Letter from France – Nicholas Baum (PR 1961-65)

Bonjour de la France,

I was one of apparently hundreds of thousands to flee Paris (legally), just before the beginning of “confinement” our version of lock-down.

As Jan Perrins said to me, “lock-down in the South of France is cheating!”, and I admit it does feel a bit like that. There are worse places to be confined than staring out at the Med, and the clear blue skies.

I’ve been here over a month, and in that time have seen just one jet trail, and no boats, apart from the occasional coast guard vessel looking for people who couldn’t resist the urge to go sailing, or fishing, of which there are none. At 135 euros per person for unauthorised outdoor activities, up to 1500 for repeat offenders, people stay at la maison.

One of the jokes circulating on WhatsApp is that France is the only country to have distributed more fines than masks. And it is true, that the gendarmes are everywhere.

But as mentioned in Jonathan Chang’s letter from Hong Kong, nature seems to be the great beneficiary of France’s strictly enforced stay at home policies.

Last week, a fisherman friend observed cheeky dolphins swimming alongside his nets, and feasting on his sardines. More dolphins were seen playing in the port of Marseille, in amongst the moored yachts. Normally the only large sea life seen there is in the imagination of the locals, after a pastis or three…

Whales have been passing so close to the coast as to be clearly visible to the naked eye. No need to go to Hermanus in South Africa.

We are enchanted by the song of rossignols, thrushes and countless other song birds. The wild boar are also having a field day, literally, roaming around in the open, and even less shy than usual.

Would you believe this is all happening just 10 minutes away from Saint Tropez?

Normally, after the Easter weekend, the port is bustling, the market in la Place des Lices packed with our Italian neighbors, and the Russian mega yachts bobbing at anchor off the beach at the Club 55.

Today, personne!

It’s marvelous, but of course it won’t last.

We were informed by our prime minister, (who has zero Borisness about him), that restrictions will be gradually lifted from the 11th May. But no cafés or restaurants to open before at least the beginning of June. That of course is the real hardship! But French restaurateurs are showing great solidarity and imagination. Many 3 star chefs are providing meals for the heroic medical community, and take-away has reached new culinary heights.

Local fruit and vegetable stands have sprung up everywhere, and we’re learning to see the benefits of le circuit court, from the fields directly to our tables.

There’s lots of talk about what going back to normal will look like. Hopefully, memories won’t be too short, and we’ll retain some of the positive experiences of this enforced return to good sense.

On ne sait jamais…vive la France!