No. 3 ~ Paris ~ April 2, 2020
"Two riders were approaching..." from All Along The Watchtower, by Bob Dylan
When the inevitable happens, it pulls us forward in time, not always to a place we wanted to go.
Monday morning, as seemed inevitable, we were questioned by the police while we were out for our morning walk. We had just crossed the street called Quai d’Orsay and were stepping into a small park by the Seine. A police van stopped and three officers got out and called for us.
One was obviously the designated spokesman. He was sturdily built and looked more Nordic than Latin. The other two were smaller, and stood off to the side. Everyone was careful to stand two meters apart. The big guy asked if we had our dispensation (“Attestation”) papers that give us permission to go out walking, but as I reached in my pocket for mine, I realized he was not going to ask to see them. In order to hand the papers to him, we would have to get closer than two meters. He was not wearing gloves or a mask.
We had our papers, but with our germs on them.
Then he started to make it sound like the rules had changed and we were only allowed to go out for shopping. We thought we knew the rules and were within the guidelines, so Isabelle started to defend our position. I was thinking, in the States this would not be a good idea, arguing with a cop. But in France, it’s considered a discussion, and people are always ready for a lively chat.
The two other officers held their positions, avoiding eye contact. I guessed they had heard all this before.
I let Isabelle do all the talking. Probably best not to throw my American accent into the mix.
It turns out the officer just doesn’t agree with the government rules. It’s true that Macron, even as his polling numbers go up, has been criticized by some who think the confinement should be more strict. The officer was among them, trying to impose his own rules. Finally, he did grant that we could go ahead and walk for a few minutes in the park. (The government decree says we can be out walking for an hour.) By this time, his two colleagues had faded back into the van, sheltering from the frigid northeast wind.
As we took to the path, it occurred to me that the same police may have seen us walking there before. We thought it was a good place, with wide paths and few people, so we had been going there every day. Driving back and forth on Quai d’Orsay, Officer Nordic may well have spotted us a day or two earlier and made a mental note: Isabelle out of fashion in her red jacket, me with my stocking hat.
We agreed we would not be able to return to that park anytime soon. And Isabelle would have to ditch the red jacket. I would cling to the warmth of my stocking hat, but only for a few days, until temperatures eased a bit.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, articles in the New York Times filled gaps in my understanding about how experts believe transmission occurs. Now they’re talking about five micron droplets that can travel 26 feet (about eight meters), if projected by, say, a sneeze. These micro-droplets can be expelled simply while breathing, as well. A Seattle choral group suffered many infections and two deaths after singing together for an hour or two. Up to 40% of transmission may happen because the “healthy carrier” does not yet have symptoms — or may not ever get them.
I wondered what kind of risk it presented for us to be standing there, talking to the policeman for ten minutes. I had also read that the longer people are together, the more it can increase the risk of infection and severity of symptoms.
Whatever the risk to their subjects, the police force is proving to be persistent in its work.
This morning I was walking across what is known as the Esplanade, in front of Les Invalides, when I heard the fateful clip-clop of horse hooves. The two mounties pulled their steeds up alongside me and asked me for my Attestation. I realized that this time they actually wanted to see it. One of the officers reached out his gloved hand. He was equipped with a mask, but it was down around his chin. When I made a cautious move to approach him, he moved his mask into position. He examined my paper, handed it back, and then asked to see an ID. I held my open passport up so he could see my picture, making it clear I was not going to get close enough for him to touch it.
I was on my way again when the officers stopped to question a father and his little girl, probably a three-year-old, who were out bike riding together. The father said to his daughter, remember? … your paper is in your basket.
I did not wait to see the officer now take the little girl’s document in his gloved hand — the hand that had just held my paper — and then hand it back to her.
He doesn’t know whether I’m contagious or not, and actually I don’t know either, even though I have no reason to believe I am.
It made me think of our oldest brother-in-law. He is finally recovering at home after a rough time in the hospital with Covid-19. He became infected at a bridge game, early on in the epidemic. One of the players was sick, but played anyway, not realizing. They were passing cards to one another — just like me, passing my dispensation to the policeman.
When I got back to the apartment I went right to the trash can and threw away the Attestation. Then I washed my hands. And worried about the little girl.