Lockdown Day 7: France Fights to Flatten the Curve

March 23, 2020 at 8:41 am 6 comments


As 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 each other in France, and so on Monday night President Macron addressed the French nation again. “We are in a war,” he said, several times. And he announced the imposition of much stricter rules concerning confinement.

I suppose that by saying we are at war, he was hoping to use language that, given their history, the French people would understand very well. Of course there is now (happily) a whole generation of French people who are completely out of the living memory of war, and so it is perhaps not surprising that some of them found this language overstated, and somewhat amusing.

But it is not. The world is indeed at war; and this time the enemy is not the army of another country: it is a virus, and it is a threat to everyone in the world.

And so, starting Tuesday at noon, all French citizens (and indeed anyone who is in France) were ordered to stay where they are, until further notice. Anyone moving outside of their home must carry an “Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire” explaining the purpose of their being outside. There are five main categories that allow people to (briefly) be outside of their homes,  Basically they are: to do “essential” work (which is designated as essential by the government); to go to the store to buy necessary items (like food, medications, etc.); to receive essential medical care; to care for family members who are in need of assistance, or take children to and from childcare arrangements (for those parents who must work); and to exercise, or to walk one’s dog, but only near one’s home, and only alone.

One of my sons, who has been working as a teaching assistant in Lille, called me on Sunday night (March 15) and said he’d like to come home. “When should I come?” he asked. “Right away,” I answered. And so he got his train ticket, and he made it here by Monday night, just in time to be able to spend the period of quarantine here with me. The trains were very full, he said.

My other son, who is studying journalism at Sciences Po in Paris, was fortunate to be able to shelter in place at the country home of one of his classmates, in Provence. He and his friends left Paris on Monday morning, along with thousands of other people who decided they would rather be in the country for an undefined period of confinement to their homes than stuck in small apartments in the city–and were lucky enough to be able to do so.

It is indeed probably much more pleasant to be in the country right now. My friend Adrian, who is emphatically both an urbanite and an extrovert, has described the need to stay inside her apartment as “torture,” and she is a very positive person. (Though perhaps occasionally given to exaggeration for comical effect. 🙂 You can read her reports from Paris here.) It was probably particularly difficult for people in the city this past week, when the weather was divine: unseasonably warm, and sunny. Here my son and I were able to take walks across the field near our home, do yard work, and generally enjoy the beautiful weather. Parisians had to stay inside.

But that is what needs to be done, and now everyone, I think, for the most part, “gets it,” and is doing it.

The news from Italy continues to be grim, and heartbreaking. The reports of a continuing rise in the daily death tolls there should certainly help everyone in France (and in many other places around the world who are beginning to proactively respond to this crisis) to know and understand that this period of social distancing is indeed necessary, and in fact critically important.

One of the challenges of this period of confinement, at least for me, is struggling to “keep on upward wing,” and to use this time to remain productive. This is one of my two favorite mantras, a gift of my mother-in-law. It is a bit hard not to wonder, with every little sniffle or cough, whether we are here waiting to be very sick, and maybe even die; or whether we are here waiting to be free once again to move about freely and continue with our lives more or less the way we used to.

My other favorite mantra was a gift from my Uncle Lewey, who frequently said, “Worry less, pray more.” I suppose to some people that phrase may sound glib, and of course the callous habit of the members of a certain political party in the U.S. using the word “prayers” quite cynically has somewhat tainted the whole idea of prayer for lots of people. But remembering those words (and my Uncle Lewey’s kind smile as he said them) always helps me not to panic. And that is a good thing, because neither panicking, nor worrying, has ever improved a situation. Au contraire…

It does seem to me that one of the truths emerging from this period of worldwide worry and confinement is awareness of all the things that we (human beings) actually are pretty good at. Most of us are pretty good at truly caring about each other. I received a text message from my nearest neighbor at the end of the first day of confinement: Bonsoir, Janet, Ca va? it said. We had a pleasant little exchange via text, and agreed that it was too bad we couldn’t have dinner together for now, but that we can at least wave at each other across the road. When I see the lights in her window it makes me feel good to know she is there, and hopefully she gets the same little lift from seeing the lights in our house.

The next day one of our friends in the village offered to pick up groceries for us and their 10-year-old daughter rode her bike over to our house to deliver them. (Two days later, the government included bicycle riding as one of the forbidden activities, so I’m glad she got that bike ride in on a gloriously beautiful day.)

I wondered what the French could possibly do to match, or try to meet, the inspiring phenomenon of Italians singing from their balconies, now that we too are confined to our homes. Probably it was wise not to try to compete with Italians when it comes to singing. What Parisians have been doing, instead, is leaning out of their windows, or standing on their balconies every night at 8 pm and applauding, and shouting “Mercis” to the medical workers who are trudging home at that hour, no doubt exhausted. I hope it helps them to know their work is appreciated. Precious little for the dangerous, difficult work they are doing…

Yesterday the Facebook group that dispenses essential information to Essoyes and the surrounding community proposed that everyone open their windows and blast this video out into the streets at precisely 18:45, as our local version of a way of thanking medical workers, supporting those who are ill, and in general cheering each other up. The administrators of the group also let us know that the bishops of France have requested that  this Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. all of the churches in France ring their bells for 10 minutes. I will try to capture that and post a bit of it here if I can…the bells of Essoyes are beautiful (I have written about them before), and this seems to me a very good reason to ring them: to thank those who are caring for the sick and providing emergency services; to give courage who those who are discouraged; and to make us all aware that though we can’t be together in the ways we are used to, we are not really alone…

I’ve been enjoying my friend Lisa Anselmo’s day by day report of the lockdown from Paris. You might enjoy reading it too. Lisa shares her observations, thoughts, fears, and strategies for dealing with the anxieties and challenges that go with this situation in a way that is mostly inspiring–but honest enough not to be superficially so–and with some practical tips that may be helpful for others as well.

How long will this confinement last? Well, no one really knows. It was initially announced as being at least two weeks. It now seems that it will probably be quite a bit longer. This whole experience is providing us all with an excellent opportunity to learn, really absorb the fact that though we sometimes think we know what the future holds, none of us ever really do. So it is good to learn how to live each moment as best as we can, and find a balance between planning for the future and knowing that none of it is guaranteed. Every day is a gift, not to be taken for granted.

Stay well. Stay at home if you’re in a place where they’re telling you to do so. Keep your hands out of your face (no matter where you are), and try to keep on upward wing…

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.”

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

Locked Down in Essoyes, Le Grand Est Lockdown in France, Day 14

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kevin Sisson  |  March 23, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Beautiful, as usual. So happy Sammy is with you and phinney in the country.

    Sent from my iPhone


  • 3. Deborah T Smith  |  March 23, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    A beautiful report. Thank you

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  March 27, 2020 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks, Deborah! I hope you are doing well, safe and happy at home. ❤

  • 5. DJB  |  March 27, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Janet, thanks for this. I love reading your beautiful, expressive writing, and it is good to know that you, Sammy, and Phineas are all safe and in good places. We are well here, with Andrew in London and Claire in Berkeley. The modern family. 🙂 Stay safe and well, dear friend. DJB

    • 6. Janet Hulstrand  |  March 27, 2020 at 8:57 pm

      Thank you so much, David. Sending ❤ to you and all the family also!


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