Paris Lockdown: The Kindness of Strangers

Paris Lockdown: The Kindness of Strangers

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kindness of strangers
Alone but not lonely during this period of quarantine in Paris. © Yvonne Hazleton Shao

“How’s the lockdown going?” you ask. “Are you bored?”

No, and here’s why.

In my former life, back in California, I was a piano teacher. When I moved to Paris, though, I gave up teaching. I was ready for a career change, and piano fell by the wayside. I occasionally dinked around on the piano that came to Paris with me, but I had grown rusty. The neighbors complained when I played after nine p.m. It wasn’t rewarding.

Then recently, I got hungry for the piano again. When you play music, you’re participating in a great tradition, an ongoing act of civilization. You’re continuing the life that someone else gave birth to, years or centuries ago. I also missed the physical sensation of my fingers drawing the notes out of the keys, feeling the music reverberate up my arms, deciding whether to bring out the soprano or the alto voice. I was ready.

There was just one problem – I was between pianos.

Author at home. © Yvonne Hazleton Shao

For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t in a position to buy a piano. A lot of things have been in flux for awhile after my move to France, and a major purchase just wasn’t in the cards. I haunted several piano stores, playing everything from tinky Yamahas to a nine-foot Bechstein grand that was so sensual and sensitive it almost made me weep. I finally decided on a digital piano that I could afford and could (with headphones) play late at night, something I’ve always loved to do.

I went back to one of the stores. The saleswoman watched while I tried out all the different brands, and I went with her original suggestion, a Kawaii with a warm sound and good action. She wrote it up, I paid, and she took my delivery info, making sure the two flights of stairs were manageable, and said it would be there in two weeks. I was happy.

Then, the coronavirus hit.

Life in lockdown in Paris to prevent the spread of coronavirus. © Yvonee Hazleton Shao

Within a few days, in France, we went from a few cases to thousands, and the death count started to climb. My son’s school trained the kids in how to use Zoom for remote learning, and I started getting emails about cancelations and closures. My ESL students and French classes shifted to online. The government ordered the closure of non-essential shops and businesses and schools, effective within a few days. We watched as our neighbor, Italy, lost hundreds of souls every day. We watched confusion and fear take over. I grew concerned for my adult children in New York, where chaos reigned, and for my mother, who lives in a nursing home. If any of them got sick, I couldn’t get to them due to all the travel restrictions and flight cuts, and couldn’t be with them even if I did go. Besides, who would take care of my seventeen-year-old in Paris? I’d better stay put, hoping and praying none of them got ill.

Daily pleasures of life come to a standstill in Paris © Yvonne Hazleton Shao

The day President Macron ordered the lockdown, I got a call from the piano store. The same saleswoman told me that there was no way my new piano could get there within the foreseeable future. The supply chain was out, all the way back to China. No new orders were coming in. She had to close the store, for as long as it took to get the virus under control.

But, she wondered, would I like to have the demo piano I played in the store until mine came in? With the store closed, nobody would be using it. Sure, I said, that would be really nice. She said she’d order delivery for the next day. A few minutes later, she called back. There were no delivery drivers available. Nowhere in Paris, probably not in France, for something like pianos. My heart fell. However, she said, she could bring it to me in her car, if I’d help her carry it up the two flights of stairs? My breath caught in my throat, at her kindness and her consideration, and I said, yes, please.

My son and I went downstairs to meet her on the street, and when she pulled up my son wrangled the keyboard out and carried it up the stairs so that these two women would not have to. She handed me the stand, a brand-new bench, and a bag of cords. I gulped my thanks at her, still stunned at her thoughtfulness, and waved as she drove away.

When I set the piano up, I saw that the bag had not only the cords and the pedal, but a pair of headphones, still in their original packaging. I don’t know how she knew I would need them, but she did.

I texted her again later that day to say thanks, in case I hadn’t said it properly or hadn’t said it enough.

She texted back, “music will help us get through this difficult period.”

And it has.

Music will help us get through this difficult period. © Yvonne Hazleton Shao

The consolation of having Schubert’s melodies and Joplin’s jauntiness and Debussy’s ethereal harmonies has made this isolation bearable. Until I can sit with my friends at a café, freely exchanging bisous and clinking glasses, I’ll be here with my piano, playing late into the night and knowing there is beauty in the midst of all of this.

I may be just a sojourner in France, but the French are taking care of me.

Yvonne Shao
Yvonne Hazleton Shao is an American (Texan-Californian) writer living in Paris. Writing is her second career—her first was piano teaching, but she gave that up when she moved to Paris and got a Masters in creative writing. Now, she writes fiction, and blogs at Escaping the Empty Nest. You can find her work at Secrets of Paris, HIP Paris, and Inspirelle, among other places. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, cooking, or flaneuse-ng about Paris.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Loved this story . I miss my piano , as it sits here unplayed , because it does not have a silent system, and i too, discovered i prefer to play in the evening …

    Thank you ,
    When this is all over .. i ll see if i can convert this piano … with all the money i m saving on NOT going to cafes with friends 😉

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