Corona Notes: Musings From Paris

As a dreaded virus spreads its tentacles across the world, it is imperative to share experiences and learnings for benefit of different communities. In this Odisha Bytes special series titled Corona Notes, we would publish articles by people residing in different countries and continents on how they are coping with the COVID challenge.

“Je voudrais une baguette traditionnelle sil vous plait (can I get a traditional loaf of bread, please?)” I ask, having waited patiently for 15 minutes outside my local “boulangerie” (bakery), keeping a safe
distance from other customers queuing up on the sidewalk. There are 6 people ahead of me, several behind and boulangerie allows only one customer in at a time.

Going everyday to the neighbourhood bakery to buy fresh baguette (sometimes twice a day) is French culture. No one eats bread from the previous day! I have acquired this habit recently. It is a relief to pursue this ritual during the lockdown with stringent rules to stay indoors, even though it means spending a disproportionate amount of time on the errand!

Paris has become a ghost city in the past 5 weeks. Around 1 million privileged Parisians fled the city to go to their second countryside homes the day the lockdown started, revealing stark social inequalities. For those who remain, we can go out only for essential shopping like groceries and medicine, walk pets or go solo jogging for an hour if it is within a couple of kilometres from our residence and not longer than 1 hour. Trips outside the house need to be justified by filling a form from the Ministry of Interior that one must always carry, else a fine of 135 Euros.

President Macron announced at the beginning of the lockdown that the country is at war. Measures taken have not been seen outside wartime in France and as my French friends say: “Even then the cafes always remained open, when Paris was occupied during the war!” Parisians love to “see and be seen”- the café culture is an inextricable part of life. To sit leisurely in a café, preferably outdoors along a busy pavement irrespective of weather, at any point of time during the day and late into the night is unique to Paris. Even that is gone. It remains to be seen how long the pandemic can keep Parisians indoors.

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