Monday 23 March 2020
It’s a beautiful morning in Paris: the sun is up, the sky is blue, and everyone is a nervous wreck. With the economy still to emerge from its lockdown slumber, the air outside is purer than ever.
Walking the streets of a city on mute is an eerie experience. The sight of tall buildings in all directions constantly reminds you that you’re in a metropolis, which makes the lack of noise all the more unsettling. Besides the wind rattling trees, outside is devoid of human noise. It’s like a lost scene from a Tarkovsky film, where the sounds of ambience enjoy a wider sonic reach than nature had intended them. I could hear my footsteps on the pavement like hands tapping bongo drums.
As I walked down the street, I saw an old man collapse in the distance. Nearby people rushed to his aid, lifting him up onto a chair. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked a passerby.
‘Dunno,’ he replied. ‘Corona?’
Paralyzed by fear, I didn’t know if I should help, but since he was already being helped by a number of people, I sheepishly carried on my way.
I walked down to the supermarket, but it was closed, so I crossed the road to the main square. It was almost empty; the marketplace from a couple of days back was nowhere in sight. In their stead, a squadron of pigeons had founded a new colony. The rattle of a moving escalator played in my ears, but no one emerged from the underground.
I walked to a different supermarket; thankfully this one wasn’t closed. I bought some oranges and disinfectant wipes, but hand sanitizer was completely out.
Heading back to my apartment I saw a couple of ambulances. The old man was now lying on the ground, his stomach protruding from his shirt, what appeared to be a respirator attached to his mouth. Witnesses looked on with concern; it wasn’t obvious if he was going to make it.
I felt a shudder of horror at what I was watching. All I can say is I sincerely hope he survived the incident, but I can’t know for sure. And whether or not he was suffering from the virus, it was the first time I’d seen anyone fighting for their lives during le confinement, or even potentially ever.
Later that afternoon I went for a run. I put an updated attestation form, a photocopy of my passport, and a 20€ note in the pocket of my running jacket, and headed outside. In the absence of cars, some joggers had opted to become cars themselves. At a time when so many freedoms had been put on hold, it seems that running on roads had become a new, if dubious, way to exercise one’s liberty.
While I was hitting the pavement, I saw a couple of figures in the distance. A man was holding a piece of paper; his teenage son stood next to him. ‘Have you lost your attestation?’ the man asked me. He was holding one of the forms that you’re required to have on you at all times. They were seeking out some hapless soul who now risked a three-figure fine.
Prior to the confinement I had never associated being outside with criminal activity. Yet now, wandering the streets at day seemed to be viewed with the same air of suspicion as wandering them late at night. It made the idea of staying inside 24/7 more appealing. After all, you can’t be pursued when you’re already locked up.
Tuesday 4 August 2020
It’s a beautiful afternoon in Paris. It’s one of those days where the sun is blindingly strong, yet not so strong as to make going outside a mission.
I’m sitting in my room with the shutters closed tight. A small gap in the middle allows a little light and air to enter in here, but the shutters are impenetrable otherwise. Sunlight will soon start streaming into the room, and if I don’t close them now, it will be an oven come evening.
The last two weeks have been a challenge. Two Thursdays ago, a friend messaged me to say one of his friends had tested positive for COVID-19. As we had all gathered for a picnic to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, I was afraid I might have contracted the virus from her without even knowing it. Wary that I might be carrying COVID, I decided to stay inside so as not to risk spreading it to others.
My friend then told me he had begun to feel ill. He’d suddenly lost his energy and found himself sleeping for seventeen hours straight. He’d also lost his sense of taste and smell – sure signs of infection. A few days later he took a test, and it came back positive. Though he has no serious symptoms, he’s now forced, unfortunately, to spend the rest of summer in solitary confinement.
Despite being infected, he remains in good spirits. He’s probably the most fearless and thick-skinned person in the world, which helps a lot in times of adversity. But on the flipside, his lack of fear probably explains why every time we meet up, we either get tear-gassed or Corona.
Though it’s been three weeks since 14 July, I still don’t know if it’s safe for me to see any friends. In fact, there’s one particular friend I haven’t been able to catch up with since before lockdown; as he currently lives with his grandparents, he’d rather I don’t risk killing them.
Yesterday afternoon, I went walking around the Latin Quarter. As most Parisians seem to have gone away, the city was tumbleweed quiet. You could walk down an avenue and not cross a stranger’s path. The sheer quietness of the streets was a little unnerving because it reminded me so much of life under lockdown. Those two anxious months seem to have left an indelible mark on my memory because now, whether I mean to or not, I associate silent streets with danger.
As I walked along the banks of the Seine, I saw a sightseeing boat gliding down the river. Though there were tourists on board, it was at least two-thirds empty. There might be tourists in the beaux quartiers of the city, but they’re only slightly less rare than a vaccine.
While masks are compulsory in confined places, they’re not strictly required outside. As a result, you can often observe people pulling masks out of their bags at the stairs of metro stations. At this point they’re pretty much just a passport that one uses to access shops and public transport, as hardly anyone wears them otherwise.
Seeing the way the pandemic has spread across Europe, it’s really not the best time to be here. In fact, New Zealand is probably the best country to be in right now, and it just happens to be the one I left behind. That was before anyone could’ve predicted a pandemic, of course. Had I known I was leaving safety for danger, I don’t know if I would’ve crossed the world to come here. But that’s the thing with hindsight: it makes a mockery of everyone.