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Paris Partially Re-Opened: Yay! But…


As France entered “Phase 1” of our deconfinement on Monday, Mother Nature had another good laugh at our expense by replacing the unseasonably warm and sunny weather Paris has been having for the past two months with icy wind and temperatures hovering around 12°C (low 50°s). So, honestly, I didn’t actually step foot outside of my apartment until this morning (wondering if I still needed a mask if I’m already wearing a wool scarf…). Thus begins the Secrets of Paris’ latest series we’ll call “Yay! But…”

Yay! But…a new ban on alcohol

The weather didn’t stop Parisians from beelining it to their favorite picnic spots like the Canal St-Martin and the steps in front of the Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. But they were all so happy to see their friends and pop a few corks that they completely forgot the social distancing rules still applied, and police were forced to disperse the dense crowds with bullhorns. By Tuesday the Paris Prefecture de Police announced a provisional ban on alcohol consumption along the Canal and the riverbanks of the Seine. Don’t forget: groups no more than 10 people, stay 2m apart, or wear masks when that isn’t possible. Read more about the rules and guidelines here.

Yay! But…no more free parking

All parking in Paris was free during the lockdown, but now it’s back to being as pricey as usual. However those with residential parking permits get a reprieve until Tuesday June 2nd.

Yay! But…limited to 100km

While we’re free to wander around Paris and the suburbs as much as we like, beyond that our leash ends at the 100km radius from our home address. That’s 100km “as the crow flies”, or “au vol d’oiseau”, even if the routes to get there in a roundabout way end up being more than 100km. How to calculate that? Check out the free app, “100 Kilomètres Autour de Moi” which lets you see what’s in the circle around you…or not (when I put in my address I see I can go to Chartres, but not Orléans, for example). This alternative site is interesting because it also shows you whether your circle touches the green zone or is entirely within the red zone like the entire Ile-de-France. It might seem like limited options for an escape from the city – apparently the beaches are just a tad further, d’oh! — but with no hotels or inns to welcome you, unless you’re camping “au sauvage” you’ll have to drive all the way back home anyway.

So…What’s It Really Like?

This morning I Vélib-biked to the open-air food market on the Boulevard Auguste Blanqui (in the 13th just off the Place d’Italie). It’s a lot bigger than the one in my tiny square, and I wanted to see if it was mobbed on the first Friday it has been open since March.

Despite the warmer, sunny weather, it wasn’t nearly as busy as it normally is, and at least a third of the stands weren’t there. To reduce the proximity of the shoppers, the two rows of stands faced the same direction instead of facing each other, so there were two natural “lanes”.

Plastic cling-film was wrapped around each stand, some completely blocking shoppers from touching (or seeing that well) their wares, others just making a stripe of plastic to block people from breathing directly at each other. I found my favorite organic produce stand — surprisingly they recognized me despite my facemask — and stocked up on some fresh fruit and veggies for the weekend.

Then I continued further down to the Rue Mouffetard (5th) to find the normally popular pedestrian-only market street also looking more like a dead Monday afternoon in January. It’s hard to see the sidewalk cafés closed on such a sunny day.

It’s not that places aren’t open (aside from bars and restaurant not offering take out). There are food and wine shops, specialty stores, book shops, clothing stores, crepe stands, and a lot of take-out food (which is normal anyway for this street since it’s also popular with students and bar-hoppers), and a guy selling face shields from a table for €6 (€10 for 2).

It’s just that there aren’t any people walking around. Especially not the usual throng of tourists and students. I stopped at the Maison Morange bakery and got a vegetarian sandwich and blueberry crumble pastry for lunch, and ate them sitting on the ledge outside the closed garden of the Eglise St-Médard (don’t worry, I’m carrying hand sanitizer).

There were couples, mostly younger people, sitting on the fountain in the roundabout, chatting and eating their take-away, too, but it could hardly be called “crowded”, and everyone kept their distance.

As much as I thought I might like Paris without the crowds, it’s hard to see the shopkeepers and market stall workers trying so hard to re-open up and take all of the safety precautions, only to have no one there to buy anything. Like them, I think I’d rather have the (orderly, well-spaced) lines than no one at all. Maybe the weekend will be busier for everyone, since it’s supposed to be a lot warmer and not everyone will be able to escape town to the 100km limit. I hopped back on a Vélib, even though it’s almost entirely uphill to my square, because I don’t want to take the bus unless I have no other option.

“Thank you for using hand gel before touching the post cards”

When I get home I take off my shoes, put my washable mask in the laundry basket, wash my hands again, wash all my produce, and wipe down everything I touched with disinfectant spray before washing my hands yet again. Then I make a pot of tea and sit down to send my newsletter. The new normal.

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