In the United States folks are celebrating the long Memorial Day weekend. In France, it’s a long holiday weekend, too. Thursday was a religious holiday, the Ascension, celebrated 40 days after Easter when Christians believe the body of Christ ascended into heaven. Many take Friday off as well and enjoy a four-day break at the beginning of summer.
This year they can’t venture far – only 100 kilometers from home. But, that’s better than just one kilometer which is what it was up until May 11 when the Covid lockdown restrictions began to ease. Stores have opened. It is mandatory to wear masks on public transportation and in shops, offices and places of worship which opened this weekend. Primary schools have reopened. However, these eased restrictions apply to green zones only – where we are. Parts of northern France are in a red zone where the virus still rages. There strict restrictions still prevail.
Citizens were issued two free masks. I am sure our freebies will stop all germs, but they may suffocate us. They are large and made of two layers of unbleached muslin. One set of strings loops above the ear. The other ties behind the head. I wore it once, but I could not get it untied. I have never been a whiz at knots, and had obviously overdone it. I had a mask around my neck until I got home and cut if off.
We are still waiting for masks sent from the U.S. Friend Bev, a talented seamstress, sent some at least two months ago. My sister-in-law made masks, too, and sent us some. My step -daughter sent some. None have arrived. I assume it is because there are few planes flying between France and the U.S. Not to worry. You can now buy masks here, although that was not the case prior to May 11 when none were available. And, I ordered some which arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago. They appear to be Chinese..a label in Chinese. We can get Chinese masks but none from the U.S. ???
Now that we have some freedom, social distancing is supposed to be de rigeur at all times when out. As I observed, that is not always the case. The French, especially here in the south, are obsessed with the game of boule. The boulodrome near us has reopened to record numbers. All seem to be overjoyed to be back at their favorite pastime and not worried about social distancing.
Beaches – it’s up to local mayors to decide to open or not. I was thrilled to learn the beach closest to us had opened, but only for walks and swimming. No lounging and sunbathing. OK by me. So, on Wednesday I ventured down the big hill to the Mediterranean, placed a folded up towel on the edge of the water, put on my beach shoes (ours is a pebble beach, not sand) and took the plunge. Cold. Water temperature was 17º C, about 63º F. It did not matter. I felt invigorated, revived, elated.
I had the beach almost to myself that day. There were very few swimmers. Some kids splashed at water’s edge watched over by parents sitting on the shore.
I loved the water and the solitude. It is no longer that way. The holiday brought more to the beach, but no sunbathers and all observing social distancing. It was also a welcome surprise to find the kiosks near the water open for business, selling drinks, snacks, sandwiches, even burgers. However, no tables and chairs. Find a wall or bench to sit on. We did just that at our “happy place,” our favorite kiosk above a rocky shore with a view I cherish – the sea with the Maritime Alps in the background.
On Thursday, the holiday, we drove to nearby Menton and its beach. There were lots more people on this beach, as well as many sauntering along the beach promenade. There was only one entrance to the beach, and it was controlled by police. I did see a few sunbathers stretched out on beach towels, but only a few.
We have been taking longer walks. I estimate 97 percent of people outdoors are without masks (us included). Masks are only required indoors. However, I was a bit surprised yesterday when I went to our neighborhood mini-supermarket. Several customers were not wearing masks. The cashier did not wear a mask. As this is a small store, social distancing is impossible. I proceeded to the butcher shop. It is tiny. Only three customers are admitted at a time. Yet, the staff behind the counter did not wear masks. Another customer was also mask-less. However, walking home I spotted a foursome sitting on a bench – all wearing masks.
What is happening in France is probably no different than what is happening in the U.S. and elsewhere as the new normal – masks and social distancing – takes hold. Not all obey. But, at least here there are no armed protesters.
Hopefully more freedom is around the corner. Restaurants are slated to open on June 2. Most restaurants around here have sizable outdoor areas, but it will be interesting to see how they cope with social distancing. We hope we will be able to travel for more than the 100 kilometer limit. We hope the border with neighbor Italy will open on June 15 as predicted. We miss Italy where we love to shop and soak in the joyous ambiance.
Mostly we hope that Covid cases and deaths will continue to decline, that the new freedoms will not reverse this trend, and that all will obey the restrictions and guidelines to keep us all safe.
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