges your core muscles
5. Improves your balance
6. Works your lower body muscles
7. Family-focused activity (if you have one!)
8. Inexpensive and portable
* Clap with my neighbors. Every night at 8 p.m. sharp, the clapping starts. Neighbors come out to their windows and balconies, and start clapping. The Italians are singing. The French are clapping. It’s the most they can let themselves go, even at a time like this. The idea is to applaud the doctors and nurses who are risking their lives to save ours. One night I yelled out, “Bonsoir,” to which I got a nice return from many of them. Have a look at a brief excerpt…
And if you’re looking for something to do tomorrow night, ASA will be singing live from Lagos, Nigeria! at 7 p.m. Lagos/Paris time. To learn more, visit her Facebook page.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(Hula Hooping in Paris)
P.S. For the first time since 2003, we are canceling our April 14th monthly coffee gathering, Après Midi. We were looking forward to welcoming poet and author Heather Hartley who is the Paris Editor for Tin House magazine and the author of Adult Swim and Knock Knock, both from Carnegie Mellon University Press. When our lockdown is officially over, we’ll resume our monthly gatherings with gusto. Until then…stay safe and healthy.
P.P.S. For those of you at home and dreaming of a move to France, or even a property purchase, I’m at home, too, and happy to connect with you on Skype or by phone. As a special offering during this time of self-quarantining and anxiety over our futures, economic or otherwise I am offering special one-hour consultations at the reduced price of 150€ (normally a two-hour minimum for 350€) during our mandatory lockdown. We can talk about a strategy to change and enrich your life by living or investing here. To schedule your time contact me now.