End of Confinement

May 11th marks the end of our (first?) 55 days of enforced isolation. What a peculiar experience it has been! With all commercial venues save gas stations, pharmacies, grocery and tobacco (?!) stores shut, and everyone limited to brief (one hour) excursions no farther than 1 kilometer away, it has been eerily quiet.

The “Confinement” had a few different phases. At first, we all, in a state of shock, engaged in flurries of Zoom apéros, WhatsApp exchanges (innumerable jokes and funny videos) and telephone calls to see how everybody was getting along. We were all obliged to fill out government forms “Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire” with our name, address and the date and reason for our emerging from our shelters. After a week, the officials made it even more strict: we had to fill out the time of our departure, thus ensuring we kept to the 1 hour limit. This was available online too. Of course, it didn’t take long before we figured out ways to get around the time limit: when I went for my little daily constitutional, I carried two Attestations with different times so I could gain more time for a decent walk. Forget about registering officially online.

Walking through my town of Aix en Provence made for dispiriting excursions: Oppressive metal volets rolled down over all the cafés, restaurants and shops, a few masked people furtively going to the Pharmacie, or waiting on line to get into Monoprix. They somehow even shut off the natural fountains that punctuate the Cours Mirabeau. It saddened me to see all the fountain ferns and mosses consequently withered and brown. Gendarmes prowled the streets (though the one I engaged with seemed more apologetic than sinister) to check one’s documentation.

After a few weeks of everyone being well-behaved, and with some spectacular spring weather coming to cheer us up, the citoyens (myself included) began to push at the constraints: I drove to the other side of town to meet a friend for a long walk outside of the city limits. The gendarmes made desultory checks. A bit further into the Confinement, I even ventured (with a well-conceived excuse to do with mask-making) all the way to Saint Cannat, where my sister lives (20 km away). We even hugged! For someone who lives alone, I was thirsting for human contact.

I discovered a pretty good walk nearby which featured a little waterfall, and a decent path. As March turned to April turned to May, I witnessed the budding out of the trees, the first coquelicots, the huge drifts of snow-like fluff from the alder trees, the return of the martinets which grace our skies with their swooping and peeping, and the fragrant sequence of apple blossom-iris-lilac-peony.

This strange period has brought some good things: less pollution, improved embouchure in my flute playing, the healing of a sciatica problem, a better knowledge of Aix, and more patience for many many things. I also spent a lot less money! But I don’t know if or when I can return to Tango. I am saddened that French culture, so dependant on its cafés, restaurants, concerts and the bise, has been hit so hard. And no one knows what the next days and months will bring.

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