An excerpt from my book The Pandemic Year in Paris. A Coming-of-Retirement-Age Memoir, coming out in the fall. It seems like only yesterday!
“Although much of the week was glorious – warm and sunny – today was rainy. Caroline, the professor who looked at the apartment recently and with whom I have picnicked several times in le Luco, invited me to tag along to the Banksy exhibition at Espace Lafayette-Druot in the 9th arrondissement with her and her friend Bruno. Banksy’s insights are raw and pertinent – the perfect show at this tragic and absurd moment. A dog begs for a bone from its master, the bone being the dog’s own tibia amputated by its bourgeois master, who holds a bloody saw in his other hand. A rat wearing a peace-sign necklace holds a protest sign that advises ‘get out while you can’. ‘Should I’, I wondered? After all, repatriation remains an option. Were my two citizenships not in countries either flailing in a state of utter chaos by the pandemic and partisan politics (U.S.) or mismanaging the COVID-19 crisis in a cruel and senseless manner (Sweden), I may have considered taking Rat’s advice.
But I can’t predict how events will unfold, where or when things will improve, what travel options will be available. Furthermore, Dr. Fauci advises against travel, and I trust him. There are talks of border closings and quarantines, so it seems sensible to stay put. I am also afraid to travel, since one cannot know if fellow passengers are asymptomatic yet communicable, if they will respect recommended hygienic precautions, or if hygienic precautions will be enforced. Inge and Jürgen in Hainewalde and Robert and Marita in Potsdam have invited me multiple times to shelter with them, but unanswerable questions hold me back: How to get there safely? Would I be able to return to France, my location of preference for the moment?
After viewing the exhibition, Bruno returned home to his ailing wife (not COVID-19) in the 7th arrondissement, and Caroline, currently living in the 16th, and I decided to dine together. In normal times finding a table in that busy commercial neighborhood at 7 p.m. on a Friday evening is challenging. And this was the first Friday after déconfinement that restaurants were open, with outdoor seating the only permissible option. To make matters worse, it was sheeting rain, thereby limiting desirable seating to sheltered spots. After two months of being cooped up and isolated, Parisians avidly flocked to cafés and restaurants. Customers sat huddled together at every establishment we passed, and many restaurants had tables positioned too close together for comfort. Diners and drinkers seemed unperturbed. I felt wary, even if Caroline now feels invincible, fortified as she is with antibodies since recovering from COVID-19 in March.
We eventually found a restaurant on rue Montmartre with no vacancy at its outdoor tables, but which had a wall of large open windows, rendering the interior almost as well-ventilated as the terrace. The inside offered total protection from the steady rain, and was safer from a hygienic perspective, since no one was there and spacing was better. I asked a waiter if we could sit inside. The waiter asked the manager. The manager said ‘sure’, so we were seated indoors illegally. We felt the thrill of being outlaws.
Passersby noticed us. They, too, requested indoor seating. By the time we finished our salads and paid the check, every indoor table was occupied…”