There’s a new holiday on the horizon: Deconfinement Day! The French government has announced the easing of lockdown restrictions beginning May 11, although the plan is progressive and will begin with the departments least affected by COVID-19. That means here in Paris and its surrounding suburbs, where we have been hit hard by the illness, we will most likely have to wait longer before our designated red zone turns green and life can resemble anything close to normal.
It is important to keep in mind that this isn’t the end of living with the coronavirus. Many experts believe that to prevent flare ups and ensure our health services are not overrun, more periods of social distancing will be necessary, at least until mass testing, tracing, a treatment and/or a vaccine becomes available. As a work-from-home freelancer with severe social anxiety, I’ve been weathering lockdown better than most. My routine hasn’t actually changed that much, although the house is a lot more crowded. Yet even I get stir-crazy once in a while and long to be able to travel to see my family in the US, something that may not be possible for a while yet.
Luckily, there is reason to rejoice. Students may soon return to school (starting with the youngest on a voluntary basis) where they can reunite with their friends from a safe distance, saving many parents from the hell of home-schooling. Stores and markets will reopen first, giving the economy a small boost and hopefully preventing more mass unemployment. Best of all, we will be able to turn all those Zoom happy hours into live events, sharing a drink and a laugh in person rather than through a screen even if we are spread out and sipping under a mask. Small museums, those little cultural jewels, will be allowed to re-open under special guidelines to allow us to nourish our souls.
Some may be apprehensive after eight weeks of lockdown. Adjusting to the “new normal” outside our own walls may be a shock to the system. Beyond being able to see family and loved ones again (within a 100 kilometer distance of course), here are the top five ways I’ll be celebrating deconfinement in the weeks to come:
1. Stepping outside for a refresh
I’m going to be honest, my beauty routine is sporadic. So it’s surprising to me that my first thought when they announced lockdown would be lifted was, “I’m going to get a pedicure.” It’s true my winter feet are in pretty bad shape and looking down at painted toes always gives my mood a boost, so maybe it’s not so unusual. I have lots of friends who can’t wait to get back to the salon so their hairdresser can deal with their roots or who are itching to get a professional massage. There’s been a lot of talk about self-care during the quarantine period, but sometimes it’s nice to have someone else in charge who knows what they’re doing.
2. Checking out the library
Like everyone else, my concentration is shot these days which makes long periods of sustained work difficult. Thankfully, it hasn’t seemed to affect my reading ability and books have been my best friends these last few weeks. Many libraries, including the American Library in Paris, have extensive online resources and I’ve been making the most of checking out ebooks and audiobooks.
But I’m still looking forward to the day when I can revisit the library in person, inhale that particular smell of old books and browse the stacks for my next great read. There’s just something about being in a library that I find comforting – I’m among my nerdy, booky people and I miss that community. Plus I still have two pre-confinement library books that are WAY overdue and I might have to sell an organ to pay the fine.
3. Sitting back at a restaurant
I’ve never been a fan of cooking. Over the years, I’ve learned to do it and do enjoy baking for others. I’m currently making my way through Jean Carrant’s Cookie Love, which has been a great quarantine distraction. But cooking two full meals a day for four people is getting to me, even with my husband and kids pitching in. Honestly, if I have to look at one more chickpea I think I’m going hurl myself through a wall Kool-Aid-man-style.
We’ve ordered in a couple of times during lockdown, but safety and financial concerns has made it a rare occasion. Restaurants, cafés and bars still must wait a few more weeks before being allowed to open up terraces and the kitchens. I’m counting down those days to go back to my favorite neighborhood Japanese, French and Indian restaurants and have the kind of meal I can’t make at home. Best of all, I can’t wait to sit back and have someone else serve me food and then take it away without me having to lift a finger.
4. Visiting a small museum
We’re very lucky to be living in an age when technology has made so much culture available. While I miss going to movies and live performances, many offerings are available online for little to no cost, and while it’s not quite the same as being there in person, it’s close. Quite a few French museums have even put virtual tours and exhibits into place, but personally I find viewing art through a screen really does lose something, not in the least because Paris museums are so beautiful in and of themselves.
It is unclear at the moment whether visiting exhibits will go ahead as planned, so now is a great time to visit the permanent collections of old favorites. I’m particularly partial to small museums like the Musée Jacquemart-André. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be allowed to re-open soon if it can organize its pubic flow with social distancing. Sumptuous architecture and fabulous art make for a dynamite post-confinement combination.
5. Shopping at a local marché
One of my favorite things about moving to France was discovering open-air farmer’s markets. The colors, the smells, the variety, the prices – all were way better than what I was used to at my suburban American grocery store. And while farmer’s markets have become much more of a thing in the US, they still cannot beat a local marché where you know exactly which vendor has the best Saint-Marcellin cheese or the ripest avocados.
We’ve been lucky that during confinement some small organic markets have remained open in addition to the larger chains, and some small suppliers will take online orders and deliver. But nothing beats rolling my chariot through the aisles checking out what looks good today and bringing home the brightest veggies, juiciest fruit and freshest fish for the week. Once everyone can stroll through the marché without a mask and without fear of contact with their fellow shoppers, I’ll know this health crisis is well and truly over.