Le Couvre-feu

 

Nice, France, COVID-19 season

back street, Nice, France, COVID-19 season

Day Four of the strict confinement against the spread of COVID-19 saw restrictions tightened again.

Because some people somewhere on this coast did not respect the social distancing guidelines, all beaches were closed yesterday. On my walk this morning on an emptied-out Promenade des Anglais, the quintessential Nice boulevard normally crowded with locals and tourists, two police charged past me to rebuke and possibly fine a woman strolling on the beach with her dog. There were no other people in sight up and down the coastline, except a local TV cameraman and reporter. Nevertheless, a half hour later when I arrived home and checked city updates, I saw that the Promenade des Anglais had also been closed.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice, France

Scene, COVID-19 season, Nice, France

Vehicle traffic, while slight, is slow because the police stop every car for proof the drivers have a valid reason to be crossing town.

Drones support police in monitoring the situation. (For once, I’m in favor of the odious machines.)

The “attestation” document we are required to carry each time we leave our homes, not to circulate beyond a 2 kilometer radius, has to be a fresh copy every day. No crossing out yesterday’s date for today’s to save paper or printer ink. You can no longer show an image of the document on your phone.

Fines for not having the attestation or non-compliance in any other way have been raised, from 35 euros to 135.

Nice doesn’t have a “ghost town” look, because the weather is enticingly gorgeous at present and people are free to grocery shop and attend to banking and other essential matters. There’s no doubt the pace has slowed way down, streets have gotten quieter and the city’s sunny nature become more grave.

empty highway, Nice, France

Nice’s busiest highway, COVID-19 season

A nearby town of Vallauris now has a “couvre-feu,”or curfew. Ok, it starts at 10pm so I don’t know what that’s about. Our mayor is considering one for 9:30pm, starting this weekend.

And why shouldn’t he, and why not even make it earlier? The epicenter of the disease is now Europe, and deaths in France are approaching 500, with cases doubling every four days. Deaths in Italy have reached 4,000, surpassing the total fatality count in vastly larger China. It’s frightening to consider the stress French hospitals will soon experience.

In other news, Prince Albert of Monaco has tested positive. The annual Cannes Film Festival has been postponed from early to mid-May to late June (which might be wishful thinking). All city parks are closed, and in fact, all of France’s national parks are as well. US Secretary of State Pompeo told Americans overseas to return to the US, and expats in Europe where there is universal health care all said “Hell, no.”

And, from Marseille, a possible treatment is gaining interest.

We are doing okay with the confinement, so far. Sure, there’s lots to read and watch, new recipes to work on, naps to indulge in, but we do miss real social contact. Today while out, I texted a friend to come to her window so that we could see each other. I had a virtual coffee over Skype with two friends, almost like in the old days but just not quite. We’ve been FaceTiming or WhatsApp video-ing almost daily with friends and family near and far.

No complaints, however. We feel good. We have everything we need. It could be a lot worse.

 

 

 

 

 

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Le Mise au Jour: the update

The “confinement strict” is for two weeks.  It can be extended, of course.

It goes into effect at noon today. These are some of the rules and provisions:

You must not go outside unless it is for food, medication or medical reasons.
Resident VISA (Titre de Sejour) are all extended for 3 months.
You may only call a doctor, you may not visit this doctor unless they say you can.
This is for at least 15 days and may be renewed by the French government.
All borders have been closed and non essential travel stopped. There will be checks and fines issued for breaking these restrictions.
The government has told landlords not to charge rent.
You can go out to walk your dog.
EU borders are closed to non-EU citizens.
A military hospital in Alsace is being made available for critical cases. (That’s kind of far from everywhere.)
100,000 police and gendarmes are being deployed to enforce the terms of the confinement.
It is unclear if we can go out, individually, to take a walk. That will probably become clear in a few days.
Day one of my confinement schedule has gone well.  My daily shop is done. The Met Opera’s “Carmen” is streaming (on pause at the moment, of course). Exercises were invigorating. Two video chats with friends are on the docket for later today.
cafe in the time of coronavirus, Nice, France

A shuttered café in Nice, France.

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Le Coronavirus

Well, there’s nothing stopping me from having a daily lie-in, napping whenever, binge streaming all day, reading a dense novel for hours on end, or taking a desultory journey through the wonders of the Internet. We are in social isolation while we wait for the pandemic to reach its peak in France. That’s expected 50 days from now, a long time for anyone but a hermit.

So far, grocery stores, pharmacies and Tabacs for the smokers among us are still operating. We are otherwise asked to stay home. Real estate agencies are shuttering, Galeries Lafayette and all other retailers are closed indefinitely and work on the restoration of Notre Dame has been suspended. Today I cancelled my physio appointment and my book and photo clubs have ceased their meetings.

Unlike in Italy, there are no police stationed outside telling us to go inside, no requirement for an official certificate approving travel from one town to the other.

I will admit, I do take my solitary self outside for a daily walk, staying at a distance from people.  For the first time in my experience the normally bustling daily market was gone, leaving the square empty.

cour saleya in the time of coronavirus

The empty stalls at the Cour Saleya daily market square.

I do notice plenty of others out and about, so perhaps we are not treating this as seriously as we should.

In Paris this weekend, the Smurf Festival went on as planned, and the Gilets Jaunes defied government decree and protested en masse. Idiots, IMHO. The number of deaths nationwide is rising rapidly. Here in Nice, the Mayor and his wife have tested positive.

France is way ahead of the US but it may need to tighten controls, à la Italie. Tonight, President Macron is giving a televised address, and rumor has it that he’ll impose a five-week total confinement. That means one trip a day to the grocery store, and a 6pm curfew, to be enforced by the gendarmes.

I am making up my daily boredom-avoidance schedule now: morning exercises, book time, movie time, photography time if I can find a way to be creative within my somber walls, and daily FaceTime sessions with loved ones. It’s a new world. I doubt this is as bad as it could get.

 

 

 

 

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Lisboa

Last week we made a visit to one of our favorite cities, Lisbon. We had spent two months there in 2017 to determine if we preferred it to Nice as our expat destination choice, and it had been a tough choice. However, once we’d decided on Nice, we knew we’d want to return to Lisbon, and to see more of Portugal, on a visitor basis.

I’d like to make it an annual event. For one thing, the Portuguese are sweet. Don’t take their reserve and meekness for disinterest. Smile, and they’ll smile back. Ask for help and they’ll give you a chunk of their time. Make a weak joke in poor Portuguese, and they’ll join in. OK, I won’t generalize as we did encounter a couple of choice assholes, but you can’t fail to notice how chill the locals are compared to the French.

We didn’t do everything we’d planned, but we did see some old friends and make spot visits to some of our favorite places, like the riverfront, the Principe Real park we love and the perfect neighborhood, Campo de Ourique. There’s a pastry shop/luncheonette/cafe that makes a walnut cake I dream about and we did squeeze that in between a couple of appointments. We had to pick up some cans of sardine spread too.

 

Parque das Flores, Lisboa

Parque das Flores, Lisboa

Perhaps the coronavirus epidemic’s dent in tourism was the reason Lisbon seemed quieter than usual. There was a noticeable lack of large tourist crowds where you usually expect to experience them. The city felt like it had returned to itself.

Although Portugal is rapidly changing, and the simple, old ways are giving way to global youth culture, it still offers up a squinty view of what was. Glimpses of this world in twilight appear in between the new trendy shops and cafes, modern apartment houses and the once-unthinkably pricey restaurants. Being a natural nostalgic, I’m drawn to the tiny old bars where a coffee costs less than one euro and the woman behind the counter is in a constant repartee with the regulars as they enter, sip and bid “Bom dia.” This world won’t be around for much longer. Which makes a return visit soon a necessity.

IMG_8581

 

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Les Fêtes

Nice, France

Airplane in the clouds, Nice, France, December, 2019

Tomorrow we are leaving on the proverbial jet plane, coming back again before the New Year. We’ll be traveling through the dreaded Heathrow airport at the worst travel time of the year to visit precious family in Edinburgh. The weather there is forecast to be dark and dreary, all the more reason to spend time over tea and conversation in one of the lovely museum cafés. That’s the greatest gift I can image.

We are fond of Edinburgh, and the Scots. They remind me of the unpretentious folk of Portland before the big in-migration from the East. The architecture is grave, and uniform, but evocative of the thriving Georgian and Victorian eras. The individual neighborhoods have their own character and claim to ancient lore, with plaques here and there commemorating it, and the city is one of the most walkable anywhere. Plus, I really like bagpipes and kilts.

Dean Village, Edinburgh

Dean Village, the waters of Leith, Edinburgh on New Year’s Day 2017

Back home in Nice, people will be celebrating with parties galore and feasts of oysters, foie gras, rich cakes and champagne. Then they’ll walk it off along the sunny Promenade, giving friends encountered along the way warm bisous and seasonal greetings. The French Riviera sun is almost always the biggest Christmas gift for the locals.

We’ll leave the sun for the warmth of a different kind. Perhaps next year we’ll be gifted with both.

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La mobilisation

An elderly man in Nice, France

A general strike went into effect yesterday, December 5. Leading the strike were unions of the national rail workers, the SNCF and the RATP. Bus and metro drivers, airport workers, Air France, nurses and other worker’s and self-employed groups joined in solidarity against the grievance.

Which is: President Macron’s desire to reform state pensions. There are currently 42 different pension regimes, each one determining different conditions for retirement such as age and monthly distribution. Some retirees receive multiple pensions, accumulated as they switched jobs or careers. Macron would like to equalize and simplify the regimes, creating a universal point system that would cover years worked. Administratively, that would save the public purse a pretty penny. The new pension law would also amount to real losses in pension benefits for some people, however.

While the official French retirement age in general was raised by ex-President Hollande from 60 to 62 — one of the lowest in the developed countries — the “special regimes” under which the SNCF and RATP are ruled allow for retirement as young as 55 years. Those workers would see their retirement delayed as a result of Macron’s pension reforms. They are not at all happy about it.

However, only about 7 percent of 2017 retirees were under 60 years of age. Among these, the SNCF and other “special regimes” account for the vast majority. They also receive significantly higher pensions. The average age of retirement in France is 62 and one month old. The average pension payment in 2017 was 1422.00 euros, or $1575.00 in today’s rate exchange, and it’s less for women. It isn’t much, even if the French don’t pay for essential health care, and enjoy other financial supports for retirees.

Some of the foreign media coverage of the strike has used the word “paralysed” to describe the effect. In Nice, we did observe traffic snarls out of the ordinary as people took to their cars to get around, but otherwise commerce and leisure went on as usual. Today the tram was running, and so were at least some buses.

The strike had been planned for a while, so everyone had plenty of advance notice. However, this strike is historic in size and “illimité,” indefinite in length. We are not sure our December 19 flight won’t be cancelled due to ongoing work stoppages at airports. So far, the government says it will continue to negotiate and warned that violence will not be tolerated.

One precedent for what might happen is the last general strike close to this size, which took place in 1995, also in response to an attempt at pension reform. After three weeks, the government capitulated.

A couple of other scenarios come to mind, that could lead to mounting frustrations and increasing pressure on Macron to cave. Other parties could join the strike, such as truckers who are against a fuel tax increase. The more militant parties could take to violence, provoking a government response and more protests.

To those of us who see life for many Americans and British becoming a merciless dystopia, we wonder why there’s this enormous reaction in France to a .02 cents rate hike, and an attempt by a responsible government to restore balance to pensions. I don’t quite understand why the French support this protest by a small percentage of the population who retire younger and richer than the majority.

But something is afoot, worldwide, isn’t it?

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la Carte de Séjour

We finally each have our official residence permit, called the carte de séjour. This is what we will renew every year until we will have been here five years, at which point we can apply for “permanent” status, and, citizenship if we so desire.

The renewal process is fraught with anxiety and administrative hassle, because of the paperwork required, cost and timing issues. Applicants are required to apply two months prior to the Carte’s expiration, and in some French cities, like Rennes and Angoulême, an applicant can easily book an appointment online. In more messy Nice, you simply show up to the Prefecture hours in advance to get in line, along with hundreds of other immigrants, and hope you are seen that day, before the booth shuts down at 11:30am. Some people have had to return multiple times.

Typically, at that point you receive a six month temporary extension of your permit in the form of a Recipisse, and four or six months later you are supposed to receive a text or email that your Carte is ready for pick up. You must pick it up in person.

In reality, this doesn’t always happen. One of us got the text, the other did not.

You then get in line again to pick up the renewed Carte. Sometimes it’s ready and sometimes it’s not. You can understand why this is the biggest headache of all for expats living here.

One is required to carry the Carte on your person at all times. Technically, a gendarme can ask you for it at any time. However, many people, fearing its loss through pickpockets or carelessness, store it safely and only carry photocopies

I don’t know what permits immigrants to the US have to apply for and deal with, but I imagine the process is similar. When you move out of your home country, there will be paperwork.

Our experience this year was complicated by the fact that our official address all last year was in Cognac. So we had to travel to Angoulême, the department’s administrative center, to pick up our permits. Luckily, we were able to confirm they were ready for us, and once there the process was very quick and efficient. The trip from Nice was long and tiring, and we did a round trip consisting of planes, buses and trains in 48 hours. Now that we have established our residence here in Nice, we will be able to stay local for the foreseeable future.

Angoulême, by the way, turned out to be a lovely city of gracious limestone buildings and lively cafes to be stuck in for a few hours. It’s also the graphic novel/cartoon capital of France, host to an annual international festival of the “Bande Dessinée.” All over the city, starting with the train station, murals and decorations commemorate the city’s high status in the cartoon world. I am almost sorry not to have a reason to return.

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