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.
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.
Tip of the day
To calm your soul, and increase lung capacity, do some breathing exercises. It takes only a few minutes.
- Find a still place, sit up straight in a comfortable position, relax your shoulders and close your eyes.
- 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.
- Exhale (with a relaxed throat and mouth) on an S sound for as long as you can.
- Repeat 10 times.
- 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.