Last Monday night, an unprecedented 35 million-plus people across France watched as President Macron took to the TV screens at two minutes past 8 p.m., allowing for the regular 8 p.m. clapping session to support health service workers.
Most of those 35 million people quickly felt like they had been kicked in the gut when they heard that we were going to stay in full, strict confinement until 11 May. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if it was a surprise, or that anybody seriously expected that we would be told to go back to our old ways. We all know that that would have been completely wrong.
The month before we had been eased into our already one-month-long confinement in two-week intervals, and I think it would have been psychologically kinder on the population to say “two weeks” and then extend it by a further two weeks. That said, this way Macron came across as if he had actually thought this through; had a plan and specific dates in mind and at least he saved himself a further speech in two weeks’ time.
Still, despite hearing of schools reopening in May, of the slow-but-certain opening of small businesses and even tentative travel allowances to come after this further lockdown, morale plummeted to an all-time low. One friend heard a heart-felt: “Ah, non!” through the adjoining wall from her hitherto always silent neighbour; another started crying and did not stop all evening.
Across the country, we went quiet and fell into our personal little holes of sadness, feeling sorry for ourselves. I had my first very dark mood of the entire lockdown phase, struggling with being alone and locked-up away from my family.
Tuesday came and went with the same routines we have all devised for ourselves, be it working, watching bad TV, learning new things or skipping rope in the courtyard. When 8 p.m. came, and I stepped onto my balcony to clap, my little street started to vibrate to the tune of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.
It seemed that Paris, at least, had decided that this was not a time to sulk and feel sorry for ourselves, but to survive, and to stay indoors to ensure that the rest of the population would survive too.
Since then, despite the weather being just glorious, people are behaving better than ever. With joggers and runners banned between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., the streets immediately emptied out, with only dog owners and odd shoppers out and about, and, of course the odd gaggle of teenagers and sunbathers, but noticeably less.
More and more people are wearing masks, practicing for the expected new-normal for when we will get released into relative freedom again: Macron promised that we will all be able to get hold of masks and will have to wear them at all times when going about our business outside. (Outside!)
In fact, Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of the SNCF, France’s national rail system, was quoted in saying that masks were going to be obligatory on train journeys up until the summer at least. I am quite sure that people listening to his speech just heard “train travel” and started making plans. I, for one, am quite happy to wear full body armor if they simply let me on a train. No matter its destination.
While it is a little too early to make concrete plans, especially for the elderly and fragile, a statement that was not backed up by any certain age limits, but is assumed to include anybody over 70 years of age, there are glimmers of hope. Schools are scheduled to reopen in May in whichever way or format yet to be advised, offering long-suffering parents equal amounts of delight and panic. Small businesses will be able to open bit by bit, allowing restricted numbers of clients indoors.
Restriction will become less harsh. But it will take time. Paris has been hit hard with COVID-19 cases, hospitals are overflowing, businesses and individuals are struggling beyond measure. But there is not doubt that after the initial sinking feeling from Monday, there is a light at the end of this very strange and confusing tunnel.
We will survive, or, to quote Paris herself: Fluctuat nec mergitur – “tossed by the waves, but not sunk.”
About the author:
Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance travel writer, guidebook author and serial expat. Having lived in seven countries on three continents and two hemispheres, she is currently based in Paris, France.
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