Today’s Lockdown Grocery Shopping Experience

Today was a beautiful, 75-degree day here in Paris and we decided to walk a bit further than usual, to a different grocery store. Our choice was Franprix (yes, pronounced just like “Grand Prix” but with an “F”) and we found the steps taken there during the Current Situation to ensure everyone’s safety were great.

Like many stores here, during the crisis Franprix has reduced the hours that they’re open. They haven’t gone to having a special early morning shopping hour just for seniors, as some stores have.

Also, like most stores, there’s a doorman/woman who keeps a strict limit of 10 people in the store at a time. So we spent 15 minutes in line out on the sidewalk, practicing good social distancing and trying to keep our face coverings from falling down without touching our faces.

Someone inside has a sense of humor. I enjoyed the sign on the front window that said “Votre chat, chien, ou poisson rouge n’est pas autorisé dans ce magasin.” which means “Your cat, dog, or gold fish is not allowed in this store.”

When we were allowed into the store, we were immediately directed to a giant dispenser of hand sanitizer, which we happily used. Nice touch.

Forget getting a basket or cart with a gross, germ-laden handle. You fill the trolley or bag(s) you brought with you as you shop, empty them at the checkout, and then reload them after paying.

Franprix is a nice, large, modern chain grocery store with a great food selection, wide aisles, and good lighting. However, either there’s an embargo against it or someone has cornered the market on my favorite breakfast cereal, Weetabix, because there was none to be had. I’m not hoarding it, per se, but I do like to have a good stock at home, just in case.

You really feel like the store is all yours when there are so few people in it, which is very pleasant. Franpix was pretty well-stocked, even at 3:30 in the afternoon, despite the absent Weetabix.

Signs in the vegetable and fruit areas notified us that “If you touch it, you buy it”. So, there’ll be no groping the pears and then putting them back in the bin. Good policy, too bad if you can’t spot ripeness just by looking.

The now-familiar taped lines on the floor, 6-feet apart, were present for queuing at the checkout lines. After we paid, the cashier ran a sanitizing wipe over the card machine face and keypad. Very nice!

Eager faces in the line along the sidewalk greeted us when we left, knowing our departure meant two of those waiting could go in.

We had a successful shopping event and I suspect we may be returning to Franprix more often now. How does this compare with your grocery shopping experience these days?

Au revoir!

What’s Your Daily Lockdown Routine?

Have you fallen into a daily routine based on the Current Situation? Here’s a typical day for us here in Paris:

7:30am – Wake up, say “Let’s get the show on the road”, get going, eat breakfast, clean up kitchen.

8:30am – Watch Lester Holt and the NBC Nightly News broadcast from the previous evening online.

8:50am – Process shock and dismay at situation in the U.S. based on the NBC news.

9:00am – Peruse email and social media, read latest French and European lockdown news and directives, daydream about traveling again or just sitting at a sidewalk cafe.

10:30am – Shower, get dressed, review (and possibly ignore) daily To-Do list.

11:30am – Do chores and cleaning, respond to emails, write blogs posts, do personal accounting. Marti works on her freelance projects, while I read the Washington Post online.

12:30pm – Think about making lunch, select a wine.

1:00pm – Make lunch, eat it, and clean up the kitchen.

2:30pm – Prep to go outside: put on outdoor clothes and face covering, take passport, take shopping bags, print and sign required “explanation of presence outdoors” form, spray anti-viral air cleanser in the apartment.

2:45pm – Get out of the apartment for a walk, possibly around the perimeters of two nearby closed parks, maybe stop at the grocery/bakery/butcher/wine shop on the way home.

3:45pm – Return to apartment, liberally apply hand sanitizer, wash face coverings, wash hands, put groceries away, air out the apartment.

4:00pm – See what we missed on social media, read books, write emails, etc. FaceTime/Skype with friends/family in the U.S. who are 6-9 hours behind us.

5:30pm – Apero (cocktail) hour, sans friends.

6:30pm – Think about making dinner, select a wine.

7:30pm – Make dinner, eat it, and clean up kitchen.

8:30pm – Fire up PBS Anywhere, Netflix, etc. on the boob tube and watch something good.

10:00pm – Hit the sack.

Then, as my friend Robert would say, “Rinse, Wash, Repeat”.

Once a week we clean the apartment and twice a week do laundry. Every night we thank our stars for surviving another day in “Lockdown Hell” and appreciate just how good we have it, and say a prayer for those who don’t.

What’s your daily schedule like?

Au revoir!

France To Distribute Free Wine to Every Household

No, sadly, France is not really passing out free wine nor have I succumbed to Lockdown Lunacy. It’s APRIL FOOLS DAY! Happy AFD!

The French have a slightly different take on the day than the U.S. does. On April 1st, people here use paper fish to play an April Fools trick. This involves sticking a paper fish onto the back of as many adults as possible, and then running away yelling Poisson d’Avril (April Fish!). Sounds like something from Monty Python, doesn’t it?

This is a tradition that dates back to 1564, when the French King switched the country from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, moving the New Year from April 1st to January 1st. No, that’s not more AFD tomfoolery from me. But, if I was you, I’d check my back…

As long as we’re discussing strange phrases, today’s local expression of the day is Couilles dans le vin rouge. Its literal translation is “testicles in the red wine” but it really means that “things are going pretty well”. It’s not the only testicle-related French phrase available, of course, but most of them signify something bad.

Bourgeois Pig Wine

Although it sounds uncomfortable and is certainly a waste of fine red wine, it’s used to signify that everything’s good, the equivalent of “rolling in clover” or “being as happy as a hog in shit”. Like most good French phrases, this one can be traced back to Napoleon.*

Last Sunday, we had pancakes on the breakfast menu, but neither one of us wanted to actually mix the batter and cook pancakes. Instead, we took the easy, Monoprix way out with a few packages of ready-made, toaster pancakes. Unlike the ones you see in the U.S., these were fresh, not frozen, and they were very tasty.

Marti had a nice jug of real Massachusetts Maple Syrup on hand that she brought back from the U.S. and it was just the thing for our breakfast. Are “pancake breakfasts” still a fund-raising thing? I remember when fire houses, high schools, and churches used to have them all the time for that purpose. Apparently the Kiwanis Club is still holding them.

We didn’t eat that many

The U.S. Embassy in Paris notified me today that I can apply through the local police for an extension to my 90-day Schengen visa, and directed me to the police prefecture website, which has a page of information about doing so. It said to apply I have to provide various documents, including proof that the situation back in the U.S. is “too awful to return to”. I thought perhaps a photo of Donald Trump might suffice for that document.

I was already digging in when I remembered to take a photo

The Paris Lockdown Lunch for the last few days has included one of my favorites, steamed Artichokes with garlic mayo and butter, and a Spanish Tempranillo wine and, today, steamed veges with sausage, butter, and parmesan, brown bread, and a lovely Cotes du Bourg Bordeaux.

Stay safe, practice strong social distancing, and keep your body parts out of the wine,

Au revoir!

* Yes, Couilles dans le vin rouge is just another April Fools joke.

Day 14 Checkpoint

Looking out our window, one could almost think we’re near the Mediterranean – white-washed buildings, red tile rooftops, and bright sun – instead of in Paris in March.

Yes, Paris is going through a remarkable period of weather. If I didn’t know better and didn’t look at the temperature, I’d think I was waking up at the beach each day. We’ve had a run of absolutely luminous, clear skies without a hint of the famous “Paris Gray” usual at this time of year. Temps have been all over the place, and too chilly to be fooled about being in Southern France but the days when we’ve gone into the high 50s and low 60s have been a treat.

Here we are fourteen days into the French lockdown and I’ve detected a change in demeanor, mine and everyone else’s. We seem to have gotten through the novelty phase of this and now we’re now bracing for what comes next, including lockdown extensions. When the authorities said “15 days” at the outset, we knew they were just breaking it to us gently and that extensions would come, of course. And they did, we’re locked down until April 15th now. I’ve grown weary of the unending bad news, though, especially from the U.S. where really evil people at the top are making things unimaginably worse. Well, buckle up, friends, we must persevere.

I’m happy to report that all my technology tools are working well and doing a great job. Those would be my iPhone, my iPad, and my Microsoft Surface laptop. All of the online services that support my retired, nomadic lifestyle are also still delivering beautifully. I’m also staying well-entertained and am sure the homicide rate would skyrocket if not for Netflix, PBS, and similar streaming services.

I belong to a Facebook group for retired, nomadic folks like myself and have recently heard from quite few others who are stranded in Europe for the duration. Many, like me, are in their first year of the lifestyle, and we share a dark humor about our luck, current circumstances, and imperiled future plans.

FaceTime and Skype have been wonderful, allowing me to periodically talk to and see some far-flung family members and friends. Much better for the psyche than just emails and texts. If you haven’t done it, try it out.

I’ve fallen behind a bit on my Paris Lockdown Lunch reporting, but rest assured that we have continued to dine in style. Last Saturday we treated ourselves to take-away pizza, and yesterday we had the nice fluffy omelettes shown above (stuffed with Beef Stroganoff) with bread and a bottle of Brouilly. Today we had steamed artichokes with garlic mayo and butter (fantastic!), with a full-bodied Spanish Tempranillo red wine.

Au revoir!

Keeping in Touch with the World

Now that so many of us are in mandated isolation, I wonder how you’re keeping in touch with family and friends. Email and texts, of course, keep the basic contacts going, but there’s nothing quite like hearing and seeing someone to give me a lift.

I use FaceTime on my iPad for video meetings with friends and family back in the U.S. who also have Apple products, and I use Skype on my Windows 10 laptop for those in the Microsoft camp. Both work very well, although it’s slightly more complicated to get things going with Skype. The 5-8 hour time difference is a nuisance, however.

There are lots of tips available online for getting the best video meeting results. Among them, I especially like the one that suggests you ensure that your camera angle is level or only slightly upward – this keeps you from looking like a hippo and avoids giving your friends a tour of your nasal passages. Checking the background behind you is also recommended, so that your head isn’t framed within some distracting colors or images.

I’m temporarily marooned here in Paris, as you know, but the embassy keeps sending me notices that all Americans should get out of Dodge right now, or be prepared to stay indefinitely. I’m prepared to stay, especially given the chaos, misinformation, and bad leadership I see happening in the U.S., but I do worry about my visa limits. I hope those limits will be extended or suspended during these strange days.

Cashier in her bio-containment area

I mentioned earlier that some grocery stores here in Paris have taken to swathing their cashiers in plastic as a health precaution. In the image above, you can see an example wherein there’s a small opening at the end of the belt for you to put your items on the belt, and at the far end there’s another opening so you can retrieve and bag your goods. Kind of kills any attempt to make a friendly impression on the cashier or have a conversation. So it goes in the Age of Coronavirus.

Last night we treated ourselves to extraordinary apple tarts. The local boulangerie (bakery) has won prizes for its croissants, its pain au chocolat, and its “Three Kings” cake (they won so many times for the latter that they’re no longer allow to compete). For me, getting in on the whole French relationship with their local baker and their daily consumption of fantastic breads and pastries is something wonderful. The tarts were outstanding!

Yesterday we had a nice Paris Lockdown Lunch based on that old favorite, Beef Stroganoff, washed down with the rest of the Haussmann Bordeaux. Today, we took a decidedly down-market excursion with the distinctly American Tuna Melt, with Veggie Chips and a nice 2017 Beaujolais. The tuna salad included capers, shallots, and sliced cornichons, with a nice sharp cheddar melted over it. Very tasty indeed.

Au revoir!

The Mysteries of Crows and UHT Milk

We have a family of crows in our neighborhood that is, of course, oblivious to the whole virus thingy. They may be curious as to why we’re all hiding inside and disappointed that there’s not as much discarded food laying about. It’s hard to say, but they do occasionally let loose with a lot of loud, coordinated cawing which, given the fairly quiet streets, makes quite a racket and echoes around the buildings. I still haven’t seen any of them, nor their nest, on the rooftops.

One week into the lockdown, the French Post Office has announced a temporary reduction in delivery days, from six days to four this week, and down to just three days starting next week. The authorities have also fine-tuned the restrictions on leaving the house a bit, turning the screws tighter. Some people, it seems, have been cheating.

It’s a strange thing, waiting for some invisible virus tidal wave to crash over us. Do we measure progress in the broadcast numbers of hospitalized and dead and suppose, when those numbers start to fall, that the end of the lockdown is near? I’m not sure that’s true, but we humans seem to be wired for progress indicators, and for hope.

It’s shocking to see the disarray and national leadership vacuum in the U.S. The notion, voiced by the President, that restrictions there, barely in place and not everywhere, should be lifted because the economy is being battered is the height of folly. So many more people are going to die if restrictions are lifted. Take note, voters, take note.

Turning to more mundane matters, one of the interesting things I’ve experienced since my seclusion here is Ultra-High Temperature (UHT) Milk. This is so-called “shelf stable” milk that lasts without refrigeration for months before opening. The French seem to like it; in fact, around 93% of all milk sold in France is UHT Milk. As with regular milk, the UHT version comes in a choice of fat levels (Whole, Skim, 2%, etc.) and bottle sizes. I can’t recall ever having it before and, while it does taste a little different from fresh milk, I’m quite happy using it in my morning cereal or oatmeal, and in my tea and coffee. Have you had it?

The French ardor for UHT Milk is charmingly at odds with the French reputation for using only the very best, freshest food ingredients, and with the vast selection of cheeses, yogurts, puddings, and other milk products typically found in grocery stores here.

Today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch consisted of a nice omelette containing Greek roasted potatoes and topped with gravy from the stuffed eggplant we had last week and parsley, accompanied by fresh bread, olive oil, Greek olives, and baba ganoush. A bottle of Haussmann Bordeaux filled our wine glasses and went down easy.

Au revoir!

Word for the Day: Attestation

The French word Attestation means a “certificate” or “written declaration” but, in the Coronamania context, it’s the form that you must print, fill-in, sign, and carry with you whenever you leave the house here in France. It affirms that you’re on the street, within a few Kms of your domicile, for one of the five permitted activities. “Hanging with friends” and “Getting a coffee at the cafe”, sadly, are not among those activities, and you can be ticketed or even jailed if the cops stop you and you don’t have your Attestation with you.

It’s Monday in Paris and some food stores that were open on the weekend are not open today, making the street scene in the afternoon extra empty. Some folks in the grocery store got a little testy in the check-out line due to a social distancing failure and it was easy to mistake the double-gloved, gowned, and masked cashier for an ER nurse.

Bread, that daily French staple, gets cleaned out quickly in stores and we were lucky to find a batch of baguettes just coming out of the oven. As in many cities, the food-buying cycle here is short – large refrigerators and freezers are rare – and many foods have little or no preservatives and are intended for immediate consumption. Baguettes, for example, really are a daily purchase for many.

We had an American treat for breakfast yesterday: bacon and eggs. The chef in my apartment would not allow me to photograph the finished plates – she felt the fried eggs were not perfect enough for display (I can attest that they were perfect for eating, though). We went to the butcher Saturday to get the bacon and, as you can see above, French bacon is sliced rather thickly, more like American ham steaks. This results in the bacon tasting like ham, not like, well, bacon. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the meal completely.

As much as I’d like to say that the bottle of Bordeaux above is from my personal vineyard, it is not. As you may know, Baron von Haussmann was the French official that Napoleon put in charge of renovating Paris in the 1850s and so the wine celebrates him. No family connection to me, as far as I know, but I couldn’t resist the bottle.

Today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch consisted of tomatoes stuffed with beef, pork, and basil, on a bed of multi-colored rice, accompanied by a a nice Greek wine. It was quite filling and provided a variety of interesting tastes.

Au revoir!

The French Election Process

Here’s a little break from Coronamania: let’s talk about how the French conduct their elections. Just before the situation here got messy and the lockdown was put into place, Parisians were holding Round 1 of important municipal elections. Sunday was the first voting day in a system wherein you vote once, then come back next week and vote again for the top vote-getters from the first round. I joined my friend Marti in Paris as she went to vote and here’s what I saw.

Her local voting place was in the gorgeous ballroom of an elegant, former private residence now turned into a government building. Security included going through a metal detector and bag inspections and then we proceeded into the ballroom.

Note the “social distancing” lines for those in line

Step 1 – As a voter, you wait in line to show the registrars your national identification card and are given a small unsealed plain envelope.

Select the ballot/flyer for your chosen candidate

Step 2 – You then pass a table that has one-page ballot/flyers on it for each candidate (it’s actually the info about a main candidate, plus their slate of proposed appointees) and pick up the desired flyer (and maybe a few others to confuse any poll-watchers). These flyers were also mailed earlier to all voters so they could familiarize themselves with them at home.

Step 3 – You enter a private, curtained voting enclosure, fold up your ballot/flyer of choice, and seal it in the envelope. There’s a recycling bin for any other flyers you don’t use.

Step 4 – Exiting the enclosure, you approach a second table where you’re located in the voter rolls and you initial the roll, indicating you’ve voted. Then you drop your sealed envelope directly into the big plexiglass bin. Voila! You’ve voted.

Yes, the counting of votes is laborious, but the good things about this system include:

  • All elections are held on Sundays, so no issues about missing work to vote
  • You see your vote going physically into the bin – there’s no doubt about whether it was accepted
  • There are no opportunities for “hanging chads”, for filling-in the wrong oval, for confusing candidates on the ballot, etc.
  • The order of candidates on the ballot is meaningless here
  • A “physical backup” of the voting exists by definition

I’m not saying this is The Perfect System and would work for everyone, but it sure looked good to me.

The French are not as demonstrative about their national pride as, for example, the U.S. is and so there is no “I Voted” sticker available after you vote.

Paris Gray Saturday

During today’s shopping trip to the big Monoprix grocery store a few blocks away, we stood in a brief entry line where everyone self-arranged to practice social distancing automatically. After entering the store we saw this sign:

which says “We have sufficient stocks for everyone, Be reasonable about quantities, Let us be united”. That last part about being united is a typical and admirable French response to crises.

It’s Saturday morning in Paris, under skies described as “Paris Gray”, and rather more people are out doing their shopping today than have been out recently. Regulating how many shoppers can be in any store at once, keeping away from others, refraining from touching anything unnecessarily, etc. have all quickly become the new standards.

Stores have put tape Xs or lines on the floors approaching cash registers to encourage distancing while standing in line to pay and newly installed plexiglass sheets shield the cashiers from their customers. Many stores have gone to accepting credit/debit cards only, thus letting their staff members avoid touching any money.

The latest news from here includes reports that entire areas of the city, such as the Seine river walk, areas around the shuttered museums, and blocks with closed commercial buildings but no food stores, have been declared completely off limits. A small exodus earlier this week of Parisians going to their country homes was met with dismay, amidst worries that they may bring the virus to rural communities and/or overtax limited health care support there. Even with the restrictions in place, the number of Covid-19 cases in France is said to be doubling every four days.

Digesting the never-ending Coronamania news reports online can become a full-time occupation, if you let it, so we’re making sure we structure our days to prevent that from becoming overwhelming. We’re also thinking up ways to make weekend days distinct from week days. For example, this morning at breakfast we switched chairs at the dining table. Not a big deal, but a little different take on things that breaks the routine. Later, we may push back the furniture, put on some Merle Haggard, and Two-Step around the living room a bit.

Today’s Greek Paris Lockdown Lunch

Here’s today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch: local restaurants may be closed by official order for sit-down meals but some are still open for take-away. We went to Les Byzantins on the way back from Monoprix and brought home a Greek feast that started with assorted small puff pastries, olives, hummus, and babaganoush, then carried on to eggplant stuffed with ground beef and cheese, and roast potatoes. All accompanied by a nice Greek red wine. Absolutely delicious.

Au revoir, mes amis!

Inner Calm in Paris

Each morning we get up and have a moment of calm and reflection before going online to see what’s going on in the world. We watch the NBC Nightly News from the previous night online and, while it’s reassuring to see the faces of Lester Holt and his crew, it saddens me to see what’s going on across the ocean.

What are the restrictions put in place here in France? The big one is that we must stay at home. We can only go outside for these reasons:

  • To travel to and from work if your work is essential and cannot be done from home
  • To buy food and essentials
  • To attend medical appointments
  • For vital family reasons – attending to ailing parent or grandparent, for example.
  • For individual physical exercise, jogging or walking is allowed but must be done alone or in pairs, within 2Km of home. Cycling is banned.

Anyone stepping out of their homes will need to present a certificate on demand, available to download from the government’s website, stating their reason for being out.

People breaking these restrictions will face a fine of €135. Police issued 4,000 fines in the first full day of lockdown, and France’s Interior Minister says the fine could rise to €375 if people continue to flout the rules.

So far, we have not seen anyone being stopped, nor have we been stopped, on the street while going to the store or taking a little walk for exercise. We are, however, taking our properly-completed forms with us every time. If you think this sounds a little like WWII movies you’ve seen of Nazi-occupied Paris (“show me your papers”), it doesn’t feel like that at all here. Instead, there’s generally a spirit of cooperation and carrying the form is no big effort.

Today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch

There’s nothing like having an excellent lunch each day to lift the spirits. Today’s Paris Lockdown Lunch included tagliolini pasta and mushroom sauce with parsley and parmesan cheese, fresh bread with butter, and a lovely Malbec-Merlot red blend from Bordeaux. Santé!