Paris Lockdown: Why am I Here?

We’re sure living in interesting times, no? It appears “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”, and to prove it, I’m now residing in France, an early coronavirus epicenter.

I was planning to spend the entire month of March in Lyon, France. Then the French restrictions came down and that plan went out the window. I was in Paris last weekend visiting my friend, Marti, just as the measures to reduce public gatherings were announced. That announcement last Saturday, shuttering cafes and other non-essential businesses, throughout France was astounding here, if prudent.

On the street that morning in Marti’s neighborhood, people were out and about, but there was definitely a somber mood in the air. There were lots of well-behaved shoppers queued up at the grocery stores and bakeries. Yes, the toilet paper aisle was cleaned out, but there was still plenty of wine to go around. Pharmacies had no hand-sanitizer or wipes, of course.

Outdoor cafe seating stacked indoors for the duration

Riding to the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Monday at midday revealed all the closed cafes, with their traditional sidewalk chairs and tables stacked inside, and no sign of life at Burger King or McDonald’s.

French President Macron delivers the bad news

No sooner had I gotten back to Lyon than additional restrictions were announced. People here were not taking the need to voluntarily isolate seriously (there were pictures online of large groups of people congregating in parks and along the river front) so the government clamped down harder.

All public gatherings were banned and gathering places, such as public parks, closed. Public transportation services have been reduced to the minimum. Grocery stores, bakeries, butchers, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices could remain open – everything else had to close. People were ordered to remain at home and self-isolate, teleworking was mandated, for 15 days. I love the fact that book stores are considered essential and remain open.

Your papers, please…

They say 100,000 police and security officers across France have been mobilized to stop and interrogate anyone found on the street or at roadblocks about why they’re not at home. There’s an official form you can download and print that describes the five acceptable reasons for being on the street (grocery shopping, going to doctor, etc.) and you must show this form if asked. Failure to do so can result in fines up to €150. In addition, France closed its borders to any non-citizens or non-residents trying to enter.

One customer comes out before one can go in, no more that 10 customers in shop at once

So, a lot of things were happening very quickly. The announcement of the further restrictions came Monday night and went into effect Tuesday morning. As you may know, airline companies have been hit very hard by all of this and are struggling. This resulted in my British Airways flight from Lyon to London Tuesday being cancelled, along with almost all other BA flights. The French rail system reduced the number of its trains. Naturally, in this Golden Age of information via the Internet, it’s often hard to get accurate information when you need it, especially in a crisis. I found it very hard to tell which transportation modes were still operating Tuesday and whether they would still be doing so the next day.

The U.K. was making noises about more restrictions so going on to Bristol by any means seemed like it might be a poor choice if the U.K. was locked down like France. I considered just flying from Paris back to the U.S. but there were almost no direct flights, and any connecting flights did so in suspect places, like Frankfurt. I say suspect because Germany had already closed its borders, so how was a flight going to connect in Frankfurt? In addition, the stories coming out about the chaos in U.S. airport Arrivals halls were awful. Did I really want to fly into a “virus incubator” and spend hours standing with hundreds of other people, all jammed together?

I thought not. So I got back in touch with Marti and she has kindly let me join her in Paris, for the duration. I have about three months on my tourist visa here but a lot of those concerns may go out the window as this thing goes on.

The Louvre is closed

I’ll be posting in the coming days about the ongoing situation here. I don’t need to repeat what the doomsayers have been suggesting regarding the future, but clearly travel-related industries are going to be severely affected and may not bounce back for years.

I will say I believe it will get very bad here and it will last a long time (I do not think this will blow over in a month or two). The U.K. and U.S. are going to experience the same issues as Europe and will pay a price for dragging their feet in preparation. If you’re in either country you should prepare now for some difficult times. Clearly, the current U.K. and U.S. administrations have dropped the ball and missed the opportunity to get out ahead of this. It’s shocking here, for example, to see coverage on TV last night of kids going about Spring Break in Florida as if nothing is happening in the world. Please, friends, do not underestimate this.

I don’t want to leave you on that depressing note, so I will say that it’s a lovely 68-degree, sunny, almost first day of Spring here and we’re having a nice lunch on the balcony. This is Paris, after all.

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2 Responses to Paris Lockdown: Why am I Here?

  1. Paul V Ames says:

    “Interesting times” indeed. Glad you’ve found a friendly face in Paree, tell Marti hi for me. Speaking of Corona hotspots, John Cooke & his wife Gail just decided to curtail what was to have been a months long stay in Rome then Sicily & jet home to Chicago, making all their connections only hours before the Italian Govt clamped down still further on travel.

    Meanwhile, Poppy & I are hiding out at an undisclosed location in the Leafy Suburbs of northeastern NJ. Since I have to get the former mill in shape for its next tenants &’back on the rental market anyway, when Coronamania hit I thought it would be a good place to escape the Zombie Apocalypse of NYC – only to learn lately that Bergen County is currently NJ’s hotspot. No escape, as your entry implies.

    So far the populace seems to be behaving reasonably well, except for some sporadic panic buying – what’s up with the toilet paper thing? – but inevitably there will be rough patches. Manhattan is as empty as I’ve ever seen it, but why exactly the Woodcliff Lake recycling center needs to shut down is quite inexplicable, as there is zero risk of transmission as far as I can tell.

    I want everybody to keep getting paid, but I’d like more attention going to healthcare workers, and their lack of supplies, not the guy who pushes the button on the trash compactor & seems to imagine that yellow vest = first responder.

    Let us ac-centuate the positive tho – only about 224 days more of President Cheeto Bonespur to endure, it the Dems can manage to furlough the circular firing squad long enough. If this latest fiasco doesn’t put paid to his abominable reign, PB and I may have to make other plans, Nova Scotia f’rinstance, just don’t tell anyone.

    Poppy adds much love, missing you, & do keep us posted. Stay safe old pal. Fore! – PVA

  2. Arthur Hanket says:

    Lee,
    I’m a late comer to all your Paris-in-the-plague postings, though I’ve had Albert Camus on my mind for months now! I’m glad you’re well and enjoying what appears to be, I hope, a Parisian romantic adventure of sorts….even in isolation. Stephanie, Eli (Grey) and I are finding a new sense of family, feeling blessed in our new location of just the last six months. Being further West and more in nature is wild since we’re still close to L.A. proper. Hope you can visit sometime.
    I got to speak with Paul, who posts here as well, and he sounded great. I worry about my buddies in NYC and the area, but so far even the one I know who contracted the virus seems to be coming out of it ok. No so for dear Terrence McNally and Marc Blum…..
    In any case, I will expect your life to be nothing but magical and I’ll hope that rubs off ethereally on us all. Love from here! Je te manque……
    Aourt H.

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