Lockdown in Essoyes: Day 49

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

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.”

Entry filed under: About Essoyes, About Quarantine 2020.

Lockdown in France: Day 42 Déconfinement Day 1

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