Day 2: Don’t go out without your form

Wednesday, 18th of March.

Kids declare they have no intention of doing any school work today as it is Wednesday. In normal times, Wednesday is no-school day for most French kids. So, the argument goes, if we are to respect a “normal” rhythm, why should we do any school work today? Good try.

We settle down to work. They are grumpy. I don’t tell them, but they are right: it is challenging to say the least to keep a “normal” rhythm in these strange times. While we try to respect a semblance or normality for the kids’ sake, my nights are filled with anguished, anarchic scenarios that make no sense. What we are living doesn’t seem to make much. As I try to make my son learn his math tables, he plays up and I loose my temper. I yell at him. I am not a teacher, I’m doing my best! We must make this work together, I tell them. We have talked about it: it’s not about us, it’s about protecting others and stopping the virus.

As always, our kids are the ambassadors of common sense.

“It’s all a bit strange but we can do it,” says my 10-year old as I put her to bed at the end of the day. Earlier on, she had remarked, “Where are the homeless people?,” as we walked down our normally bustling main street on our way to do some food shopping (number two on the exemption form – you risk a 135 euro fine if you are not carrying it).

The shops are all closed, except for food stores, bakers, chemists’ and newsagents – which are also tobacco shops. The streets are empty and the homeless have vanished. It makes me feel very uneasy. The few stores that are open are letting people in one by one. On the floor, they have stuck duct tape for customers to respect the social distancing guidelines. It’s like being in an Enki Bilal comic book. For those who may not be familiar with his work, we are not talking funny comic books. At all.

“Sacha” by Enki Bilal

Before going out, we had checked on our 90-year old neighbour to see if she needed anything. She has been through World War Two, grew up in Algeria, left before the war of independence. She is not phased by all this. I tell my daughter to keep a good distance from her. Our kids are not just ambassadors of common sense, but most probably of Covid, according to experts.

Besides a few food items and a skipping rope for my kids to burn energy in the courtyard, I picked up a book at the store: a biography of French political legend Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor famous for championing the legalisation of abortion in France when she was health minister in 1975. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. These last days have unearthed memories of true stories of horrific confinement, notably Anne Frank’s book which I read as a teenager. From the comfort of my central-heated home, stocked with food, books, endless forms of entertainment and surrounded by those I love, I read about the life of Madame Veil.

“Simone Veil – L’Aube à Birkenau” by David Teboul

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