In April, after months of lockdowns and curfews, France was a-buzz with chatter about reopening. The government began to announce the slow and deliberate steps that would begin to ease us back to some semblance of a “normal” life, always with the caveat that increasing covid numbers could lead to a retraction. There was a rising sense of hopefulness, perfectly timed to coincide with spring. Thus it was that a few of us hatched a scheme to visit Paris in June.
We planned our trip around the loosening of the rules and the opening of restaurants, bars and museums. What a joy it was to arrive in the city and see the streets full of people again! Restaurants and cafés had been granted permission to use street parking spaces for outdoor dining, and everywhere we turned, there were temporary platforms filling those spaces. Some were elaborate and well-built, and included lighting and covers for shade. Others used old palettes and simple construction. It didn’t matter: people filled these outdoor eateries, hungry and maybe a little wild-eyed after seven months without places to gather with friends, share food, and tell stories.
I invite you to come along with me on the pictorial journey of my week in Paris in the hope-filled spring of 2021.
When we arrived in Paris, there was only outdoor dining, with rules about well-spaced seating, which were not always followed, as you’ll see below. There was still a mandate for wearing masks both indoors and outdoors in all public spaces, so the masks didn’t come off until we were seated at a table. And there was still a 9:00 pm curfew. By week’s end, the curfew had shifted to 11:00 pm, there was some minimal indoor seating, and we still had the masks.
A long-held and classic image of Paris during the warmer months is people filling the cafés, and that was, if possible, even more true during our June visit. It was delightful to see, and a heart-rush of joy to be seated at one of those tables!
Food and drink
It’s hard to talk about Paris without talking about food. We ate well.
Museums and cool buildings
Like the restaurants and bars, museums hadn’t been open since October. There was a rush to get in, and because they’re all indoor spaces, the number of visitors was quite limited. Reservations were a must.
I’ve wanted to visit the Opéra Garnier for a long time. We were in Paris too soon for a guided tour of the building, but I learned one morning that it was open to the public for self-guided tours, which essentially meant that we were cut loose to wander around on our own.
The Paris opera was founded in 1669 during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. It has had many homes. The Palais Garnier, as it came to be called, was built at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, from 1861-75. When the new Opéra Bastille opened in 1989, the opera moved to that location, and the Palais Garnier is now used primarily for ballets.
Seen about town
Interesting things spotted during a week of walking in Paris.
A lovely day in this corner of paradise Saturday, 3 April was our last day of freedom in France— our third covid lockdown was looming. The weather was fine, and a small group of us decided to have a day trip, driving nearly two hours to begin our adventure in the hamlet of Douch, situated north of us in the sprawling Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc.
Before putting our boots on the trail, we were enticed by the hamlet, built entirely of local stone. We spent a happy half-hour strolling past ancient structures, some in perfect condition, others showing the effects of time and gravity with warps and dips and missing stones. Douch is a place right out of a fairy tale.
Heard from my terrace
You know that old story about how city people can’t fall asleep in the countryside because it’s too quiet? Well, that doesn’t hold water here in the South of France. It is not quiet; all manner of things are making noise. I’m here today to talk about two of the noisemakers: cicadas and frogs.
The cicadas awaken when the sun pops over the hills and begins to warm the earth. All day long, every day through the summer, the cicadas sing their amazing song. That music can get quite loud, up to 120 decibels, enough to damage human ears at close range. The cicada—cigale in French—is among the longest-lived insects, and it is recognized as a symbol of longevity and metamorphosis.
Checking out the bottling truck
A friend and I recently visited a local vineyard that we quite like, and while there, we learned that the bottling truck would arrive a few days later. I’ve been intrigued by these trucks since I first landed in the South of France, and had been hoping for an opportunity to photograph one in action.
Annabelle, our host, was very welcoming of the idea, giving me a big smile and opening her arms to say that I would be welcome to watch, learn and take a few photographs.
Gasp! You mean the wines aren’t tenderly bottled by hand at each winery?
Some wineries still do their own bottling, but it’s an expensive, time-consuming and error-prone process. Here’s a list of the necessary steps: clean and dry the bottles, fill with wine, cork and cap, add labels, place bottles in cartons. Each step requires its own machine and/or operator. The equipment is precise, it needs to be maintained, and it can break down during bottling. There is also the complication that different wine varietals require different bottles, along with their own unique labels. If someone inexperienced is operating the machine for corking the wine or for placing the labels, things can go wrong, which means that while the wine inside might be perfectly fine, the bottle doesn’t look good enough to sell, so it’s set aside, and if that happens too often, there’s a problem with profits. Of course, the entire process must be done under strict hygiene restrictions. It all adds up to a nightmare of organization that many vintners are happy to hand off to the experts.
Last night several friends and I used Zoom to gather for apéritifs—called apéro here in France. We’ve only been on lockdown for less than a week, and we already feel isolated, especially those of us who live alone. The Zoom party turned out to be a fine way to connect with our friends, hear each others’ stories, ask questions, and drink a toast to each other. < Clink! >
A day at the beach
Off we went on a gorgeous blue-sky Sunday, headed toward the coastal étangs southwest of Gruissan. An étang is a small lake or pond, quite often man-made for purposes such as agriculture, salt harvesting, or even medieval civic water projects. On this day, we parked just beyond the local saltworks (a salin), which has probably been in use since Roman times.
We walked along the narrow paths defining the rectangular ponds, eyeing pink flamingos in the distance. Eventually, we came to a wide expanse of wild beach. The day was cool, and we were happy to have the warm sun, also feeling lucky to not have the normal high winds.