Lockdown in Paris: Day 12

The market square, unusually quiet.

Another sunny day in Paris. It has to be some kind of record. The air this morning smells of earth, of growing things, as if I am in the middle of the woods—instead, of the middle of a metropolis. I’ve never experience this in Paris before.

The reports are in about the effects of the shutdown on pollution. Airparif, an agency that monitors our region’s air quality announced that just two days into confinement, there was “a 20 to 30 per cent improvement in air quality in the Paris metropolitan area.” Nitrogen gas emissions dropped by more than 60 per cent. This included a drop in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Imagine what it will measure after two weeks of this?

With Confinement, Air Pollution in Paris Drops to Levels Not Seen in 40 Years, boasted a headline in Huffington Post France.

Courtesy of Channel News Asia

One of the major downsides of living in Paris for me is the air quality. It’s poor most days—much worse than New York, which benefits from sitting on the coast. I have asthma, and since I’ve been spending more time here, I’ve had to use my albuterol inhaler at least once a day, and have developed chronic bronchitis. “This place is killing me,” I joke. But I secretly wonder if it’s true (mon Dieu!).

Everyone in Paris walks around coughing (and not from any virus). They still use diesel here, and it’s dirty stuff. Diesel, while more efficient than petrol, emits much higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, which irritates the lungs. It also doesn’t burn clean, releasing dangerous particulates that can cause cancer, childhood respiratory disease, as well as aggravate cardiovascular and respiratory problems.

We have high alert days often here, and when it’s really bad, they run public transportation for free to encourage people not to drive. But Parisians love their cars. One day our levels surpassed Beijing’s. Currently, several European countries, including France, are in breech of EU clean air laws. Sacré bleu!

But today, that irritating chronic cough I normally have is gone. (Which is good, because every time someone coughs on my street these days, I can sense the neighbors cringing collectively.) The air smells sweet and clean, truly bucolic. It helps that I’m not far from the Bois de Vincennes, a large wooded area and park. It’s closed during the shutdown, but it’s traveling to meet us on the wind.

Is it a bad thing that I’m enjoying all this lack of activity? Nature seems to be.

Tell us one good thing that’s come out of confinement for you, here in the comments.

Get caught up on my diary, here.


Tip of the day

To calm your soul, and increase lung capacity, do some breathing exercises. It takes only a few minutes.

  1. Find a still place, sit up straight in a comfortable position, relax your shoulders and close your eyes.
  2. With your mouth closed, breathe deeply through your nose. Do not suck air hard through your nostrils, which will only constrict them. Instead, relax your mouth and throat, and inhale into what will feel like your soft palate at the back of the throat. It will be noisy. If your back and belly expand as your chest does, you’re doing it right. Do this for the count of 5, if you can. Or longer.
  3. Exhale (with a relaxed throat and mouth) on an S sound for as long as you can.
  4. Repeat 10 times.
  5. Spend a few minutes after this “listening to your gut.” What are you feeling? If you still feel stressed, repeat.

To be sure you’re breathing deeply, place one hand on your belly and one on your lower back. You should be feel expansion here as you breathe. Your chest will rise as a result, but that is not your goal. This exercise is not about breathing hard; it’s about breathing deeply, and that is a gentle action. Your body already knows how to breathe so don’t dominate. Instead, work with your body’s natural reflexes and let it lead.

If you want to add some joy to the exercise, repeat the 10 cycles with a hum on the exhale. Singing creates vibrations that have wonderful energizing properties. Plus, engaging your voice is good for the soul.


A breath of fresh air

Art. Click book to buy.

Nature. Click book to buy.

Life. Click book to buy.

17 responses to “Lockdown in Paris: Day 12

  1. Confinement = Enjoying looking out my front window to see a pretty little tree- A weeping red bud w/ pink buds that I thought might had died during the winter. It also has given me a little boy who lost his tooth and still loved that the tooth fairy showed up!

  2. I am hoping desparately that we as a civilization learn from this. We can’t keep treating our planet the way we do.
    I too have asthma, pretty severely at times, and I kind of feel like the canary in a coal mine.
    I love traveling in Europe but the diesel kills me.
    Even going north from Toronto the air is noticeable fresher.

  3. Air pollution is a little known aspect of Paris life. Maybe we need periodic lockdowns to let the earth heal.

  4. Lisa, I’ve been reading your posts every day and have been enjoying them. I feel more connected to the world through them and it’s been making my quarantine here in Michigan feel less lonely. Thanks for your insight and for putting some of my own feelings into words. Love, LaRissa

  5. Thanks Lisa, your newsletter is read avidly and with enthusiasm.
    Unfortunately where I live in Manhattan Beach CA some people are in denial of the gravity of the situation. On our neighborhood app of Nextdoor, some folks are starting a petition to open back up the beaches so they can congregate or go surfing! Fools if you ask me.
    The concept of one persons action affecting others has not sinked in. Mon dieu! Quelle bêtise. At least in France people are getting it. Sadly in my town some people say “ they want us to be afraid of some cold virus” or “ going out to the beach or in water is fine”. Amazing that some people truly are stupid, selfish and short sighted. Mind you, they’re living on average in a large house over 3000 SF and still can’t figure out what to do indoors.

    • I’m stunned that there are still people in the States in denial. The US is now the epicenter, outpacing China. If each state cannot fall into the line with its neighboring state, the US will be in this mess until October. What is your governor doing?

  6. My MENTAL pollution is clearing. What’s revealed? That I still have dreams and aspirations, maybe even passion. This is wonderful and scary. Wonderful because I’d forgotten and maybe even given up on higher-level happiness. Scary because we don’t know who will make it out of this pandemic alive. Thanks for this safe space, Lisa.

    • The mortality rate is still quite low per capita, so don’t despair, by friend. The fast-rising numbers just indicate a rise in testing. The more you test, the more cases you discover, but the better you can isolate those who are infected. In Germany, where they test widely, their numbers are high, but mortality rate is low. Same is true for South Korea. High numbers does not necessarily mean high death rate. If you stay safe, don’t come in contact with people frequently, you should be okay. Remember, every time you come in contact with people you have to start your 14-day countdown over. So stock up and stay in.

  7. One good thing that’s come out of my confinement?

    First, when I see that word, I go back to the old days when that word was used to mean a woman was pregnant and was confined to her home, so as not to offend the eyesight of people on the street who might be forced to remember how babies were actually created. Or even worse, for children to see an actually pregnant woman and to realize that, no, the stork doesn’t bring babies to your doorstep. [clutches pearls] Won’t someone please think of the children!

    I have told my housekeeper to stay home. Still paying her, of course. She cleans for 3 other people and, quite frankly, I don’t want her going from their house to mine. Or her house to mine. Whatever.

    Good news–my bathrooms are finally cleaned to my standards.
    Bad news–I’m the one who’s cleaning them.

    My mother kept an immaculate house. She vacuumed and dusted every day. I would walk into her home and be immediately surrounded by a bubble of cleanliness. With sparkles. As the oldest, I was ‘required’ to assist in the cleaning and she trained me very well. As a result, to this very day, I hate housework. I know exactly how to do it, I just hate doing it.

    Even back in the day, when we were living in what was basically a railroad flat on the UWS, we had someone cleaning the place. I didn’t care if I had to go without eating, I was having a housecleaner.

    So, yeah, the one good thing for me that’s come out of all this? My house is finally clean to my standards. I’d rather have a semi-clean house than do it myself, but that’s not currently on the table. Can’t wait for all this to be done, so I can go back to whining about all the dust I see that she’s busy ignoring.

    • You are are riot. Yes, there are the house-cleaner people and the do-it-yourselfers. My sister is the former; I’m the latter. I find cleaning very satisfying, but my place here in Paris is only 258 sq. feet, so it takes all of 20 minutes. My mother, too, did her own weekly cleaning, but my sister and I had chores. I was the downstairs cleaner (front hallway, family room, powder room); my sister was upstairs (bedrooms, bathroom); mom was the middle level, which was the living room, kitchen—wait a minute! Hey! She never had to clean a bathroom. Shrewd woman.

  8. Lisa, I’m appreciating your posts, as I’m stuck far away from Paris. I see in the photo on this post that the poles and covers are up for a market. Are the marchés operating during lockdown, as an essential place to buy groceries?
    Warm regards,

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