It’s been my dream to live in Paris, and after jumping through numerous administrative hoops, I received a one-year European Union tourist visa which commenced on February 9, 2020. COVID-19 had already taken hold in China, but never did I imagine that the world would change so drastically in the blink of an eye.
Upon starting my new Parisian life, I decided to take my time and slowly sink into the delights of daily life in the City of Light. I started each morning with a stroll across the Canal Saint-Martin to a top boulangerie for flaky croissants which I savored on the Quai.
I ambled through my favorite neighbourhood, Montmartre, revelling in her charms and noticing the distinct lack of tourists.
At 11:30 one evening, I attended the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre which, for the first time in its history, was open 24 hours a day for three consecutive days. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder taking in the Renaissance master’s works.
I attended the opening day of the new exposition at Atelier des Lumieres. The enclosed space in a former cast iron foundry was filled with spectators in awe of the immersive sound and light show that transported us to sunny Mediterranean shores. It was the end of February, and the only person in the crowded venue wearing a mask was my sister-in-law from London.
I connected with old friends and pushed myself into social situations to make new acquaintances. This new chapter in my life was off to an exquisite start.
It was pure liberty. The freedom to flaner. To uncover Paris at my own pace. To observe her people and their ways.
My ultimate dream.
It’s true. Paris was quiet. The deadly and insidious COVID-19 was spreading rapidly. Tourism was down, the recent transit strikes were partly to blame, and shops and squares were fairly empty. A friend remarked, “We have Paris to ourselves.”
I continued to saunter. I wandered into Paris circa 1942 on a movie set in Montmartre. I went to see French movies in a theater that has been showing films since 1914.
And then everything changed.
The numbers of people allowed at gatherings were reduced. Spectacles such as the ballet, which I’d been invited to, were canceled.
Schools closed. Restaurants and cafes were ordered to shut down. Imagine Paris without its trademark wicker chairs lining the sidewalks.
It took time to adjust to the new reality. Parisians still went to the markets and forgot about social distancing chatting with market vendors and neighbors.
But life in Paris was changing rapidly. Masks became a common sight. People wore gloves out in the spring air. And social distancing became a reality.
Everyone was being called home amidst flight delays and cancellations. Travel insurance companies announced that pandemics were not covered.
As a Canadian living in Paris, I was well aware that borders were being closed, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s clear messaging told Canadians abroad to return home. I came face to face with a major decision. A quandary. I had just arrived in Paris to live out my dream. Should I stay or return to Canada?
I have aging parents and adult children In Canada. But I have no home base since I began pursuing a nomadic life four and a half years ago. Where would I self-isolate? Which province would I choose to land in? Closer to my parents or my daughters, who live at opposite ends of the country?
One requirement of applying for a long-stay visa to live in France is purchasing travel insurance for the entire period, so in my case, a year. I called my insurance company to find out if I was still covered under the COVID-19 pandemic. I was completely unsure about what response I would receive.
Finding I was covered as I had arrived before the pandemic hit France was a huge relief. The choice was now fully mine. Stay in Paris and ride out the COVID-19 pandemic or return to Canada.
After much deliberation, I chose to stay.
Borders started to close and the order many predicted from President Macron became a reality. Citizens were sent into isolation. All of France went into an unprecedented lockdown.
I stocked up on groceries, thinking of what I might need for two weeks of food in isolation. I entered the supermarket freely. The very next day, there was a line of 60 people, a meter between each as they waited to purchase supplies, snaking down the sidewalk.
Now it’s mandatory to carry an official “Attestation de Deplacement Derogatoire" (or travel certificate) along with an identity card or a passport every time we leave our homes. There are few excuses to leave. One is to get necessary food items. Another reason is for individual physical activity. The police are out in full force asking for the required document.
What a difference a few days make. Not long ago, people thronged in the sunshine by the Seine. Now, Parisians are partaking in individual physical activities. Not a word is heard. Just birdsong.
And such is the new reality.
Witnessing the police check people’s signed documents for the authority to be on the street is something I have never seen in all my years of travel abroad or life in Canada. The fine for being outside without the signed document or being out for any reason other than the one designated has already been increased by 400 percent.
In the midst of the Paris lockdown, the irony of the situation is quite evident. I moved to Paris for a taste of liberty and am currently enclosed in a 200-square-foot apartment. I tell myself, I can survive two weeks in isolation, knowing full well it will be much longer.
I am taking the “one day at a time” approach and am embracing my curiosity and planning to read, improve my French, and write.
Gratitude is my fallback. It always works for me. I am grateful for my health and that of my loved ones. I am grateful for the internet and my ability to connect with loved ones and friends, far and near.
I am thankful for the reminders of normal life. The church bells chiming hourly bring me great joy. The chestnut tree in the courtyard will, oblivious to the woes of the world, step into her verdant spring robe under my watchful gaze.
I pray my decision to stay in Paris was the right one for me. When we are on the other side of the pandemic, the taste of freedom will be sweeter than ever.
Looking for inspiration for your self-isolation? Read up on how to learn a language at home during your downtime, and see all our COVID-19-related content here.