As the curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” We are indeed in interesting times. France started another lockdown on Oct. 30. We aren’t supposed to go out except for essentials–work, exercise, appointments, groceries. Basically it means life goes on except for fun. This was brilliantly captured in a German public service announcement (scroll to the one with subtitles–you shouldn’t miss “lazy as racoons”!). The main hiccup is that we have to fill out a form, un attestation, swearing on our honor that we’re really going to work/the doctor/the supermarket/on a run or risk a €135 fine.

On the coat/hat rack, masks.

Life is quieter, but not as silent as this spring. People are in the streets. Many shops have found excuses to open. Others cannot. A restaurateur stands in his doorway, hoping to entice someone to order takeout. At another restaurant, wine barrels are set out front in principle for people waiting for takeout but in reality for a bunch of middle-age guys flouting the rules as they nurse glasses of wine in a pathetic display of toxic masculinity.

A number of places have closed for good. Already the town center was suffering from businesses being lured to shopping centers on the periphery. In France, the anchors of these galeries–malls–are supermarkets, not department stores, and so they continue to draw traffic no matter what. Fashions may come and go but most people still eat three times a day (and are lucky to do it). The galeries are ugly and devoid of soul or character. But they have free parking.

The white balls are Christmas lights on the old bridge.

The municipal workers are stringing lights and putting up the little faux-log cabins of the Christmas market. I haven’t been by lately to see whether the actual Christmas market will take place, or whether the ice rink will go in around the statue of Neptune in the central square. Even though they are outdoors, they draw crowds–especially the stands selling mulled wine and oysters. I wonder about the people who invest in these stands and who hope to make a year’s wages, albeit paltry wages, in the space of a month.

I also wonder about the future budgets for things like Christmas lights or even upkeep of the parks and their flowers. The city recently repaved a stretch of parking on what used to be the walls of the Bastide, to give more space to the platane trees and smooth where their roots had deformed the tarmac so much that it would be foolish to drive one’s car over it. I think the aid to shops and workers is good and necessary but I do worry about how we will dig ourselves out of the budgetary hole later.

Domaine Michaud. Definitely not Olive Garden. A young chef, very talented, everything fresh and locally sourced.

In some catch-up calls recently, a theme appeared, which sounded very “Handmaid’s Tale” to me: that it’s good to get rid of bars and restaurants and shops and salons and gyms because they are places where people show off. Performers, too: worthless, non-essential. You won’t see me cry for the demise of Applebee’s or the Olive Garden, but I don’t think of most restaurants as being places for showing off. Even before the pandemic, we rarely went out, but it wasn’t by choice. The restaurant meals were to celebrate, and to do it with something special that we wouldn’t be able to pull off at home. To each his own, of course, but I don’t see anything bad about enjoying fancy food or ethnic dishes occasionally.

Fois gras, fait maison. They had vegetarian options, too.

I also don’t agree that somebody who spent time and money training to be a hairdresser or chef or yoga instructor should now just walk away from that, not to mention any other investment in a shop or restaurant or salon, and take a job in an Amazon warehouse because their chosen careers were in service of others’ egos. (Also, Jeff Bezos is worth about $200 billion. If he paid each of his million-or-so employees $10,000 more, it would cost him $10 billion, which is a fortune but not for him. He would still be the richest guy in the world, and maybe some of his employees wouldn’t have to sleep in their cars. But then, one just never has enough zeros in one’s net worth, does one? I was talking to a business owner in the U.S. who told me she was sick of paying taxes, that she should keep what she earns. She saw no irony that she inherited the business from her father, nor that she should pay her employees a living wage–she thought working two or three jobs “builds character.” But only in other people.)

I am just not making this at home. From a different restaurant, I think le Clos des Framboisiers.

I wonder what life on the other side of the pandemic will look like. Will the vaccines work? Will immunity be long lasting or short-lived (and I know someone fighting COVID for the second time)? Will life eventually return to normal? Or will there be scars? Will those fade over time or become weak points that get inflamed over and over? Will we put away our masks, perhaps getting them out for flu season, or will baring one’s face be as shocking as baring one’s bottom?

At a pastry/sandwich shop, a new owner who promises “we’ll unveil it all soon.” Note the masks.

34 thoughts on “Interesting Times

    1. What struck me was having the same conversation with different people. Is it some Fox theme? But it’s of a whole with those who think there is one right way to live, and it’s like Ozzie and Harriet.

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  1. Thank you for the German link, it would never have come onto my radar otherwise. Mr. P said it was the sort of thing the New Zealanders would put out. I don’t like to talk about how things are in Sydney as it’s like we’re living in a parallel universe and there is much normality here, in such dramatic contrast to the rest-of-the-world. Many businesses have shut but then many have opened their doors and appear to be thriving. Career shakeups in my circle, to be sure, but no tragedies. Regional areas are starting to touristically boom because the wanderlust in our population is frustrated by our drawing up the bridge to the outside world. We’ve been to restaurants recently to celebrate the Scorpios in the family, which was very nice, but I don’t think Handmaid’s Tale attitudes would find much traction around these parts. Attitudes to Consumerism have been focussed, yes, but not an idea that puritanical times are necessary to bring us back from the perceived moral brink. Nor that character building is required by working oneself to exhaustion.

    Big questions yet to be answered about the reach of the virus. Being in the 50 plus age bracket means there’ve been some in my acquaintance who’ve come down with shingles this year, stress brings it on, which is a long-term consequence of Chicken Pox, so who knows how a generous dose of this virus may manifest later? Mr. P had (a modest) cause to have a CT-scan of his heart this month and the chatty technician said they’re seeing a dramatic number of young (40+) virus-recoverers through their doors with permanent heart damage. And since the numbers have been so low in this country, a lot of us know much of the detail of individual cases so all are atwitter about the fit GP who treated an early case and is now an epileptic after his falling ill. Interesting times, indeed.

    Oh, those witlof boats I’m happy to rustle up at home, but the rest are for the expert hands of chefs I’m more than happy to pay!

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  2. There’s much anecdotal discussion in the US of cases where young and fit patients very quickly became unfit and suffer ongoing cardio, pulmonary, immune system, and/or mental effects, which in some cases look to be long term. This is going to provide medical researchers with data for decades to come.
    No restaurant dining for me, not in a red state where people who should have known better voted for the current occupant. There is unlikely to be a functioning national government here for another couple of months, a terrifying prospect with the numbers exploding as they are. But I am grateful for a governor who locked it down early on, with masks required, so at least grocery shopping isn’t quite such a death-defying exercise.
    That salmon plate is exquisite.

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  3. Thank you for this lovely post. It was a breath of fresh air. I’ve just had a heated email debate with my family in one of the worst Covid affected states in the US with a pro-Trump governor who refuses to do anything about this! This governor has some of the top experts in the Universities to advise her but ignores them! The selfishness of the arguments leave me breathless! I’m fortunate to live in a country where Covid was gotten onto and stopped straight away thanks to politicians who care and made tough decisions. ‘Every life is important’ was their moto. After these past four years of Trump horror, I’ve come to realise that my home and family are strangers to me now. I only hope that Biden can bring some normality and feeling back into the US! But I give up.

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    1. Even the ones who are aware of the dangers take chances, having family over. I felt illicit talking to a neighbor, outside, with masks, six feet apart, for 10 minutes. What can you do?
      But the attitude toward those who have lost jobs is equally disheartening.

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      1. The job losses are very hard all over the world. Perhaps it’s time to look at a universal income. We have something of that sort already in our country, but it is becoming harder to fund without an increase in taxes and multinational tax avoidance. I can’t understand how anyone can not want to pay taxes. We pay 57% plus quite happily to live in a safe, comfortable country!

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        1. Which country are you in? There is a huge difference between the US and France, but I can’t speak to other countries. So many jobs are going to be automated and soon. People shouldn’t be punished for having chosen a career that happens to be automated quickly.

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          1. I am in Australia and extremely grateful for our government response. My daughter is one of those people whose job was put on hold and the payments have meant she can pay bills and wait this out. My other daughter has decided to change careers in response to everything and back at University. My sons are not affected, which concerns me, as men seem to be doing better from this lock-down than women. Even in very high level jobs!

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  4. Thanks for sharing, especially that German tweet! (I needed the subtitles, but was able to pick out a few words at least…progress!). The attestation sur l’honneur is really a particularity of French life. I discovered it back in 1986 when I first came to France as we sublet a flat from friends of friends. In order to get my carte de séjour, they needed to provide on of these famous documents to prove that we indeed had a legitimate address in Paris. It has always made me laugh though — what prevents anyone from just faking it? But the French do seem to take it seriously, as they do the lockdown despite the ‘fêtes sauvages’. (Another term that cracks me up!) 😂

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    1. Signing a paper actually decreases the chances people will lie or cheat—there are studies. So the government is clever to employ the tactic. Otherwise people might go out willy nilly.

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  5. Very thoughtful and thought provoking as usual. I haven’t come across anyone who thinks we are better off without all these places to ‘show off’! I have been thinking myself though about the ethics of my own business, which relies on Americans (mainly) flying long distances for fairly expensive holidays. Still haven’t come to a conclusion, and in fact, am beginning the process to apply to Angers University to do a VAE for a Licence Professionelle Guide Conférencier. And I’ve taken a job at a local dairy farm to fill the gap until next spring at least. That’ll keep me grounded (and too tired to think about stuff too much). I am worried about how prone the French are to being anti-vax and believing conspiracy theories. It’s always a shock when people I know and like turn out to hold some very dodgy opinions about certain things.

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    1. I share Mark Twain’s opinion that Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. It’s important. For far-flung economies, too. But we have to find a way to do it without destroying the planet.
      Good luck with your license. I’m sure you’ll succeed, doigts dans le nez.

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    1. Some people see only elitism in the performing arts. It’s reverse snobbism. I am reading “Soumission” by Houllebecq and while part of me thinks it’s a racist take on the superior “Handmaid’s Tale,” it does get into this creeping mentality.

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      1. I can see where the idea of elitism comes from – seeing high paid so called entertainers on TV and not getting the chance to see any live-performances close to home. When I think of some of the villages in the middle of nowhere where the only culture is rugby or foot for the youngsters, and mostly for the boys at that, then it’s little wonder. There are wonderful teachers out there who try and get their pupils interested in culture, but if there’s none of it at home then it’s a bit of a losing battle. I see it here, five years ago we started an association to organise concerts in the village. Most of our audience is from elsewhere and of a certain age 😦

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  6. This showing off thing is new to me. I live in France, but read French, English and American news sites and have not encountered it. Sounds quite weird, people go to yoga to show off? And what is “showing off”? The whole idea escapes me completely, but I must look more closely for it.
    bonnie in the vaucluse

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  7. GEESH……………..SHOWING OFF!!
    HOW DOES ONE EVEN COME UP WITH THAT IDEA?
    ITS CALLED SELF~CARE LADY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    TREATING ONES SELF TO LIFE AND ITS ENJOYMENTS!
    NOW I HAVE MISSED THE GERMAN LINK BACK I GO!!!!!!!
    WAS SO STUNNED READING THIS 3 TIMES I must have been elsewhere……………XX

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  8. RIGHT at the start………..NO EXCUSE I WAS READING!
    YES, very good all we have to do is stay on our sofas!I keep reminding people who are staring to complain and ACT a bit like TRUMPER that WE are so lucky!
    NO BOMBS are falling and we still have food…………………it could be WORSE!
    Help your neighbors, call older friends and check in……….we all need to STEP UP and JUST BE TOGETHER while remaining A LONE!

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  9. So thoughtful post, I always like to read about how other people are experimenting restrictions. I think that we are pretty similar to french people here in Spain, particularly because most people feel lost without bars and cafés, as they are the places where social life happens. I’ve laughed about those middle age men nursing glasses of wine, as we have plenty of this toxic masculinity here too (people smoking or nursing a cup of coffee outside any takeaway local, in a defiant attitude).
    Never heard such thing as considering shops and salons and restaurants as ‘non essential’ or places where people show off. They are considered essential business here and very important economically. Cultural differences!
    Love your photos too. They are a beautiful homage to some of the fabulous things in life!.
    besos

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    1. I see the numbers are greatly improving in Spain, as they are in France and several other European countries. Here’s hoping tonight’s speech by Macron reopens the small businesses. Bars and restaurants and cinemas and gyms may have to wait, but if the rest of the economy can return to normal life (albeit with masks), then it will be easier to subsidize what must remain closed. And hopefully get the numbers down even more, as happened in the summer.

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      1. Here is my brilliant idea. Open the restaurants with appropriate safeguards, but no alcohol served, and keep the bars closed but allow coffee service indoors. I bet things would be okay, as it seems like its the bars where people crowd together and spit upon each other ….
        bonnie in provence

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        1. Or have tables outside only. It might mean they serve during the day and not at night, but that, too, might be just as well, because it seems that people get less careful as hours go by. In any case, I don’t think bookstores or toy stores or shoe shops are where it’s spreading.

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