Paris/COVID: January Dark, Light and Defrag

A quiet but cozy Christmas, a euphoric New Year, then January. This candle sums it up for me. Visceral need for a flame braving the night, like novenas and menorahs. Magnetized early am to late pm. Visual of soul, faith, focus, wholeness, hope.

Since January 16th, 6pm curfew. Rushing to reshuffle schedules and habits once again.

Virus variants coming in from the UK and South Africa. No idea when we’ll be vaccinated.

Cloth masks no longer adequate say French scientists, WHO disagrees. CDC says double masks.

New lockdown may be coming, to be announced today or tomorrow. What will the restrictions be this time?

My mom has been in and out of the hospital.

Violence at the US Capitol a few days after New Year’s. Stunned by the extent of rage and bitterness in the US. An impending mental health crisis? I think it’s already here and has been for a while. Echoes of the French Yellow Vests, some of whom vocally plotted to storm the presidential palace in 2018 and do away with Macron. Somewhat muted now due to confinement and curfew. Seems worse in the US because abetted by government officials high and low.

With family on all over the map, I try to see the big picture, compare the narratives, separate real from fake, and understand where it’s all coming from. Banned videos sent by relatives vie for my attention with NYT articles. Everyone has a non-negotiable point of view on something: Abortion, Immigration, LGBTQ issues, The Holocaust, Indigenous rights, Slavery, Human Trafficking, Antifa, Police Brutality, BLM, QAnon, Corruption, Sedition, Guns, Hacking, Foreign Interference, Global Warming, Hoaxes, Vaccines…

How to reconcile the irreconcilable?

Suddenly it smacks me in the face. This is the story of my life. Unbelievably, 100ish years after the Civil War, it was still being fought, through my parents, one from Industrial North one from Deep South, and through me, born on the divide, with an actual blood incompatibility, as if the Mason Dixon line ran though my cells. Defragmentation isn’t just for computers and hard drives. I struggle to defrag every day, mentally, psychologically and emotionally.

So, on January 6th, I chose the original cast film of Hamilton, Act I over the headlines. A bit late to the party of course, but cathartic timing for me. I surrendered to the spectacle of the main character’s survival, ambition, genius, human failings, and tragedy, lifted at last above fatalism by his wife’s generous heart. I was mesmerised by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wit, melody, rhythm, humor, and scholarship, how the Hamilton story personifies the conception of our country and its misconception due to racial inequities in the lives of our Founding Fathers and their striking sidelining of Founding Mothers. Hip Hop culture meeting American History meeting Broadway, mostly White historical figures played by mostly POC… Hamilton reconciles the seemingly irreconcilable.

The next week, amid photos of DC as a fortified ghost town, I watched it again and continued with Act II. Ordered the CD. Kept the Christmas tree up until the last minute, filled in blanks with Christmas music until January 20th, Inauguration Day. Harris and Biden taking oaths, Gaga belting the anthem, J-Lo doing justice to “This Land is Your Land,” shining Amanda Gorman referencing Hamilton in “The Hill We Climb,” concert, everyday heroes, grace and poise under pressure, flags and fireworks. No one was killed.

Now a second impeachment and an American version of what the French call dialogue de sourds, “deaf dialogue,” people who don’t, can’t, or won’t hear what others are saying.

But also, a beautiful healthy new baby in my family, bright snow, even if just for a few hours a couple of days a week apart, and an only-in-France moment of comic relief: the French Congress voted a bill to preserve the sensory heritage of rural areas. This is a response to a case that opposed country-home-buying-city-folk to a rooster named Maurice that woke them every morning at dawn with its cocorico crowing. Of course this was boiled down in the US press as:

“France passes a law protecting smells”

https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/france-rural-noise-law-scli-intl/index.html

“Roosters bells and cicadas” are now guaranteed freedom of expression amidst potent country perfumes.

Vive poetry, music, friends, cooking, working out, walking, creative projects, the fruits of our labors and defragmentation…

xxxxx Aliss

Paris/COVID: Hark the Herald

Mother of pearl angel with harp on our tree

This time of year my solar plexus is usually bubbling with excitement like a toddler waiting for Santa. Instead there’s an unfestive ache. Decorating our place felt like performing a musical in an empty theater. This is the first year I won’t be getting together with anyone from my birth family, in a long long time.

Homesick, searching for holiday spirit:

Can’t go where I’d usually go, no museums, cafés, restaurants or concerts. Bright side: retracing steps from previous winters, got some cool surprises. Walking across the Marais with take-out cappuccino from Carette Place des Vosges, I saw dark storefronts, but a renovated Musée Carnavalet will reopen in the Spring with restored gardens and a chronological path across Paris history as seen through art. People queueing for falafel and pastries rue des Rosiers reminded me it’s Hanukkah week with its miracles of light. A secret passageway I never saw before, opened through three courtyards between the Place des émeutes de Stonewall (didn’t know this existed)

Was this here before?

and the cheerful, spacious BHV department store with six floors of abundance and enough shoppers to feel lively but not crowded. Cosier than the Forum des Halles, just as upbeat as Galeries Lafayette Haussman and Bon Marché, but less pretentious and pure heaven after sedentary internet browsing. No identity ordeal to set up your millionth online account with your millionth password. Added incentive: picking out gifts and ornaments in person has a new dimension this year, potentially saving the French economy.

Outside the main entrance, in front of the Hôtel de Ville on the Seine, no skating rink for 2020, but two free merry-go-rounds and a series of wooden cabins with big display windows full of nature scenes for the little ones, skies are mostly gray, but lots of lights and carols playing.

Looking across the river towards Notre Dame

It took ages to get home. No more spontaneous zigzagging across the city! Getting around is a slog unless you’re on foot. (City biking is not my thing) Option one: crawl through traffic by bus or taxi on technocrat-reorganized street grids blocked by ubiquitous construction. Option two: brave the metro, risky and time-consuming because I hop off and wait for the next one when it’s too crowded to social distance.

Bright side: I love my neighborhood more than ever with it’s sparkling garlands overhead, variety of merchandise, florists, book shops, food vendors… Most items on my 2020 gift list come from local small businesses.

Other changes:

No big French family dinner with 20 relatives around the table at midnight on the 24th, sniff. Bright side: won’t get home at 3am and be bleary for our US-style Christmas morning the next day.

No long-distance travel this year, sniff. Bright side: no packing, no jet lag.

No family visitors, sniff. Bright side: don’t have to clean guest room and guest bath twice, before and after. (Would jump at the chance, if only.)

Other blessings:

Thankful I didn’t Marie-Kondo my home before COVID so have stuff to sort through, rediscover and repurpose, like the mason jar of “pumpkin butter” found in my pantry, a ghost from holidays past. Contrary to its name, it doesn’t contain butter, just pumpkin, sweeteners and spices. With some eggs and evaporated milk, this transformed into a gorgeous pie for decadent cold snacks right out of the fridge that take me back to feasting on leftovers as a kid.

Work is slow, time on my hands, can volunteer more: mentoring opportunities in scouting community, Sandwich Ministry food distribution for the needy at the American Cathedral.

Private, low key holidays might also leave thought space to prioritize neglected projects on my I-hope-someday list?

Maybe I’ll do something really radical, like cooking up edible presents for friends?

Most of all, processing two major events:

-My mom has moved from a large assisted living facility on a busy city street, luxurious but sometimes impersonal, to a small family-run elder care home in the countryside near my US relatives. After being isolated for nine long months, she’s in intimate surroundings with dogs, cats, greenery and warm human contact. Hats off to my heroic sister and brother-in-law and to my mom for her endurance. A weight has lifted from heart.

-Our teenage son just completed a four-week full-time internship among adults in a professional kitchen as part of his lycée culinary program. Coincidentally this was also in a retirement home (where food preparation doesn’t shut down even during a pandemic). He didn’t catch COVID and neither did we, his chef was very pleased with his skills and wants to help him make contacts for after-COVID. Good omen. Hats off to him for making it through and to us for getting him there every morning in spotless chef’s jacket and apron (a story in itself).

Nearing the winter solstice and 2021, reasons to celebrate: we’re well and vaccines are on the way. Sit back, relive happy memories and imagine a future together again.

Let there be music! Let there be color! Rejoice and stay safe!

xxxxxx Aliss

Paris/COVID: Thanks(giving) anyway?

My favorite co-working café a while back, will it survive?

A reminder I’m not my usual self: Christmas lights going up on our street courtesy of local merchants’ association, after all they’ve been through, made me cry, with gratitude.

Resetting holiday attitudes and expectations… I’m usually a grinch about the Beaujolais Nouveau event, third Thursday of November. It always seemed a fake marketing ploy dreamed up by the vintners’ lobby in 1985 to rake in cash with too-young, too-acidic beverages calling themselves wine. However…this year, I was treated to a memorable bottle with a weird name: Beaujo Beau from Domaine Anthony Charvet, AOC Chiroubles. https://www.vins-anthony-charvet.fr/vins-et-tarifs

Recommended by our favorite local restaurant owner Bertrand Disset:

https://www.instagram.com/labicyclettebistroparis/

Do check out La Bicyclette, his bistrot: real chef (Slavica Marmakovic), fresh ingredients, gorgeous creativity, charcuterie from l’Aveyron, natural wines, low prices, great press, offering take out during confinement, our family’s hooked.

Tasting this wine sparked my curiosity and I learned that Beaujolais Nouveau wasn’t invented in 1985, but is one of the surviving French wine festivals all over France, vestiges of traditional fêtes des vendanges, grape harvest festivals that used to be a thing. When I was a student here, all the French kids used to take off in the Fall to work in the vineyards and enjoy camaraderie and banquets prepared by the vintners’ families.

Live and learn! Vive le Beaujolais Nouveau! We need all the holidays we can get these days. This one is connected to a real terroir.

The other event I’ve always hated is Black Friday. How could anyone sully our miraculously non-commercial Thanksgiving with such a display of crass greed the next day? OK, I know Thanksgiving is an idealized version of Early American cooperation between indigenous people and colonists. When my kids were little I researched it so I could present it to them in good conscience. It seems that there was a historically-documented meal where “pilgrims” and native people celebrated abundant local produce and European survival in the New World (what happened next is less a reason to celebrate). Question: could our US Thanksgiving mythology be a template for future inclusivity and stewardship?

Meanwhile French businesses adopted Black Friday to my chagrin. But COVID has changed the context and when I see how small businesses are struggling, I have to welcome Black Friday for their sake. Reset.

And there are other things to celebrate this year.

No matter how you voted, a respite if not an end to election hangover.

If you’re reading this, congratulations for being alive.

If you’re a parent of teens in France: remote working means more adults are at home paying attention to the comings and goings of their teenagers, who have to communicate more about their outings: where, when, why, how long… to fill out the required dérogation. It’s become much easier to form alliances and keep them safe.

This helps us to find a balance between restrictions and permissiveness, keeping in mind current mental health challenges for young people: increased rates of depression, suicide and anorexia:

https://pro.orange.fr/actualites/covid-19-la-sante-mentale-d-adolescents-se-degrade-selon-une-pedopsychiatre-CNT000001v45pY.html

And… Thanksgiving is starting to appeal to a French audience! Monoprix features a special shopping section on their website:

https://courses.monoprix.fr/content/thanksgiving

….with a recipe for Pecan Pie that lists maple syrup instead of corn syrup (Gasp! my South Georgia ancestors are rolling in their graves!)

But upon closer investigation… maple syrup has 200 fewer calories per cup than corn syrup and contains actual nutrients contrary to its ultra-refined alternative! So perhaps a new era will dawn in that area as well?

Welcome news! Last night President Macron announced lighter confinement rules for the holidays, starting on Saturday November 28th when non-essential stores are allowed to reopen.

A final word: over the years I’ve figured out that I’m a pilgrim in France, grateful for all the support I’ve received from “the natives.” We expats watch Emily in Paris on Netflix and laugh at the cultural caricatures we recognize from our attempts to adapt to our French hosts, but in truth we all love France, we’re grateful to here.

Happy Thanksgiving from a pilgrim,

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Curfew Day 1

Yippee another challenge to keep our brains from aging too fast!

De-scheduling dinners, open mics, evenings with friends, not to mention Halloween… wondering how our friends in the restaurant, hospitality, theater and music worlds are going to re-imagine themselves for the nth time. Theoretically it’s not as bad as confinement, but then again, we were all just picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and fantasizing about getting back to some semblance of a rhythm, in this city of lights, now going dark again. It has to be done with 30,000 new infections just yesterday. Our frontline health workers and vulnerable ones have to be shielded.

While we’re at it, please send special good vibes to all of us parents of teenagers chafing at the bit. If they’re caught outside after 9pm, they’ll be detained by the police until we can pick them up at whatever precinct, and we parents will have to pay 135€ ($160) the first time, 1500€ ($1760) after that for the privilege of getting them back.

And… just to make things more interesting, invitations to super-spreader all night parties with no adult supervision are being shared because schools are on fall break for 2 weeks and the young feel entitled to blow off steam. Attempts to help them understand the gravity of the situation ping off them like raindrops on a parapluie.

If anyone else is in this boat, please DM me. I have a strategy. Not terrifically fun from an admin POV, but potentially more economical.

To be continued!

xxxxxx Aliss

M@M: The Making Of (Official Selection Paris Short Film Festival 2020)

MARGARITAS poster3

Proud to announce my short feature/music video Margaritas@Midnight is in the official line up at the Paris Short Film Festival 2020:

The Making of M@M:

So there I was far from the musical spotlight due to family craziness and out of the blue, Richard Manwaring, renowned British producer, drummer, and sound mixer, sent me a demo he was arranging with his band Rough Score. Richard and I met in London ages ago when I was recording my first single for Virgin and we’ve been friends ever since.

fullsizeoutput_70a(Photo Celia Manwaring)

The track’s bluesy lounge groove was sexy, but I asked if I could spin the lyrics away from lost-love territory already covered in Jimmy Buffet’s megahit Margaritaville, towards a female take on tropical fantasies. I needed something light and playful to counterbalance the challenges in my life and darkness in the world. The band said yes and singing it was a blast. From day one, I “saw” the story, but had no budget to film it.

My artistic process for the video involved strumming on my guitar, imbibing margaritas, island reveries…

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…plus tons of comedy and art. (Tough job, but…)

As I was planning a minimalist version on iPad and iMovie, tech genius DP, editor, mixer @krysed came on board:

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…joining  improv talent, brainstormer deluxe, DIY acrobat, and the original Margarita God himself, Lewis Primo:

DSC04705

Not to mention couple of the century, Shirley and Brandon:Shirley Brandon

I could now throw myself into storyboarding and mapping, creating costumes and decors from scratch. 

The Mood Board:

My vintage doll and toy collection, first featured in a brilliant fotonovella shot with my son for his middle school art class:Fotonovella

Iconic Kramp Kitchen sequence from 70’s cult film The Groove Tube (ancestor of SNL):

Christian Boltanski art installation: Shadows from the Lessons of Darkness:

Screenshot 2020-09-07 at 14.10.25

Christian Boltanski, ‘Shadows from the Lessons of Darkness’, 1987, Phillips
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are:
 
Sendak
Extra visuals:
h0us3s_Signs_Hazard_Warning_35800px-Crocodile_warning_sign_01
and island reveries….IMG_1013
 
 
Essential background and props:
 
Florida paintings by artist Lynn Margileth (full disclosure, also my sister, whose studio assistant I was for this series many moons ago) :
 
FullSizeRender
 
Fabrics from Marché St Pierre + patterns, needles, thread, charms, sequins, glue:
 
IMG_1312  FullSizeRendermargaritas thumbFullSizeRender
 
My collection of international female power objects:
 
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Candles and bakelite jukebox piggy bank:
 
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(Krysed bought a special lens for this, same one as Stanley Kubrick used for Barry Lyndon)
 
Blender:
 
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Cat:
 
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Location shooting took place in:
 
My kitchen, with puppet theater and blankets:
 
DSC04706
 
Our guest room with linen sheets and keyboard:
 
Krysed studio
 
Lights, camera, action:
DSC04790
 
With my story board (here p 4) and lines of vision map:
 
Storyboard2
Geography
 
 
 
Big thanks to Rough Score for the song: Drums Allmighty Richard Manwaring, Guitar Messiah Paulie Raymond and Bass Creator Richard Hewlett:
 
fullsizeoutput_70d(Photo Celia Manwaring)
 
For gorgeous Florida paintings to Bodhisattva Lynn Margileth, for tech magic to Shooting Ninja @krysed, and to Margarita God Lewis Primo for allowing me to immortalize his original margarita recipe, developed over years of travel, investment, research and experimentation…
 
Festival info:

Screenshot 2020-09-02 at 14.09.50

https://filmfreeway.com/paris-short-film-festival

Festival website and tickets:

http://www.psff.eu

Enjoy as much as we did!

Your (Vocal Siren) Aliss xxxxxxx

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t (4)

IMG_1538              (Clouds this morning over lush French farmland)

Doubly COVID negative, we were able to board our flight and are now safely back in Paris, but what a gruelling experience…

In case this can help other travelers from NY state to Paris (or make you laugh), my family and I have personally tried three of the testing options recommended by the NYC French consulate:

A – The French gynecologist who meets you in a parking lot in Mount Kisco, NY

B – A Lab in Edison, NJ where he sends the sample or where you can go directly to be tested

C – Another French doctor in a health clinic in Larchmont, NY

And the ONLY winner was …. C: Dr. Philip Heinegg, 1890 Palmer Avenue, Suite 304, Larchmont, NY, 914-834-9606, info@larchmontmd.com, Monday-Friday 8am-3pm.

We made an appointment, it wasn’t crowded, they didn’t bullshit us, the results really arrived by email in a few hours AND it was free with a NY ID thanks to the COVID fund. Apparently there is a lab nearby that delivered results in a matter of hours. BUT!!! We were among the last people to benefit from this and it has been removed from the French consulate website…BECAUSE the lab they used can no longer guarantee a delivery time for the results, due to high demand (more about this below).

Still, do not bother with A and B, unless you have no other choice.

A is a lovely man who will charge you $60 per person to take the sample and send it to the lab, but trash your carefully typed paperwork so that the lab can’t read it and will not be able to contact you. He will also misinform you about the 72 hour time limit: “It’s fine to take the sample on Friday evening for a Tuesday evening departure!” (Not) AND not give you a receipt.

B will give you different information every time you call, will tell you they are not open on Saturday (they are), that the date of the sample will not be on the email with the results so you can have the test on Friday for a Tuesday departure (not). B will ignore the email address you gave them directly and use the illegible version hand copied in chicken scratch by A so that the results bounce back to them, meaning that you don’t get the results of your Friday test until Monday afternoon and only after many tense phone calls. Oh, and they will charge you $130 per person for this “service” which will be rejected outright by Air France. AND when B was first recommended by the consulate, they were charging $100 per test. A few days later they had upped the price by 30%, what nerve.

Fortunately we played it safe and scheduled our second test, with C, on Monday morning. We got the results Monday afternoon, which fell within the 72 hr limit. They were accepted by Air France and enabled us to fly.

So what would have happened if we had trusted A and B and shown up at the airport with results from a sample taken outside the 72 hr limit? The AF agent we spoke to said they have fail safe options: a testing center in Brooklyn and one in Queens where you can rush with your baggage at the last minute by cab and IF you are COVID negative, possibly arrive back to JFK in time for your flight or get on a later one. Fine, but can you imagine the stress? And why do they keep this information secret?

Maybe everyone is keeping their particular partners confidential because many labs are now swamped with testing for school reopenings and even the fastest ones can no longer get the job done quickly… For info, when we called C‘s office to thank them for saving our butts, they said that they are no longer on the consulate list because they no longer have a reliable fast lab. We gave them the Brooklyn and Queens addresses we got from Air France, hoping that might help, because they have people coming all the way from Ohio and Pennsylvania to whom they have to explain all this, cancel their appointments, or use the expensive lab in NJ… Imagine the dialog!

Anyway, we are COVID neg, showed our results from C at the airport, filled out our required statements, got our temperature taken on both sides, wore masks, had a smooth flight, and made it back to Paris. We didn’t have to have another test at CDG.

We did it! But it was a really close call.

For more precise names and addresses, PM me.

To be continued!

Aliss

 

 

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t (3)

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Week 4 of our time in upstate NY:

Right now we’re in a sweet spot. There are very few cases of the virus here and it’s good to be away from Paris where cases are increasing. NY Families are debating how to start the school year. We can pretend we don’t have that problem for a few more weeks.

I’ve been able to reconnect with my US family and my mom. She and I have settled into a comfort zone across our window screen. This afternoon will be our 6th visit (that’s 6 x 160 miles), first time together outdoors, 45 minutes with no physical barriers, but we have to stay 6 feet apart and there will be a staff member monitoring us. We may be able to play scrabble on my Mom’s board, with me keeping my distance and hand sanitizing my every move for safety. More good news: her residence has reopened their dining room, organizing two sittings per meal to allow for spacing, so my mom is seeing people again and moving around more. Hopefully things will continue to improve and she’ll be able to visit my sister at her home soon.

Meanwhile, we’re being very careful. Everyone’s wearing masks even on hiking trails. My son has been going to an outdoor day camp wearing a mask, distancing, washing hands. The camp is still COVID free, vive New York.

Our moment of truth is looming. In a few days we’ll have to be tested for COVID in order to return to France, we still don’t know where or how. We have plans A, B and C, just to be safe. NJ lab with result in 48 hrs if they decide to open on Saturday (which we won’t know until late Thursday or early Friday morning and they don’t give appointments, it’s first come first serve)? Otherwise appointment with French doctor in Larchment, NY on Friday evening with 48hr results? And just in case, appointment with another French doctor in White Plains, NY on Monday with results in 2 hrs? It’s very Catch 22 trying to schedule the test less than 72 hours before boarding our flight, over a weekend, in a place where thunderstorms can knock out power grids for days and given conflicting info from consulate and AF about how the time is calculated (from sample or from delivery of results?) If one of us tests positive how will we arrange to stay here? Suspense.

BTW: apologizing for the delay, Governor Cuomo’s office finally replied to my email query sent 5 or 6 weeks ago. The message informs us that yes, we should quarantine for 14 days (now that we’ve been here over 3 weeks) and once again provides the NY state virus hotline number where they told me and others the contrary. Are these contradictory signals due to the fact that numbers are now up in France? Who knows?! This is where we’re at now, no one knows anything for sure, we just have to roll with it.

Whatever happens, I will be forever grateful that a brief window in time opened for us to be here and recharge before the next episode. We don’t know when or how we will can come back.

xxxxx Aliss

PS, Funny update: We’re meeting a French gynecologist wearing a hazmat sit in a parking lot an hour from NYC for one of our COVID tests 🙂 You can’t make this stuff up, sounds like Madlibs…

 

 

 

 

Paris/COVID: The trip that almost wasn’t

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I’m writing this from upstate NY. Everyone I talk to asks, “Where are you?” “Why?” “They’re letting people fly in?” “Are you quarantined?” “Did you have to go through testing?” Here’s the story:

As an American living in France, married to a French guy, with most of my relatives in the US, I try to get back here once a year, end of July through August is the easiest time for us to get away and yes we take off 4 weeks as is the French custom (Vive la France). To get the smoothest deals, we start planning our annual migration for family time and US cultural immersion 6 months in advance, my ultra-organized male counterpart has it down to a science of frequent flyer miles, credit card points, membership rewards, the whole shebang, and this year was no exception. In early February, the virus was surging in Italy and Spain, but not yet in France and confinement seemed unthinkable (ha ha). Dealing with a lot of issues familiar to parents of teens, we needed to imagine ourselves and him in a less stressful environment. So we lined up flights, AirBnB dates, car rentals, and filled out day camp applications. Then the three of us got very sick with serious flu-like symptoms. A doctor on a house call asked if we’d been to China. When we said no, she told us to stay home, drink fluids and take paracetamol, which we did.  It was rough, but no hospitalisation, no test.

The rest is history: confinement, lockdown, borders closed, people dying. I gave up the idea of traveling. Managing day-to-day was the priority as you can see in my previous posts. When Hertz went bankrupt, that seemed a clear signal. We’d say goodbye to that fee. Other cancellation and reimbursement policies were unclear. Would we lose our airfare and AirBnB deposit? Camps were out of the question. Nevermind, the only thing that mattered was surviving.

Over the next few months, step by step, France flattened the curve.

One of my biggest fears was that I’d never see my mom again. Retirement homes were a disaster everywhere. Governor Cuomo switched the state of NY into high gear and my mom’s residence applied stringent precautions. They were 100% COVID-free for the next 4 months, but my mom was confined to her small apartment with no visitors all that time. She was amazingly resilient but very lonely. I called every day to check in, sometimes reading her funny articles or recipes, singing songs, telling her about our daily routines and how we were staying sane.

Gradually, France deconfined and NY state coped. Every day, I monitored statistics on the NYT

 

and French government websites:

http://www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus/carte-et-donnees

In June, Governor Cuomo said outdoor day camps could open that month if they observed strict CDC health guidelines. Not only that, but my son’s Counselor In Training application was accepted and he could attend free of charge!

Then Air France cancelled our flight. Another sign? The email gave instructions to request a new reservation on their website, which of course had no information about this. All AF phone lines were saturated, with long waits just to be cut off. Not surprising since the whole industry was in jeopardy. On a hunch, I sent a message via FaceBook and unexpectedly received a new reservation within 24 hours. Doors seemed to be opening.

Activating my Franco-American info network to the max on social media and conversations on FaceTime, Zoom, and now occasionally in person, I threw out all my questions and concerns, harvesting ideas.

My son and I could still go to the states even though Trump banned travel from Europe, because we have US passports, but what about my French mari? US State Department website said yes. American women reporting on recent travel from France to US said they took their marriage certificates with them and all was well. OK!

But was there any point in going if we had to quarantine for 2 weeks? No recent info on State Dep’t site. Old info said yes, quarantine. CDC site said yes, quarantine coming from France. But is NY a special case? NY is quarantining people from states with outbreaks. What about France? Call Gov Cuomo’s press office. Press secretary gives me NY state virus hotline number: 1 888 364 3065. Nice woman gives me list of US states on quarantine list, but says no quarantine from France!

Another American expat friend sends me a link to Ann Swardson’s blog with pictures taken on July 21st of empty CDG, no lines for security, empty flights.

http://anneswardson.com/going-the-distance/

Could traveling be a possibility?

Suddenly receive news that a staff member at my mom’s retirement home has tested positive for COVID. Jeez, is this the beginning of an outbreak?  Even if I’m able to go, will I be able to see her? Via Zoom, the Residence director keeps us informed.  No new cases. No residents ill. Window visits are still possible and if they stay COVID-free, I might be able to have a real visit during our stay in the US. Dare I hope?

About this time is when news reports show seismic activity in Iceland and announce imminent volcanic eruptions! I get slightly hysterical. Then that dies down… But everyday there’s some kind of new uncertainty. A shock arrives from an unexpected quarter:

Exactly 1 week before departure, my husband says, “I have to talk to you. I’m not going. I can’t sleep, I’m having cold sweats. I’m afraid of getting or giving the virus, not being able to get through immigration, getting sick or stuck there, and I can’t wear a mask for the 12h trip door to door, and our usual health insurance doesn’t cover COVID expenses.”

Somehow I don’t freak out. Instead of emotional blackmail or manipulation, I ask him to wait a day or two before making a definite decision, so we can talk it over. “OK. I’m not going to try to convince you. I just want to show you all the information so you can make the best decision.” I realize what an exhausting year it’s been, we’re both nervous wrecks, we haven’t communicated about the trip at all. I remember what my friend Sylvia Sabes told me about the trauma expert who spoke to her husband’s co-workers: we’re all on a virus-induced PTSD timeline. It’s normal to be anxious and extra careful.

We set up a time to talk. I show him the blog pix of airports and planes, read him the thread on FB about Franco-US couples traveling CDG-JFK, evolving situation on French news platforms about getting back into France. There are fewer cases in upstate NY than in Paris. We should be OK returning as we all have French passports. We can research and purchase extra health coverage. I ask what will our son do if he can’t go to camp? I reassure that we can take off our masks on the plane to eat and drink, that will give us a break. I offer to treat him to a one-hour massage at our local Yves Rocher institute to help him relax, he accepts. There is hope.

Hertz stays in business, AirBnB doesn’t cancel. Camp says my son must quarantine for 2 weeks, then I send them NY virus hotline number, they get back to me and say son can come to camp after all.

Up until the last minute, uncertainty and stress. We pack, put on our masks and set off for the airport. Very few people, quick security checks, AF agents take our temps before boarding, we show them our French and US marriage certifs, fill out forms. Easy flight. 5 people in our cabin, AF staff very happy to see us. Meal and beverage service, inflight entertainment.  Disembark at JFK. Temps taken and long wait at immigration due to computer glitches and checking documents.

Drive upstate.

Friday July 31st, I was able to visit with my mom though an open window, wearing masks. We “touched” fingertips across a wire screen and both cried, tears of joy. It was enough just to be together again. If all goes well, we’ll be able to be in the same physical space before I have to go back to France.

So, a work in progress. We’re social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, grocery store shopping. We had one restaurant meal seated outdoors 3-6 feet from our NY family. I wore a mask to an outdoor pool, no changing or showers, and swam socially-distanced laps. My son rode a yellow school bus to camp this morning, in an assigned seat, windows open, interior disinfected before departures, temps taken.

It’s a miracle to be here. Not easy but worth it.

To be continued

xxxxx

Aliss

Paris/COVID: Beyond Burnout

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Thank you all who read and responded to my previous post about disconnection and burnout. Have you ever noticed that when you make a public statement, you get echoes of agreement and the universe also switches into fact-checking mode? I heard from a lot of people experiencing similar feelings and a lot of people defying the odds in every area:

-Close friends and relatives on both sides of the Atlantic, evidently not social distancing from their partners, have chosen to have babies, one due in October, one in January.  Disproving toddler/teen parental burnout predictions, one couple already have a 2½  year old, the other have 4 (!) preteen and teen boys, 2 each from previous relationships. Our local swan couple above are raising new triplets.

-A family member in Florida, a retired doctor, still living independently, is celebrating a century of life this month.

-The Paris city government is setting up Paris Plages along the Seine and our canal, with temporary sand beaches, boardwalks, water sports, ziplines and fresh water swimming.  The grand opening will feature a movie theater overlooking the water, where lucky ticket winners can watch movies from boats.

-Committed climate warrior, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, is more determined than ever to rid Paris of car pollution, closing streets to traffic, narrowing avenues to make room for more bike lanes.

-We elected her for her green platform, but we must now radically change our transportation habits ASAP, faster than anyone foresaw. Double-long buses block intersections, the Metro is often crowded, not everyone wearing masks. Remaining traffic clogs available asphalt, honking rabidly. Cabbies and emergency vehicle drivers can no longer access certain parts of the city. What about families with handicapped kids or elderly parents? You can’t balance them on your handlebars… We all have to think twice before moving around and plan much extra time, money and/or rain gear. Kudos for our perseverance.

-Otherwise, cafés and restaurants are spilling across sidewalks, with tables, improvised partitions, bright parasols and awnings.

-People in my building took up a generous collection to help the widow of our neighbor who died of COVID in April.

-The traditional Bastille Day parade took place yesterday Place de la Concorde, ending with a moving tribute to healthcare heroes. A big salary and bonus package for health professionals has been signed. Eiffel Tower fireworks were televised last night, crowds discouraged, but many gathered anyway. President Macron has announced masks will be mandatory in all closed pubic spaces starting August 1st.

-My US cousin, a dedicated young nurse who was very ill with COVID, has recovered and is buying a house for herself and her adopted rescue pup.

-Another young friend, nurse and single mom, had to isolate from her little son while caring for COVID patients and then got furloughed. Reunited with her little boy, she’s created a patio and vegetable garden behind her apartment building.

-A young Broadway sound designer, out of work until at least January, took 60 hours of training to volunteer on a crisis hotline and adopted a rescue dog.

Shoutout to:

-Peaceful protesters wearing masks.

-US SCOTUS judges who retain a degree of independence from the party in power.

-Staff at the assisted living facility where my mother lives, who have taken such good care of the residents that there hasn’t been a single case of COVID there. They work long hours, outside their job descriptions, organizing Zooms, FaceTimes, window visits, room to room happy hours with music, socially distanced walks outside… unable to hire additional staff because no one wants to work there during a pandemic.

-To everyone on the front line: grocery store employees, sanitation workers, teachers, delivery employees, farmers, progressive lawmakers, and all those everywhere who keep going and keep us going, day after day.

Bravo, thank you for the inspiration.

To be continued.

xxxxx Aliss

 

 

Paris/Covid: First Wave Aftershock

IMG_1298City life is picking up. It’s wonderful going outside and meeting people again, but I still feel disconnected. It’s not just that we’re not touching physically, there’s a sensation of unreality about everything. The decor is the same, but the way we inhabit it is very different. Everyone has been through big changes, each in their own way, and even though we’ve been in contact virtually, supporting and updating each other, we’ve all shifted internally and externally, so even in person, we don’t quite fit together the way we did before. In relationships, some grievances have fallen away, but others have come to a head. It’s disorienting.

I think I’m suffering from reset fatigue. Over the past few years Paris has gone through terrorist attacks, a migrant crisis, yellow vest upheavals, Notre Dame burning, transportation paralysis, COVID confinement and deconfinement, and #BLM, an emotional wringer of fear, rage, despair, hope and admiration for heroes…

This spring we’ve had to second guess our every habit and reflex, our social programming and attempts at deprogramming. Many of us are also processing parental burn out. I read recently that after all these months of isolation and homeschooling, it’s most intense for those of us with toddlers and teens. This confirms my own experience. These two categories are the ones with the most striking developmental disruptions. Physical changes, moods, experimentation, unpredictability, constant questioning and testing boundaries demand huge flexibility, attention, and presence from caregivers (as do Alzheimers patients, I’m guessing). A lot of my energy, day after day, week after week, has gone into making it through the school year. Mission accomplished! There’s huge relief, but also exhaustion and emptiness. Now what? What new reality do we have to adjust to or create over the summer and in the fall? How will it play out for our loved ones in the US?

A close friend told me how a war-zone seasoned neuroscientist recently gave a talk at her husband’s company to help staff adjust as they returned to work. He said the pandemic has been violently traumatic for health workers, victims and their families, for others in a more insidious way, and that all of us react to trauma as we react to grief, in five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, along a predictable timeline. Personally I don’t identify with any of these stages just now, it’s more like low energy and numbness.

Counting blessings. In many ways, confinement provided me a necessary retreat. I’m one of the lucky ones. Still here to look at the sky, the water, the beautiful earth, living creatures, hear music and conversation, walk and dance, sing, taste food and wine, and little by little, reconnect.

xxxxxx Aliss