IMG_5305Since Tuesday, when France closed almost everything, I have awoken to birdsong rather than rush-hour traffic. It’s quiet all day and even more so at night, except for the various animals that live in the woods along the nearby river–owls hooting and who knows what else. IMG_5303When the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the noise and air pollution suddenly absent, it feels like utopia. We putter around the house and yard, deep-cleaning everything. The piano moved and its backside vacuumed, something I tend to do only when the tuner is about to come. Weeds pulled. More weeds pulled. A Sisyphean task.

Weeds, wildflowers…depends where they are.
Same color combo, in an old stone abreuvoir, or water trough.

IMG_5241The dystopia isn’t far. Calls to friends, especially the ones who live alone. Everybody hunkered down. So many worries. The sun is shining brightly but there is a dark cloud menacing all of humanity.


This shutdown feels like everybody is treading water. A terrifying metaphor to me. I can’t swim. I hate water. Our pool is just shoulder-deep but I avoid it unless we’re in a canicule (heat wave). I can paddle its width but not its length. I can’t tread water.

Not my house but one of the hideous new ones in a lotissement, or subdivision, blighting the countryside. Note the plank instead of steps from the back porch, yet the pool is filled. 

We went to the supermarket on Monday afternoon. It was strange. There were parking spaces but inside it was bustling. Everybody very intense. Canned goods, pasta, frozen vegetables mostly gone–just the fancy brands left. No baker’s yeast. Plenty of flour and sugar and butter. Disinfecting wipes all gone. Toilet paper aisle diminished but not empty. Promotions on fresh stuff like yogurt–they want to move it before it’s a loss? And huge lines to check out. We waited for close to an hour. Everybody a cart’s length apart. Nobody pushed. Nobody tried to cut the line (unusual). Everybody was patient, polite and quiet. Only a few shopping carts really piled high; most people seemed to get only what they need. Why do people buy bottled water? We are in a developed country with decent drinking water! My kid spotted somebody with two shopping carts. The exception. We gave some coins to the homeless man at the mall entrance for karma. How, where will he survive? Will he survive?

We can go out, with a form, to exercise, but not in the park.

A quick run yesterday to the village grocery. Groceries remain open. The government doesn’t want people to freak out about food. I wanted to have food for two or three weeks in case I got sick; what would my family do? But we hadn’t gotten chocolate (most important for mental health), so I picked some up locally. Tape on the floor to keep people the required distance from the couple who operate the store. They seemed stressed. Unhappy. They don’t want to be heroes. They are young, and I hope they won’t get sick. Their mothers also tend the shop to give them a break; I suspect that will be stopped.

Who needs a park? I saw nobody on my hourlong walks.
I wish you could join me. It smells divine.

At first, like many, I thought the fears were overblown. Just stay home if you’re sick. Sick or not, wash your hands a lot. Lay off la bise. It’ll be fine. But I saw with my own eyes and heard from others tales of incredible selfishness and carelessness. People do not stay home if sick and they do not wash their hands.

Another view of the Pyrénées, though not as clear as in the top photo.

One person counseled taking Tylenol before flying to evade fever detection–as if that individual’s desire to make a flight were more important than the health of the other hundred or four hundred people on the flight and the thousands working at the airport or passing through.

Wild thyme in bloom.
Rosemary in flower.

A doctor friend, in mask and gloves like all the medical office workers, had a patient who was coughing like mad. The doctor offered the patient a mask, and the patient refused! WTF! “I won’t be able to breathe with that. I just have bronchitis,” the patient protested. As if the doctor, or all the unmasked patients in the waiting room, didn’t mind getting bronchitis! Especially now! And this was not a doctor who treats things like bronchitis but a different kind of specialist.

Orange poppies.

A person in delicate health had a visitor who had the flu (the regular, snotty-nosed kind). The visitor coughed constantly (phlegmy, not dry) without covering her mouth and never once washed her hands after blowing her nose. Luckily the person and all other household members had been vaccinated against the flu. I’d been lax about flu vaccinations in recent years but no more. We did get shots in November. It wasn’t covered, so I shelled out €10 apiece. Well worth it. I can’t wait to get the one for the coronavirus, as soon as it is developed.

Sign of spring: local asparagus. The markets have been closed.
Wild asparagus, left, and regular.

Vaccines work. I saw it firsthand when I lived in Africa. There was a mission run by Italian priests and Polish nuns that educated and trained kids who had been paralyzed by polio. The kids were amazing. They would play soccer, hauling themselves around the field like lightning despite being on crutches. They learned trades like shoe repair. I went back 15 years later with a colleague. We stayed at the fancy hotel I never could afford before, a base for mountain-climbing, which we were there to do. I asked the concierge about the mission. She said it was still there, but now just had kids with birth defects. “There’s no more polio,” she said (in a tone like “what kind of dinosaur is this chick?”). I broke down crying. The idea of no more polio was just so emotional. Vaccines work. We went to the mission and gave the nuns fistfuls of euros.

For sound, see my Instagram.

A tangent: I also remember urging my friend to hurry up because it was getting late, and it would take a good 30-45 minutes to walk back to the village, then we’d have to walk along the fence of a wildlife refuge to the hotel. There were lions in the refuge. It would be dark in half an hour. But sunset on the equator is sudden, like a light switch, and at that instant the sun was blazing. My friend didn’t believe me, said I was overreacting. I said, LIONS. We hustled, but when a pickup came along, I waved it down frantically. The cab was full of people already, but the driver said we could ride in the back, with a bunch of sheep. My friend was not happy (me either; I keep my distance from animals). I made her get in. Even with the ride, it was so dark by the time we got to the final track to the hotel that we could barely see our hands in front of our faces. Clearly we met no lions. That doesn’t mean I overreacted.

The perfume of this hedge was delicious. Do you see the bee?

In 2009, I had to do research on pandemics. It was in a business context, about handling disruptions. It was just after SARS, at the time of the H1N1 flu, which hit children and pregnant women worst. There were vaccines, which helped rein it in, but as a result of that success many people said there was a needless panic. Here is what one expert, a globally recognized epidemiologist, told me:IMG_5250“In last 30-40 years there is a gathering and grave concern that the same antecedent causes that created climate change and historic droughts and famines are all caused by same conditions and a new group of viruses, especially pandemic viruses, have begun to emerge. Too many people are behaving unconsciously in the world. As we cut down green swaths of forest that separate animal and human habitats, we live in each others’ microclimate. So diseases that once could find that quiet reservoir now jump from animals to humans with increased rapidity.”IMG_5269He also said: “There is an increasing risk of unknown or barely known diseases emerging, and we lack people who are trained, we lack surveillance reporting systems that are simple, cheap, easy and replicable.”That was in 2009. IMG_5271The experts knew this could–would–happen, but like Cassandra, they were ignored. Even a week ago, people here were pooh-poohing the situation. I spoke to someone in the U.S. just a few days ago who told me it’s a hoax, fake news propagated by libs, panic fueled by the media, nothing to worry about. IMG_5216The fact that so many Italians are dying is pretty much proof that this isn’t a liberal hoax. The speed with which things are changing gives me whiplash.

Spring is a good metaphor for rapid change. One tree pops out, while another remains bare.
More leaf out, nearly overnight.
The new leaves’ color contrasts with the dark pines. By summer everything will be dark green, even brown.

Before all this, I realized I needed to apply for French citizenship. I’ve been saying it for about four years, but I didn’t actually do it. It was like living happily in a couple without being married and suddenly seeing the benefit of tying the knot. So I ordered all the birth certificates and such and took the French test. I knew I would pass; my worry was making stupid errors as someone who touch-types on a QWERTY keyboard having to use an AZERTY keyboard where the keys are in the “wrong” place. One needed 43% correct to pass. My average was 562 out of 699, or 80%. I got 95% on written comprehension and 92% on oral comprehension–better than I expected–and 64% (!!! possibly the lowest grade of my life, physical education aside) on written expression and 70% on oral expression–both humbling. The written test was an essay for or against mobile phones. I needed to use French expressions but couldn’t think of any that were relevant. Anyway, I passed. I wonder about another test taker, a young man, about 20, who grew up in a village in Morocco and who moved to Carcassonne when he was in 6th grade. I asked which schools he’d attended and he looked at the floor and said he never went to school here, that he had to work to support his family. Clearly his French was fine, but would he manage to write a well-organized essay, not having finished school? He showed up two hours early for his test (we had staggered times). I hope he passed with flying colors. If I had a business, I would want to hire him. Two hours early!IMG_5300Anyway, I got my results on Wednesday and spent all day Friday tying up the last bits of my dossier. I just needed to request an attestation from the income tax department. The notary was mailing an attestation saying we own our house. And today, very bad news: all the post offices are closed and mail is suspended. That means I can’t get my attestations, which must be originals, no scans or printouts. I also can’t buy the certified mail envelopes I need to enclose with the dossier, not even online–no delivery. Nor can I send anything. I have until the end of April, otherwise my documents will be more than three months old and I’ll have to re-order them all (and the UPS delivery cost a small fortune).  I’ll also have to re-take the French test, but you have to wait six months between tests. Maybe they’ll make exceptions, and allow for more time. I was so proud of my dossier, too, in an expanding folder with labeled tabs, each with checklists of the documents for that section, in the order specified by the government.

These branches looked like necklaces IRL.

I can start the dossier over again if need be. There are other, bigger worries that are out of my hands, that will arrive inexorably, virus or not. It is not the time or place to dwell on those.

Last summer’s blackberries, still hanging on. Where will we be when this year’s crop is ripe in August? 
The same for this fig tree. My heart is breaking.

The uncertainty about the future feels like the days after Sept. 11, when it seemed like the world was ending. In fact, the world as we knew it did end. Things didn’t get better; other tragedies followed. But ensuing airport security aside, many people weren’t affected by Sept. 11. This coronavirus is going to affect every single human. IMG_5263

Delicate wild orchids.

Be smart. Stay home. China stopped the virus through draconian, authoritarian, dystopian measures; if people in democracies continue to fail to stay home voluntarily, draconian measures might follow. Don’t let us get there. Do something positive with this time. A hobby. Le Bon Coin (the Good Corner), the French equivalent of Craigslist, has a campaign right now (because buying stuff on it is impossible at the moment–social distancing!): le bon geste (the Good Gesture), where you can put up offers or requests for things like help with homework via Skype, picking up groceries for someone, dog walking, etc. At the very least, make a list of the people you know who live alone or who are elderly and call them regularly. Send them photos, if they have a phone or computer.

Frog or toad? Susan, your call! (Everybody should check out her blog, Days on the Claise.)
Not far from this interesting puddle. What is going on here?

We have to stay out of the way of the health-care system until a treatment and/or vaccine is found. Going out is just selfish.IMG_5266Your coronavirus stories welcome in the comments.IMG_5265




33 thoughts on “Treading Water in Utopia/Dystopia

  1. I was wondering how you were faring amidst all this. Thanks for the post. I guess you know the orange poppies in your photo are also known as California poppies? I wonder what the French call them. Stay well and yes, stay home. I agree with your sentiments about all this; we are also staying home. Lots of cleaning and tidying up in the garden going on! We are a retired couple so fortunately we don’t have to worry about not working.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Poppies are coquelicots (Koe-klee-koe). I’ve seen the wild red ones for a few weeks already.
      Wishing you and your family good health. Glad you can stay safely at home!


  2. I began preparing for the CV on March 7th, so I have everything I need for a month, and Annie has enough dog food and a new toy. Your sentence, “Too many people are behaving unconsciously in the world” is distressing, but true. What a selfish lot we’ve become, and yes… Before this is over, it will affect everyone, in one way or another. Take care, my friend. xoxox, Brenda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that sentence was from the epidemiologist, speaking not just about stupidity, like the three examples I gave (not all of them from here, either), but about how we treat the environment in general. Like the constant encroachment on wilderness.


      1. The mindset of people, today, has changed so much! It’s “take and grab” and “me, me, me!” I’m afraid it doesn’t bode well for mankind. xoxox

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sent you an email about the post office. I think it’s only suspended services complete for today, while it regroups and works out how to provide a service with reduced staff (at home sick or minding kids) in the weeks to come.

    The amphibian is a frog — probably just regular green frog (aka edible frog) but hard to tell for sure with this photo.

    I think the puddle has covered some dog footprints then they’ve partially silted up. The beginnings of fossilised footprints!

    We’ve had our right to walk in the countryside withdrawn by the prefect. Chemins de randonnée and other tracks, whether public or private are off limits, as are parks and the river banks. Such a downer. So far as I can work out I can still legitimately go to the orchard but today has just been miserable. I was annoyed to see last night that my neighbour’s son and his girlfriend arrived for the weekend, bises all round. And his sister works in a hospital!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are always a font of information! My fingers crossed re the post office. Thanks about the frog. It wasn’t far from the puddle. I didn’t want to get close and scare it. Live and let live.
      That is really sad about not being able to take walks. We have seen family units out and about for walks in the lovely weather, but they seem to stay spaced apart. As they should. And on my walks in the country, I crossed paths with nobody but passing cars. Getting outside is good for mental health. We have a big yard, but to me, it’s just work (weeds! more weeds!). A walk feels like freedom.


  4. TOAD!
    I have tears in my eyes……
    Don’t panic about this as you have the BLOG TO SHOW THEM YOU WERE ON TARGET!!!!!!
    ITs all so SURREAL.WE still have family in ITALY!!!650 people died yesterday!
    YOU keep Moving and writing!
    TEACH THAT KID to boil, water for rice and pasta!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It has been amazing, frustrating, clarifying and terrifying to observe the range of behaviors here. Equally fascinating to hear differing perspectives from my own family across the age ranges and spaces in the country. Still so many here clinging to defend the obvious bungling of “our” president. Lack of consistent directives and collaboration with willing partners both at home and abroad is shameful. How it will play out longer term in different states is hard to tell at this point. My “kids” are in three different states, with three different sets of challenges to comply with work obligations. Suffice it to say, they are embracing the need for social distancing much more quickly than their father. I’m grateful to be home alone for the last three weeks as he journeyed south to see his mother and another aging friend in Texas and Oklahoma. I’m super proud and happy to still be serving on our local school board, to help make the decision to prioritize protecting the salaries of ALL (even the hourly custodians, bus drivers, food service workers) employees through the end of the school year. Wisconsin’s governor has declared a mandatory shut down on all public and private schools “indefinitely”. We are scrambling to make plans to launch on-line instruction, but realize the academic goals will need to shift and we’ll be reliant on varying degrees of skill and discipline to support those efforts at home. We also have coordinated a “grab and go” bag meal program to serve our most food fragile students. Hip, hip hooray for all the ways people have willingly offered to help, with money or volunteer efforts! We can only control our own behavior and reaction to what’s unfolding around us. I believe we are all called to get creative to determine what each of us CAN do to help those in our sphere. There is no single, easy, “right” answer. But I do think our individual behavior to support the common good will call to question what each of us really values. The trick will be to leave room and suspend judgement of those who make different choices from our own. Love for all of creation, willingness to share our time and talent, exploring whatever creative endeavors we let ourselves be “bad at” to find new outlets of expression, time in nature, respect for the human body and above all, the recognition that what the world needs above all now is LOVE, SWEET LOVE! Good health to you and yours. Chin up and thanks for sharing such rich glimpses of the view from your windows!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You brought up an excellent point. One of my friends in the US is busy making meals for kids who would otherwise go hungry with school closed. My friend was shocked by how many kids came for meals despite terrible weather.
      Good luck to you. The best thing is to not add to the problem. No fun but necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. a LOT of stuff to talk about, ponder, discuss, DO….
    I am SO glad to be back in Switzerland but fear we now will never be able to sell our beautiful house….. we can’t even go back to our place and look after it, cut the grass, let fresh air enter the rooms, water the many, many plants…. nobody can do it for us either.
    People here seem to be much kinder, there is help ‘advertised’ everywhere, young people offering to do shopping, dropping by with stuff, helping out – we have an offer right here in the house by a young girl of 15. Since they can’t go to school, nor to work, they spend their time helping others. Shops are severely diminished, especially empty where toilet paper and daily goods are concerned, but we are still in a good position with our stored vital items I bought during the times I didn’t have the car available for weeks. I then bought larger packs of tp, several packs of pasta, I cook nearly everything from scratch and there is no shortage of fresh vegs and fruits. We are blessed.
    Your tale about becoming a French citizen sounds suspiciously similar to ours for just getting our Swiss drivers’ permits replaced. It took far, far, far longer than any law would allow – we had to get translations for three lines of easily understandable statements in German, it was a nightmare.
    Now, when we changed back our French to Swiss drivers’ licences, it took one trip to the office, with all the documents we knew they needed, some 30′ of discussing, asking, back-asking because we were a ‘very special’ case, and two days later we had our new licenses….

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting times indeed. People on our island seem to be taking the new world order very seriously. Our stores are well stocked, and the ferries are running, people are being polite, but no tourist. That part is very strange. Actually the grocery stores and take out from restaurants and hardware and pharmacies are all that’s open. However, It’s still a gorgeous place to self isolate.
    Stay well and safe my friend.
    Ali xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful post. Here in Portland, we have not been “locked down” yet, but we have been warned that that is likely to come very soon. For the most par, people appear to be (or say that they are) obeying the directive/guidance from our local governments and medical authorities to stay at home except for necessary grocery shopping, urgent medical needs, work that cannot be done at home and must be done, and outside exercise (of self and dog)…and to adhere to social distancing (at least 2 meters between people) when one is away from home. So far, we can walk in the public parks, which we have particularly appreciated during the last three weeks of glorious weather. Unfortunately, our unprepared federal government has so bungled its response to the novel coronavirus that relatively few people have been able to get tested, so we really have no idea how many people have been infected with that virus who or where most of them (presumably) are, and our other medical resources (health care providers, facilities, supplies, equipment, etc.) are woefully insufficient in number to meet this challenge. Many people seem to view the pandemic as a temporary phenomenon from which we will emerge and return to our former normal. I hope that we (human beings) learn enough from this horrendous challenge to drastically redefine what is “normal”…so that we can protect and nurture our planet sufficiently to (at least) survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It is such a weird time. I feel like I’m in suspension. We are denning in here in Canada except for very brief outings to the supermarket every few days. My children’s father lives in New York City where things are quite crazy and he made sure that we were prepared. I’m so thankful for the internet right now. It reminds me of the early days of mothering when I was in a post-partum induced fog and blogs were a lifeline. Being in this along with everyone else is the only source of comfort right now. I hope the post office can help you. Your language results were impressive. I’m relearning French after 30 years away from it and it’s daunting. I’m sure they will make some sort of provision for you given the circumstances. So far, people around us have been acting quite selflessly but the news reports are outrageous. Crisis doesn’t bring out the best in everyone, it seems. Love your blog. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been absent for a long time as I battled a deep, dark despair. With love and support I am back, blinking in the light of a new dawn. Emerging now is slightly surreal but I am delighted to find those that I really value producing great posts. You are one and this is too. I’m not going to comment too detailed this time. I’m slowly revving up. But suffice to say, I really enjoyed this ramble, your photos make me ache for France and I am sure your citizenship will come through smoothly though probably, knowing the French, not speedily 😉 💫

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You are kind. All good now, though – apart from the minor technicality of a pandemic. I intend to ramble today …. dithering bit trying not to crawl back under my stone!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. #yomequedoencasa #stayathome day 4
    We are quarentained in Argentina, can’t go out to exercise, just to the supermarket, pharmacy or to care for the elderly, and with a form we have to sign. Just one person, and not every day. The goverment is doing all they can but there is a lot of irresponsibility going on. A 21 year old escaped from a hospital in Montevideo – Uruguay, took some tablets for the fever and boarded the ferry , with 400 people , to come to Buenos Aires. The situation was discovered and 10 ambulances had to go to the port to check everyone. All 400 passengers were taken to a hotel until they are tested. It is unbelievable!!!
    Videoconferencing with a friend in England , she told me to use the expression physical distancing, not social distancing, because we need to stay in touch. Moreover for people who live alone.
    On a positive note, we clap and cheer the doctors and nurses at 9pm from our homes, and balconies, the ones who have one. We must be really thankful for their work.
    Your blog is a blessing, so interesting and helpful in many ways.
    Congrats for your results on the French test. I’m pretty sure the post office issue will be sorted out.
    Stay safe all the blog community.
    Sylvine from Argentina

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We are experiencing the same here in Connecticut. The state just shut down all _non-essential_ businesses… and we know a few that are already considering that they will most likely not be able to re-open, as this shut down will do them in. Strange, scary times.

    Be well –

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you for your blog – you always “say it like it is” – and that is refreshing. We, in our small town in New York State – are keeping a tight grip on keeping our distance from each other. Our grocery store has instituted hours from 6:00 am to 7:30 am Tues. and Thurs. – open to seniors for shopping. Also find that your President’s saying “Take this time to think what is essential and the meaning of what is important” is good advice to follow. Stay safe.


  14. This is a very vivid post. I can really imagine the situation and the photos included are all wonderful. Thank you so much for staying! Quand même, comment est la situation là-bas maintenant ! Prenez soin de vous !

    Liked by 1 person

      1. that’s good to hear. So people are kinda ‘back to normal’? or do most still work from home and the students.. do they go back to school or continue online?

        Liked by 1 person

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