Here in the south west of France, and more specifically, in our département du Gard – outside the big towns – we have so far not been seriously affected by the pandemic.
This has made it hard to take seriously the strict measures of confinement and now the continuing limits of déconfinement. But on the whole I have been impressed by how rules have been observed – not something one somehow expects of the French with their passion for liberté. And of course it is particularly hard for them with their love of physical contact – no more kissing (three times here), hands on shoulders or even hand shaking.
I know from my visits to the physiotherapist, the pharmacy – and to the local boulangerie – that there are strict rules about cleaning and things like plastic barriers between people serving and customers. My friends tell me that in other shops – and the market – that self-distancing is more or less observed (the rules about wearing face masks less so).
The one thing I really regret is the return of activity on the roads. I think this is going to be a major problem in the year to come. I cannot see people (including me) returning to the buses (subsidised so it costs less than £2 to go to Montpellier). I particularly regret a neighbour up my road and his friend, who are avid quad bike owners, and seem to be celebrating déconfinement by going noisily up and down my road.
Cafés may open in June, but meanwhile apparently they are doing trade selling drinks in disposable cups. Although their chairs are not there, the various public seats and the low walls round the Quai, serve as a substitute.
I do really miss my café life – so valuable for someone living on their own. But meanwhile, so we are no longer restricted to one hour’s exercise, I can at least see friends and spend time with them – at a distance. So, I have been to visit my friends Margaret, Dessa and Charles and Pierre – and others have been to see me. The fine weather helps as we can chat outside.
But this is where the thin edge of the wedge threatens to come into play. We may keep our distance, but what about being careful about handling the glass or cup that has been used? Are we still wiping door handles as vigorously as we did earlier on (for example, when I had to let someone in to instal the rat poison!)? So easy to say that we should not worry too much as there is no virus in the Pays Viganais.
When Babeth comes to play with me, she brings her own bottle of water, the door is open, so the only thing she touches is the chair she sits on. When I go to play with Charles and Pierre, things are a little more complicated. They have changed the layout of our trio so I am next to the open door. Normally I stay on for aperitif and then lunch (Charles is an excellent cook so difficult to resist!). The first week I gave in and had an aperitif with them. No harm, I persuaded myself, as we all kept our distance. (Every so often, I have to step backwards to remind Pierre in particular that there are rules.) Last week Charles said if I accepted an aperitif, why not something to eat? I gave in – we ate outside, well spaced round a large table. But strictly speaking, what about that plate, glass, knife and fork I touched?
Similarly I have been helping my friend Dessa with prolonged computer problems. The first session was spent on her terrace (with its sublime view), so distancing worked, but the table cloth flapping over the laptop did not help! This week we have been continuing on my terrace, where the working space is better. But as I try to explain what a problem or solution might be, and turn the computer to face Dessa, the temptation is so great to get closer so I can point at the problem on the screen.
Oh dear, the thin edge of the wedge – so easy to persuade oneself is not dangerous when there are no local dangers. (What people say is we are OK now, it is in a few weeks time, when more people from elsewhere in France arrive, that we may have to be more cautious.)
I do believe that whether or not one believes in the rules, it is so important to respect them and to be seen to be respecting them. There are mixed views, for example, about the value of face masks, but given the rules about them, I always wear one where required.
Whatever I might think about political policies on tackling the pandemic, I recognise that we are in no position as lay people to have an informed view on the public health positions. But that does not stop me disagreeing with one member of my family who still believes in herd immunity!