Posts tagged ‘pandemic’

Locked Down AGAIN…

Reminders about “les gestes barrieres” in a train station

I had to look up the word “lassitude” this week. It is a word (in French) that is being spoken a lot recently. We have the same word in English, but it is one of those words we don’t use very often, so I had to look it up even in English. It means weariness.

Weariness is of course not quite the same thing as being tired. Being tired is something that can be cured by a nap, or perhaps a good night’s sleep. Weariness, on the other hand, suggests a fatigue born of an extended period of being tired of, or because of, something, something that wears down not only one’s level of energy, but also motivation, spirit, enthusiasm, and certainly joie de vivre.

And that is what we have here in France right now. Lassitude as we go into Year 2 of the Covid 19 pandemic.

There has been a lot of complaining this week, especially since, given concerning increases in the number of infections, especially in certain parts of France, and even more because, given frankly almost alarming reports of the increasing pressures on the hospitals in those regions, the government–some would say finally, others would say ridiculously–has imposed another set of restrictions.

This time only 16 departments of France (including Paris and the surrounding region, and also Lille, Nice, and their surrounding regions) are included. The theme of the lockdown this time is freiner sans fermer, which means “put the brakes on without closing down.” This has meant a rather complicated (and controversial) set of rules about what kinds of enterprises can stay open (bookstores, florists, hairdressers, bakeries OF COURSE) and which kind cannot (large-surface stores, museums, theaters, restaurants and cafes).

It’s been a terribly long time for some sectors of the economy, most notably restaurants and cafes, museums, theaters, and so on. It’s heartbreaking to hear restaurateurs in particular talk about their anxiety, about how they can possibly manage not to go out of business altogether, these people who in normal times provide all of us with such a wonderful service. (The word “restaurant” after all, comes from the French word restaurer (to restore). Think about that!) Managing a restaurant, it has always seemed to me, must be one of the hardest ways to make a living. How will they get through this?

The answers to these questions are not clear to me. In the beginning of the crisis, a year ago, one of the things that was most impressive and comforting to me about Macron’s address to the nation was the stress he placed on how the government intended to do everything it could to not only deal with the crise sanitaire (the health crisis) but also the economic consequences of having to shut so much of the economy down. Has this government kept those promises? I’m not too sure about that, but much of what I hear on French TV and radio suggests that whatever is being done is too little too late, or maybe in some cases not at all.

Some businesses have been spared the shutdown this time–bookshops, hairdressers, florists and of course bakeries and other food shops. The despised attestations that everyone was required to carry in the previous two lockdowns every time they left their homes is not required this time for people going out during the day and staying within the 10 kilometer limits of the restriction. And there is no time limit on how long you can be outside this time, for which everyone is grateful.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind for whom this year-long crisis is the most difficult, and calibrate our personal annoyance and lassitude with the situation accordingly. Of course everyone has had it with this crisis. (In French, the phrase is “on en a marre.”) But really, we do not all have an equal right to “having had it”: the health care workers who were being cheered in the streets as they made their weary way home after difficult days of saving lives a year ago are not being cheered anymore. Instead they are having to work just as hard (or harder) than they did a year ago with what must be an overwhelming sense of fatigue and pessimism about whether this extended trial will ever end. They are the ones who have the greatest right to being sick of it all. We have to just hope that they don’t throw in the towel, and be extremely grateful that most of them are not doing so. We need them!

I also would like to say something that I am pretty sure is going to be somewhat controversial, perhaps even downright unpopular. But I think it needs to be said. And that is that the amount of intense criticism that the government here in France is subject to is, I believe, somewhat unfair.

This is not to say that I do not agree with the thousands (millions?) of people who feel that the Macron government has bungled the managing of this crisis. What seemed to be a strong start in the beginning of the crisis is not as admirable by now, a year in. There are many reasons for this, some the fault of the government, and of Macron himself; but many of them are no one’s fault, really.

The problem is that this is so far, a very difficult crisis to manage. It may even be, to some extent, more or less impossible. One doesn’t have to look very far, all around in Europe in fact, to see that it is certainly not just Emmanuel Macron who is having a hard time figuring out what to do to keep his people safe, and prevent the economy from completely crashing.

This is a new disease, and new problems keep cropping up: shortages of the vaccines that almost miraculously have been able to be developed on such a short timeline; new variants of the disease cropping up all over the place in a most dismaying way. Europe is also struggling with trying to figure out how to function as a “union” rather than just a set of separate political entities that exist geographically adjacent to each other. It’s not easy (take a look at the United States to see how just how not-easy “forming a perfect union” can be, and how long it takes…)

So, while I do believe there’s been a lot of bungling in France since the fall. And while I personally believe that that is mainly because the government did not continue to listen to doctors as carefully as they should have, and did, in the beginning of the crisis. Where we are now was fairly predictable and probably could have been avoided by earlier, more aggressive governmental action. And by listening to the doctors, many of whom said “partial measures do not work.”

But I cannot help but think about what it must be like to be Emmanuel Macron, or Jean Castex, or Olivier Véran, the French minister of health, these days. I think we should all remember that these too are human beings, flawed like all human beings. They have probably made some big mistakes. But who among us would want to have the heavy burden of the responsibility that is on their shoulders? Who would want to have to keep guessing, or betting, or hoping rather than being able to plan in a way that was predictably fail-proof? Who would want to be any one of them trying to figure out what to do, trying to go to sleep at night, looking in the mirror and asking oneself if what they are doing is the right and best thing?

When I hear these people being criticized so strongly, I can’t help but think about their humanity, and how tired (and frightened) they must be as they struggle to keep up with this monstrous, protean virus.

The thing I think should be remembered is this: these are people who care and care deeply. We all saw the dreadful reality of a powerful leader of a nation who really did not care about the fact that hundreds of thousands of his citizens were dying, and who made things much worse, not better. (And his comment? “I take no responsibility,” and “It is what it is…”)

France is not in the hands of such people. I think they’re doing their best, or at least they’ve been trying to.

If we are going to blame anyone for this crisis, I suggest we look to the billionaires of the world, who apparently have been becoming even more obscenely wealthy, as the poorest of the poor bear the brunt of this crisis. It seems to me that the one thing that should be being done, and is not, is those very billionaires stepping up, and emptying their over-full pockets. Why couldn’t they do so? Why couldn’t they help the government by dumping some of their wealth in those places that need help the most? I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t.

Do you?

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.”

March 23, 2021 at 10:29 am 2 comments

Is Paris Still Paris?

Is Paris still Paris?

Well, yes and no.

Like many cities around the world, Paris is struggling to be the beautiful, joyful, lively, convivial place she is known to be. But it is not easy these days.

The cafes are closed, and have been for some time. The restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas, and museums are closed. There is a 6 pm to 6 am curfew in Paris and all across France.

There are many other restrictions having to do with everything from travel into and out of France, to how many people can be in a shop (or store) at one time. Masks are required everywhere in public–indoors and outdoors.

Another lockdown had been widely anticipated in response to the persistently concerning numbers of new COVID cases, especially with the introduction of new variants of the virus to the mix. But when the announcement came on Saturday, it was not for a new lockdown, but for a continuation of the couvre feu (curfew) that has been in place since December 15, news that was not necessarily met with relief or approval. Many people find the restrictions of the curfew, and some of the consequences of it–crowded shops, trains, and buses as the curfew hour approaches, and the difficulties of compressing the day into fewer usable hours for example. Some also worry that it is not going to be enough, and that the government is simply putting off another inevitable lockdown.

Who knows? The French are famous for not liking to admit to there is something they don’t know, but I was listening to a doctor talking about the pandemic on French TV not long ago, and in answer to one of the questions, he answered in words quite seldom heard on French TV. “Nous ne savons rien” he said. (Which means, basically, “We don’t know at all.” Or, more informally one might say “We have no idea.”) His tone was somewhere between discouraged and sad.

Sigh.

So all of the above is about how Paris is not really Paris these days.

But what about the ways she still is?

Well, here are a few answers to that question.

As in many times before, this is another good time to remember Paris’s motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur  (‘Tossed about, but not sunk.”) These are tough times, but among their many qualities, Parisians have shown themselves time and time again to be nothing if not resilient.

Gardens are being carefully tended, in preparation for spring…

Wherever you are in the world, try to be patient. If you are safe and in good health, and your family and friends are too, be grateful. Stay well, be careful, prenez soin de vous…one day things will be better…and spring will come again…

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.”

February 1, 2021 at 2:36 pm 2 comments

January in Essoyes…2021

As I write this post, another snow is drifting down from the sky, softly falling over trees, fields, and houses. It is a lovely sight.

In France confusion over what to do about the pandemic reigns. In my opinion, the government is trying as hard as it can to figure out what to do as the plateau of new cases that was holding steadily for a while (but not declining) begins to creep up, and worries about the new strains of COVID that are appearing here and in other European countries are added to the list of concerns. So far they have not been able to take the kind of decisive action that would make everyone feel if not better, at least less uncertain about what comes next.

But can you blame them? In addition to a rather sluggish pace of the vaccine becoming available, they are dealing with on the one hand approximately 60 percent of the French population that is very suspicious of vaccines, and on the other hand (I suppose about 40 percent of the population) complaining that the government is not moving fast enough to get the vaccine distributed. The other day President Macron did a bit of complaining himself, by protesting that it’s impossible to deal satisfactorily with a nation of “66 million prosecutors.” 🙂 Though he was obviously overstating the case, I can kind of see his point. I think he’s trying. I think the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran is trying also. I think pretty much everyone involved in trying to do something about the pandemic is doing the best they can…

What can I say? The French themselves know that they are a nation of complainers (and yes, sometimes they kind of complain about it 🙂 ). So…plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose….

Apparently the next decision will be announced on Wednesday, so then we will all know more exactly what to complain about, and what the next weeks hold in store. A reconfinement is widely anticipated, but we’ll just have to wait a few more days to know if indeed there will be a reconfinement, and if so what the terms of it will be.

I watched the inauguration of our new President from here, and chose to watch French television coverage of it rather than American. I always find it interesting to follow important developments and events in the U.S. through a French lens. One of the small details noted over here was that there was an awkward delay in the opening of the doors to the White House when the Bidens arrived there. According to the New York Times in an article written the day after the inauguration, the doors are usually opened for the new president by Marine guards. It’s not clear who finally opened the doors this time, but the French journalists watching the event live certainly noticed the awkwardness of the moment, and one of them guessed that in the end Biden opened the doors himself. This would fit into the general view of Americans as perfectly capable of blowing protocol aside when the moment calls for it. 🙂

I would say that overall the reaction over here to the new administration is at the very least great relief. The President of the EU was quoted as saying that she was looking forward to having “a friend” in the White House who could work with Europe on fighting climate change, quashing the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding multilateralism. No need to think too hard about what really was being implied there…

And so, it was with great joy (and relief) that I and millions of other Americans, along with citizens of many other countries, watched the peaceful (though hardly gracious) transfer of power take place in the end after all. President Biden has his work cut out for him…here’s wishing him the strength, courage, and commitment to get it done, and done well.

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.”

January 24, 2021 at 5:42 pm 2 comments


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