Hi everyone, it’s me, the husband. I’m once again taking over the blog for a bit in order to start things back up. It’s no secret that the past few months have been wild. COVID-19 has brought the world to a grinding halt since March, the last time we posted. Truth be told, Sara and I have been really worried about everything since going into quarantine. As we retreated into a scary and silent lockdown lifestyle, we weren’t sure exactly what to do with the blog. It felt hollow and callous to post the few fun things we’ve managed to do. At the same time, we also didn’t want the blog to turn into a soapbox. Everyone has had to deal with varying challenges of quarantine: isolation, fear, safety, resource scarcity, and tons of uncertainty. All in all, Sara and I were in a good situation in France, with the French government taking the pandemic seriously and me being able to maintain an income through work-from-home. As the spring ended and summer unfolded, it was heartbreaking to feel safer here than back home in the US. Now, in August, France is cautiously open and establishing a ‘new-normal’ while the US is still awash in the first wave. The presence of COVID-19 is still influencing almost every aspect of our lives.
Since we haven’t updated the blog since the start of lockdown, we’re gonna do this post in two parts. For this first part, I do want to take some time and cover our quarantine experience the past 4 months. Again, we don’t want to make this a soapbox story; we are well aware of families that have a much, much more difficult time dealing with the state of the world. It’s more for personal documentation, so when we look back 10 years from now we remember a bit more of what it was like. Maybe some of our friends back home will find our French perspective interesting. So, if you’re only here for Sara’s magnificent photography, hang tight and look out for “Episode 2”.
“It’ll only be a few weeks”
That was our initial thought when France officially went into lockdown mid-March. We were actually hanging out with an American friend at our place Saturday night when we got the news that, starting tomorrow, all bars/restaurants/non-essential businesses would be closed until further notice. We decided to walk outside that night at 11 pm, to see the night-life before it all disappeared. Then we make up a quarantine cocktail to toast to the few weeks of isolation (RECIPE AT THE END).
Little did we know that the ‘few weeks’ would last months.
France’s lockdown was serious. As Sara said in the last blog post, we needed a certificate to go anywhere. Grocery shopping, work, even walking or exercising outside; if you were stopped by police and didn’t have your ‘hall pass’, you’d be immediately fined. So, Sara and I stayed inside our small apartment the majority of quarantine with maybe a trip outside once or twice a week for groceries or a short walk ( < 1 hour and < 1 km from your address, or else). I remember we were scared to even go out grocery shopping. The worry of getting deathly ill in a foreign country was constant. I worked from home on our kitchen table, ordering a monitor and work supplies off Amazon until ITER would allow me to go in and get my equipment. That’s another story. Resource scarcity wasn’t that bad here. Masks and hand sanitizer were difficult to obtain, and flour/pasta was non-existent for a while there. Grocery stores had plenty of food, even if it wasn’t always what we wanted. And no,we didn’t really have a problem finding toilet paper.
Staying inside our small apartment got difficult after a while, as it did for most everyone. Sara and I would get angry with each other over small things like cleaning dishes, along with big things like washing hands properly. Sometimes Sara would have a bad day and I’d have to be the supportive optimist. Other days it would be the opposite. The few days we both were in a bad mental state, those were tough. But we talked through everything, and so far have survived this test of our marriage. :) Ring Fit Adventure was a godsend for keeping some kind of exercise in our lives. Every day we’d take 5-10 minutes after lunch to step outside on our hot patio just to get a bit of sunlight. Finally there were the multiple Factime/Skype/Zoom/Google Duo calls with friends and family, which really did help us stay sane through all this. We started organizing online Jackbox games with friends here and in the US, which were a blast for a while. Eventually though, as quarantine dragged on, our sense of optimism declined as well.
I feel like a lot of us went through a similar series of phases:
Phase 1 - Full of worry. Overwhelmed by uncertainty. Trying to become an expert epidemiologist overnight.
Phase 2 - Worried, but staying optimistic. Lots of Zoom calls, trying new hobbies, cooking new recipes (thanks Hello Fresh!). Trying to find the silver linings hidden in the quarantine lifestyle.
Phase 3 - Cabin fever. Hobbies start to go stale. Zoom calls become less frequent. You miss not having to cook every day. The “Are we there yet?” mentality becomes real strong.
Phase 4 - Option A: Slowly and cautiously emerging or Option B: Rushing outside without a worry in the world. COVID is defeated!
Around mid-May, the French government decided that numbers were safe enough to start gradually opening some businesses. It started with more essential businesses at reduced capacity. Then after a few more weeks, bars/restaurants/everyone else could open with reduced capacity. Finally, around mid June, every business could fully open so long as they maintained masks and social distancing when possible. This is where Sara and I feel like we deviated from the majority of Aix residents. We were very slow to begin re-emerging into society, partly because it felt like everyone else went for “Option B” described above. Let me tell you, the first day bars were allowed to re-open, we walked down Cours Mirabeau and saw every bar & restaurant packed as much as possible. People were ready to go back to their normal lifestyle. We weren’t.
It’s tough to discard worries when you’re constantly seeing what’s happening back in your home country. While Europe has opened it’s internal borders, the US has been stuck in a slow, widespread first wave for months now. But, I won’t rant about US politics and the failed US response here… just know that it really has been heartbreaking for us to feel safer in France than we would in our own country. Even now, we’re constantly worried about our friends and family back home.
The important thing is that Sara and I are still healthy and doing fine, all things considered. We’ve started going outside more, and have been on a few small ‘adventures’ since about June. I remember we didn’t let anyone into our apartment until May 30th (thanks Javi for the madeleines!). Now we’ve had a few small gatherings, including some with our French friends! We’ve also gotten more comfortable at least ordering food to go. Still only been to a sit-down restaurant like twice. And now, at the end of July, ITER is implementing a “new normal” where I go into work twice a week.
Our future plans are full of unknowns thanks to COVID… but we’ll make it through ok. My 2 year postdoc is winding down, and our #2 concern is what in the world we’re going to do come the end of October. Turns out it’s hard to apply for jobs in the US in the middle of a pandemic. With all my fusion conferences being cancelled, the only networking and job hunting that can be done is through emails and Zoom calls. My uncertainty only compounds Sara’s job worries as well. Will we go broke moving back? Do I accept a subpar job just so we can afford to return? Do I ask for an extension here? Do we even want to return to the US with everything else that’s troubling our country? We’re figuring it all out on the fly right now. As worried and angry as we are with the state of the US, we’re still aiming to come home. At least at the moment.
Congrats on making it to the end of this long, possibly boring update. Stay tuned for the much more exciting, photo-based “Episode 2” once Sara takes over. Until then, stay safe, and enjoy these cocktail recipes courtesy of quarantine!
“La France est Fermée”
3.5 oz Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey (For whatever reason, Jack Daniel’s is super popular here)
6 oz Canada Dry
1-2 shakes of ‘piment’ spice (chili pepper spice)
0.5 oz simple syrup
3-4 drops of mango bitters
“La France est Ouverte”
3 oz Vodka
0.75 oz basil-infused simple syrup
0.75 oz lemon or lime juice
Basil leaf for garnish
- For the simple syrup: heat 1 cup water on stove on medium low, until simmering. Stir in 1 cup sugar until dissolved. Add in a handful of fresh basil leaves, and let steep on low heat for 30 minutes. Let cool in the fridge before using.