Posts filed under ‘About France’

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 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 14

Well, we are going to be confined to our homes here in France for at least another two weeks. Nobody likes this idea: but all of us, especially those of us who are lucky enough to still be well (knock wood) also know that it is a shameful thing to complain about it…

Continue Reading March 30, 2020 at 11:20 am 4 comments

Lockdown Day 7: France Fights to Flatten the Curve

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…

Continue Reading March 23, 2020 at 8:41 am 6 comments

Locked Down in Essoyes, Le Grand Est

The most striking thing to me, really, is that if any of us have ever doubted that we are in fact one human race living a somewhat precarious existence on this beautiful planet of ours; and that we all share fundamental desires, needs, and responsibilities as human beings so blessed; and that we are most certainly “in this together”–now is the time when it should be perfectly clear that we are in fact, all of those things…

Continue Reading March 16, 2020 at 2:45 pm 5 comments

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