Confined Again, Naturally

People sitting on a cafe terrace in Paris.

Last hurrah at a local café. Last night was balmy and everyone was en terrasse. Today, silence. This second lockdown will be hardest on local businesses. ©Lisa Anselmo

Here we are again, my friends. Lockdown #2. Color me bewildered.

“No country could have predicted how accelerated, sudden, and brutal this second wave would be,” French PM Jean Castex said in his address to the Assemblée Nationale, October 29th.

This statement was met with audible grumbling and visible head-shaking among the incredulous assembly members. He really didn’t see this coming?

I’m no world leader, no doctor, nor scientist, but I have eyes and live in the real world. And I can tell you this: I could have predicted this exact outcome. What precious planet do these little prince politicians live on?

PM Jean Castex addressing the National Assembly.

Castex, appointed after Edouard Philippe resigned, was in charge of the plan to phase out confinement this spring. Well, “phase out” is not really accurate; it was more of a Revert to Normal Toute de Suite Plan. Social distancing was no longer actively enforced, stores and restaurants began to slacken precautions, borders opened to EU countries with out-of-control cases (like Spain), and large gatherings were tolerated around town.

Paris Mayor Hidalgo, who herself tested positive without symptoms, allowed the annual June music festival to carry on, as well as the summer péniches (open-air bars on the banks of the Seine)—both of which drew large groups of young, maskless partiers. Is it a coincidence that this was in the weeks preceding the mayoral elections? She won by a large margin.

A crowd of people sitting on a plaza in Paris.

Late July in the 17th arrondissement. At least 200 people gathered on this plaza with two café terraces of too-tight tables. The voices drowned out the traffic. How could anyone not see the warning signs? ©Lisa Anselmo

By the time the August vacations had come to a close, daily cases had grown ten-fold (7000+ vs. 700+ in June). Masks became mandatory, but little else was done to remind people of, and reinforce, the social distancing plans still technically in place. Bars stayed open. House parties blazed on. We thought, when October rolled around and daily cases jumped almost 200%, we’d hear an official announcement, see more enforcement. Instead, tables moved closer on terraces, Parisians blithely kissed each other hello, crowds gathered inside galleries. No one seemed alarmed.

Business as usual at this café last week. The curfew had been announced and the “rule of 6” reinforced on terraces. But not so much here. At least people on the street are wearing masks. ©Lisa Anselmo

As of a few days ago, according to Worldometers, France hit nearly 60,000 new daily cases, growing around 5000 a day, for a grand total of 1,282,769—the largest in Europe. Maybe Monsieur Castex was caught by surprise, but we everyday folks who saw what was happening in Paris this summer, just shrugged. I hate to say, “I told ya so.”

Now we’re paying for what seems like denial at best, negligence at worst. And, yes, the people are also culpable. I’ve learned that the French need constant reminding. Distance is not something they do easily, nor is complying with safety measures, so it seems. “We are so selfish,” my Parisian friend, Edith, complained during one of our last café outings a few days ago. If we’d stayed proactive, continually enforced social distancing measures after lockdown ended, deterred large gatherings in venues where people are not wearing masks, might things be different today?

“In Paris, we never go out without our trendy accessory.” Mask PSA seen around town. Seems Parisians need to be charmed into wearing masks. It works; most everyone wears one—without complaint. ©Lisa Anselmo

So yes, I am bewildered. The worst part: small business, like cafés and local specialty shops, will once again pay the highest price. These businesses sacrificed this past spring so we could gain ground against the disease, only to have that victory tossed away by absentee leadership post-lockdown, when we needed guidance most. When will they understand that we’re playing the long game here?

Confined again, naturally. The mood is not like before, of course. People are angrier. And sadder. And not quite as obedient (if the gathering of young men currently chatting below my window is any indication). That’s another problem of letting down our guard. We have to relearn how to be confined. (Continued below…)

A final (and memorable) dinner on the quay of the Seine with buddy Craig Carlson (author Let Them Eat Pancakes)—a gift we gave ourselves. We thought cold weather would close this terrace, but Covid got there first.

I won’t be seeing this view for a while. My confinement zone doesn’t reach the Seine. Unless I have an approved reason to be in the area. ©Lisa Anselmo

This reconfinement as they call it, is not quite as strict as it was before; we’ve learned from the last time. More types of stores will stay open, municipal offices, construction and factories will keep going, schools also will stay open. But we’ll need paperwork to move about again, and this time, fines are steeper, with the third infraction landing you in jail for 6 months. They are not messing around.

How long this will last is unsure, but word is at least til mid-December. The goal is to ease the burden on fatigued healthcare workers and open up beds in ICUs. Last time, Covid cases were confined to certain regions, so people could be moved to other facilities when beds filled. This time, the virus is everywhere, presenting greater challenges. But even with that, deaths, though slowly ticking up, are a fraction of what they were in April. That, at least, is some comfort. And with the government stepping up, hopefully we can stem the tide of this second wave before too much damage is done to local businesses.

So here we are, again. Welcome to my Paris Lockdown Diary: The Sequel.


Enough complaining! Now for something fun.

Join me for a free Zoom chat, Sunday, November 1st at 4pm ET!

The Emily Conundrum: Real vs. Romanticized Paris in Fiction
Have you seen Emily in Paris, the latest Darren Star creation? It’s created a firestorm of criticism for not portraying Paris in a real light. But is that so bad? How real do audiences want Paris to be when it comes to TV, films, and books?

Join Lisa Anselmo, Juliette Sobanet and Gabrielle Luthy, three writers who live or have lived in (and written about Paris) as we try to solve a problem like Emily.

OPEN TO EVERYONE! So bring your glass of wine and your opinions. Register via this link to reserve your spot.
Download Zoom free, here.

Sunday, November 1 @ 4PM Eastern | 1PM Pacific | 10PM Paris | 8AM (Monday) Melbourne​


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17 responses to “Confined Again, Naturally

  1. Parisians are angrier and sadder? Hopefully complacency will be a thing of the past, a sentiment all countries are struggling with.

  2. I agree that the government was misleading in thinking back in May June that the risks are contained that people can
    move around freely and vacation in France not abroad. As though mingling with friends in south of France is all that different than going to Greece. People also let their guards down. While I have been hibernating at home since March 13, Instagram was flooded with photos of French and expats en vacances or en terrasses sipping on a glass of rosé with friends enjoying life. People took a deserved break from the virus. I was jealous!
    The fact is this virus is here to infect as many and as fast as possible. That’s not changed. The people’s attitudes and behaviors have changed.

  3. Hi Lisa, sorry to hear. I was hoping to return sometime sooner but I think it’ll be next summer 😦 Here in SF people have been ultra obedient and believe in science so we’ve been lucky. I’d said 95% mask usage since the start. Our mayor has been pretty strict. They *just* started opening up things a bit and we’ll see what happens. We now have “parklets” throughout the city (i.e. take a parking spot, build a platform, add chairs and heating lamps) so we have a Paris feel. Looking forward to your installments … Best, Bill.

    • It’s tough I know. Glad SF is going better. But here people really don’t get it. NYC also fared better after that initial surge. But we are neurotic so… 😂 you should join us at Bloom Where You’re Planted this Year. It’s virtual. Tips on living and thriving in France. Lots of expert speakers and writers like me!

      • Thanks Lisa, will check it out. What I’d to also like to find is a conference that can link my background to French startups/companies that need insights and advisory help on scaling outside of France. Coaching, mentoring. fractional help, etc. so I can spend part of the year in Paris :).

  4. As I watched various videos from my favorite Parisian social network sources this summer, it definitely struck me that this new lockdown would happen. No social distancing, improper use of masks even when wearing one, crowds of people. It made me jealous that it seemed that things were now “normal”, though not for us here. But my logical thoughts were that “this won’t last”. I can’t wait until this damn pandemic has resolved. Until then, I will freak out about it, the return of terrorism, and horrific possibility of a second term of our orange clown. At least I have a beautiful loaf of cast iron olive bread ready to pop out of the oven. So I will drown my sorrows in gluten and fat.
    Stay safe. You and your cohorts help to keep me semi-sane.

    • Yeah maybe you should be Prime Minister. I am generally disheartened with politicians who seem to put politics before people. Or maybe on the case of France, it almost seems like they are so sheltered from real life that they cannot see what it’s like for us. My French friend’s say “overeducated and underexposed.” They certainly seem timid around the people, afraid to draw a line. But the relationship between government and the people here is very different than we are used to. They have a natural distrust of leaders and police. That makes for a tentative civil order. They seem happier with chaos as if that is freedom. I fear unrest with this second lockdown. But I will day that nearly everyone is wearing a mask. And not complaining about it. But yes, lots of noses hanging out.

  5. Hi Lisa, thank you so much for this post! its the same here…..we are still shielding our special needs son (since March!) but we know what we have to do and we do it to keep him safe. But many people (including friends I’m sorry to say) don’t understand that following strict rules will at least reduce viral loads….they seem outraged that they cannot have their old lives back and don’t give two hoots about ICU beds or exhausted and overexposed medical staff. Maybe they have never been in an ICU unit and cant imagine what its like? I hope this is a failure of imagination and nothing worse. Please keep the posts coming, they are much appreciated. Naomi x

  6. Hi Lisa, I totally agree. Here in Angoulême things are a little better, in the sense that I can avoid the high traffic areas & still do most of my shopping. But everyone ate and drank en terrasse for most of the summer. A little more space between tables though & it’s possible to find squares with smaller restaurants where things are quieter. When my friend visited from Paris, his habits were noticeably different though. A friend here sent me a podcast by Eloi Laurent who has just written a book on the French policy to privilege economic growth over health, and what he thinks should be done about it. Sounds good but I’m not holding my breath. Stay safe! It’s possible we will be restricted until mid-February, given the number of holidays coming up when super spreader events happen… ;-(

  7. I’ve been following both the second lockdown in France, the horrifying acts of terrorism AND the mass exodus from Paris yesterday by people with second homes…much like NY,those who could, got out. Here in NYC, everyone is pretty meticulous about following the rules, which is why we haven’t had a massive second war, fortunately. Cuomo did good in that regard. I was supposed to arrive in Paris yesterday morning….so desperately miss my second home and friends there…supposed to travel there in early May (fingers crossed!). Stay safe and healthy and look ahead to better days.

  8. Hi Lisa-Just wanted to thank you so much for today’s/tonight’s Zoom talk. It was so great “meeting” you, and I loved the discussion. I’m definitely joining ParisSalon tomorrow.I’d meant to comment during the last phase of the talkback-when discussion was on using one’s own life as part of the plot-that writing involves risking, as you well know (of course, you don’t want an libel suit lol!)-and fear should never hold one back from writing their “truth” whether in fiction or non. Look forward to the next Salon, and a million thanks again-stay safe & healthy.


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