Covid-19 France Quarantine: Part 3 in the countryside. C’s birthday passed. The weather got warmer. Flowers were abundant, but the days were long. Already, twice, with hope, we had watched the state newscast as the president updated the situation. And there was nothing to look forward to. Despite the change in the weather and the abundant sunshine, it seemed there was no hope.
Quickly, my birthday was upon me. Twenty-three, and not at all where I was expecting to be. I had envisioned a pique-nique under the cherry blossoms in the Parc de Sceaux, surrounded by the friends that had become family in a strange land, laughing as the petals floated in the breeze.
Instead, I was surviving a global pandemic, and I hadn’t left the family property in about 30 days. Not to say I wasn’t having fun. After mornings spent meddling and muddling through French grammar and fifth-grade math (I had effectively become a tutor, and in a foreign language), we were free to roam the gardens, and quickly when I begged off of sports we turned to to games of leisure: Pétanque, croquet, and chasing butterflies.
La Chasse aux Papillons
C took after them with maniac zeal, the butterfly net billowing in the wind. There were some casualties, including one he maimed and who subsequently named August. Our attempts to nurse him back to health were more for our own consciences and not because I knew there would be any efficacy.
One day, after he had run into the field in pursuit of one of the larger butterflies, he handed me the net and demanded that I now catch one. I was resigned. In my heavy, leaky rain boots that were cumbersome as the temperatures warmed, I myself ran like a maniac into the field, loosing my hat as I half stumbled, half ran, half skipped in pursuit of everything that resembled our prized catch.
My efforts were duly reward by several (!!!) fine prizes, along with my permis de chases aux papillons — butterfly hunting (catching) license! Prior to this, I had never seen a butterfly up close, and the wings are truly some of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. There were a few casualties caught in C’s maniac zeal, and though we were unsuccessful in nursing them back to health, it allowed us, in the short time we had them, to observe life as art.
My birthday rolled up, unexpectedly. The days are long, so they say, and the years are short. And that’s exactly how I woke up on April 17th, a few days past a month of quarantine, at the ripe new age of 23.
As a general principle, for as long as I can remember (consciously, this was age 5), I have dreaded birthdays, but for some reason, I was looking forward to 23. Now, here I was, laying in a stone cottage, many miles from Paris, under the sunshine.
Despite the good weather and, I couldn’t shade my melancholy and disappointment. However, the day met me with kindness in ways I wasn’t expecting. C and V, after lunch, made an occasion of it with a little pique-nique in the garden. We had taken the habit of eating a goûter (snack) after a few hours of play, but they pulled it all out, fancy apple juice and all. I was really…touched!
Then, that evening, the whole family surprised me with a birthday dinner, complete with champagne, gougères (my FAVORITE), and a chocolate cake with candles, which we all heartily dug into after plates of blanquette de veau (which will make me think of them every time I make the dish). Even though it wasn’t the celebration I had been anticipating, it was more than I could have ever hoped for, and I am so grateful they loved me in that way.
The rest of April sped by quick enough, and the temperatures were as such to make me regret my short-sightedness that heart-pounding, stressful March night before we left. Thankfully, my host family had gifted me a pair of sunny yellow espadrilles for my birthday, and though a size too big, they were much better than the clunky, heavy rain boots I had been sporting for every activity, including the spontaneous cross-country team C created, and of which I was the sole member.
The Bicycle Ride
May came, and with it the offer to go back to Paris a week before my host family. I eagerly accepted, wanting to walk the streets of the city as much as possible before my impending departure and repatriation. But first, we had some adventures to finish.
The first was a walk through the whole village. Although, if you ever saw it on a map, our feat would not be so impressive. Consisting of one manor house (below, right) and a smattering of charming, weathered stone cottages, it was overrun with flowers by the time we got out. Wisteria, roses, and all. I don’t consider myself a country girl, but I was definitely going to miss the landscape.
Then there were the cows, our neighbors. C had told me that one of the neighbors had been impaled by a bull a few years prior, and that was warning enough for everyone to stand back.
And finally…the day before I left, the most dramatic thing happened, of course.
C, as you may know by know, is an avid outdoors and sportsman. I am not. But somehow, he convinced me to go cycling in the countryside with him. (Not somehow, there is very little I can deny C.) The only catch? I forgot my phone.
As we cycled through the rolling hills lush with spring wheat, nothing but emptiness for miles, it was one of the most amazing experiences I had ever seen. We even rode past a house with a water wheel and the most over-the-top garden I have witnessed. It looked like a smaller version of Monet’s garden in Giverny.
All the while…C’s dad was panicking because he knew that I was uneasy on a bicycle. By the time C and I returned home, having criss-crossed a good portion of the region, he was frantically out looking for us…and gave us quite the talking-to when he returned to the cottage. C and I exchanged glances as he talked to his father on the phone upon our return. Our consensus? We were screwed.
How screwed? Well…enough that I was terrified of the confrontation…but while I felt terrible, the aftermath I should have predicted. After a good five minutes, all was well again, and we even chuckled about the whole thing.
The following day, they dropped me at the nearest train station and I boarded with just one suitcase, my summer hat, and a makeshift mask made from the fabric if V’s old pajama pants. I must have looked quite a sight when I stepped off the train at Montparnasse, where Hope had come to meet me with a real mask, made by her artist friends at Kyano Studio.
I won’t forget the feeling of walking out into the bright sunlight, which glared off of the Montparnasse Tower. I won’t forget seeing Hope walk toward me for the first time in months. I won’t forget the eeriness of the train, hot and stuffy, as everyone, it seemed waited with bated breath to reach the destination.
I won’t forget shoving myself into the tiniest service elevator that gave serious Wes Anderson vibes…and also might-break-down-any-moment vibes, turning the skeleton key to my tiny apartment that was more like a closet, and throwing open the window to say hello to the Eiffel Tower. It sounds cheesy….but I knew the clock was ticking.
I said hello, and then prepared to say goodbye.
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