Thursday, August 27, 2020

No ordinary island

Pandemic be damned, it’s summer. And summer means vacation. Because this is France, and liberté-égalité-congés payés is what. As for myself, I may never truly be on vacation again because I am self-employed, but Covid-19 has suddenly placed new emphasis on the free aspect of freelance, so sure, bailing for several weeks is fine.

Normally, my parents were due for a visit this summer and we were all going to Ireland, but the whole 2020 pangolins-bats-yada yada-cough cough-touch nothing-go nowhere-viral armageddon kind of threw a wrench into that. Plus President Macron told us to behave and stay (relatively) close to home.

Us: Corsica is technically in France. Let’s go to Corsica!

When in Corsica, one definitely needs a car. So we decided to cross nearly the full length of the mainland and take a ferry docked in Nice, thus keeping our car and avoiding the airport. The very thought of the airport sends my cortisol levels through the roof. Maybe because of multiple experiences such as this one.

Sure looks good from here.
Parking on the ferry was interesting. Its staff for some reason was made up of 100% irate Italians, barking barely recognizable orders as we maneuvered our way onto one of the lower decks. I don’t know what madman came up with the parking plan on this thing, but the cars were crammed in so closely together that we couldn’t so much as open either of the doors on the right-hand side. Weird. Somewhat barbaric. Borderline panic-inducing. Oh well!

The crossing took six hours, which maybe would have been OK with the kids if the on-board activities and attractions had been open, but thanks to our pal Coronavirus, everything was closed. The whining commenced almost immediately.

Dear son: Mom this boat sucks so muuuuuuch! There’s nothing to doooooooo!
Me: Do you know what you sound like right now? Like an overprivileged white kid with first world problems. You are lucky and I mean really lucky to be voyaging across the Mediterranean with your sister and two parents who love you while other kids out there are hungry or homeless or caught in the midst of war—do you hear me?WAR!  
Dear son: *stares blankly at me*
Me: Oh never mind. Here’s half a Twix.
Dear son: *smiles*

Exiting the boat was hellish. Actually, scrap the -ish. It was straight-up hell. Dark, hot, crowded, airless, and definitely not compliant with social distancing measures. It was bad. They really need to rethink that whole park-on-top-of-your-neighbor concept. But we lived. Next.

The first week, we stayed in Lumio, a charming hillside town overlooking the sparkling Bay of Calvi, and also the home of supermodel Laetitia Casta (who knew?). The rental was fab:

Each day, we explored northern Corsica to the best of our abilities. We took twisty windy hold-onto-your-faith-with-both-hands cliffside roads with breathtaking (and potentially life-taking) views. We discovered the UNESCO world heritage site of Scandola, with its turquoise coves and rainbow rock formations:

The kids dug it:

We ventured onto secret beaches and swam in natural pools. We enjoyed picnic lunches and al fresco dinners. We caught some lizards and a few sea critters. We scraped the finish off the side of our car on a giant yucca. We ate some exceedingly pungent cheese. We visited perched villages in the 90° heat.

The kids dug it:

Northern Corsica is rugged and wonderful, surrounded by turquoise water and vegetation that looks surprisingly similar to that of San Diego (represent!). It also has simply incredible rock. Quartz, limestone, rare pink granite, basalt. Gorgeous. Every river, every beach, every natural pool is a treasure trove of multi-colored boulders and pebbles:

I’m hooked on macro photography, for better or worse.
Only downside: the heat. I don’t do heat (I don’t really do cold, either, but that’s a topic for another day). In fact, the older I get, the less I do heat. At least when it’s cold, you can put on an extra sweater. But when it’s hot, all you can do is stand in front of the A/C or go swimming. So we stood in front of the A/C and went swimming. A lot. I actually ended up with a tan, which totally flies in the face of the whole Scandinavian vibe I usually have going.

At sunset, we would climb up to our rooftop terrace with a view of the bay for apéro, every surface still radiating the day’s warmth, crickets chirping, the lights of Lumio twinkling on the hill behind us and the stars sparkling above. It was otherworldly.

Then suddenly, a whole week was over and it was time to head south. Despite its modest size, Corsica has a remarkably rich and varied landscape; we traded the golden cliffs and Californian vegetation of the north for the sandier, balmier, more Côte dAzur feel of the south (which is somewhat bizarre considering we were farther than ever from the actual Côte dAzur, but OK).

Our next rental was also nice, although less “authentic” than our first. It had a little cubby hole kids’ room accessible via a really dangerous-looking ladder, a classic example of what the French would call a fausse bonne idée (an idea that seems good at first but is actually a curse in disguise). The A/C was right on the money, though, so we just upped our level of vigilance by about 200%:

What lawsuit?
Our “mini villa” (*grabs dictionary, looks up oxymoron*) was also in close proximity to some of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches, so we hit the beach and I mean HIT IT. Lots of sand and sun and more sand and more sun! I got even tanner! My pale-faced ancestors were surely spinning pirouettes in their graves!

We also visited the southernmost tip of the island, a splendid city called Bonifacio. Magnificent scenery. I took roughly 200 photos because how could you not? Many of them were macro shots of flowers and the famous Corsican maquis, but I will spare you!

One of the “musts” in Bonifacio is a staircase carved into the side of a cliff known as the Staircase of the King of Aragon, which is a secret passage to a natural spring with fabulous views of the sea. According to legend, it was built by said king’s troops during a siege one night in 1420, although the truth is that it was probably built by monks (which is just the absolute opposite of the legend, but whatever!). In any case, after donning protective gear and completing the visit, I came away feeling highly dubious that any king, legendary or otherwise, ever huffed it up and down this killer staircase. Pity his servants and water-bearers, although I’m sure their rear ends were as finely chiseled as those 187 steps.

The kids dug it, bien sûr:

And lest I forget a personal highlight, mountain child that I am: Corsica is also blessed with absolutely glorious mountains. In fact, so mountainous is the island that it is often referred to as une montagne dans la mer (a mountain in the sea). So many ridges and peaks to choose from! We explored just a smidgeon, but I’d gladly have lingered far longer. I mean look at this:

An extraordinarily magical, mystical land altogether. Being a fervent admirer of all things Tolkienian, and in the midst of reading The Silmarillion with the utmost relish, Eru Ilúvatar, Varda, Ulmo et al. were on my mind quite a bit throughout our travels.

Corsica or Middle Earth?
In conclusion, and if I may wax profound for just a minute hereCorsica took my breath away. I have been travelling around France for nearly 20 years now, and have discovered countless things to love, but this island had an entirely different, deliciously unique feel to it. In Corsica, the imprint of French Civilization is far less overwhelming than it is on the mainland, where art and architecture speak passionately and eloquently of human history, of human achievement. In Corsica, the roles are reversed: structures, however handsome, are ultimately mere props; Nature is the true star of the show. Polychrome rock. Spirited wind. Fiery sun. Crystalline water. They spoke deeply and powerfully to me on this trip, cutting through the layers of suppressed anxiety and accumulated mental clutter. 

In these strange and often surreal times, the “new normal” for many of us is one of uncertainty, of disorientation, and a gnawing fear that the Covid-19 crisis is but a warning shot. Yet these timeless elements of earth and air, fire and water, which existed long before we arrived and will endure long after we have departed, are a reminder that perhaps our view of our own lives has itself become too “macro.” Perhaps we need to zoom out, shift our focus off of our little selves, forget our all-important problems for a while, and remember that we are part of a much larger picture. We and All That Is are made of the same stuff—are works by the same Artist. Checking in with the heart, reconnecting with the present is simple: hear the rustle of wind in the trees. Slip one foot, and then another into a cool brook. Close your eyes and feel the sunshine on your face. Ultimately, what makes me feel safer, healthier, more in touch with life itself: checking my Twitter feed for the umpteenth time, or lying in silence on a warm boulder, listening to the sound of water flowing over pebbles? Maybe the key to soothing a weary soul really is as easy as that. Contentment doesnt have to be fleeting. 

Someone should tell my kids.

Gone viral: part V

Good heavens, you’re still here. You must be under lockdown too. Or maybe you enjoy my ranting? If so, thank you! Here’s tons more in case you missed it: part I, part II, part III, part IV. This, I hope, will conclude my lockdown diaries. Its been real. And its been fun. But it hasnt been real fun. I mean it has, but only if slowly going insane can be considered fun.

April 29
The French government has announced a gradual relaxation of lockdown restrictions beginning on May 11. I remain skeptical (STILL NO SIGN OF THOSE ELUSIVE MASKS), but we shall see, shan’t we?

April 30
Today my husband and I are celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary! Sadly, we can neither travel nor dine out, but no matterwe have a very nice bottle of bubbly that has been patiently awaiting the right occasion. 

Nine years ago today, I was younger, but not stronger; quicker, but not faster; sweeter, but not wiser. I had (significantly) less gray hair. I also had zero children. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? Maybe!

May 1
Today is a holiday! A holiday from what, lockdown? NO (but nice try).

May 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8
It’s like déjà vu all over again. And again. And again.

May 9
Some folks have been using lockdown to learn a new skill. I, on the other hand, have been perfecting an old one: alcoholism mixology. You need a cocktail? No, I need a cocktail.

May 10
OMG the crime scene tape blocking off the bike path in front of our place has been pushed back a whole meter! It’s really happening!

May 11
Déconfinement!!! Lockdown is over! I mean sort of! And it’s … strangely anticlimactic. Huh. No matter, CHAMPAGNE!

May 12
Back to school—oh, but not for us. Our children are not “prioritaires” because we are not health care professionals and can therefore (obviously) play the role of full-time teachers forever, even without possessing any semblance of qualification nor being the least bit interested in the educational field! Just ask the mayor! 

May 13
Both my turnover and my morale have taken a hit, but I am feeling defiant. Seriously, go jump in a lake of fire, The Economist, and take your bleak-ass economic forecast with you. Your articles are self-reverential and overly long, your titles aren’t half as witty as you clearly think they are, and your artificial lack of bias is a bias in and of itself, so there! YOUR MOTHER WAS A HAMSTER AND YOUR FATHER SMELT OF ELDERBERRIES! *punches a hole in the wall*

May 14
Maybe time really is just an illusion. Maybe life is just an illusion. Maybe I am just an illusion.

May 15
Who are we, anyway?

May 16
Wait, I know this one—all we are is dust in the wind, dude. 

May 17
Maybe I’m asleep. Maybe I’ll wake up and it’ll be mid-February when I was on a ski vacation and … THAT’S IT! I’m in a coma! I had a ski accident and I’m in a coma and none of this is real. Phew! Binge-watching Sherlock on Netflix is really paying off.


Friday, April 24, 2020

Gone viral: part IV

Congratulationsyouve made it to part IV of my lockdown diaries. Parts I, II, and III are available here, here, and here, respectively. Thanks so much for your support, comments, shares, and likes. We will make it through this together! Maybe!

April 15
As previously mentioned, I have developed a rather unhealthy relationship with my vacuum cleaner; i.e. it has become the channel by which I rid myself of my (considerable) pent-up frustrations. But as I have discovered, one can only hate-clean so often before one’s thumb begins to develop tendinitis from activating the button of one’s turbo brush. So I decide to move on to the garden. Lots of possibilities there. I start with our leafless, flowerless Clematis, which seems to have gone dormant. I have had it with putting every last thing on hold and I REFUSE to wait for next spring to see if this lazy plant comes back to life. I am not the captain of much these days, but by God, I am the captain of this. Out comes the trowel. Goodbye, Clematis. May your successor flower abundantly OR ELSE.

April 16
I need soil. Like normal potting soil. The kind that one can procure whenever one wishes when one is not locked inside one’s home indefinitely. I also need mulch, preferably of the coastal pine variety. I turn to my most loyal lockdown ally: the internet. But alas! After toilet paper, then flour, now it appears soil is all the rage. I lose about two hours hunting for it on many, many websites, each with its own lame excuse. One is delivery-only, except for what I want. One offers in-store pick-up, but not at any store within a 50-km radius of our home. One is under maintenance. One offers pick-up near us, but doesn’t know its own inventory. One knows its inventory and offers pick-up near us, but doesn’t have any openings available. AARRRRRRGGGH!

I would turn to trusty ol’ Amazon, except Amazon France is under attack by the French government for catering to needs other than “essential” ones (which during lockdown is illegal, except when it’s not). Someone needs to explain to me how it is possible that things like WOOD and DIRT, which are the VERY STUFF OF LIFE, are somehow not essential enough to be sold on Amazon. What’s next, water? Sunlight? TOILET PAPER? And that’s without taking into consideration how bloody essential it is to my wellbeing that I find something other than compulsive vacuuming to release my anger. Is hate-gardening a thing? Shall I try to make it one? OH WAIT, I CAN’T BECAUSE NO ONE WILL SELL ME ANY #@*$% DIRT.

April 17
Speaking of being out of stuff, the subject of masks is becoming quite préoccupant. Like, how come we don’t have any? My parents in California and my brother in NYC have been sporting masks for weeks, while France remains maddeningly ambivalent. First we were told that masks were only for medical professionals. Then we were told that masks could be worn by the public, but only the sick public. Then we were told that masks should in fact be worn by everyone, but that only medical grade ones were effective. Then we were told that ALL masks had merit, but that there weren’t enough for everybody. Now we’re being told that masks will be an obligatory part of post-lockdown French society, and that handmade ones are better than nothing, but there are no details on how, when, or where we can get our hands on any. Overall, I am left with the impression that nobody knows anything about anything, and a distinct desire to engage in a vigorous round of vacuuming.

April 18
Today I am suspending all sense of reality and am doing my bi-annual wardrobe transition. Out with autumn/winter and in with spring/summer! Hooray! I have too many clothes. Some are over five years old and still have their tags on them. Some went out of fashion so long ago that they’re back in fashion now. I should do the “sparking joy” thing and triage the hell out of this closet to decide what gets saved and what does not. But with everything closed, where would I put all the insufficiently joy-procuring items? Guess I’d better wait. My daughter is almost four and is already about half my height, so hey if I wait long enough, maybe I can just give it all to her!

April 19
We are out of coffee. My husband informs me darkly that coffee is probably going to be next on the “aggravating nation-wide shortages” list. Considering that my mental and emotional stability at this point is 100% dependent upon wine, coffee, and the grace of God, any of these things being added to “the list” is out of the question. DO NOT PANIC. I may have to suck it up and hit the supermarket in town, dressed in a garbage bag, dishwashing gloves, and my son’s diving mask. 

April 20
Spring vacation is officially over, but all the schools are still closed, and that means returning to my state-enforced alternate profession of 1st grade/preschool teacher. President Macron recently stated that schools would be reopening on May 11, but in light of the widespread skepticism that greeted this optimistic announcement, the government is now back-pedaling and retroactively asterisking like mad and my hopes of a return to normalcy in the semi-near future have pretty much evaporated. I’m getting used to disappointment, however, and am handling this one admirably. *sob*

April 21
For those of you not in the know, Andrew Lloyd Webber has been offering free 48h broadcasts of his greatest hits, with a new one available each weekend, on the YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On! I watched The Phantom of the Opera with the kids last weekend, and have been humming most of the score non-stop ever since. Incidentally, teenage me was a Phantom FREAK; I once travelled from San Diego to Los Angeles with my piano teacher and her friend in the middle of the night in order to camp out in front of the Ahmanson Theatre in the desperate hope of catching Michael Crawford as the Phantom prior to his imminent retirement. We made it in on cancellation tickets for three seats in row H, dead center (i.e. right underneath THE chandelier), literally five minutes before the performance began and yes—the experience absolutely blew my mind. It’s ironic that the Phantom would be streaming now, because if there’s one dude who would never ever have allowed a nation-wide mask shortage, it’s him.

April 22
What day is it? What year is it? What does anything even mean? I feel like I’m having an out of body experience. But even my astral body does not have a mask because THERE ARENT ANY.

April 23
The talking heads on TV all seem to agree that not much is going to change in May, and think we shouldnt get too excited. Cross-regional travel is likely to be banned until at least June. We are advised to lower our expectations regarding summer vacation. Still no masks in sight. Also no printer paper, maybe because my kids teachers keep asking us to print roughly a gazillion pages of classwork every week.

April 24
Things we’re out of: flour, yeast, dirt, wood, paper, masks, patience, and potentially our minds.


To be continued...

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gone viral: part III

Welcome to part III of my lockdown diaries. If you have a little oh, I dont know, FREE TIME on your hands, part II is available here and part I is available here.

April 6
Amazon delivers a box. This is the highlight of my day—a box! With stuff in it! Stuff for me! Actually, it’s stuff to occupy my kids, but no matter; I bought it, so it’s sort of for me. Deliveries these days are bizarre. When UPS came with our new printer last week, the delivery dude basically threw the box at me and ran off before I could contaminate him or whatever he was so worried about. *cough* 

April 7
In an abundance of completely misguided wisdom, the government decides that there are entirely too many people strolling about during the one hour of exercise we are allowed outside of our homes per day. So they limit exercise to before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m., which as any common idiot can imagine is ABSOLUTELY going to worsen the problem.

April 8
I go running at 7:01 p.m., along with what feels like half the town. WTF was the government thinking? I do my best to steer clear of everyone, even leaving the trail and running in the middle of the road (“Thanks for the asphalt,” say my knees and ankles). An older woman leaning on a walker glares at me, as though I were the Grim Reaper in the flesh, despite my respecting about 2x the recommended social distance AND holding my breath. Sigh.

April 10
Oh look! Our local authorities have noticed that the whole 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. restriction thing was an epic failure. But have they recanted? Not a chance! Instead they have doubled down, and now my entire neighborhood is encircled in barricade tape to keep folks off the most popular running paths, i.e. the ones that aren’t full of roots, leaves, and rocks. Speaking of barricades, I kind of feel like climbing one. Where’d I put my French flag?

April 12
Christos Anesti! I slip outside early in the morning and hide the 48 plastic eggs that I ordered online last month and spent 30 minutes filling with chocolates before going to bed a few hours ago. I sit in the garden and enjoy the silence. Having an apartment with a garden is an absolute lifesaver and I am incredibly grateful to be able to do this. The kids soon wake up and have a fantastic time racing about collecting the eggs. This feels like a solid win.

Easter Covid-style turns out quite nicely, actually. I tell the children that I am going to church, which these days means disappearing into my bedroom with my laptop and the online worship service of the American Church in Paris, virtual communion included. It’s alternative, but kind of fun! I like the fact that I can hit “pause” to go to the ladies’ room instead of slinking out of the sanctuary through the back door like I would if I were at a physical church.

Later, we go out for our daily stroll, which lo and behold takes us to the very neighborhood where I have an invitation to a “through the fence” wine tasting. We meet a very nice wine merchant, who lets us into his front yard where he introduces us to his wife and two children, who seem elated to meet our two children and the four of them R-U-N-N-O-F-T together immediately, which makes me realize how lonely my kids probably are, and I’m about to start feeling guilty but I can’t because there is a glass of chilled rosé being handed to me and before I know it the four of us are laughing and telling stories and GOOD LORD IT IS SO NICE TO JUST TALK TO ACTUAL PEOPLE! Like not on FaceTime or Zoom or whatever. Actual people. We buy six bottles and I stop just shy of asking them if we can be friends IRL. Come to think of it, I still might.

We head home, where I make a fairly elaborate Easter dinner, complete with hard boiled eggs sculpted into little chickens and again, I feel pretty proud of myself. My son says, “Mom, this is the best Easter I’ve ever had.” Remembering this simple affirmation is the primary reason for my writing this entire post. Our Easter is full of hope indeed. 

April 13
Macron addresses the nation wearing his furrowed, “empathetic” look. No wonder he’s trying to look empathetic—he announces FOUR MORE WEEKS of lockdown. I’m about to go look for anything I can make into a noose when he adds that after these next four weeks, schools will reopen. WADHESAY? So help me, there IS a light at the end of this long-ass tunnel. And that light is called “public school.” 

This really won’t last forever. Imagine that.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Gone viral: part II

Welcome to part II of my lockdown diaries. Part I is available hereTo set the tone, let us conjugate the expression être confiné (to be on lockdown):

Je suis confiné(e) : I am on lockdown 

Tu es confiné(e) : You are on lockdown
Il/Elle est confiné(e) : He/She is on lockdown
Nous sommes confiné(e)s : We are on lockdown
Vous êtes confiné(e)s : You are on lockdown
Ils/Elles sont confiné(e)s : They are on lockdown


March 30

With the entire country being ordered to #RestezChezVous, work has been a tad slooow for the past few weeks. But that does not stop me from ordering 250 euros worth of clothing from stores that are naturally closed due to the epidemic and won’t be able to deliver a damn thing until June. My husband, who loves statistics, really loves the one about how men still do most of the earning while women still do most of the spending, but what he doesn’t realize is that in my world, e-shopping is a highly effective form of self-medication with calming powers akin to those of Hatha yoga or, say, hiding in the garage with a shot glass and a bottle of triple sec. Buying stuff has always done great good to my nerves, and this is ESPECIALLY true when they have been frayed into oblivion by these very loud, very needy little creatures we live with who, the way things are going, may never go back to school again, ever.

March 31

One of the very first cultural lessons I was taught about the French, even before I first arrived in Paris waaaay back in 1999, was that direct eye contact with total strangers is a big no-no. Smiling while engaging in wanton eye contact is even worse. Far too forward. Far too direct. Far too intimate. But over time this has, at least in my experience, relaxed somewhat. A smile and a bonjour, when directed at the right passer-by, may be returned—without the recipient taking you for a wacko, a nympho, or a tourist. And as lockdown drags on, I find myself searching the face of everyone with whom I cross paths, hoping to find a kindred sparkle in their eye and perhaps even a little smile of solidarity. Alas, people are so freaked out by the risk of contagion that not only do they avoid eye contact at all costs, but they CROSS THE STREET when I come within 10 meters of them. I know it isn’t personal, but it still feels undeservedly cruel.

April 1

I’m out on another mind-clearing run, feeling more unnerved than ever by the deserted park avenues and grassy esplanades that in a parallel universe would have been brimming with families, teenagers playing soccer, and sweet elderly couples out for an evening stroll. But the voices and laughter are gone now, and in their place is an eerie silence that hangs heavy in the air, making it somehow harder to breathe. I think of an article a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook entitled “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” and  before I can stop myself, tears are sliding down my cheeks.

I want to sit down and weep. Weep for this town, for this country, for this world. To surrender just for a moment to the fear I feel for my brother, working on the front lines of this horror show in the emergency room of a New York City hospital, or for my siblings-in-law who are both physicians just south of Paris, or for my parents and so many other people I love who are “over 65” and live halfway around the world. For ourselves, too, and the uncertainty that has replaced the familiar and the safe. But I can’t allow myself to fall apart; not now, not ever. So instead I run faster, wondering how many people are hanging by a thread, doing their best to smile when what they really want to do is scream.

April 2

It’s Thursday. Thursday is D-Day for food shopping. We’ve been told again and again to avoid the grocery store, but we gotta eat, especially with all four of us here all day, every day. So online shopping it is—along with the entire Paris region, bien sûr. Result: in addition to the physical lines on the streets, there are now virtual lines just to access the largest online grocery stores. Plus, no sooner do you manage to enter these websites than you realize with dismay that the earliest you can be delivered (if you can be delivered at all) is in 10 days. Hmm. Pigeons are edible; shall we pursue that?

Never being one to give up, I ultimately find a trick that works: go to, open a browser window, and leave it open for 48 hours, at which point some algorithm or other must take pity on you because around 3:30 p.m., a magical free spot appears for pick-up the following day. Dude, I’ll take it. Actually, virtual grocery shopping in itself is kind of fun. What is not fun is when you choose a time slot, only to be informed that half your cart is now out of stock. Each week has its own “out of stock” theme. After the Great Toilet Paper Famine of mid-March, now the country is out of flour. No flour anywhere. Not in the stores. Not on the internet. Nowhere. No yeast, either. What in God’s name are people doing? Trying to bake themselves a time machine? IT WON’T WORK.

April 3

My son’s teacher sends a group email wishing us all good luck for the upcoming holidays. What? Oh riiiiight, tomorrow is the start of spring vacation! Two weeks of enjoying an all-inclusive resort in Majorca hanging out right here in the living room. She adds that she’s planning to put together a children’s Coronavirus recipe book filled with the delicious cakes and whatnot that her little students have surely been concocting with their newly-unemployed parents during lockdown. Two thoughts come immediately to my mind: 1. As a communication professional, believe me when I say that “The Children’s Coronavirus Cookbook” is not a well-thought-out title. 2. “The Flour-Free, Yeast-Free Children’s Coronavirus Cookbook” is infinitely worse.

April 4

Since the only thing I seem to have any control over these days is the cleanliness of our home, I have taken to somewhat obsessive-compulsive vacuuming. In a moment of stupendous foresight, we invested in a handheld Dyson a few months back and it has since become, perhaps not my best friendthat title is reserved for the corkscrewbut at the very least my close friend. However, today I am temporarily out of things to clean, so I decide to tidy up my travel laptop, which my husband says is woefully low on available disk space. I can’t even install the latest upgrade, Windows 10 version “1903” (because nothing makes sense anymore).

April 5

Seeking to free up my hard drive, I delete a bunch of stuff. I get a little overzealous and end up uninstalling Microsoft Office 2010, which is surprisingly easy to do, actually. Only now I can’t reinstall it because the license belongs to my husband’s former boss. All the little blue and white Word document file icons on my desktop transform into “blank page” icons.


April 6

I find Office 2016 selling for €20 on Amazon. Sounds shady, but the reviews look legit. I download it, install it, and it works. The little blank pages become comforting “W” icons once more.


To be continued!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Gone viral: part I

I’ll probably never cough again without thinking about this period in time, when Covid-19 brought normal life to a grinding halt and we were all ordered to #StayAtHome until further notice. France has been under lockdown since mid-March, with all comings and goings requiring paperwork, ID, and a properly-founded explanation. School is out. Everything’s closed. Work is forcément from home (SEE? NOT SO EASY, IS IT?). This new social experiment, which consists in forcing families to spend roughly every second of every minute of every hour of every day together, has me vacillating between “I think this obligatory bonding time is doing us some real good!” and “So this is what a mental breakdown actually feels like.”

Here are a few anecdotes from the past few weeks. A growing number of you may relate:

March 12
President Macron addresses the nation and for once, we as a family gather around the television to listen together. I know what’s coming. I know he’s going to say it. And then he does: out of an abundance of caution, all schools nation-wide will close Monday morning and remain so until further notice. “Well,” I say to myself, “it’ll be like any other school holiday. I’ll lose 50% of my work productivity, but it’ll be OK.”

March 16
It’s Monday morning and my inbox is crammed with messages. My three-year-old daughter has a long list of projects to make and online resources to discover. My six-year-old son has a 10-page chart of lessons to learn, exercises to complete, links to visit, experiments to conduct, songs to learn, and poetry to memorize. The kids’ English school has also sent me the week’s curriculum for both classes. My husband has redirected all his calls to our home and has been Skyping with his boss for the past two hours. I start to wonder how viable any of this is.

March 17
Time to give this home schooling thing a whirl. I gather the mountain of paperwork and supplies we need, and the kids and I sit cross-legged in a pool of sunlight on the floor of my son’s room. I explain to each child what his and her respective activity is, and they go to it. My daughter intently sticks her little magnetic numbers onto the black board I am suddenly so glad we bought years ago, while my son unconsciously bites his upper lip as he focuses on his math exercises. I look at them working away and for a split-second think, “God, maybe I can do this.”

The rest of the week is not quite so easy, though. I realize after much trial and error that the children both need my undivided attention while doing their school work because otherwise they get frustrated, or space out, or squabble, or decide they’re too tired despite having slept for 12 hours straight. So the problem then becomes how to occupy child A while teaching child B. Both of them would happily spend every free second glued to a screen of any size or shape, but we can’t do that, now, can we? Wait … can we? Do rules still exist?

March 21
The first lockdown weekend arrives and it feels almost normal. We engage in our usual traditions of jogging, which is still allowed, and grocery shopping, which is also still allowed. Granted, grocery shopping in an actual physical store has morphed into an extreme sport in which one races about with a radioactive shopping cart, literally risking life and limb for things as trivial as pasta and toilet paper. So I do what any sane person would: I send my husband out to sacrifice himself for the family. He returns a few hours later, triumphant, and I ask how the store vibes were. “Post-Apocalyptic,” he says.

March 23
We survive the weekend and begin a new week. After nine solid days together, everyone is feeling a little cabin feverish—in addition to feeling actually feverish: my son is running a temperature, I have a nagging dry cough, and my daughter has a runny nose. How we managed to get sick while stuck at home all day is a mystery, but none of our symptoms seems especially serious and in my case nothing a glass of wine (or four) won’t fix. My husband informs me that several recent studies are reporting a jump in alcohol consumption since the start of lockdown. Funny he should mention it, since I was about to suggest we move cocktail hour up to 3 p.m.

March 24
Back when life was normal, I used to enjoy jogging for purely physical reasons. But lately, I have come to depend on it not just for physical health but for mental health as its literally the only moment of the entire day wherein I am alone. I have always been a loner. And by “loner” I mean someone who needs time alone each day just in order to remain sane. That is a highly Cancerian trait, by the way: rapid social exhaustionI still think I would have made a fantastic hermit. But thanks to our pal Corona, the only way I can find any quiet time these days is by locking myself in the bathroom or by going for a jog. Unfortunately, Corona has also managed to complicate that, since joggingjogging!is suddenly the object of controversy. I’ll sum it up in a conversation that is only somewhat fictional:
  • Non-jogger: you joggers are selfish jerks, spreading your germs without a care in the world. I bet you just learned to jog this week anyway, because it gives you an excuse to go outside and INFECT EVERYBODY WITH YOUR BREATHING AND YOUR SWEAT DROPS AND YOUR GROSS, GROSS SHOES.
  • Jogger: but you’re cool with my going grocery shopping while breathing and wearing shoes IN ADDITION to touching products AND exposing myself to other people’s germs?
  • Non-jogger: you’re still a selfish jerk.
  • Jogger: and you are being a judgmental asshat more Catholic than the Pope! Jogging is not only legal but also the only thing standing between me and outright insanity so BACK OFF.
March 25
I realize something: my children’s behavior is actually better than it has been in a long time. Usually, Wednesdays fall somewhere between “crappy” and “horrendous,” but this Wednesday everyone is in good spirits and I wrangle the kids into bed without anybody shouting, swearing, or sobbing, which is a straight-up miracle. I give my son a last squeeze before turning out the light and he asks quietly, “Mom, why was my friends birthday party cancelled?” “Because everything’s been cancelled, sweetie,” I answer. “Remember all the stuff we used to do, and how we never really stopped to think about how cool it was that we could do it?” “Youre right, Mom, he says. We should have been more grateful.” 
See? Something new is happening here.

March 26
I receive a fresh mountain of homework to print out for the kids. This proves to be the final blow to our printer, which gives up the ghost once and for all and decides to turn itself off for good. I have always disliked this printer. It and I have never seen eye to eye, and this latest betrayal in the midst of WAR is just typical. Well never mind. I will order a new, far superior one, and WE’LL SEE WHO’S LAUGHING THEN!!!

March 27
The French government announces that lockdown will be extended through mid-April. Welp, there goes Easter with the grandparents in the South of France. This will be the first time that we spend Easter here at home, which means the egg hunt now falls squarely in my lap. Maybe that’s a good thing. Time to do it American-style. I race to Amazon, which thankfully is still up and running, and order 48 plastic eggs and two baskets. This will be fun. Plus, I WON’T HAVE TO EAT GREAT GRANDMA’S LAMB! So help me, I hate the very idea of eating lamb. It’s barbaric. You know it is. I don’t understand the tradition, especially from a Christian perspective. “Christ is the lamb of God, so we should go massacre an actual lamb and serve it with flageolets”? Seems arbitrary. And mean. 

March 28
Our washing machine starts to make strange noises. I wonder what exactly the protocol is when one’s appliance breaks down in the middle of a national quarantine and very quickly decide that that’s one thing I really don’t want to learn more about. I add “washing machine” to my prayer list.

March 29
I’ve been having strange dreams that leave me even more disoriented upon awakening than I usually am. In the pre-Corona days, my first thought used to be how can my alarm be ringing already? But that has been replaced by where the hell am I and whats my name again? Anyway, my latest dream is an old favorite, right up there with missing a flight or falling into a bottomless pit: I’m in some kind of major trouble or am trying to warn somebody about something terrible, except that when I try to scream I realize I’ve lost my voice. I try again, and nothing comes out but a whisper. I try again, and usually at that point I’m so truly distressed that I do scream and thus wake myself up. According to Google, the bottom line in such dreams is a loss of control. GOSH I DON’T SEE WHERE MY SUBCONSCIOUS GETS THAT IDEA FROM.

To be continued!