Greg and Joan Wright are longtime friends, who retired in Virginia Beach, before fulfilling their dream to live France. I miss them! From time-to-time, Greg updates his friends on life in France. As a retired lawyer, he writes well, with a distinctive wry style. They are experiencing the pandemic in ways both similar and different to our American experience, and I hope you enjoy reading their perspective as much as I did.
News From the Front
In the war against the caronavirus there is not one front but many. The fronts are all around and everywhere and every day we receive more forbidding news. I wish to tell you about our front in the departement of Vaucluse.
On Monday, 16 March, President Macron declared a nationwide shutdown beginning at noon the next day. This effectively cancelled our Saint Patrick’s Day Party. I told our intended guests that the Guinness will not spoil.
Most shops and all restaurants are closed as are schools and universities. People are confined to their homes except for necessary trips and brief excursions. If anyone does leave home, he or she must carry a signed and dated Attestation stating why they are not at home. The government has mobilized 100,000 police to enforce the restrictions.
Translated, the Attestation’s title means Certificate of Derogatory Travel. The best that I can make of this is that some Parisian bureaucrat is of the opinion that travel is not only bad but downright disrespectful.
[The form or “ticket” was deleted for privacy reasons.]
This is my NEW Attestation form. The old one had scratched-out boxes and changes of date, as I used the same copy more than once. It saved time. Note that now I must state the exact time I leave the house.
Checking the first box means that you are traveling for work that cannot be done remotely and cannot be deferred. The second box indicates that you are shopping for necessities (food, medications). The third box means traveling for health reasons, as in going to the hospital because you are in extremis. The fourth box indicates that you are traveling for compelling family reasons. The fifth box says that you are taking exercise alone and near your home. No team sports allowed. NEWLY ADDED: Checking the sixth box means that you are being summoned to court. The last box is for participating in a mission of “general interest” at request of the authorities. That’s a lot of boxes.
The new rules further restrict the excursions of the average person. We can walk outside the home (alone or with a family member) for a maximum of one hour and must stay within a kilometer of our house.
Stores that sell paint and hardware are open but you can’t go inside. They put tables out front where you can place an order. The clerk, wearing rubber gloves, gets the item and brings it back to you. You pay at the table. Each customer must stay at a distance of one meter apart from everyone else.
There are 96 departements in mainland France. The departement of Vaucluse had a population of 563,751 at the end of 2019. We have had a total of 59 cases of Covid-19 and four deaths as of last night (24 March). In the larger area of Provence-Cote d’Azur, we have had over 500 cases.
Luckily, there are no cases in Vaison.
Our mayor has closed all parks and gardens as well as stopping the Vasio shuttlebus that takes old people around town. Only the municipal health services remain open. He has banned the weekly Tuesday market. This open market normally draws people from the entire region and operates even through the coldest and wettest days of winter. Not any more.
As a result, the streets are empty. I no longer drive Paddy [their trusty dog-friend] to the surrounding hills for walks through the forests and vineyards. If I am caught by the police, I can be fined 135€. On these excursions, I carry a tennis ball throwing-stick that I use to toss the ball. Paddy runs, catches it, and returns it to me. Not any more. Paddy is extremely disappointed.
This is Place Montfort on a Sunday afternoon. It is usually teeming with people. Children play on scooters while parents watch from the cafés. Not any more. In fact, children are not allowed outdoors to play.
Three post offices of the 15 in Vaucluse have been closed since March 19 due to suspected coronavirus contamination. Ours is one of the three. The postal workers have been sent home and “confined” for 14 days. Delivery of mail has been reduced to four days per week. Starting Monday, delivery will be reduced to three days per week.
Joan and I went to Super U (pronounced Super Ooh), our supermarket, yesterday. As there were no fish on ice in the fish department, it is apparent that deliveries have been suspended. There were no eggs or hand sanitizers on the shelves. Thankfully, our toilet paper supply is plentiful.
As I said, food stores and pharmacies remain open. We buy dog food in 15 kilo (33 pound) bags from Jardinerie du Theo, a family-run business that we support. Joan and I drove to du Theo the other day because I checked their website to see if they were still selling dog food. We arrived only to find that the gate to the parking lot was closed. A sign indicated a phone number with instructions to call for an appointment. As I was turning to leave, a woman walked out of the store. I asked her for a bag of Paddy’s usual. Her brother carried it out to us. When I asked for three bags of mulch, he smiled and said bien sur (of course). I suppose where there is a will, there is a way. Joan was pleased.
We are Still Speaking:
I read that, as a result of this prolonged confinement, we will see more pregnancies, murders, and divorces. I am happy to report that none of these developments have occurred in the Wright household – yet. Joan and I remain on speaking terms. But we have a garden, a grill, and a dog to play with. We are lucky.
I think about all those poor souls in apartments or homes with no gardens. How they must be suffering from the confinement! We all must wish them well and bon courage.