Archive for April, 2020

Lockdown in France: Day 42

Before the Rain. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Well what is interesting of course is how it gets harder to be patient with the lockdown with each passing day: but also one must acknowledge that, having recognized the danger and the threat out there, and the incredibly robust contagiousness of this virus, the thought of returning “to normal” is pretty damn scary. In fact, one of the hardest things about this whole thing is realizing that we won’t be “going back to normal.” At all. Ever. Probably.

So. It’s probably time to come to terms with that.

Today France began its first tentative step toward reopening the country with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s speech to the Assemblée Nationale, in which he announced how the government would go about the process of déconfinement. What we can count on; what we cannot. And how things will proceed probably. (It still depends on things we don’t know yet. The French government is working closely with the scientific and medical communities in tracking the epidemic and deciding what it will be safe to do when; and exactly how.)

But it does look like as of May 11 things will begin to open up a bit. My older son will be able to leave the place in Provence where he has spent the period of quarantine. Hopefully he will be able to come here for a while and do his work as a journalist from here, since teleworking is still the best means of working for everyone who can do it that way. It looks like my younger son will be able to return to his position as a teaching assistant in Lille, working with very young children. Across France we will no longer need to carry an attestation stating the reason we have left our homes, and we will be able to stay out for longer than an hour, and go farther away from our homes than one kilometer. But there will still be special permission required for going more than 100 kilometers.

Masks are being produced as quickly as possible so that everyone can have one by May 11. And the production of tests has been ramped up also, so that the “Protect, Test, Isolate” strategy of the government announced yesterday can be effectively carried out.

The strategy of strict confinement has been pretty effective in France. The Prime Minister reported yesterday that since April 13 the “bad” numbers (deaths, people on life support) have begun slowly but steadily to move downward; and the “good” numbers (people safely released from hospital, numbers of tests and masks available, etc.) have begun to move up. (That’s my simplistic language, not his 🙂 )

So the important thing now is for everyone to not let go of the vigilance we have been urged, even ordered, to practice. To continue to practice the new habits (much more frequent and effective washing of hands, coughing into elbows, disinfecting surfaces, wearing masks, practicing the gestes barrieres (no shaking hands, certainly no faire-ing la bise. 😦 … ) And then we just have to hold our breath and hope that all of these things together, along with the heroic work of the health care workers, will get us through this period with as many people still alive as possible.

What have we learned as a result of this plague, other than how to take extraordinary measures of protection simply for going out into our world and moving about in it?

I hope we have realized that in this battle between man and nature, in the end nature will win. The planet will survive. The question is, will we? Will this lovely planet be a place where our grandchildren, and their grandchildren can live, maybe even in peace and harmony?

That is up to us, isn’t it…and unfortunately, so far, we’ve done so bad.

Can this terrible experience make us wake up and at long last work together to create a healthier, more peaceful existence on this beautiful planet of ours?

I certainly hope so.


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.”

April 29, 2020 at 6:25 am 3 comments

Lockdown in France, Day 35

Masks being made by volunteer members of the community are becoming available in our village. Isn’t this a pretty one?

Last week I was gathering dandelions in our yard, which is wonderfully full of dandelions. Because (did you know this?) dandelions are NOT weeds, they are very useful plants with a host of healthful options to offer us, everything from salad, to tea, to dandelion wine. They also are very important for bees, and bees are important for US. (So, not to go off on this tangent: but if you are still killing dandelions, please STOP KILLING DANDELIONS!!!!)

This week was different: a couple of projects had me busy at my computer. And then, toward the end of the week, everything got a bit complicated. First, I fell (on my face–again!) on my nightly .5 kilometer walk across the field.

I say “again” because I pulled a similar trick about a year ago in Paris. I am tempted to call this my annual “spring fall” except I am really hoping it is not an annual thing. (That time in Paris I landed on asphalt. This time I landed on gravel. There are interesting differences to note, but I will spare you the details…)

Anyway, I was pretty sure that I had also fractured my ankle again. But, hallelujah, and long story short, I did not! It is getting better WAY too fast for that to have been the case, and today our village doctor confirmed that it is not broken, not even fractured, pshew. And, in general, this was a much less serious fall for a number of reasons I won’t go into either…

Then my chest started to hurt. Oh, for goodness sake, now what? Do I call the doctor? thought I. Surely he has more urgent cases on his hand; surely I should wait at least a few days and see if it gets better.

Which I did. But then it didn’t get better, it got worse. And it kept kind of getting worse and worse…So I started doing the required internet research, and read enough to think that probably it was prudent to at least call him, describe my concern, and see what he said.

Another long story short, he came here, checked all my vital signs (and my ankle), gave me a couple of prescriptions to ease the pain in my chest, and ordered a COVID test. (Which the village nurse came and performed here in our home.)

I’m not the first one to say it, but these people are heroes. They are. Let’s all remember that “when this is over…” and make sure they are appropriately rewarded for their brave, humanitarian service. And I mean really rewarded. More than just heartfelt thank-yous, nice as those are…

So, we shall see what we shall see. The test has been taken, the verdict is out. The medicine is making me feel a little bit better and I am forcing myself to take it easier, and rest more than I accustomed to doing.

My younger son is here with me, he is a wonderful musician, a wonderful young man, and a much better cook than I am. And he is taking such good care of me.

Spring has sprung in Essoyes…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

And so, that is my report for this week. Very personal, very self-centered I suppose. Except I want to note that the heroes of this post are, once again, those health care workers (and others) who are out there every day helping us get through this.

All the rest of us have to do is PLEASE just do what they say. Which is mainly: STAY HOME! (And enjoy it…why not?) 🙂

Take care of yourselves, and stay home for the sake of OTHERS as well. as yourselves..and be well…until next week…

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.”

April 21, 2020 at 7:52 pm 5 comments

Lockdown in France, Continued…

The colza is in bloom…Photo by Janet Hulstrand

I love our home in Champagne, and I love living in our quiet, but busy, little village, Essoyes, here in the Côte des Bars.

And it’s a good thing that I love spending time here: because I will not be going anywhere except to the village and back on my daily walks until at least May 11.

I feel so lucky, and so grateful, to be here during this time.

Last week was Holy Week. And although there could be no church services this year, on Palm Sunday at noon the bells in our church rang out joyfully.

On Maundy Thursday at 7:00 in the evening they rang again, this time solemnly.

And on Easter Sunday they rang joyfully again at noon.

Every night the citizens of Essoyes continue to flood the town with music at 8:00 pm as their way of thanking those who are continuing to provide essential services during the lockdown. They are beginning to vary the song: last night this song was played, in homage to a family member of several Essoyens who died yesterday, and whose funeral mass could not be largely attended because of the confinement.

The night before this was the song selected for sharing in the streets of Essoyes.

Crayons and line drawings were distributed to the children of the village the week before last, and last week the resulting artwork was displayed around town in the windows and on the walls of the businesses that remain open, and at the mairie. A nice (and appropriately educational) activity for the children, and a cheering sight indeed for all.

The mairie and some of the businesses in the village are displaying artwork celebrating “nos heroes quotidiennes” created by the children of the village…

Last night my son and I, along with millions of Frenchmen and women, watched and listened carefully to President Emmanuel Macron as he outlined the steps ahead for France as the country attempts to gain control of the coronovirus epidemic, and slowly begin a return to normalcy.

The main points were: France will continue to remain on strict lockdown until at least May 11. The borders will be closed to entry from non-EU countries until further notice. The French government is doing, and will continue to do everything it can to preserve both the lives and health of its citizens, and to find ways to address the inevitable economic consequences of this situation, and help those who need help.

Like his previous speeches during this crisis, Macron was calm, clear, and very candid (“…we still have several months of living with this virus..”). He started by praising all those who have worked tirelessly, unselfishly, bravely to attempt to defeat this thing. He urged everyone to continue to take the rules of confinement very seriously. He emphasized that although the period of confinement has been moderately successful in slowing down the advance of the disease, the epidemic is not under control, and that the continued vigilance of everyone is essential in order for this goal to be achieved. He explained some of the concrete actions the extended period of confinement will allow the government to put into place in preparation for a slow return to normalcy, including the provision of masks to all who want them and the amassing of a sufficient number of tests, so that after May 11 those who show symptoms of the disease can be tested. He stressed that both public and private resources have been aggressively mobilized to work together to adequately address this crisis.

And he said that as of May 11 there will be an attempt to begin to return to normalcy, step by step.  Progressively reopening the schools, beginning in the primary and secondary levels, will be among the first steps, as he explained, because “…there is an inequality in that there are those who don’t have access to the internet and can’t be helped by their parents.” This is only a tiny step toward addressing all of the many inequalities that really need to be made, of course. But it is a step in the right direction. One can only hope (and work together to demand) that this priority does not get lost sight of once things are more or less back to normal again.

I hope I have more or less accurately summarized what he said. Here is the video of the speech, and the entire speech in French, along with a summary of the highlights.

What was most comforting about this speech in addition to the calm intelligence throughout was the humility, the transparency, in other words the honesty of the president as he spoke to the nation. He who has been criticized for having a “Jupiter” complex was also uncharacteristically humble last night. (“We have to reinvent ourselves, and me first of all … We are vulnerable. I understand you have many questions and I would like to answer all of them. But I say in all humility, we don’t have definitive answers today.”)

I hope with all my heart and soul every day, along with many millions of my fellow Americans both at home and abroad, that something similar can begin to happen in the United States as soon as possible. I know that millions of U.S. citizens, and many of the state’s governors are doing all they can to prevent an even greater tragic loss of life than has already been suffered there. I hope that those leaders who have not yet joined them will do so soon. As soon as possible. It is hard to imagine what they are waiting for…

Meanwhile, in Essoyes, as elsewhere around the world, the coming of spring gives reason for hope.

Stay well, everyone. I’ll be back next week with another report. Until then, as they are saying here these days…Prenez soin de vous…

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.”

 

April 14, 2020 at 9:10 am Leave a comment

Lockdown, Day 21: The Everyday Heroes of Essoyes

EssoyesArmistice18Morning

Essoyes in Champagne. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

I thought it would be nice this week to talk about what everyday life is like in Essoyes these days, beginning with talking about those who have been continuing to work, every day, while the rest of us do our best to stay home as much as possible.

I’d like to first of all thank the people here in Essoyes who are doing such a great job of helping keep us informed of all the things we need to know–from which businesses will be open each and every day, to updated information about the ever-evolving rules of confinement as they are distributed by the government, to warnings about some of those unkind people who are unfortunately taking advantage of the situation to steal, rob, or otherwise trick the innocent and unsuspecting.  😦

But never mind them: forewarned is forearmed. Most people, not just here, but around the world, are discovering how much good we all have to share with each other. For one local example, both Essoyes and our neighboring village of Mussy sur Seine were featured yesterday in an article in the regional newspaper about community involvement in making masks. And through our mairie, volunteers have been bringing groceries, medicines and other necessary items to those who for whom it is difficult to get out, or who should not be going out.

These wonderful volunteers are helping to keep spirits and morale high also, in various ways. One way is by establishing our own local version of a nightly thanks to all the essential workers who are keeping us fed, caring for the sick, delivering the mail, picking up the garbage, and helping us in various other ways. Here is a link to the song Essoyens are blasting out their windows every night at 8 pm. The first few days, there were only a few people doing it and it was a bit hard to hear from where we are on the edge of town. But it seems to me that it grows a bit louder every night, so that now I can hear it better and better, drifting across the fields. It is indeed an encouraging sound, and a great way to remind us all that though we’re supposed to be keeping a good distance from each other these days, we can find new ways to be a community.

sdr

Spring Wheat in Essoyes. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Of course the farmers and vignerons continue their work. I often hear the enjambeurs heading out to the vineyards early in the morning. In the field next to our house the colza is beginning to blossom, and the wheat is that pure shade of green that you see only in spring; and it is a lovely sight to see when I take my daily walks, attestation de déplacement and identification safely stored in my pocket.

Our community Facebook page is also taking the time every day to salute all the other “everyday heroes” who are continuing to serve the community through this difficult period. The bakers. The traiteurs. Our grocer and his wife. The pharmacists, and nurses, the tabac (which does far more than sell cigarettes in France).  For the most part, in short, everyone is demonstrating just how well people in France, generally speaking, understand the meaning of solidarité. 

For example, I had arranged with the local taxi company to pick my son up for me at the train station in Vendeuvre, about half an hour away from here, right before this period of confinement began. Originally he was supposed to arrive conveniently at around 5:30 p.m.; but because of one cancelled train and another delayed one, it was 8:00 pm by the time he got there (which is dinner time in France, do you know what that means?!)

Nonetheless, the taxi company shifted; they were there waiting for him; they brought him to me safely and cheerfully, and when I called to thank the manager the following morning for helping us out, he used that phrase I hear so often in France. “C’est normal…” he said.

Well, it wasn’t really “normal” in this case: it was exceptional service, graciously and willingly offered because they knew we were in a pinch.

That is what solidarity is like: millions of relatively small, kind, gracious acts that we perform for each other to help us get through rough times, and easier ones too. I am grateful for the spirit of solidarity that surrounds me every day here in Essoyes, even when my daily walks there have been curtailed. And I am reminded of it every day, when I hear that music come floating across the fields…

Stay safe. Stay happy if you can. And stay well…until next week…

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.”

 

 

April 7, 2020 at 4:57 pm 6 comments


Twitter Updates

Categories

Recent Posts