No. 32 ~ St. Colomban ~ June 19, 2021

The French drop their masks. It's time to smell the roses.

An excellent season: we had some beauties this year. This bush was planted by Isabelle’s father in the 1970s. I seldom find another that equals its fragrance. (Photo notes below)

Remember the one about the bear who walks in the bar? 

He waddles in and bellies up, leaning on his elbows toward the barkeep.

The bartender looks the bear in the eye, and the bear, the bartender.

Finally, with no sign of a drink order forthcoming, the frustrated bartender says, “Why the long pause?”

If you’ve been wondering about my pause in getting posts up in the air, I have no excuse. I can only say that it’s hard to get a handle on time out here by the sea in Brittany — the region that serves as France’s panhandle. The turtledoves count out the seconds with their coo-coo song. We boil our six-minute eggs for breakfast, minute by minute. The tide seems to stretch time, running away across the shallow estuaries, hiding on the horizon, counting the same hours it has always counted. Summer weather is here, so the first crop of hay comes up in bountiful cylinders. Lined up and facing us on a field trail, their round golden faces are hands-free. It can be any time, they seem to say. Any time we want. 

The French have been counting their days, during this, their third lockdown that started at the end of March. June 9th was the day of emergence. Cinemas and museums are now open, and restaurants are open for indoor dining. 

There is still no bar service — not even for bears, but outdoor dining can be at 100% capacity.

Contact tracing for those dining inside restaurants will apparently be facilitated by using QR codes. It’ll be interesting to see how that works. 

The biggest change for Americans, though, is that they are now welcome to visit France as tourists, as long as they are fully vaccinated. The only other requirement is the usual negative PCR test, less than 72 hours old. 

Unvaccinated Americans may be permitted entry, but the list of “essential reasons” is restrictive. Rules do not allow for the unvaccinated to travel to France to occupy a second home, for example, nor to visit family members, even if they are sick. All unvaccinated travelers will be required to self-quarantine upon arrival. 

France now has a so-called “digital health certificate.” It’s an enhancement to the TousAntiCovid app, which was already in use. The app can only scan the QR code on French vaccination certificates. 

The European Union version of a “health pass” is expected to be in place by July 1, but its use will be limited to EU countries. There are reportedly discussions between EU and American officials to develop an intercontinental health pass. It’s not clear how that would work. As one French expert said, American vaccination certificates are “not digitized.”

Even as the digital health pass goes into wide use in Europe, the French, concerned with social equality, say they will always accept paper certificates, so as not to disenfranchise anyone who may not have a smartphone. So at least for the time being, for Americans the lack of a digital health certificate should not be a concern. 

The Covid-19 situation has improved dramatically in France. The daily case rate is down to about 40 per 100,000 people, compared to 500 in October/November. That’s the lowest since August. By way of comparison, it’s still higher than in the U.S., where the incidence per 100,000 is only 4. But the positive test rate in France is down to 2%, and the vaccination program is going well. 

Counting those with one dose, the French reached the milestone of 30 million people last Saturday. So the French are now at 58% of the adult population with one dose, not far from the comparable count in the U.S., which is 65%.

Indicators are so good that Prime Minister Jean Castex announced this week that the outdoor mask rule and 11pm curfew will be lifted ahead of schedule. Instead of waiting until June 30, the last day for face masks outdoors was Wednesday, and the curfew, in place since mid-December, will be lifted on Sunday. 

There may be some political energy behind the decision. The French go to the polls on Sunday for regional elections. The results will be taken as a bellwether for how President Emmanuel Macron will fare in his bid for re-election next spring. 

Finally, I take to heart Frank Bruni’s thoughts this week in his newsletter for the New York Times. While those of us who have not lost a loved one to Covid can celebrate a reopening, millions around us mourn. The U.S. has passed 600,000 deaths from Covid, and France 110,000. We owe these families our heartfelt thoughts, and a continued respect for the power of this virus. 
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[I took this photo on my iPhone 10s using the photo app Filmborn. Lens setting 52; film setting Kodak P800. I felt that the result is truer to the rose than the Apple app. It’s raw except for a minimum sharpening in Photoshop.]