Archive for May, 2020

Déconfinement Day 17: France Slowly Reopens

Harvesting the veche de vache

I remember one time, years ago, after spending a month in Paris and then heading south to visit friends in Provence, being struck with the not-very-original but nonetheless unavoidable thought that, though many people do not think of it that way, France is really, primarily, an agricultural nation.

In a small rural village, like where I live now, at this time of year crops become a matter of general interest. Even if you’re not personally involved in agriculture, you can’t help but notice the growing and thriving of things. Where I am, in southern Champagne near the Burgundian border, the main crop is the grapes used to make champagne, but there are a few others. And right next to our home are some fields of some of them: this year, wheat, colza, cow vetch. Last year there were sunflowers.

Winter Wheat in Late Spring. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

It is very pleasant, living next to a field. You can watch the wheat grow, changing in not only size but color–from green, to a greenish kind of blue, to gold–as it matures. Once on an evening walk, I could swear I even heard it growing. I hesitate to mention this because I know it makes me sound a little bit crazy. The sound was very faint and I didn’t hear it for very long. …but I swear to God I heard it. It was a kind of very soft whisper–kind of like fairies would whisper, if there were fairies–as I recall.

Anyway, in case anyone wants to know about the possibility of this being a real thing, here you go. And I say, what goes for corn goes for wheat as well…

That’s how quiet it is here.

I do have several friends who are vignerons, and what I have learned from one of them this week is that the vines are about to flower, a month ahead of schedule. And that they do not expect a very big crop this year. It’s supposed to be another long, hot, dry summer. We shall see…

Meanwhile, France is beginning to very slowly and carefully come out of the strict lockdown the country has been in for two and a half months now. Apparently the first two weeks of déconfinement have gone well enough that the government feels confident that, as of June 2, they can lift many of the restrictions, including the one restricting travel more than 100 kilometers away from one’s home. Here are the main details of what Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced today, and what will change on June 2.

As for me, I’m staying here. Keeping fingers crossed that all continues to go well as people begin to slowly, carefully go on about their lives in a somewhat less restricted way. And enjoying another string of beautiful days and the fact that my sons are here to share them with me…

Acacia tree in bloom. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Prenez soin de vous, tout le monde…keep wearing those masks, and keep washing those hands. And stop touching your face! 🙂

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.”

May 28, 2020 at 8:15 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Day 8

#Champagne11mai Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

Well we are one week into déconfinement. Such a feeling of liberation, now that we don’t have to take an attestation with us every time we venture outside of the boundaries of our home! (Though we are still required to stay within 100 kilometers unless we have a very good, and strictly defined–defined by the French government–reason for going further than that…)

We are still being very careful though, and of course we need to be, because with everyone suddenly coming out of confinement, I am assuming that that automatically raises the general risk of being infected by the virus. (That is my own very simple layperson’s interpretation, I have not heard anyone say exactly that: but it must be true, no?)

So. I am still waiting to do much of anything, outside of walks outside and the occasional trip to our little Casino supermarket here in town, so I can at least start helping my son carry groceries back home. He has been such a huge help to me throughout the lockdown! When restaurants are open again and it is safe for us to travel he is going to enjoy a very fine meal, my treat! Or maybe we will just stay right here in Essoyes and eat at our own very fine hotel restaurant, Les Demoiselles, with its magnificent view of Essoyes and the surrounding vineyards.

Together again, and so grateful for it…

Déconfinement has made it possible for my older son to join us now, too, from the place he was sheltering in place with friends in the south of France: so we are together again, and I am thanking my lucky stars for that.

None of us know one blessed thing about gardening, but today there was talk of us taking the bold step of trying to learn something so we can grow some of our own vegetables in a little “victory garden.” (Please do NOT “stay tuned.” I will let you know if we have any success at all, I promise! )

I continue to watch the news from home with sadness and concern. And I guess that is all I will say about that; except that I am very very sorry that because of the way things have been handled there, many dear friends and family members are not going to be allowed into Europe anytime soon… 😦

Meanwhile here in Essoyes the wheat and colza continue to grow, the bright red poppies are beginning to spring up in the fields, and the vineyards are doing okay too this year (I think).

There is also a field of what I think is cow vetch (in English) vesce de vache in French, near our home. (Now do you see why I wanted to learn French?) 🙂

Vesce de vache. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous…and here’s a helpful reminder from the French government about how to go about doing that.

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.”

May 17, 2020 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Déconfinement Day 1

May 11, 2020. First day of déconfinement in France, and it’s raining in many parts of the country. Is Mother Nature saying, “Why don’t you all stay home one extra day, if you can, just for good measure?” Maybe.

Well, today is the day that France begins to progressively, and slowly open up again, after eight weeks of quarantine. With an emphasis on the word “slowly.”

Last Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and several members of his cabinet (including the ministers of health, education, labor, the interior, and the economy) unveiled the details of the plan to the nation on television, complete with colorful maps and charts that showed the current situation in various parts of the country. The prime minister explained that France is basically divided into two for this first stage of déconfinement. Most likely due to the very strict quarantine we’ve been under, much of the country is at this time, thankfully, relatively free of active circulation of the virus. This part (mostly the southern and western parts of the country) has been designated “green,” which means that the rules for this new period of gradual reopening (which will be in place until at least June 2) will be a bit less constrained than in the “red” parts of the country, mainly Ile de France (which is Paris and the surrounding area), and Le Grand Est, which is in the northeastern part of the country. (Essoyes is included in this “red” area.)

Throughout the country, whether in the red areas, or in the green ones, there are some universal rules that must be followed during this period of progressive reopening. Restaurants, cafes, and bars will not be reopened yet. People are now required to wear masks on all forms of public transport, and are encouraged to do so in other public places as well. (Masks are being distributed by town halls, free to the public, across the country for this purpose). Special permission is required in order to travel more than 100 kilometers away from one’s home. And France’s borders will continue to be closed to people coming in from non-EU countries.

We are also advised, as we begin to be socialize with each other again, that the safest way to do this is to remember to keep a safe distance from each other and follow all the other rules of safe conduct that we’ve been taught in the past eight weeks. For example, it was specifically advised on television last night, that it is better to have small social gatherings held outside for the time being.

As if Mother Nature herself wanted to emphasize the importance of all this, much of France woke up today to a very rainy day–a rain that is much needed, in fact.

To be honest, I haven’t yet figured out all the details of the stricter rules for the red zone. These things will be clarified and explained in the days to come. All I know for sure is that from now on I don’t have to carry an attestation de déplacement every time I venture outside of our yard, and now I can go much farther away from it than 1 kilometer.

But I also know that I am still advised to stay home as much as possible, and to continue to observe the gestes barrieres. (Wearing masks when in public; keeping 2 meters away from others; no handshaking! Much washing of hands…and so on…)

And to exercise common sense. So I will!

As I mentioned in my last post, Friday was a holiday: the national day of commemoration of V-E Day. The customary homage paid to those who paid the ultimate price to deliver France from Nazi occupation was observed here in Essoyes, but it was only the mayor and his adjoints who attended this time. However, the whole thing was filmed and shared live, so that those villagers who are accustomed to participating in this annual commemoration could do so, at least vicariously, this year too. And so, as the mayor and his adjoints began the ceremony at the war memorial next to the church, then proceeded to three different sites in the village to lay flowers to honor those who had helped to win back France’s freedom, a dedicated and intrepid local videographer filmed the whole thing. I watched the whole thing too, and was happy to be able to do so.

The mayor and his deputies all wore masks, providing the public with a reminder of how important mask-wearing will be in keeping the virus from spreading going forward. I noticed that at the end of the reading of the official proclamation that it is always read on this day, the final words spoken were Vive la République; Vive la France…et Emmanuel Macron. I was a bit surprised to hear the president’s name added to this list: I don’t think I have ever heard that before.

But, well. He’s got a hard job, and I think he’s been doing a pretty good job at it. And so–at least to me–it seems perfectly appropriate to include his name this year. He needs the support and the good wishes of the public. We’re all in this together, but he’s got a heavier weight on his shoulders than most people.

Although middle schools, high schools, and universities remain closed, and will be continuing remote instruction, the elementary school in Essoyes was to open its doors again today. In yet another kind and spontaneous gesture, a young woman who grew up in Essoyes and now lives in nearby Troyes took it upon herself to sew masks for every single one of the returning children. And she asked to remain anonymous. I find this kind of selfless generosity very moving indeed.

It is, I believe, a very good example of what is meant by solidarité.

And so, that is my report for this week. Stay well everyone: and if you are venturing out into the world, wherever you are, remember all we’ve learned about this nasty virus during these eight weeks, and prenez soin de vous.

Courage! et bonne continuation…

Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

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.”

May 11, 2020 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

Lockdown in Essoyes: Day 49

Muguets des Bois marking May 1 in France. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Well another “D” day is fast approaching: May 11 is the day that France will begin to slowly enter into a measured, and very careful period of déconfinement. I am not going to go into much detail about it, partly because it is very complicated, and even more because it is still changing a bit from day to day. Some people are annoyed about that: as for me, I’m glad that the French authorities are more concerned with making sure we enter into the next stage of “life with the cornonavirus” as safely as possible, even if it means they have to change their minds, or change course, from one day to the next. What this means is that they are a) listening to medical and scientific authorities and b) trying to err on the side of caution. I hope!

May 1 was a national holiday in France, as it in many countries, as a day of international honoring of workers. But of course, with everyone still confined to their homes it was a pretty quiet celebration this year. It is also the day when French people celebrate a sweet custom that goes back to 1561 when King Charles IX of France was given a sprig of lilies of the valley (muguets des bois in French), and he decided to make it an annual tradition to give these lovely spring flowers to the ladies of his court, as a “porte bonheur.” This year I received several electronic muguets des bois from French friends. And they did indeed bring me happiness.

May 8 is a national holiday also: it is the day the French remember V-E day, the day Europe was liberated from Nazi occupation, and throughout France, in little villages and in large cities alike, it is always solemnly observed. The way this holiday is marked is similar to the way Armistice Day is observed in November. In both cases flowers are laid at the war memorial next to the church, and in the cemetery, and at one of the several spots in town that mark the sacrifices of members of the French resistance who gave their lives pour la France…Always on these two holidays, at precisely 11 a.m. the church bells ring, to remind everyone of the massive sacrifices that were made to return France to freedom from tyranny. Usually there is a solemn procession of villagers who follow the mayor as he makes the rounds of these monuments, and lays the flowers.

This week we were informed, in a special issue of the quarterly newsletter published by the mairie devoted to news about the period of confinement, and announcements and advice about the upcoming period of déconfinement, that this year on May 8 only the mayor and his deputies will perform these ritual acts of recognition. (The point being, it will be done.) We were all invited to take a moment precisely at 11 am to observe a moment of silence (another point being, we should do this in our homes, or failing that, at least while still observing the rules of social distancing); to honor those who gave their lives pour la France.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. It has been most impressive how well the local leaders, and the citizenry, of Essoyes have risen to the challenge of managing life under suddenly quite different terms than what we are all used to. The daily posts on our Facebook page, letting everyone know anything new and important that we need to know; honoring, thanking, and recognizing those members of the community who have continued to provide essential services throughout this period; and in general cheering us up and keeping us well informed has been most appreciated by me and I am sure by everyone else too. And, among many other acts of selfless service to others, the beautiful masks that were created and distributed without charge to members of the community are keeping everyone safer; and the love, care, and even enthusiasm that went into making them is really very touching.

The mayor’s letter on the front page of the special issue of the newsletter was serious, inspiring, grateful, and cautionary by turns. He began by reminding Essoyens that despite the challenges of the day, we are “doubly lucky” here in this lovely little village in Champagne. One, to live in the country, where most of us can get fresh air easily and every day, and those who have gardens have been able to enjoy an exceptionally sunny month of spring weather outside tending them. And we are also lucky to live in a village where really all the basic necessities of life are available (which is in fact one of the reasons we chose to buy a home here: that despite the fact that Essoyes is a very small village, only 750 people, it really does have all the necessities of life close at hand). The mayor also thanked the city council and the people of Essoyes for the extraordinary spirit of solidarity and goodwill that have prevailed throughout this period.

The cautionary part came toward the end of his letter, where he reminded us that “We are living in an extremely complicated moment in time: I don’t know whether there will be a ‘before’ and an ‘after.’ I only hope that this extraordinary spirit of solidarity will endure; that it will be a positive result of this crisis.”

Now we have to figure out how to get out of this period safely. As the leaders of France, from our mayor to the president, the prime minister, the minister of health, and others are continually reminding us, the period of déconfinement we are about to enter is a risky one. Which means it is really more of a scary prospect than a joyful one. On May 11, we will NOT be able to start jumping up and down for joy, and hugging each other. Unfortunately. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could… 😦 ?)

Well, there’s not much point in being afraid. Fear never helps anyone. But there is a point in being careful. This means, pretty much wherever you are these days: 1) Wear a mask! (If you want, you can buy pretty ones with a French theme from a friend of mine here. (I’m going to 🙂 ) 2) Keep your distance from others. Six feet!!! 3) Wash your hands (a lot!) and 4) Stop touching your face!!! (We all do it: we gotta stop!)

So that is the news from Essoyes this week. Stay well, everyone. Prenez soin de vous. I’ll be back again next week, and let you know how it’s going…

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.”

May 5, 2020 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

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