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Paris in confinement. Once again.
“One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before.” Anne Rice
I’m staring up at the Christmas lights, in my own little world and jump a mile as I come face to face with a masked stranger. It’s no surprise he’s masked. It’s been mandatory for months to wear a mask in the streets. We have a laugh and start chatting. He saw me coming as he rounded the corner with his dog and thought to call out but was afraid he would startle me.
It is the loveliest of cheery exchanges. We are the only two people under the twinkling festive lights. I wish I could have enjoyed his smile.
Three completely empty buses pass by, I cross the normally busy boulevard and continue my walk home in the silent city.
The second wave of COVID-19 arrived more brutal and intense than expected. The French were accustomed to wearing masks everywhere, washing hands, and reducing social contact but a lockdown seemed the only way to stem the tsunami of COVID-19 cases. Confinement Saison #2 started on October 30, 2020, and was predicted to last one month.
I live in the 14th arrondissement and move halfway through this Paris confinement to the 7th. I have never lived in either before. Perhaps it is the unfamiliar neighbourhoods but this time, Paris in confinement feels different from the first one which I also experienced in Paris.
It feels heavier.
But there are more people in the streets.
I am less naive.
The days are shorter.
This Paris in confinement feels more restricted.
But the rules are less strict.
I know what it’s like to live in isolation. It’s challenging – physically, mentally and emotionally.
The devastating effects of COVID-19 are no longer unknown.
The death toll in France has exceeded 50 000.
It has been a very long time since I have seen my family.
And time is ticking – my one year VISA for living in France is coming to an end in February.
Christmas is coming and plans are on hold.
Shops are closed.
Where is the nightly ritual of clapping for the health care workers?
Once again, leaving one’s home, limited to a one-kilometre radius, requires a reason and a time marked on a legal attestation form – a paper, or digital version. Without the legal form, one can be fined €135 ($210 Cdn).
I know rationally that this time Paris in confinement shouldn’t feel harder. There is a hint of “normal life.” Oysters are for sale in front of cafés. Children come and go to school. There are line ups at corner crepe stands. Beaujolais Nouveau is available.
But the gaiety is missing. The lightness of life seems shrouded by a veil of darkness.
I need to find a way to let the light in during Paris in confinement.
I sit in the Montparnasse Cemetery on the weekend of Toussaint and watch as people lay flowers on tombstones.
I sit several times beside Baudelaire and try to make sense of his muse, remarking, to myself, that I should probably read one of his masterpieces. I study the photographs of Jean Seberg and reminisce at her talents, feeling grateful to be alive.
The morning light in Parc Montsouris is magical. I walk amidst dog walkers and joggers. I envy the ladies in their yoga class. I find the beehives tucked in a hidden garden.
The banks of the Seine are open. The steady flow of her water grounds me. I watch the barges and notice how the light falls on the quays.
I delight in the most delicious of patisseries and baguettes.
I find gratitude in the efficacy of the French health system when I need a COVID-19 test to know whether my sickness is indeed the virus or not.
I marvel at the compliance of the insousiant French who wear their masks. We have come a long long way since August.
I close my eyes in gratitude for the mild temperatures, non-icy sidewalks and blooming flowers.
I’ve instinctively gone to what brings me joy in Paris. To flâner. To honour my curious spirit and discover new Paris secrets. This brings me light and shifts the darkness. The light is there if I allow myself to see it. To let it in.
I meet my friend Iva at the Jardin des Tuileries. We leave quickly as the police are checking forms and walk along the Seine. We talk and laugh, her blue eyes twinkling above her mask. We pass many Parisians out strolling, laughing, making the most of the sunshine.
We have a delightful encounter with a Parisian couple I have newly met. We discuss how living with police checks brings back memories for some of living behind the Iron Curtain.
Time is ticking and out of necessity all four of us are focussed on our phones. We are each filling out new attestation forms to conform to the one hour law.
I feel lighter. Human contact is an antidote.
There is magic in finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. A twinkling eye. Helping each other fill out forms. Sharing stories. The fading light casting shadows on the Louvre.
I love when the light pushes aside the darkness.
After four weeks in confinement, France’s deconfinement is going to roll out in three phases as long as the numbers of cases in intensive care and new cases of COVID-19 continue to decline. Here is a detailed account of the deconfinement.
Here is what’s exciting me:
Nov 28: We can go further afield, albeit with the legal form- 20 kilometres and for three hours. That means I can roam around Paris and get back on a bike! Stores will also be open – yay for the businesses and yay for Christmas shopping.
Dec 15: No more attestations needed and travel throughout France allowed, there is no limit. Museums, theatres etc can open up.
Jan 20 Restaurants, cafés and gyms can reopen.
Loved this post, Alison.
Alison Browne says
Thank you June. Like everywhere, confinement is arduous and one has to look for the glimmers of joy.
Jerry Weber says
I loved this post too. From darkness to light. Reminds me of he Bruce Cockburn lyric..
“ ..got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight..”. Keep kicking!
Hang in there and stay around people. I can’t imagine living through a lockdown like that. Be well.