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This pandemic will go down in history. I would be remiss not to take an opportunity to write down my thoughts and feelings, and I invite you to do the same. In this post, I will give you a quick overview detailing the progression of Coronavirus-related regulations in France, followed by my personal thoughts and experiences during the first couple of weeks in lockdown. If you’re not currently in the right headspace to look at anything Coronavirus-related right now, I encourage you to do whatever your mind and body need at this time. Go look at cat memes and do some yoga, or eat that bag of chips. There will be no judgement, and I won’t be offended either. We need to take breaks from the flood of information. If, however, you are ready for the perspective of someone quarantined in Paris, read on…
The Timeline in France
Coronavirus started off as something that seemed like a faraway threat. Then it arrived in Europe, and the number of active cases increased exponentially. As this pandemic developed and continues to develop, we have witnessed a steady but rapid succession of announcements, warnings, and new protocols to follow. I feel like I could easily swap “Europe” for just about any country in the world, and my previous statements would still apply. We all had the same thoughts, “That won’t be us. It won’t come here.”
In France, non-essential businesses closed at midnight on Saturday, March 14th. It was a beautiful weekend, so despite the warnings, families and large groups met up in parks and along the river banks and canals throughout Paris and France. The government had no choice but to tighten restrictions. We began partial lockdown just a few days later, on March 17th. Since then, we can only leave the house for essential things: groceries, medications, and dogs’ needs. We can also engage in light exercise, as long as we are alone. Additionally, the most current rules state that we must stay within one kilometer (.62 miles) of our residence for a maximum duration of one hour daily.
Every time we leave the house, we must have a signed and dated form explaining where we are going. It’s like a permission slip, and a new one is required every time we go out. If you don’t have a printer, you have to handwrite it. Below is the latest version of the “permission slip”. You are required to write in pen and must even indicate the time that you left your house.
On March 27th, two more weeks were added to the confinement, extending the end date to April 15th. The President made it clear that the confinement could be extended again. There has also been talk about what coming out of confinement might look like. The confinement might not be lifted for everyone, all at once. As of today, no official plans have been announced yet.
The First Week
For the entire first week, I woke up every day, having forgotten, and then suddenly remembering the current reality. In trying to keep up with the latest developments in Europe, throughout the United States, and even in Paraguay (talk about feeling lucky to have so many worldly, globe-trotting friends, yet worried at the same time), I found myself spending hours reading articles and watching press conferences. Everyone seemed to be in a different stage, and the information was changing so quickly. I was absolutely inundated with news, yet never had enough. It stressed me out more than I initially realized.
Among my biggest worries was how this will affect establishing my life in France. Whenever we’re released from this quarantine, the already arduously slow and difficult French system is going to be even more inundated all around. In other words, everyone is going to be dans la merde. (I’ve just decided that swearing on my blog is ok, as long as it is in French.) Some people are worse off than me, and I have many things to be thankful for. For example, Jonathan and I are already married so we don’t have to put that off like some other people. Many administrative tasks are dependent on or facilitated by our marriage. My visa is set to expire in September. It might take me longer to get my paperwork processed, but ultimately, I’ll be ok.
Week One was nearly over when I finally went for my first walk. Within the first five minutes, I passed by a man smoking outside on a stoop. He accused me, “Il faut rester à la maison, hein.” (One must stay at home, right.) Ok, man smoking outside. I did not make eye contact and just kept walking. I have to admit, this interaction jarred me and made me uneasy for the rest of my walk. Maybe this was a sign that I should have stayed home.
After about 15 minutes, I was approached by a homeless man who followed me a few paces, asking “Ça va? Ça va pas? Ça va?” The homeless must be more lonely than usual. Honestly, don’t worry about me. I’ve been known to fight monkeys. Seriously, just ask my mom about the wild monkeys of Gibraltar. They couldn’t even snag a granola bar from me. However, I was ready to go home at this point, so after my brief 20 minute jaunt, home I went. And I didn’t leave the apartment for another week.
Two Weeks Down
I didn’t go grocery shopping until we had been in confinement for two full weeks. No, we did not irresponsibly clear all the shelves before the lockdown started. Jonathan and I are lucky to have a large fridge, and we both appreciate a fully stocked pantry, because we enjoy cooking and eating. For a few weeks, I did buy some extras, like shelf-stable milk, juice, grains, pasta, rice, beans, and an extra pack of toilet paper. And I’m glad we did. We went for one final grocery run the day before the lockdown started to get some fresh things, and some of the shelves we passed by were cleaned out of stock.
With all the panic buying, I was anxious about going grocery shopping, which is why I waited so long. I timed my visit around 12:30, hoping that most French people would be home eating lunch. The store was not packed, but there were definitely more people than I would have liked to see. Most people were very respectful of keeping a distance, but at times, in the small aisles, it was nearly impossible. Several sanitary measures were put in place to make the experience safer. Most workers wore gloves and masks. There were taped lines on the floor, visually establishing safe distances between customers in line. A clear plastic sheet was suspended between the cash register and the customer. Signs were posted everywhere stating how often various areas of the store were disinfected.
At the large grocery store that I went to, there were several things that I could not purchase: quinoa (most dried grains/lentils/rice were out of stock), diced tomatoes (all canned tomato products and sauces were low), flour, salted butter (only unsalted was available and what is the point of that??), fresh garlic, and sandwich bread. After, I went to a smaller corner grocery and found many of the things I needed. No luck on the flour, though!
In a city like Paris, it is customary for people to go to the store a few times a week. With a tiny apartment and a bar sized fridge, as is the case for many Parisiens, there is only so much storage space. Now, people are buying for more days at a time, or even a whole week. When everyone does that, it’s understandable that the stocks run low, even if the stores are working really hard!!
Two Weeks to Go
Uncertainty leads to a lot of anxiety. Most recently, we were told that the confinement would last two more weeks, but how long will this really last? And when I ask myself this question, I’m not just thinking about myself and wondering how long I will need to stay at home. I’m wondering how long we all collectively need to worry about this virus. How long will it continue to threaten us? How long will it continue taking lives? Will it be a seasonal virus that we need to worry about year after year? What will it be like when we are able to go outside and interact with people again? It’s easy to spiral off a list of questions when thinking about the future.
It’s hard to make concrete plans, but we all need things to look forward to. Looking at an empty calendar is disheartening. For these next two weeks, I’m going to try and fill my calendar, like I used to. The events are going to look a little different: a webinar instead of an evening talk at the library, a virtual workout instead of yoga at the studio on Saturday morning, and a videochat drink with friends instead of happy hour at the bar down the street. While I’m leery about planning future travel even a few months out, I can still focus on my weekly calendar and take it one day at a time.
When the lockdown was first announced, I started off strong, thinking about all the free time that I would have. After vigorously spring cleaning the apartment (all 32 square meters / 344 square feet) on the very first day, my energy fizzled out. I experienced disappointment in myself for not taking advantage of this precious time to work on any number of tasks on my to do list: developing my blog, dealing with French administrative paperwork, wedding planning, etc. Regular exercise and yoga even crossed my mind. I have to remember to be kind to myself. There is a lot going on, and it’s understandable to need a break. Going forward, I’m focusing on balance and listening to what my mind and body need. This is probably a sound practice for everyday life, not just during global pandemics.
Check out the update -> Deconfinement in France; Looking Ahead to May 11