Pandemic Musings: 5. The Uncertainties of Lockdown Living: Musings at the End of the Third Wave (in France, 7 May 2021)

So much has happened on the “living with a pandemic” front since I recorded the way of things back in October 2020. I’ve written other musings since then, of course, on November as the month of memorials or the traditional Christmas greetings in December, and even a thing or two about the gender perspective both locally and globally since then. But I realized the other day that we are gradually moving out of yet a third confinement and  into the hopeful anticipation of a post-pandemic lifestyle, at least here in France, without my having written down the typical diary kind of record of “living with the pandemic” that I had originally envisioned doing. I was so struck by its transformative significance back there in the 2020 days of what I described then as the “new March madness”. And I know that much of it is very mundane, but still, I did intend to have a sort of personal record of what I consider to be pivotal moments for me and for my family in the evolution of this horrific pandemic.  Let’s hope we don’t forget its significance.

The pandemic is phasing out of the third wave in France. We can’t say that there was much difference between our lifestyle during and after the second wave (an October to December 2020 cycle) and the reinstatement of lockdown measures in the third wave (running from late March to early May 2021). We did manage to splurge on a brief shopping spree in early December – when I also went into surgery for a third time (right leg in October 2019, left leg in September 2020 and right leg again in December 2020) . But otherwise, we have operated as though the resurgence in pandemic cases in January basically meant no long-lasting relief from the restrictions of the second wave. We had celebrated both a Thanksgiving turkey and  Swedish meatballs for Christmas by ourselves – the two of us feasting in candlelight  in our newly renovated dining room.  We squeezed in a roast beef dinner somewhere along the line there, too. Maybe it was for New Year’s Eve. But the new year did not  feel like we were truly past the second wave.

In fact, the prospects of returning to normal social or cultural gatherings in January simply did not happen.  It was pretty obvious that the French government avoided as long as it could – or longer than it should have – to deal with this third wave until finally it had to do something at the end of March.  And that meant yet another holiday, Easter, with the two of us celebrating once again by ourselves – this time with a traditional butterfly cut of lamb and our special marinade, prepared on the grill and consumed in the warm springtime glow of our veranda.

So what has changed? Anything? Well, actually quite a lot. Working backwards, they include a fourth hospital visit (a second go at the left leg this time) ending on May 6th, a dramatic announcement from the Biden administration of a willingness to waive intellectual property rights on pandemic vaccines on  May 5th,  news of a shocking resurgence of the pandemic in India on May Day, an escalating chorus in late April of voices in support of a rapid increase in vaccine production for people in the developing world, another shocking revelation in mid-April that scientists are predicting that we are only moving to the end of the “acute phase” of the pandemic by the end of 2021, a widening availability of vaccine doses for family in March,, a decision to purchase a new car in France, also in March but completed only in April, and my being eligible for full vaccine coverage by the end of February.  Well, that last one was because of my age – working backwards may not capture the pivotal moments quite so well.

Perhaps at this point, it is better to start back in October with those pivotal moments – better to see how they build up to where we are today. There is, most significantly for us, the US Presidential election in November and the drawn-out nature of verifying the outcome – a most un-nerving period of time for us – further aggravated by the Trump-inspired insurrection of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021! The effect has been to transform our understanding of what happened in 2016 from an aberration, a fluke, to its having been part of an emerging  trend-line of an alarmingly growing threat to democracy itself.  So the apparent soul-searching over racism in America that had been triggered by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 has been confronted by a hostile white phenomenon that seems to be rejecting the very foundation of democratic governance.

I guess the hiatus in lockdown musings since October of last year can be explained by a sense of alarm, a feeling of immobility to deal with any of these unanticipated changes. We thought that Biden would win in November and emphatically end the aberration. And yes, it was 81 million voters against 74 million, but really? That many voted for Trump? And then went on to question the very integrity of the elections? The effect has been massive – on efforts to assess how democracy can survive, on recognizing the uncertainties of both domestic and foreign policy corrections under the Biden administration, and on the speeding-up strategy of dramatic legislative action to get as much done as possible before the reversals that are appearing to be so inevitable in the 2022 Congressional elections.

And there are spillover or at least related concerns all around the world.  The shifting to the right in French politics has scared me away from writing anything about racism or anti-Islamist debates here. The downgrading of the assessment of democracy in countries like India or Hungary or Poland or Brazil has made me re-evaluate the stability of democratic values, especially in multi-ethnic settings.  And I’v also been torn about the transmogrification of Internet freedoms through the concentration of social media power and manipulation of artificial intelligence by the likes of Facebook and Google. My commentaries on these subjects have floundered, even as I have also become preoccupied more and more with a reassessment of my enthusiasm for the efforts at a global response to the pandemic. Turmoil is churning in my pandemic cocoon.

Meanwhile, I also have joyful memories to record and future events to anticipate. The continuing thrill of regular Skype visits with grandson Remy is deeply appreciated – what a charmer he is in his exploration of the world around him. Discovering his shadow and the shadows of the trees around him, splashing in the waves in his first visit to the Atlantic Ocean, imitating the vroom-vroom sounds of moving toy trucks or the woof-woof of dogs barking, laughing at his dad’s facial expressions, discovering his mom’s shoes, pulling down his favorite books or running around the house placing his toys here and there – there is so much to see and enjoy. And then there are the Scrabble games with Kristina, the weekly family Skype chats, the English class sessions on Skype with at least a few of the classmates, the Zoom sessions with different groups, and the gardening, of course and Peppy’s ever growing collection of magnificent photos.  And don’t forget the massive olive harvest and the continuing  renovations to Villa Ndio! But the really big news: PJ and Sarah are formally engaged and have set the date of April 23, 2022 for their wedding! What fun that will be! And Elizabeth and Wade have decided to move into a senior living community.  Reminders of aging – and life goes on.

Here we are now in the “deconfinement” phase of the French third wave. This does mean – perhaps – a reinstatement of pre-pandemic living. English classes might start back up in person in June, travel restrictions between the US and Europe might be lifted by the end of June, restaurants and museums will open by mid-May, albeit still with a curfew. We definitely plan to treat ourselves to a Thai or Indian restaurant asap. Will there be a rose festival of any sort in Grasse in May? Perhaps so.  Will we drive to Switzerland in June and close down HRI? Perhaps so. Well, we’re definitely planning on this. So yes, definitely so. Will we celebrate Fourth of July here with friends – or will we be in the States by then? Not yet decided. Will we have a White House Fellows gathering here in October? Well, that is a no. Maybe next year. Will our children and their partners come here for the Christmas holidays this year? We hope so. Will we be in the States in April? Yes, emphatically so!

Will we forget what lockdown living has been like? Or will we learn to live with more waves?  How many more crises like the crisis in India are yet to strike? When will we have enough vaccines for everyone? All of this comes with the supposed end to the “acute phase” of the current pandemic by December. Really?  Everywhere?  And what about all those pivotal elections in the name of democracy – here in France, in Germany, in India, in the US?  In Algeria, Chile, Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil, the Philippines? So many uncertainties still to muse over, and so many pivotal moments yet ahead!


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