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As winter softened into spring, Paris hunkered down in pandemic “confinement.” As of March 17, we could travel no more than one kilometer from home.
We were allowed to perform essential tasks (such as grocery shopping, dog walking, and exercise) but had to limit those adventures to one hour each day, clutching our trusty attestations.
The streets were eerily empty. Traffic was nonexistent, except for empty buses keeping to their schedules. The air was free of pollution. The natural rhythms of the earth returned.
As we sheltered, we transitioned to online culture, Zoom gatherings, unending Netflix, virtual travel, all-day pajamas, banana bread recipes, and a new appreciation for the details of our neighborhood and the beauty of nature.
Free at Last—Déconfinement/Phase One (from May 11)
Then came May 11—the long-awaited day of (semi) liberation. Phase One of Déconfinement gave us a taste of freedom . . . and a changed world.
The lockdown laws lessened, but we still had to be vigilant about health precautions. Masks were recommended outside (advice taken by about 50% of the public) and were required in most stores and on all public transport.
Hand sanitizer (once in short supply) now appeared in every shop and in distribution stations around the city.
We could now travel more than one kilometer (but no more than 100 kms). The river banks were reopened, and people could gather in groups of no more than 10 people. And gather we did, given the sun-filled weather. So much so that alcohol was banned by the canals and the Seine.
Certain streets in Paris were designated as bike routes, particularly paralleling Metro lines 1, 4, and 13. For example, rue de Rivoli expanded its bike lanes and was closed to traffic other than buses, taxis, and other essential vehicles. Could we possibly prevent the car pollution from returning?
Schools and churches slowly reopened with strict rules about social distancing.
Public transport schedules regained some normalcy, but the interiors of buses and metros were now a constant reminder of health precautions. To ensure social distancing, certain seats were marked to be left empty.
Since it was difficult to social distance during rush hours, these times were reserved for people who must travel at that time, with attestations required.
Open markets resumed, and many more restaurants became creative about take-out opportunities. Of course, Deliveroo, UBER Eats, and Glovo were available (in a more limited way) during confinement, but in déconfinement, more restaurants started offering delivery options and street-side take-away.
From Michelin-starred restaurants like Frenchie to street pizza take-out to American pancakes, we were never in danger of starving.
True, a Michelin take-out meal is not the same experience as having each course served perfectly at an elegant table, but if you’re tired of your own cooking, a Michelin-starred meal is not a bad way to make a change.
And who doesn’t crave pancakes and bacon every so often?
Some museums and galleries also reopened, with excellent precautions in place. The Musée Jacquemart André allows only a few people in at a time by reservation to ensure social distancing, and they take your temperature at the entrance. Socially distanced expositions are a perfect way to experience art. You can really see.
Galleries like the Galerie Hegoa take a reservation for a particular time slot and close between time slots to make sure the gallery is sanitized for the next visitor.
We are Orange! Déconfinement/Phase Two (from June 2)
Phase Two of Déconfinement is full of good news. The Ile-de-France region (including Paris), which was once designated a “red zone” (indicating heightened Covid-19 challenges) has turned to orange.
Even before that announcement, you could feel Phase Two freedom coming. There was more activity in the shadowed interiors of restaurants and cafés. Remodeling, painting, and cleaning were common activities. Gardeners were back in the gardens and parks. Something was coming!
The gardens and parks are now open (see which are open here). With such perfect weather and some late spring and early summer blooming still to come, this gift comes not a moment too soon.
Phase Two allows restaurants and cafés to reopen, but only on outside terraces and still with social distancing in place. These restrictions will be challenging to owners. We don’t necessarily want to sit in the plexiglass bubbles that some countries are installing. Some owners may wait to reopen. But, hopefully, the heartbeat of Paris life . . . the cafés will soon be visible.
Museums and monuments will be slowly reopening as well. If you’re ready for in-person culture, there are many current options besides those mentioned above. The Musée Marmottan reopened on June 2 (by reservation), and the Château de Versailles will follow on June 6. The Atelier des Lumières is also open (by reservation).
If you’re ready to travel outside of the 100 kilometer restriction of Phase Two, you may now do that, especially keeping in mind that the green zones in France have fewer restrictions. In the green zones, beaches, lakes, pools, gyms, theatres, museums, and tourist accommodations are all reopening.
Déconfinement/Phase Three (from June 22)
We still have a long way to go to meet the Covid-19 challenges. Life will different for some time to come.
It is hoped that hotels in Paris can reopen in Phase Three (June 22). It is probable that restaurant and café interiors will reopen in Phase Three as well, but owners will have to be creative to ensure social distancing and will surely weigh the economic reality of whether they can survive with these restrictions. Gyms and pools will also reopen in Phase Three.
More museums and monuments will open, with the Orangerie and Musée d’Orsay scheduled to open on June 22/23, the Pompidou Center on July 1, and the Louvre on July 6 (in each case with some galleries restricted).
Theatres and cinema will reopen also, but with the restrictions of social distancing and the caveat that enclosed spaces have higher risk of Covid-19 transmission.
It is true that “we’ll always have Paris.” Parisians have faith in the city motto Fluctuat nec Mergitur. (Paris may be tossed by the waves, but she will not sink).
As the Prime Minister said, it is the spirit of the rules as well as the rules themselves that will allow us to succeed. We need to protect ourselves, as well as our fellow humans.
We will rise to the challenges. However, for the moment, we will have a new Paris—one that we haven’t seen before.
Lead photo credit : Deconfinement/Phase Two in the Luxembourg Gardens. Photo © Meredith Mullin