Locked Down in Essoyes, Le Grand Est

March 16, 2020 at 2:45 pm 5 comments

The Road Ahead (Essoyes). Photo by Janet Hulstrand


Hmm. Well it seems that it is time for me to give an update on life in Essoyes again. I am overdue for a post in any case, and this being such an unusual moment in our (global) history, it seems like a pretty good time to do so.

But before I begin, I would like to say one more thing about the global nature of the current challenges we are facing.

The most striking thing to me, really, is that if any of us have ever doubted that we are in fact one human race living a somewhat precarious existence on this beautiful planet of ours; and that we all share fundamental desires, needs, and responsibilities as human beings so blessed; and that we are most certainly “in this together”–now is the time when it should be perfectly clear that we are in fact, all of those things.

So what is it like to be locked down in France because of the coronavirus?

Well, here are some of the things that have changed for me and my family.

  • My sister and her family have had to postpone their trip to visit me and my sons. They were supposed to be arriving in Paris on Sunday, and we had a wonderful set of activities planned, in Paris, Lille, and Essoyes. Alas, none of it is going to be happening right now. But we are grateful (mainly thanks to the honest, transparent, and proactive reaction of French President Macron to a quickly mounting public health emergency) that we had the information we needed, and we had it soon enough, to make a sound decision about them changing their plan.
  • My visa renewal appointment has been postponed, since the Prefecture de l’Aube has been closed until further notice. This is in keeping with the French government’s vigorous attempt to slow the spread of the disease, and “flatten the curve,” so that the (excellent) health care services in France can continue to function as well as can be in very challenging circumstances.
  • Since as of today all French schools have been closed (for the same reason, and also “until further notice”), both of my sons (one of whom is a graduate student in Paris, the other a teaching assistant in Lille) will be not going to school for a while. As a result, I am looking forward to having some unexpected time with them, as we “hunker down” and learn all the intricacies of taking safe preventive measures for avoiding infection; staying where we are; and maintaining social distance.

President Macron’s address to the French came about 24 hours after another president (I will not say his name, it is painful for me to do so) addressed my nation of birth (and citizenship). Unlike that other president’s speech, President Macon’s speech was honest, forthright, informative, and very clear. (In fact he began by saying “I want to be perfectly clear,” and going on to explain that France is in a very serious situation which is bound to get worse before it gets better.)

He was clear about this, but he was also clear that there are things each and every one of us can and must do in order to help better the situation (or at least not make it worse). And he was clear–very clear–that the priority of the French government was, in this order, to: 1) protect the most vulnerable; 2) find ways to slow the spread of the disease; 3) protect those who will suffer economic consequences of the epidemic (which will include paying salaried employees even if they cannot go to work, and also finding ways to provide support to independent workers who are suffering).

Most of all, he was clear about the fact that the priority for the French government is protecting both lives and livelihoods, no matter what that requires. And he was also clear that the French government will work with its European allies to address this challenge in an intelligent, cooperative, unified way.

Of course, this is promising a lot. And, while on the whole I think Macron is doing a pretty good job at a very difficult job, I am well aware that he is not perfect; and that we will have to see how this all turns out before praising him to the heavens. Still. By comparison…

President Macron did not say anything specifically about that other president’s unilateral decision of the day before, to halt all entry of Europeans into the U.S. for 30 days, without even notifying our European allies that he was going to do so. If he had, perhaps more level-headed Western leaders might have pointed out to him that refusing entry to European citizens, but not to U.S. citizens coming from Europe (who had of course been breathing the same air, touching the same surfaces, being coughed on by the same people, and generally being exposed to the same germs as Europeans had been) probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

They might also have kindly pointed out to him that a sudden influx of returning Americans might well create dangerous overcrowding in the highly restricted number of airports that travelers from Europe were permitted to pass through, and that this is of course one of the very worst things that could be done in terms of limiting spread of the disease in the United States. (This thought had apparently not occurred to the President of the United States, or to any of his “advisors.” Either that, or they just do not care…)

No, the President of the French Republic did not say anything about all that; but he did make one probably irresistible remark, that germs do not carry passports. Touché 😦 

Anyway. Never mind all that. What is the current situation in France? Well, here are a few of the things I have observed.

  • On my Facebook feed, on Sunday morning, there was a very touching video made by a restaurateur in Nice (from Le Bistrot du Port) in which he (politely) expressed dismay that restaurant owners had not had a little bit more time to prepare for the shutdown, in part because of the fact that as a result so much good food would be lost. He appealed in this video to his fellow restaurant owners to find ways to work with local charities to ensure that to the extent possible the food would be quickly and safely distributed to those in need, and not wasted. (This is typical of the French: they do not like waste. We should all learn from them in this regard…) Bless him, really.
  • From a distance (and through the media) it would appear that Parisians either did not totally understand, or they did not fully believe, that social distancing in regard to this particular disease does indeed mean more than just not going to schools, offices, riding the Metro, etc. There were many pictures of Parisians out enjoying a beautiful, sunny Sunday and not maintaining the recommended minimum of one meter distance at all.  (This is of course understandable, since sunny Sundays, and indeed sunny weather anytime, can be a somewhat rare commodity in Paris). Still, the result is probably going to be governmental imposition of stricter rules, perhaps a much stricter order for everyone to stay home (and inside). 
  • Among the French friends I have seen since all this began, we have definitely (as advised by the President) refrained from the affectionate French form of greeting (la bise). It is sad, and it is very hard and unnatural for the French to do this. But, because this particular virus is so easily transmitted, and is transmitted in fact through the air, it does make sense.

On Saturday evening, two nights after President Macron’s address to the nation, another radical step forward in the policy of “containment” was announced, when Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe announced that many French businesses, including all restaurants and cafés, would be closed until further notice. This is an extraordinarily radical step, and perhaps some will feel it is too radical. I don’t pretend to know; but looking at Italy and what has happened there, it seems to me that “better safe than sorry” is a pretty good way to go for now…

In closing, may I just say? There is a passage of poetry that was written by John Donne in the 17th century that I have often shared with my students, whether they have been studying with me in Cuba, Hawaii, or Paris. The words are as true today as they were when they were first written, and every bit as important.

Is it too much to hope that we could maybe, just maybe, begin to live by them finally? Before it’s too late?

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee…” 

So far the French government is providing a good example of leadership in such a crisis by emphasizing the importance of thinking collectively rather than just “every man for himself”–and urging its citizens to do so as well, and to act accordingly.

Knowing what I know about the French I fully expect that on the whole they will meet this challenge admirably.

More to follow. Try to stay well, everyone, and try to follow the rules that will help others do so too…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

Primavera (Spring), coming soon to Le Grand Est. (Photo by Janet Hulstrand)


Entry filed under: About Essoyes, About France, About Quarantine 2020. Tags: , , .

Early Winter Highlights from Essoyes Lockdown Day 7: France Fights to Flatten the Curve

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cynthia Walsh  |  March 16, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Lynn I get this blog occasionally and this one is particularly good and interesting. All about France and how they are handling the virus crisis. Enjoy. 😊

    Sent from my iPad


    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  March 22, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      Hi Cynthia, I’m not too sure if your friend Lynn will see this comment, but hopefully she will. In any case, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoy my blog!

  • 3. Deborah T Smith  |  March 16, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    Thanks for the informative and heartfelt view on how France is handling the pandemic . Bonne sante’

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  March 21, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks, Deborah. Bonne santé to you too! ❤

  • […] I reported in my post last week, halfway measures were not working to keep people in their homes and at least a meter away from […]


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