Déconfinement Again, Hoping It Will Last (!)

May 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm 2 comments

Sandwich Jambon, Vin Ordinaire c 1978. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Of course I can only speak for myself. But here is how I would describe the importance of this day in France.

Today is the day that many businesses that have been closed for many months–most notably museums, cinemas, and most of all sidewalk cafés–are reopening.

They’re not reopening in the way they were before, not yet. It is only the terraces that are reopening, not the interiors of cafes and restaurants.

And the curfew hours are still in place (though the limit has been extended two hours now, until 9 pm, not the highly impractical 7 pm).

Nonetheless there is a very excited feeling of (cautious) joy, I would say, all through France. Cafe owners and their employees are very eager to get back to work. Ordinary citizens (as well as all the leaders of government) are very eager to bring their business back to them.

And since sitting in a sidewalk cafe is not just a worn cliché, but in fact a very essential and important part of life in France, this return, limited though it is, cautious though it may be, is extremely important. And so there is a kind of kids-on-Christmas-morning feeling to this day, a kind of can’t-help-wanting-to-skip kind of feeling.

I am hoping with all my heart that this déconfinement will be able to last for “the kids.”

A few posts ago I wrote about the word “lassitude“, which is a word in both French and English, and in both languages it means a kind of deep, sustained weariness. It is a state of being we’ve of necessity come to understand in the past year, even though most of us don’t even really have enough going wrong for us that we deserve to apply the term to ourselves–that should be saved for the small businessmen and women hoping desperately to be able to return to work soon enough to save their businesses from bankruptcy. And even more for the healthcare workers who have had to maintain courage, energy, strength, health, and compassion over a very long stretch of exhausting, discouraging, heartbreaking, and sometimes frightening work.

Today I believe the word of the moment is “chastened.” It is a day of excited joy, but it is also a day of only cautious optimism.

Because how can we, after all, emerge from this protracted year of worry and frustration, annoyance and confusion, without some lurking sense that things will never be the same again? That this is just another period of false hope before the next round of coronovirus knocks the country to its feet again?

I think it is probably more or less impossible not to have that lurking thought anywhere in our minds and hearts. Because to be conscious, to be paying attention at all is to know that what we have been going through is a very serious crisis, not easily solved, not quickly solved either. And not done yet.

So unbridled joy is probably not possible. The image I have is of us all tiptoeing out of our homes cautiously, quietly, as if (somehow) by not letting the virus know we are resuming life as we like to live it it will not notice, and it will LEAVE US ALONE!!!

And yet there is an irresistible, very human desire to just simply rejoice in this day.

Carpe diem, the ancients said. “Seize the day.” The point is, this is a new day. At least for the moment, the sun is shining (though the forecast suggests that it will not shine all day). The tables are out again. All across this beautiful nation people are cautiously returning to one of their favorite activities, an activity that has charmed, and pleased, comforted and seduced people from all around the world for hundreds of years.

That is, sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching the world go by. There are very few things in life that bring more joy in such a simple, fundamental way. The French have brought this simple, joyful, idea of convivial gathering to perfection. Today they are going to be able to enjoy it once again. They are going to be living the meaning of the sheer joy of just “hanging out without feeling guilty.” (Which is a chapter in my friend Harriet Welty Rochefort’s book Joie De Vivre). A book you should read!

Let’s wish them well, shall we? And let’s hope anyone reading this who hopes to be able to return to a table in a sidewalk cafe in France, to enjoy that incomparable feeling of being en terrasse, can do so sometime soon…

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 France, About the Pandemic.... Tags: , , , .

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