Il est là! The lockdown chronicles!
Though we’re by no means out of the woods, I thought it was high time I write about the lockdown experience in France, which seems like a lifetime ago now.
Like most of the world, we vaguely heard about the Covid news coming out of China in January/February, and there were a handful of cases in France (all of whom had directly travelled back from China). While feeling started to grow that it was only a matter of time before it properly got to us, it still wasn’t really on the radar. Then all of a sudden, things stepped up a notch at the beginning of March: bans on gatherings of more than 5000, then 1000, then 100 people in quick succession; on Thursday the 12th it was announced that schools would close from the Monday, and on the Monday, the full lockdown was announced: only essential services could remain open, everyone else was to work from home if possible, or be put on ‘partial unemployment’, paid by the state.
Now this may seem like par for the course for all of us in this new ‘era of Covid’, but France being France had a particularly French spin on it of course: yes, you were allowed out of your house for one a hour a day, but only within a 1km radius of your address, and you had to fill out a form to authorise yourself to do it, with your name, address, date, time and choosing the appropriate reason from a list. Acceptable motives were essentially groceries, imperative work, running/walking, going to the doctor or pharmacy and assisting ‘vulnerable people’. Officially, a new form was required for each outing, and if you didn’t have a printer then you’d be writing it all out by hand. Two weeks in, the form was changed slightly, so that meant starting from scratch. Luckily, after a month or so an online form was introduced so that was much easier to fill out each time.
At first, the lockdown was set for ‘at least two weeks’. Then it was extended another two, and then the big bombshell: another month. At the time, that period of time seemed unfathomable – one month down, one to go – at best. Fortunately though, it flew by.
The lockdown gang at Casa Waldeck was me, my flatmate Anaïs, and her boyfriend Robin, who moved in with us. Our flatmate Yoann spent the period in Denmark (that’s another story). Honestly…we had a great time! We definitely realise how lucky we were, and that this was far from the case for many people. But, we have a beautiful apartment that we enjoy spending time in; it’s nice and spacious – we each had our own room to work in, and decent living space too, so we never felt like we were on each others’ toes; we had the time to cook and eat together properly every day, and of course have some fun. From the first week, Friday became apéro day that we looked forward to every week, often finishing in the wee hours! We all did daily sport, often at the same time but each with our own little corner of the flat, played board games, and of course had an Irish dancing lesson. We all had our own projects on the go too, which for me was finally working through the 18-month backlog of Spanish learner magazines I had accrued and not read, participating in several online choir events and videos, working on a cross-stitch bookmark I’d had for years (which I ended up giving Anaïs for her birthday) as well as lot of general life admin. I even forewent many a Saturday morning lie-in to watch musicals released online for a limited time only with friends Catherine and Ed back in NZ. Most importantly, after not giving it a second thought for 8 months, I finally made the most of my balcony! It’s nothing glamorous, but it definitely did the trick and made me feel like I’d been outside every day. If I didn’t have class, I spent a solid hour out there in the afternoon sun, and it was crazy to see just how much longer the golden hour lasted each day we edged towards summer. The weather was pretty splendid the whole lockdown to be honest; we only had a few days of rain about a month in. Result: I cultivated quite the tan! Overall, I went out rarely – perhaps once every ten days on average, to go to the supermarket. I tried going for a run a couple of times hut honestly just had no desire. I was really happy chilling chez moi!
Work was also a surprisingly easy transition. Even before the mandatory lockdown was announced, we had already made the decision to close the school. Fortunately for us, our company is Italian, and therefore we had a couple of weeks’ ‘head start’ as we saw what was happening over there, and the company had already worked hard on measures to adapt, which we were able to put in place straight away. The first week of course was a bit of a logistical week, figuring out how to manage everything, learning about teaching online, contacting students to get them up to speed and see how they were doing. By week three though we were more or less running a full timetable, just online. Our materials are all based on an online platform, with small groups, so there wasn’t a lot we needed to adapt. Of course, some activities don’t work so well, or aren’t possible to do online, but by and large the biggest issue was a) helping students with tech difficulties and b) getting them to understand how to interact on zoom. Once they’d had a few activities though we tended to be away laughing and by and large everyone was as happy as Larry! Even now, some students prefer to stay online than come back to school for a variety of reasons. We also had regular online meetings and games evenings so we could keep up contact and morale. As well as that, the teachers made a whole lot of videos for students and hosted live webinars in youtube, particularly at the beginning while were still getting the new timetable set up.
The only fly in the ointment was that in week two of lockdown, my computer screen broke. Like totally broke. It already had a little crack in the corner, and out of nowhere one day that crack just totally shot across the screen, which eventually went totally kaput. It lasted one day rigged up to my flatmate’s extra monitor, but that was short lived (for a long and boring tech explanation). SO in to school I went, with my special employer attestation, to retrieve a desktop which I carted back home. It was a good emergency solution, only these computers are a) mindbogglingly slow, and b) weirdly high, as in, the top of my forehead would barely be in frame. Sitting on cushions with my desk chair as high as it would go (and my feet resting on piles of books) was not exactly ideal.
After a couple of weeks I couldn’t take it any more and ended up illegally running the gauntlet to meet my colleague Drew and swap the desktop for my old laptop I had lent him at the beginning of lockdown. It was definitely an improvement, but not totally reassuring with ‘your disk is full’ messages popping up several times a day. It wasn’t until MID JUNE that I was at last able to get the screen fixed (for a cool €500), and early July by the time a subsequently revealed faulty charger issue was dealt with (miraculously covered by warranty). Honestly, that was probably the hardest part of lockdown for me, as sad as it sounds to admit.
The 11th of May was d-day promised way back in April and, to everyone’s great relief, it did indeed mark the start of the déconfinement or lifting of lockdown. The first stage saw, most importantly, attestations no longer being necessary, and it being possible to freely leave your house and travel up to 100km. Restaurants could open to sell takeaways, and public spaces like parks were open again, although, with a limit of gatherings to no more than ten people (and of course masks, hand sanitiser and social distancing de rigueur). Most shops started reopening too. The first week didn’t really change much for me – I was still very much in the ‘everyone is contagious and irresponsible, must take precautions’ mindset. That first weekend I met up with Karen and Emma and we walked round the park with masks on and keeping a distance. Of course, little by little things started to relax, despite everyone’s best intentions. During this time our flatmate Yoann made it back from Denmark at last, after several flight cancellations.
June 2nd was the next key date on which, most importantly, bars and restaurants could reopen normally, along with museums, gyms, pools and the like. Cinemas followed a few weeks later. All of this time though, gatherings were still limited to 10 and social distancing required, though needless to say respecting this has not been one of the French’s strong points. Nor is wearing masks correctly, when required, notably on public transport. Since the end of July, masks are once again compulsory in enclosed public spaces (which was pretty much the case anyway with most shops and restaurants requiring it) and some cities have recently made them compulsory outside too, as cases start to rise again.
Aside from the masks though, life does really feel like it’s back to normal. Little by little I have kind of eased back into my old social habits, although still try to avoid crowded situations and mixing with too many people. School reopened around the end of May, and little by little we’ve been increasing the number of classes there. However, many students want or have to stay online, so it’s been quite the juggling act. I was quite happy to stay working from home, and started going back to school once a week or so in mid-June. It’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I’ve been working more in-school than online.
Once silver lining of the crisis and many people’s travel plans being scuppered was that everyone was very free, all the time! Rather than people being all over the place and having to organise things in advance, there was a lot of spontaneous ‘let’s do something tonight/this weekend’. I’ve been on a couple of bike trips, out to the Grand Parc Miribel Jonage (33km), and to Ile Roy (17k cycling, 13k walking). Also a couple of hikes – one in Yzeron, which was more of a ramble, and one in the Vercors overlooking Grenoble, which was a challenge, but exactly what I was after. Book club had a record TWO meetings in the same month – as the first one had been so delayed – the books being The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and the second Melmoth by Sarah Perry. Thoroughly enjoyed the first, got rather creeped out by the second. However, it did lead to some really great discussion.
RUNNING was also back on the agenda as la Course des Héros was maintained on the 28th of June, albeit in a different form. Rather than assembling thousands of people, it turned into a virtual event, where everyone was supposed to connect online at the same time and walk/run/cycle/cartwheel as far as possible in the same 30 minutes. Given last year we had run 10km in one hour (no mean feat), and we had had a two-month interruption to our training regime, we thought targeting 5km in 30 mins was a fair compromise. Also no mean feat. No matter how hard we trained, we just could not crack the 31 minute mark. Add to the fact that on the day we were in a park we had never been to before, which was not flat, but was hot and humid, the actual day was HORRIBLE. Still, it was all for a good cause, and nice to do it with the other runners supporting Prête-moi tes ailes, an association founded by friends last year. All up we raised €3300 for them, which will make a huge difference. So, was it worth it? Yes! Does that mean I intend to sign up again next year? No!
Last but not least in terms of life updates is choir. As you can imagine, the last few months haven’t been easy for the arts, and there are still a lot of question marks over not only we can do, from a legal standpoint, but also what we should do, in terms of risk and responsibility. Our choir had so many projects planned starting literally the week the lockdown was imposed, which were all cancelled. Most will hopefully take place next year instead, fingers crossed. When it became clear that the lockdown was going to last a while, our director organised a series of zoom sessions with 2-3 singers each, in order to reconnect, learn a new song, and remember what a pleasure it is to sing together – even if we had to do so on mute, due to tech reasons (too much lag to be in sync). Once the first stage of lockdown was lifted, we started to meet again in octets, rehearsing outside in a beautiful garden just a stone’s throw from our usual room. Everyone really enjoyed this – not only singing together again, but the difference it made to be only a few singers, and really hear each other, compared to when there’s 50 of us. This has given us new ideas for mixing up the rehearsal format next year. As it is, we’ve had to find a new venue with more space. Fingers crossed that we will be able to start up again as ‘normal’ – at least, all together – in September. I have a special interest in ensuring things go as smoothly as possible as in June I was elected president of the association! Even though times are uncertain, it’s definitely an exciting opportunity and I’m looking forward to learning a lot as the year develops. I shall keep you posted! In the meantime, feel free to check out our choir on facebook, instagram and youtube (because yes, until our AGM in November I am still responsible for comms).
Regular followers of the blog will know that I tend to pump out these posts when I have much more important things to do or looming deadlines, and this week is no exception! Next weekend I’m heading off on holiday – one week in Corsica, followed by five days in Ile de Ré – an island off the Atlantic coast. We’re not closing the school this year, instead we’re reducing the timetable while teachers take rolling holidays, and this week it’s just me and Fabio holding the fort. Working late + Yoann’s 30th birthday bash on Friday + driving down to Marseille to get the ferry on Saturday = need to get my ducks in a row, stat. Now this blog is out of the way, I guess I have nothing to keep me from my packing…
Bon été à tous, and for those in the southern hemisphere, you’re on the way out!