No. 4 ~ Paris ~ April 9, 2020

The clamp-down continues, even for Easter

We try to find some little thing to distinguish one day from another, and watch them blend together just the same. So the days slip by, like the Seine along its banks. 

But we’re still healthy. This is, after all, how we mark our days. Satisfied to arrive at the end of an afternoon, and pour a glass of wine, and feel the same as we did the day before. In fact, in these times, isn’t that what we want from our days after all? To live the same life tomorrow we lived today. 

Confinement started on St. Patrick’s Day, but the weekend before one million Parisians smelled trouble and left town. They didn’t want to be confined with their kids in city-sized apartments. Much of the center of Paris is a well-to-do place. Many have second homes or vacation apartments, in Brittany, or Normandy, or Dordogne, or the Alps. Some are renting houses — inexpensively, because they have purposely chosen tiny towns away from the microbial crowd. They are still under confinement, but the kids can romp in the backyard. 

Meanwhile, those of us left in the city are under a government-imposed siege. The traditional exodus of Paris for the two-week Easter break would have started this past Friday, but heading off on vacation is not confinement. Thousands of police are stationed on the roads that leave Paris. Every car on its way out of town is stopped and its occupants questioned. Not all of the police are masked. Many drivers roll their windows down just enough to allow conversation. If you don’t have a convincing reason to leave town, you have to turn around. 

As beautiful weather continues, real confinement — just staying home — is harder and harder to take. The best weather has landed conspiratorially on Sundays, when Parisians come out of the woodwork and into the sunshine, drawing complaints from desperate caregivers. We are risking our lives, they say. Too many people are out in the streets. 

Last Sunday was no exception. The city’s two large wooded parks, the Bois de Boulogne in the east, and the Bois de Vincennes in the west, cannot be gated and locked. Both were reportedly swarming with joggers and families and fresh air lovers of all kinds. Once again, the government has reacted by clamping down tighter on confinement. Now, jogging is prohibited in Paris between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

The news is that the city’s hospitals are at capacity. We see pictures of patients on specially retrofitted high-speed trains, being shipped to empty beds at hospitals elsewhere in the country. 

It’s been a week of mixed messages. After three weeks of confinement, there are fewer new Covid patients. But curves showing death rates in France, and the mounting number of cases, don’t look like hockey sticks. They look like rocket trajectories. It seems our return to normalcy will be long and slow — a slipping, not a sliding. Perhaps a lid has to be kept on any good news, lest the cooped up start to give up and break the rules.

On Monday the government launched a web-based attestation for the smartphone. That’s the release form that makes it legal to go out for a walk. At first this sounded like an improvement. It eliminates the need to hand write the document (we don’t have a printer), and if you are questioned, there is no paper for the officer to touch. We saw a demo, both the officer and citizen with outstretched arms, trying to stay two meters apart. The officer was not wearing a mask. 

To use the digital dispensation, you have to visit the government’s web site using your phone, and then the officer scans your phone with his. Officials are assuring us that there is no capturing of personal data. 

Now hear the story of a friend of one of Isabelle’s sisters. The friend is spending her confined days in Normandy. While out for a walk, she received a phone call from her telephone carrier, telling her to turn around because she had ventured too far away from her house — presumably more than the one kilometer radius allowed. This news had our jaws dropping. The telephone carrier must have been working in conjunction with the government… n’est-ce pas?

I agree that confinement has to be enforced, but I find little satisfaction in how it’s being done. Best to stay away from the police altogether. We have a new walking itinerary that so far has kept us in the clear. 

Our walking route includes Avenue de Saxe, known for its twice-weekly open market. For a long block the street is divided, with a wide paved area in the middle for the temporary market stalls. The paved area is lined on both sides with sycamore trees, well on their way to turning green. Between the trees and the buildings facing the market place is a single one-way lane on either side. 

Before outdoor markets were outlawed because of the virus, on Thursdays and Saturdays you could buy freshly made tagine here, or rotisserie chicken with roasted potatoes, or choose from the usual wide variety of fish and meat and vegetables. Now the empty marketplace offers us a wide and airy place to walk, with maximum social distancing. There is little indication markets were ever held here, except for spray painted lines marked off like thin railroad ties. These are all that’s left of where people used to wait in line, in those old days just a few weeks ago, when the recommendation was one meter apart. 

This morning, a girl of about three used the painted lines to practice her distance jumping. Legs together, she flexed her knees, and leaped. From a nearby bench, her mother offered encouragement. 

The little girl leaped, and laughed, and was happy. It made my day.

Caption: Cherry blossoms in the 15th arrondissement. JK photo