Posts tagged ‘quarantine’

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

A different kind of Thanksgiving…

Over the years, my faithful pilgrims have celebrated Thanksgiving with me, friends, and family in Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Silver Spring, and Essoyes…

It’s less than a week to Thanksgiving, and only a few weeks away from Christmas. And there’s a lot of agony (both in my homeland of the U.S., and in France) about whether people will be able to celebrate these wonderful holidays in the way to which we are accustomed this year.

I do understand the agony: these are my two favorite holidays and I love celebrating them in the way we usually do. Here is a post I wrote just last year about last Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with my sons and some friends here in France.

But here is the problem this year. The problem is the pandemic. We all know this!

And here is my own unscientific (but based on what I have been able to learn from the scientists) view of why we should NOT celebrate either of these holidays in the way we are accustomed to doing, not this year.

Let’s line up some of the main features of how we celebrate these holidays:

We travel long distances among crowds of other people to be together with those we love;

We get together (inside) with large numbers of people where we sing, dance, and linger over tables full of food that we share with each other.

We sit together for hours at a table enjoying eating, talking, laughing, telling stories.

(All activities, by the way, that prevent the all-important wearing of masks and tend to ignore the rules of physical distancing…)

On top of it, we do all this at a time of year when the weather is not good, lots of people are getting sick, and in the month prior to the statistically highest month of the year for deaths. (!)

What is wrong with all of this, in terms of containing a pandemic?

Well, just about everything, really. So to me it seems the answer is pretty clear: if we want most (or ideally, all) of the members of our family to make it through to next Thanksgiving and Christmas, most of us should probably exercise delayed gratification this year.

Delayed gratification is a concept that is very difficult for children to understand or accept, but it shouldn’t really be that hard for the rest of us, right?

We are lucky to be able to substitute alternative ways of celebrating these holidays together this year: most of us can Zoom with as many people as we like. We can tell stories, laugh, and sing if we want via Zoom, all without endangering ourselves or anyone else.

We can put up the decorations that cheer us (like my silly cardboard Pilgrims shown above, one of my Thanksgiving traditions).

We can buy and enjoy an excellent feast for one, or two, or three (whomever we are spending our time with already, in quarantine) from a local restaurant that is able to safely prepare food for us. (They need our help!!!!)

And we can read poetry or stories to each other that remind us of all we have to be thankful for–including the hope of a vaccine to come soon, thanks again to the scientists among us.

Here is one of my favorite Thanksgiving poems, “A Minnesota Thanksgiving,” by John Berryman.

If we are allowed to be with each other, in small groups, we should also take whatever precautions we can to ensure that we won’t be sorry we did so–whether that means getting tested before seeing each other, wearing masks even inside our homes, and not hugging each other, which is in my opinion one of the hardest things about all of this. (My sons and I have developed an alternative: hugging oneself while standing at a safe distance from each other. Like this…)

I know…it looks like we’re members of a cult. But we’re not. We’re just demonstrating how you can hug yourself when you’re not allowed to hug each other 🙂

It’s certainly not as good as the old-fashioned way, but at least you get hugged! And it’s safer…

Wishing everyone a safe, happy, healthy Thanksgiving…and hoping for a return to a more traditional celebration next year!

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.”

November 20, 2020 at 1:18 pm 3 comments

Lockdown in France: Day 42

…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…

Continue Reading April 29, 2020 at 6:25 am 3 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


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