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.
Much has been written about seeing 2020 fully in the rearview mirror, and I don’t have much new to add, which has left me pondering just what to do with this January blog post.
As the year was lurching to a close, I spent close to six weeks not being able to walk much, and since walking is my primary exercise, I was eager to get my feet back onto the trail. That happened a few weeks ago, and I’ve been racking up the kilometers as much as time and weather permit. On one such walk, it occurred to me that I could tell a story of 2020 through some of my walks of the past year.
Where there is rocky soil, there will be stone walls. I don’t know why, but I love these things that are built of stones. I have enough photographs for at least two stories, and this first one is to introduce you to some of the walls and other structures near where I live. Nearly every day, I pass one or another of these sites as I walk around the hills.
Before there were machines, anyone who wanted to farm the soil had to first do the hard work of removing the larger rocks. By hand.
You can picture it: there is a plot of land that someone would like to plant with food crops. The land is rocky, which makes farm work difficult, so the first chore is to remove all those rocks. The whole family spends as much time as it takes—days, weeks, months, a lifetime—to move the rocks away from the field. As time passes, there are growing piles of stones at the edges of the field.
Nine hours of bread: part one
We began the day with a drive that climbed high into the hills north of town, taking increasingly tiny roads and finally arriving at the hamlet of Cauduro for their bread feast. I have a weakness for tiny roads and secrets to be discovered, and this day’s outing was a dandy example.
I closed the last post by saying that the world of the Siena contradaioli (the members of the various contrade) is almost entirely focused on the two days a year on which there’s a horse race, which today is referred to as the Palio, or in Italian, “Il Palio.” Now it’s time to learn more about the Palio itself.