Notes from the Pandemic – The New Shopping

The original shock of the wrenching changes to our lives caused by the pandemic has worn off a bit and it appears we’re settling into The New Reality. We humans like routine and predictability and many of us seem to have quickly adapted to the new behaviors now required of us.

For example, I used to hate having stuff in my pants pockets, but now before I leave the house I load up. I carry a small money/card clip, a 3 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer, a small folded piece of paper (useful for grasping store door and cooler handles), my cell phone, my keys, plastic gloves, a comb, coins (if I think a rare cash purchase may occur), and an unsharpened pencil (useful for safely poking self-checkout machine screens).

I put on a face mask, of course, a hat and sunglasses, and I often take a small bottle of water with me, for use in the car, and my own sturdy reusable shopping bag. I also put on my watch and my civilian dog tags (ID and emergency contact info). Whew – it’s amazing that I get out the door!

This is just the standard inventory I load up with each time I go somewhere public, and I’ve become quite used to it. Similarly, coming home, has its own hand-and-reusable-mask-washing drill, and unloading routine. It’s a time-consuming pain in the butt, but I’m used to it now. You probably have a similar procedure and inventory.

Perhaps this is overkill?

In combination with that, there are the new complications in the shopping process itself. Masking up, disinfecting your shopping cart handle (if you use one), using the store’s hand sanitizer (if offered), maintaining survival distancing from other shoppers, minding the One-Way stickers on the aisle floors, avoiding unnecessary touching of anything, doing the as-little-contact-as-possible check-out dance, getting out of there, and using the hand sanitizer again. Sound familiar?

The cumulative effect of this for me is that I’ve become more efficient: I combine shopping stops and often decide I can’t be bothered to make small, incidental, or impulse shopping stops. It’s now too much trouble to “pop into” some place I’m passing on the odd chance that they’ll have something I think I need. This turns out to be good for the bank account.

Plastic is King now with credit and debit cards and digital pay being used predominantly for payments. I can’t remember the last time I went to an ATM. Who wants to touch money that’s been touched by other folks? This bias has even impacted the coin supply: banks are restricting the amount of coinage retailers can get because the amount of it in circulation has dropped severely, causing a shortage.

A very rare sighting!

Speaking of shortages, they are, of course, still with us. Thankfully, toilet paper is in good supply, as are gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer. But now I can always spot where the Lysol and Clorox sanitizing wipes are supposed to be: they’re the perpetually-empty shelves with the “Please just buy one” signs attached.

Note that the CDC recommends wipes with 70%+ alcohol content and that many products touted as disinfectants have not actually been tested and shown to kill the current coronavirus. For your reference, the CDC provides this list of EPA-approved cleaners and disinfectants that will. Note that the many products that use Benzalkonium Chloride as their active ingredient will kill bacteria but not this virus.

And so it goes, in 2020, the Year of the Pandemic. We adapt, we negotiate with the fates, and we survive, if we’re smart. Stay smart, people.

Voting From Abroad

If you’re going to be outside the U.S. in early November and haven’t already made arrangements to vote, I’d like to recommend

This non-profit, non-partisan group has a great web site, from which you can request a special Federal Post Card absentee ballot.

Their easy-to-use site helps you fill-in an FPCA request form and email it to your local voter registrar – it’s very easy and clear.

Once accepted by your registrar, your ballot will be emailed to you in late September. Depending on your state, you may be able to request the ballot be delivered by fax or by online download. You print it, mark the ballot and sign it, and then mail it back to the U.S. Couldn’t be easier.

Note that once you’ve voted using an absentee ballot, you may have to take special measures to be able to vote again in person if/when you return to the U.S. For example, you may have to visit your voter registrar’s office in person and request that your status be changed back to that of a local voter. If you have to do this, be sure to get some documentation attesting to the change from the registrar’s office – you can show it at your local polling place when you vote next, just in case the “system” doesn’t get the message.

Can overseas voters make a difference? You bet they can! According to the Department of Defense, there are over 3 million voting-age Americans overseas.

United States: International Travel Pariah

Yesterday, the European Union announced it was ready to receive international travelers from 15 countries. The United States, which in the past has provided more than a billion euros in annual E.U. tourism revenue, was not on the list.

Not accepted in many countries for now

Due to the high COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. and our general national pandemic leadership vacuum, we’ve become a pariah country. Yes, amazingly, U.S. citizens are no longer welcome in other countries. In this regard, we’ve been lumped in with India, Brazil, and Russia. This is sad news and disappointing for those of us whose lifestyles involves frequent travel.

What was not clear in the E.U. announcement were the details, wherein the “devil always lies”. Specifically, are U.S. passport holders in general restricted from entry into the E.U. or is it just travelers coming from the U.S.?

This is relevant, for example, for U.S. citizens who may actually be living in foreign countries and who have not been to the U.S. in several years. Surely, they’re not going to be banned from the E.U.?

Reciprocity is another factor in decisions about border restrictions. It’s often an issue with big E.U. countries such as France and Germany, and the fact is that the U.S. still bans entry for non-U.S. citizens from E.U. countries.

And, there’s another complication: some E.U. countries are making independent decisions; Greece and Portugal are said to be opening their borders to U.S travelers anyway but the process is not entirely clear yet.

Finally, we have the testing and quarantine requirements that some countries are talking about putting in place for all international (i.e non-E.U.) arrivals. I would not find a two-week quarantine (out of a planned six-week stay) too odious but that’s clearly a deal-killer for typical tourists planning a one- or two-week vacation.

Uncertainty about the safety and availability of air travel will deter many travelers for now. And, in a blow to the short-term rental market, some cities have used the global travel pause of the last few months to consider how to combat “over tourism”. Amsterdam, for example, just announced restrictions on Airbnb rentals within three downtown districts, limiting them to a total of 30 days of rentals per year.

What’s to be done? The U.E. and U.K. and many individual countries have pledged to review their policies every two weeks and to make adjustments as warranted. That’s good news but isn’t helpful for those of us in the U.S. right now. It may be that we have to leave here and travel to some “intermediate country” that will have us for a month, in order to establish our health and our isolation from the terrible infections in the U.S., before we can return to Europe.

A Visit to Disturbingly Delicious Foods

I returned to the U.S. from Paris in late May and completed my required 14-day quarantine, without travail. I’m now installed in an Airbnb apartment in Arlington, Virginia and looking ahead to spending an unexpected summer here. In a few weeks, I’ll move begin house-sitting nearby for a friend and that will last until September or October. It’s not what I imagined I’d be doing now a year ago, but we all have to make the best of the Current Situation.

This week I visited my old friend Dave Forbes at his Disturbingly Delicious Foods store in nearby Falls Church. Dave is an IT consultant who decided to get into the condiments business, hence his unofficial local title as “The Sauce King”.

Face it! Here in the U.S. we’re hooked on condiments (we’re talking about ketchup, mayo, barbecue sauce, etc.) and most of those sold in the U.S. are loaded with salt, sugar or corn syrup, and fat, i.e. they’re not very good for you.

Dave set out to create “delicious, healthy, artisanal, plant-based sauces, spreads, and dips” as an alternative. Visit his fun web site to see his philosophy and information about the foods he creates. I made a small contribution by suggesting the name MAYONOT for his alternative to mayonnaise.

Imagine, if you will, a condiment that tastes a lot like ketchup but is made from kale, rather than tomatoes. That would be Dave’s KALECHUP sauce.

When I dropped in on him, Dave was busy bottling a batch of his tasty new HUNKY DORY sauce. This is a tangy red sauce that goes well with a broad range of foods and has no added sugar or fats and very little salt in it.

I particularly like this quote from his web site:

Thus we offer to you, dear consumer of ketchups, BBQ, steak, and hot sauces, relishes, mustards, mayonnaises, aiolis, and quesos, an entire family of super delicious, post-modern, New American condiments, sauces, toppings, and dips that manifest the spirit of the original (some more so than others — whilst we consider ourselves non-traditional traditionalists we also dabble in being traditional non-traditionalists) while embracing being as good for you as possible.

Dave does have a good sense of humor. It’s been fun to watch him, over the last few years, become quite a food scientist and he’s been certified by the county, the state, and the FDA. He also holds several patents for his recipes.

So, just how healthy are Dave’s sauces? Check out the Nutrition Label for MAYONOT:

That last time I saw that many zeroes was on a bottle of spring water. Now go look at the label on that mayonnaise you have in your refrigerator. Quite a difference, no?

Dave’s business is a deliberately a small operation and he’s very hands-on in the production process. It was entertaining watching him deftly bottle his new product.

The store is jammed with interesting products and he has some co-marketing arrangements with other local artisanal food producers, such as Stachowski’s Meats and Sausages.

The store is filled with an incredible array of sauces, spreads, and dips, and it’s a lot of fun to peruse the stock. These products check all the good food boxes: extremely healthy, tasty and versatile, locally-made, and fairly-priced.

If you’re in the area, you can visit Dave at 455 S. Maple Avenue in Falls Church, behind the pocket Target store. Tell him I sent you!

P.S. Yes, I’m enthusiastic about this and I was given a free bottle of HUNKY DORY, but I got it because I helped Dave unbox/box the empty/filled bottles.

My Recent International Flight Experience

The current state of international flying became personal for me last week, as I flew back to the U.S. from Paris. My 90-day Schengen visa was about to expire and an extension was not an option. After 10-weeks sheltering with a dear friend in Paris, after watching the scary and dangerous U.S. airport Arrivals Hall chaos in March and April, after nearby non-Schengen countries failed to re-open their borders, after dealing with airline refund and rescheduling shenanigans, and with a heavy heart, I was finally headed “home”.

My lockdown location in the 15th Arrondissment in Paris is in a wonderful little neighborhood, with plenty of food and wine stores and interesting places to go on short walks. Paris, one of the European epicenters for the Coronavirus, implemented a very strict lockdown policy and has come through the current phase of the pandemic in relatively good shape. Leaving it for the “Wild West” scene in the U.S. was risky and may yet have repercussions for me, but I couldn’t legally stay in France.

With many countries and airlines debating how and when to emerge from their own restrictions and cut-backs, here’s what I experienced flying back to the U.S.:

I prepared for my flight by wearing a mask called the Nano Mask, developed in 2005 for the SARS/Bird Flu outbreak. It’s no longer made but my Parisian hostess gave me her unused spare. The mask uses electrically-charged nano materials to filter and destroy bacteria and virus particles and is 99% effective for 48 hours (in comparison, the N-95 mask used in many hospitals is only 95% effective). It protects against inhaling airborne virus particles, whereas regular surgical or cloth masks only trap particles exhaled by the mask wearer.

I was not excited at the prospect of wearing a mask for 18+ hours, but I felt safe with the Nano Mask. I also wore eye protection: over-sized plastic safety glasses that fit over my regular glasses, and I came armed with disposable gloves, and sanitizing wipes and gel. Too much? Maybe, but I was taking no chances and, at 68 years old, make no apology for my precautions.

My comfortable Mercedes C-Class Uber ride to the airport had a flimsy, poorly-attached plastic shield along the back of the front seats, the windows were up, and the driver wore no mask or other protective gear (all contrary to Uber’s published coronavirus policies). The driver left it to me to load and unload my bags in the trunk.

Paris Orly airport is temporarily closed and all flights have been consolidated into Charles de Gaulle airport, Terminal 2, and the eerie emptiness started at the drop-off point. There were just a few cars discharging passengers, no curb-side staff, many terminal doors were blocked off, and trash blew along the sidewalk. I would not have been surprised to see a tumbleweed go by.

Air France desks

Inside, the staff and security officers outnumbered the passengers. My Delta flight check-in was handled from the Terminal 2E desks of Air France. This was the scene at the counter, which opened just two hours before boarding. There were only 10 people in line with me and no one at all after me, at least while I was there.

Crowd control without the crowd

The border and security areas included big halls of empty snaking stanchions and belts, and I went straight through them to be processed. Carry-on screening was slightly modified: belts and shoes stayed on and cell phones went into carry-on bags for scanning.

Once past security and into the “airside” of the airport there were no duty-free stores, souvenir shops, or restaurants open. Off to my right, a cordon of police officers, EMTs, and officials showed up and herded a group of 30 people through the security area, while ordering the the rest of us to remain where we were. They may have been deportees or possibly a national group being repatriated. They were not restrained in any way, except for the law enforcement cordon.

CDG Terminal 2E “K” Gates

No airline lounges were open but I didn’t have that long to wait for our 12:50 boarding. My navigation through the airport was direct and without any mystery. I counted 40 people waiting with me at gate K51. Our Airbus A330-300 seats 290 and I was told later the final passenger count was 62.

Airbus A330-300

When boarding started, we used a new “contactless” process where we scanned our own boarding passes. Everyone had a mask on and maintained good distancing down the jet way, right into the plane. Delta One seats have shoulder-high walls between them and the seats adjacent to me were occupied. So not a lot of social distancing and I was very happy to have my Nano Mask and safety glasses. Delta’s new Covid-19 Cleaning process notwithstanding, as is my usual practice, I wiped down everything I might touch with sanitizing wipes, turned on the air nozzle above, buckled up, and settled in.

As we boarded we were given a Health Declaration Form, to be filled out before we landed. It inquired about where we’d been overseas, if we had any symptoms, and where we would be staying in the U.S.

Before we took off, the cabin crew made an announcement concerning seating changes. I guess there were so many empty seats, a few folks had already relocated themselves. However, when you have so few passengers, their onboard weight distribution is significant and so we were advised to talk to the cabin crew before changing seats.

Speaking of which, apparently when a big plane has few passengers and therefore weighs less, a really steep take-off angle is required. We certainly climbed out of CDG at quite an angle, which was kind of exciting.

The Delta cabin crew was welcoming and the flight itself was uneventful. The nine cabin attendants were from Minneapolis and all wore masks and gloves. The other passengers wore simple surgical or cloth masks and no one else wore eye protection. No, no one was in one of those white Tyvek hazard suits we’ve seen online.

Entrée choices included Chicken Breast, Sirloin Steak, and Mushroom Tortellini

Main Cabin (Economy) passengers got very little served to them beyond a snack bag and water and had been advised to BYO food; in Delta One class we were served a full hot meal from a slightly reduced menu, along with wine, beer, and booze. China plates and metal utensils were provided with my meal, but my red wine was served in a plastic baseball-park cup. We also received a light snack plate and beverages near the end of the flight.

When we landed in Atlanta, we were kept in our seats even after we were parked and the engines were shut down. We remained seated as a masked CDC team boarded and interviewed us, reviewing our Health Declaration Forms and taking our temperatures. No one was coughing or gasping for air, so we weren’t treated to the sight of anyone being escorted away and we were allowed to deplane in due course.

The huge Atlanta airport was scary empty. My fellow passengers and I walked down empty corridors and rode empty escalators. At customs, the path was again clear straight through acres of stanchions and belts (I used a Global Entry kiosk and skipped around all that).

When we entered the Baggage Reclaim hall, I asked a staffer which carousel our bags would coming up on and he laughed and said “the only one running”, out of 12 carousels. Bags in hand, I exited and went to the Delta connection bag drop area (many more empty stanchions) and startled the sole agent there.

After depositing my bags, I had to go through security again and I was all alone, not another passenger in sight. The TSA folks were practically snoozing and I had to wait while they fired up the scanner for my carry-on. They said they’d seen just three passengers in the last several hours!

Plenty of room on the Plane Train

I proceeded downstairs to the famous Plane Train shuttle to go to my domestic flight terminal. This is a system of slick, four-car trains and there was no one else on the platform. When the train arrived, I had it completely to myself; no one else in any of the cars.

Not a soul in sight

I alighted at the deserted Terminal D platform and by now I was half expecting Rod Serling (of “Twilight Zone” fame) to emerge from a side door. He did not, and I went upstairs to the D gates and, happily, saw some other passengers. I actually found an open Delta Sky Club nearby, where I cooled my heels and enjoyed their very limited offerings for 45 minutes.

Plenty of room on the Departures board now

Back out in the terminal, a “crowd” of 20 people was on hand at the Gate D14 where I boarded my flight to D.C. and had a First Class row to myself. My mask was starting to rub a bruised notch in the top of my nose and my safety glasses were irritating my ears, but I knew I was almost home. I was glad to have my eye protection and noted that no other passengers I saw anywhere, and only one or two airport workers, wore goggles or a face shield. Everyone onboard, of course, had to wear a mask.

Welcome to National Airport

After our reception in Atlanta, getting out of our seats once we parked at the gate in D.C. and gathering our stuff right away to deplane was a welcome return to normality. Reagan National was, of course, deserted at 9:30 PM and I had no trouble getting my bags, going up to the the third level, and going outside to find my Uber ride. My driver wore a mask this time. Door-to-door travel time: 18-1/2 hours.

In summary, the masks alone made these flights unusual and all the other safety measures were ever-present in mind. However, it was not a bad experience generally and I arrived on time, along with my bags, at my desired destination, which is not always the case. The absence of hordes of other travelers, while spooky at times, was also kind of nice. It remains to be seen if I caught anything from my fellow passengers, but I never felt crowded or endangered. The shake-up of the airline industry continues, but I’ll be ready to fly again when international tourism begins to recover. Evaluate your own risk tolerance and join me, if you’re comfortable doing so.

This story is not complete without mentioning that I’m now in a federally-required self-quarantine for 14 days. Using a CDC-provided log, I’m taking my temperature twice a day and noting any symptoms. So far, so good.

Paris Idyl Draws To A Close

“They say all good things must end”, according to an old proverb and, as interesting as Lockdown Hell in Paris has been, later this week I must take my leave. As mentioned in my previous post, my Schengen visa will expire soon and, as no other countries have “lowered their shields” to welcome international tourists yet, I’m obliged to go back to the U.S. until things loosen up again.

My flight on Delta Airlines, with a connection in Atlanta, looks to be a day-long challenge. I don’t usually enjoy juggling luggage, carry-on bag, and travel docs at the airport, and adding a face mask, face shield, gloves, re-breather unit, hazmat suit, magnetic boots, blast helmet, garlic clove necklace, hydroxychloroquine injector, glow-in-the-dark Juju skull, and other items I’m assured are required for today’s airline passengers to be safe will just complicate matters.

Last week, Marti and I did manage to have a fun picnic beside the Eiffel Tower. We had some nice baguette sandwiches, chips, and a split of a tasty Bordeaux. We really enjoyed the relatively crowd-free grounds, sunny day, and warm temperature. Sadly, the Tower grounds are now completely surrounded by glass walls and tall fences, so the days of simply strolling beneath it are gone. You now have to pass through gates (presumably with a ticket) in order to get in. I guess that’s a reaction to the huge crowds that used to visit the Tower and will probably do so again in the future.

Temporary scaffold for workmen

As in many public places, maintenance work on the Tower is also going ahead at a furious pace while tourists are absent.

I’ve been staying in a really interesting six-story building in the 15th Arrondissment (district). Paris apartment buildings are a wild collection of architectural styles, and our building has a lot of fairly unusual wooden railings, pillars, and soffits. Must be a maintenance nightmare to paint it all but it’s really distinctive and gives the building a softer, almost chalet-like appearance. Our balcony is wide enough to hold a small table and two chairs, and we’ve enjoyed cocktails and sometimes an al fresco meal there.

The all-weather BMW scooter – très chic!

I’m thinking about what it will be like to return to the U.S. and where will I be able to find a good baguette? Dare I trust Instacart to find good bread? My post-arrival, two-week, self-quarantine will seem like a step backward after the loosening of restrictions here but I’ll get through it.

I’d be remiss not to thank my great friend Marti, in whose home I’ve sheltered for the last 10 weeks. She is a real lady, a jewel, and it was wonderful to be with her as, together, we rode out the horror and uncertainty of this pandemic. Bonsai, my dear.

Let the packing begin, then. I’ll report the details of my trip in posts here, so that you can read a firsthand account of the state of air travel today. Fasten your seat belts!

Paris Slowly Returns to Normal

Life here has returned to something more like normal. We’re enjoying the ability to move about freely without documentation and we walked over to the Eiffel Tower yesterday. It’s closed, of course, and so is the giant grassy sward (the Champs de Mars park) in front of it. In fact, since the gardeners have been on leave all this time, the grass is now waist-high and they’re probably going to need to bring in farm equipment to cut it and dispose of it. Our walk was only a couple of miles but it felt good to get out of the neighborhood.

Vehicle traffic here has returned more vigorously than pedestrian traffic for now, and it’s nice to see so many non-food retail stores open again. About 50% of people on the street wear masks, which are only compulsory on public transport. Businesses are allowing workers who must do so to come into the office.

We went to a kitchenware store yesterday and bought a new bread knife; the retail experience was familiar: masks required, one customer at a time (it was a small store), and mandatory use of hand sanitizer provided by the store before entry. At the same time, the still-shuttered status of cafes and restaurants seems to stand out more than ever now. We’re planning a picnic at the Eiffel Tower but temps have plummeted here (that polar vortex in the US last week has crossed the Atlantic, I guess) and we’re thinking we’ll do it next week when it warms up again.

As to the picnic menu, we’ll probably pick up takeaway baguette-based sandwiches at the butcher, some fruit, and a bottle of wine. The famous Rue Cler Market Street is in the vicinity and partially open, so there are a lot of choices.

Prices here have dropped for many things. For example, my favorite Veuve Cliquot non-vintage champagne was €55 a bottle in March, and I saw it yesterday for €38. Luckily food prices have remained unchanged (not going up as I hear they are in the US).

After running a gauntlet of airline ticket shenanigans, I’ve booked a flight back to the US at the end of May. My Schengen visa will expire then and no other country is ready to welcome me (or other foreign tourists) at this time. Sadly, the US looks like a more dangerous place to be right now, virus-wise, but c’est comme ḉa – it is what it is.

For example, the UK’s lockdown relaxation plan is a mess and so I’ll wait until September-October (and, hopefully, the pubs re-opening) to think about going there.

For now, Paris continues to look like Southern California, with clear skies and plentiful sunshine, and we count our blessings. We’ve been so lucky, here in “Lockdown Hell”, and we appreciate it.

The Airline Refund Game

We’ve all heard about how badly airlines are being hit by the Current Situation and how some of them are requesting and getting government bailouts. Part of me sympathizes with all of the airline and airport workers affected, and part of me doesn’t want to use public funds to bail out companies whose recent past behavior has been rapacious and mercenary, to say the least, and who often treat their customers poorly (I refer you to dwindling seat sizes, sardine tin densities, and grotesque baggage fees).

Many countries have now banned in-bound flights and any travel not deemed essential. Argentina just announced a total ban on all flights until September 1st, which has shocked airlines that usually fly there. Are more of those restrictions coming and what does it mean for those of us riding out the storm in a foreign land?

Due to my nomadic lifestyle, I made a number of flight reservations for this spring and summer that have been affected by travel disruptions. I’ve also made attempts to reserve flights back to the U.S. at the end of May, in case my Schengen visa is not extended then by the French authorities. I’ve gained some insight into how airlines are reacting to the crisis and how some are using their customers as a source of “free loans”.

Many airlines are now switching from offering refunds when they cancel flights to offering passengers vouchers for future flights. In Europe, refunds for flights “cancelled for any reason” are legally required, but airlines are counting on passengers not knowing that. They’ve changed the Refund buttons on their web sites to links to Voucher Request pages. Good luck finding out how to get a refund from the information on these web sites. I’ve been mostly successful in contacting airlines reps via Facebook Messenger and holding firm in politely requesting a full refund. Mentioning European Commission Article 5, which mandates refunds, seems to help.

But it irks me that the airlines are essentially being deceptive about it, using passenger money to fund their current operations against a promise of future delivery of service (not necessarily guaranteed either, if an airline goes bust, as some may).

What airlines am I talking about, exactly? British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, and Aer Lingus, to name just those I’ve had personal experience with. It particularly steams me that some of them continue to sell tickets for flights they probably have no intention of providing – I bought a United ticket and then the very next day returned to its web site and discovered that the flight was now cancelled (they did not contact me). Really? That sounds a lot like “farming” passengers for revenue, knowing they won’t issue refunds to many of their “punters”, and close to fraud.

Sure, I understand these are strange times and the restrictions are constantly changing. But, in reality, it’s not that fluid and the restrictions are being changed or extended by governments on announced schedules, so don’t try to fob me off with those excuses.

The bottom line (pardon the pun) is that most airlines these days are large, capable, highly-profitable companies (2018 post-tax industry profits: US $15b, EU $8b), many of whom in the U.S. enjoy near geographic monopolies. Yet, they don’t seem to see the value in treating their customers well during these difficult times.

I’m not the only one to sound the alarm about this. Read this article in Forbes magazine for more insights:

Beware The Airlines Selling Tickets For Flights That Will Never Take Off

Well, listen up airline CEOs: the travel industry landscape has radically changed now and won’t recover quickly, and we passengers, with little else to focus on, will remember when making our future plans how your airline treated us during these difficult times.

What Happened, America?

I recently sent an email to my doctor, who’s slightly older than me but who I fervently wish will never retire, and to my dentist, whose advice not to allow any European dentists to touch my teeth I have followed religiously, and I wished them both well. I thought they’d probably enjoy receiving a communication these days that wasn’t about a health problem.

What with the parks, museums, and palaces closed, lockdown here in Paris is pretty much like lockdowns everywhere else really, except for its great bakeries, cheese shops, and wine shops. But in a country that has raised protesting to a fine art and a mass sport, the French are nonetheless puzzled by the recent anti-lockdown protests in the U.S.

As a result, they want to know why Americans are so selfish and care so little for their fellow countrymen, why they would rather believe unqualified conservative talk show hosts and politicians than expert scientists. They certainly want to know what this strange fashion love affair with ugly camouflage clothing is all about, and what’s up with all the fetishizing of guns?

They’d like to know what happened to American world leadership, to that “shining beacon of light” so many once looked to for hope.

These and other questions made me reflect on communal sacrifice and American history. Do the current living generations (including mine) remember what Americans endured during World War II? For example, during the war years, everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit to gas, tires, clothing, and fuel oil was rationed – you were issued a book of special coupons required to buy these items and you could only buy so much per week. Communities conducted scrap metal drives for the war effort. To help build the armaments necessary, women learned to be electricians, welders, and riveters in defense plants. That was doing the right thing for your country.

Anne Frank and her family spent two years in an attic, hiding from the Nazis, but now here we are, after just one month of comparatively benign lockdown restrictions, and some Americans are going ballistic because their freedoms have been encroached upon. When did we become so spoiled? Has our sense of duty to our community and country gone out the window, along with our attention spans?

As in the U.S., stores and businesses are shuttered here in Paris. Fifty-percent of French private sector employees have been laid off, compared to 20% in the U.S. But, unlike the U.S., the French national government early on quickly passed measures to provide payroll continuation plans and the socialized medicine service already existed.

I can see the French people bending lockdown restrictions but protests here have been limited to mini-riots in poor neighborhoods in reaction to heavy-handed police tactics. There are no large protests or parades defaming democratically-elected officials doing their jobs, no demands for the “right” to be infected and to infect others.

I’m not lobbying for more or longer restrictions; I’m also suffering from “cabin fever”, and I’m sympathetic to those who are unemployed, unsupported, and afraid. But the U.S. is quickly becoming the world’s poster child for delusional selfishness, and it’s not entirely due to its President. U.S. mass culture, business practices, and education systems, and its other leaders are all part of the problem. They celebrate and reward the worst behaviors, glamorize greed and selfishness, care not for the awful impact of their actions, and never, ever seem to learn from previous mistakes.

France coalesced into a single kingdom from a collection of kingdoms in 987, over a thousand years ago. It has survived kings, religious wars, plagues, the Renaissance, revolutions, and two world wars and yet remains a strong country today. Sadly, I’ve started to wonder whether the infant U.S. (244 years) will last as long.

On Paris Shutters

Paris is a city of many wonderful architectural styles and one of the typical exterior window treatments used here is folding shutters. Shutters come in many styles and we have Parisienne shutters on our apartment building. They hark back to Haussmann-era buildings from the mid-late 1800s (no, the Baron and I are not related).

Note how the shutters fit around the keystone block at the top of the window

Most of our apartment’s “windows” are floor-to-ceiling, multi-glass pane doors. These doors do not lend themselves to window screens, which are rare here. Interior window treatments, i.e curtains or Venetian blinds, are also rare. So external shutters are used to provide privacy.

Shutters as a window covering are an ancient idea, and I find myself kind of marveling at how well these “primitive”, simple mechanisms work even today.

On our building, the exterior shutters consist of two three-fold panels, hinged in such a way that they can fold flat onto each other. They’re just wide enough that, when opened and folded, they can tuck into the sides of the window casement.

When closed, the shutters use a simple but effective mechanism to lock the panels into the window casement at the top and bottom. Slots in the shutter panels allow air circulation while maintaining privacy when closed.

The downside of these shutters is that they’re steel and you can pinch your finger when you’re closing them if you’re not careful. They also look like they’re quite a maintenance chore when it comes to periodically cleaning and repainting them.

But they do work and they lend a distinct appearance to Paris buildings of a certain age. It’s all part of the charm.

Au revior!