It was 10:30 on a Saturday night. We were deciding on dessert… or not…
Our phones dinged… along with everyone else’s in the restaurant.
The text message was an announcement from the French government.
We only had another hour to eat before thiscafé—along with all the others in Paris—would be shuttered until further notice.
This was back in mid-March when Harry and I were out on our weekly date night, having dropped our newborn, Ariadne, off with my parents for the night. It was our first night without the baby, and we were hoping for a nice dinner out and a full night’s sleep.
Thiscaféwas just a few blocks from our apartment. I was enjoying foie gras, soft cheese, rare steak, and being able to drink to excess for the first time in nearly a year.
The plan was to stay out for another couple of hours. There was a cocktail bar I wanted to check out. But, with the arrival of this text message, no bar-hopping for us that night… or any night in the near future, apparently.
Just a couple days before, Macron had made the bold statement that we should continue to live as usual. He and his wife were going to the theater that night, and he encouraged us all to get out and carry on.
Within 48 hours, he held a press conference declaring that France was at war.
The following Monday was eerie. Not a soul on the normally bustling streets around our apartment, not a car in our usually busy intersection.
Several of thecafés around us are open practically around the clock. I had never seen the streets void of tables and chairs, never seen all of the storefronts locked up. But I (and probably most of the world) was still a little oblivious to the severity of things. It all seemed a little exciting… but I didn’t imagine there was any real danger, of course.
By the following weekend, we had to join the lines outside grocery stores… only to find many shelves were empty by the time we got inside.
Things started to feel more serious.
Now, six weeks later, I’ve returned to work from maternity leave… but it’s a different world than the one I left… a much less accessible world.
While a few months ago, we could have hopped on a train and visited another country on a whim here in France, now we aren’t allowed to travel more than a kilometer from our address.
We at Live and Invest Overseas like to think of our planet as wide open to everyone, no matter where you’re starting out from.
We think of the world as an unlocked vault, full of new things to discover whenever we decide we’d like to.
These days, it can be hard to remember that the world is a place you want to explore. Fear has highjacked our sense of wonder.
My daughter, Ariadne—who has no idea there is anything different or wrong going on in the world—smiles and coos with abandon. All she needs is some milk and her parents. Thanks to the virus, we’re both here with her 24/7, much to her delight.
She was born Jan. 30—just as I was beginning to hear news of this novel illness that was preventing my brother from returning to school in Shanghai.
Having no idea it would spiral to the extent is has, at the time I thought this was a stroke of good timing. Jack could stay in Paris for the birth of his niece. He could help us walk the dog while we stayed in the hospital, run out and grab us food in those vulnerable first few days, and generally lend a helping hand. It was wonderful to have him here, and he was indeed a great help.
By the time his school decided to send him to NYU’s Manhattan campus for the semester, we still had no inkling that the virus had made its way out of China. We were all excited for him to spend a while in New York. It would be his first time living in the United States. Safely over on the other side of the Pond, he settled into new dorms with new classmates, and we thought no more of the virus.
By the time I emerged from my post-natal bubble… and started paying attention to world events again… Italy was in a state of emergency. Friends started worrying that we here in France might need to prepare ourselves for the same level of crisis.
But that seemed alarmist. Italy had over a thousand deaths at that point, and France had a mere couple of cases. There was no way things could get that bad here. Of course, now we know differently.
The confinement and closures were initially announced to last 15 days, but that was extended by another 15 days. We’re now told that the Paris area will reopen May 11. We’re on the edge of our seats.
As the weeks have gone by, we’ve gotten used to the new normal. Grocery store inventories have more or less stabilized. People go out—mostly with masks on, but they do go out.
Still, as I said, the world feels different.
A visit to the grocery shop has become a complicated undertaking.
Getting on a plane and wandering around a foreign city?
Now that seems downright far-fetched. A thing of the past. Remember when we used to take summer vacations…
Right now, it can be difficult to imagine ever again having the freedom to move around the world.
So I’d like to give us all a good shake.
This is not permanent. Everything will get back to normal eventually. Our species has survived worse crises than this, and we’ll get through this one, too.
A big part of why Harry and I chose to move to Paris was its convenient location in Europe and the excellent transport options to get out and about, both across France and across France’s borders. We had at least a half-dozen trips in mind when we moved here in December 2018, and we planned to start checking them off our list as soon as spring rolled around.
I lost last summer due to pregnancy. First-trimester nausea meant I was on lockdown long before there was such a thing as COVID-19. By the time I was feeling better, I had gained a bump and moving around wasn’t all that comfortable. We managed to get to Greece for a babymoon, but that was it for 2019.
I eagerly awaited the arrival of spring 2020, when we’d be a family of three and could all get out and see some of the world—one of us for the first time! Road trips throughout France, to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany… trains to Holland, the U.K., and up to Scotland for the Highland Games… quick flights to Italy and Slovenia…
But, again, my plans were dashed.
Who knows when the EU will open back up or when we’ll even be able to rent a car to take a trip to another city here in France. But I’m champing at the bit.
As soon as we can, we’ll be driving to Brest and Nantes, Reims and Rouen…
Once borders reopen, the first stop for us will be London—hopefully before the autumn chill sets in. Once winter arrives, we’ll head for Slovenia, where it gets snowy. Maybe we’ll do some skiing… or just enjoy the icy scenery, glasses of mulled wine in hand.
I might not be able to follow through on all (or any of) my travel dreams for 2020… but the world will right itself eventually, and, in the meantime, I won’t stop making plans.
And neither should you.
Don’t lose your thirst for new places and new experiences. Don’t lose that hunger to get out and beyond the world you know. Wherever you are in your go-overseas journey, continue on—in the theoretical for now but with the confidence that youwillbe able to execute your plan after these COVID delays and detours are a thing of the past.
The pandemic may have delayed your plans. It may even have given you second thoughts about big life changes…
You can’t let it derail your dreams, though. Everything you wanted— perhaps even were close to attaining before the virus threw a wrench into cogs worldwide—is still attainable…
You just might have to make some adjustments to your plan.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, flexibility is one of the most important qualities you need as an expat.
So let’s change the conversation. Let’s keep daydreaming about our future adventures across this beautiful world of ours.
And planning for when we can get back out there on our roads to discovery.
Meantime, stay safe and well.