I think it’s safe to say that arriving in Paris a mere 3 hours before Macron announced a nationwide lockdown has been an experience and a half. After 5 months of waiting at home for my year abroad to finally start, I set off from London a month ago, my bags full of all the trench coats and knee-high boots I own, ready to take Paris by storm. Whilst I am officially starting to see the end of le confinement, my experience so far has not been what I expected.
During my first day in Paris, the final day before the lockdown began, I made my way rapidly to my office to pick up my work laptop, in order to do my internship online. The first thing that I noticed was the friendliness of the people I met in the office – quite the contrast to the typical portrayal of the French, see Emily in Paris on Netflix for reference. I think, however, that had more to do with the fact that I do actually speak French…
But I found myself, sitting alone in my Parisian apartment, staring out of the typical bay windows, wondering what to do for the next month (or more). Having chosen this particular flat for the area, the 7th of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, home to many intellectuals, politicians and ministries, as well as the artist Rodin and the quintessential French children’s book character Madeleine, I was never originally fazed by the lack of housemates. After all, there are other rooms available in the flatshare, and I was certain they’d be filled shortly. Alas, how wrong I was.
Instead of living the year abroad dream, the constant chatter and banter I expected has been replaced with a huge amount of self-reflection, a complete lack of human social interaction and the sense of dread for the boredom and loneliness that may lie ahead. We weren’t allowed to meet with people from other households and bars, restaurants, any non-essential shops (don’t worry, in France the boulangeries are absolutely considered essential), museums and galleries are all closed, and we even need to download an attestation form every time we want to go outside. Although, I can reassure you that, as a true Durham student, I have stocked up on enough wine and chocolate for the next few weeks, although perhaps I should have focused on less essential items too, perhaps pasta and vegetables?
Despite all of this, though, I can’t ignore the absolute advantages of my situation. First of all, after months of waiting, I am actually on my year abroad, which is more than many other students can say. My flat is two minutes from the Eiffel Tower too, so my 1km permitted walking radius allowed me to do a lap of the Champ de Mars, keeping its historic landmark in sight.
Secondly, I am also in Paris – if ever there were a city made for time spent lounging around, drinking coffee alone on my balcony, and writing my thoughts, it is this one. I am certainly not the only person to want to make the most of a month of almost total isolation and boredom (except, you know, my 9-6 online internship) by pretentiously drinking coffee, eating croissants and translating my genius thoughts into words for the world to enjoy. And, as my friends have reminded me, now I can walk around the apartment, sing loudly and enjoy the hedonism of living totally alone for the first time in my life, and in Paris as well. I prepared for the long month ahead, trekking across Paris for art supplies to rekindle my love for painting and drawing and ordering myself a range of books to read and notebooks in which to write. Even without the Café des Deux Magots and Café Flore, for now I’ll channel de Beauvoir and Sartre, imparting my musings in Paris from my balcony.