Even if I wear a mask every time I leave the house, I finally feel like I can finally breathe again. Strict lockdown is over in France as of the 11th May. We can go up to 100km from home and meet small groups of people we don’t live with. More stores are open, though cafés and restaurants remain closed (many are offering takeaway services).
What’s it like to live in the very heart of the most beautiful city in the world during this period? What’s it like to stroll the streets? To pass your favourite haunts, only to see them shuttered up? Well, living in the very heart of the most beautiful city in the world amidst a global pandemic simultaneously feels like both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, many of us have been completely alone, in very small spaces for weeks on end, with no access to our own outdoor space. On the other hand, we are lucky to experience intense moments of solidarity with each other every moment of the day. I also feel lucky to see Paris every day.
From acknowledging smiles and waves from once reclusive neighbours to the 8 PM nightly ritual of clapping for those working on the frontlines to notes left by strangers for strangers, all across the city, there are small acts of kindness everywhere you look…
What is life like post lockdown in Paris?
In the past four days, I’ve clocked up close to 80km strolling the streets of the city. A couple of days ago, I even went on a walk with a friend and, having not seen anyone I know in two months, it was one of the best and most emotional moments of my life. I burst into tears on the spot (and, funnily enough, it’s pretty hard to wipe away tears when you can’t touch your face).
Today… I took my camera through the streets of Paris for the first time in two months. It felt amazing! Of course, psychologically, it’s also much easier to stay at home (apart from walks) now that we have a « choice » to leave our homes whenever we want to and we aren’t living with a permission slip to leave the house. I finally feel a little of my brain fog clearing and, once more, it’s easier to write.
Last night, I walked with a friend through the streets of Montmartre. Though largely empty, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Even in normal times you could see easily enjoy empty streets should you opt to visit at sunrise or late at night. What truly shocked me is that pollution levels have fallen so low in the city, from lack of cars and other fuel guzzling transportation, that you can see further than ever before from the Parvis of the Sacré-Coeur.
Mask wearing in the city
As of writing, it’s not mandatory to wear a mask in all public places. However, it is mandatory to wear a mask on public transport here (and you can only take public transport during rush hours if you have a valid form and reason to be using it).
I’m lucky to live in the heart of the city so I’m walking everywhere, hence how I’ve walked so many kilometres in the past few days! More and more shops are making wearing a mask mandatory and, to be honest, this is the fourth day that I’ve worn one every time I leave the house.
The thought of taking it on and off in the outside world stresses me out and so I just correctly fit it at home and don’t touch my face until a few hours later when I’ve come home and thoroughly washed my hands. I’ve purchased myself three cloth masks from a local pharmacy and spent €1 more per mask to have a cute pattern as I find it easier to wear (psychologically) if I have a nice pattern and do my eye makeup nicely.
Going into any enclosed space that isn’t my apartment gives me a lot of anxiety so I’ve limited my visits to grocery stores and pharmacies. I feel fortunate to work from home, even if (being in the tourism industry) my business has obviously taken quite the hit and is pretty much on fire! Unfortunately, my (no longer) trusty Mac gave out the night before confinement ended. As such, I bought a new one at the store, which meant having a look at what non-essential shopping is like now!
My new laptop’s keyboard is AZERTY (the French one) and so I’ve joked that I’m truly committing to my life in France. Even if I use my phone in AZERTY, my old laptop was a QWERTY keyboard and so I’m slowly but surely learning all of the positions of the symbols as I type this to you!
I was impressed at how many measures that have been taken when I went to pick up my new laptop at Fnac. The one I visited was by Saint Lazare and is in a shopping mall. Upon entrance, a security guard squirts a dollop of hand sanitiser into your hands. When you go into Fnac, inside the mall, you once more have to use hand sanitiser at the entrance. Mask wearing is mandatory. All cashiers are behind plexi glass screens. The new normal.
Of course, deconfinement is simply entering into a new phase. I’ve seen quite a few people commenting saying ‘Paris isn’t Paris’ and ‘it doesn’t feel normal’. It certainly doesn’t feel good- it simply feels a little better than before- and there are more stores closed than are open.
Of course, Paris will never feel like Paris until the cafes and bars open up once more, people spill into the streets, and you can hear laughter echo in the little alleyways into the early hours of the morning. They say that up to a quarter of Parisians left Paris just before lockdown. Since last week, the streets have been markedly busier, though it’ still pretty empty.
At midday, I went to see the Louvre. the sun was shining and the reflections of the glass pyramid were reflecting onto the surrounding historical walls of the former palace. It was beautiful, but there was also less than a dozen of us there to enjoy it. It certainly feels strange to see the city void of visitors and sans tourists.
A final note…
Maybe it sounds silly but I can’t believe I completed a confinement on my own! Two months confined to a 1km radius of my house and two months of seeing no one I know, even from afar. I even gave myself a quarantine haircut and resisted giving myself a quarantine ear piercing (which seems prudent now that I’m affixing a mask to my face via my ears every day).
I hope that you’re doing okay wherever you are in the world!
Lots of love from Paris