Se projeter

Love the view and feel of this place but it is too close to a major highway

When you’re looking for a place to live, there is really only one question: Can you see yourself there? This is what the French call ‘se projeter’ — literally, to project or imagine yourself living somewhere.

I am becoming a bit of an expert on imagining my life in different places. We’ve been visiting properties to buy or rent now for months — mostly online lately due to coronavirus. But now visits have started up again and we’re trying to get out and see places live and in person.

One thing I’ve learned is that there is no technology — virtual reality, 3-D photos or video — that can substitute for the feel of a place. Do you feel a kind of buzz as you enter? Could this be the place in which the next chapter of your life will unfold? Can you imagine getting up each morning and seeing that view?

Terrasse mit Traumaussicht
I could live with this view but the place is just too small.

Oddly, it is not necessarily the nicest or most spectacular places in which I can see myself living. It seems to be a combination of privacy, attractive space and surroundings that do it for me. Basically I’m attracted to anything with greenery around it: a treetops or garden apartment, light-filled rooms but not a full-on southwest exposure. While husband wants an open space with tons of light and most of all a spectacular view, I want to feel protected by walls and not overly exposed.

There are some things I simply cannot do: certain architecture is a non-starter (non-descript is okay but not in-your-face ugly, whether in colour or style), the sloped ceilings of an attic apartment, anything too boxy or institutional-feeling, a terrace overlooking a road or even a parking lot.

Traumhafte See- und Bergsicht
This little garden would be perfect for us but the apartment is overpriced and needs work.

Also, I don’t want to feel too isolated. We’ve set a 15-minute maximum on the time it should take to walk to a village, café or shop. Ideally I’d like to be within 5 minutes and not have it involve a massive slope. But this is a tough ask in Switzerland, especially as we also want peace and quiet, as well as a view.

I’m working hard on ‘projecting myself’ into my new life. Where we see ourselves next year, in five years, in retirement? City or country or somewhere in between? I need to see water, he needs to see mountains. I want proximity to a city with bookshops and train connections. He wants to be within 30 minutes of CrossFit.

You learn to be very careful of places that look too staged.

The biggest challenge at the moment is the sluggish property market. We haven’t sold our house in France yet (quelle surprise, given the past two months of lockdown) and there is little available on the Swiss side. Things are gradually picking up but the challenge remains: to sell in a buyer’s market (France) and buy in a seller’s market (Switzerland).

So we’ve decided to rent, at least for now. Which is probably more sensible anyway until we decide where we want to be long-term. Now we have to find a place to rent that meets all our criteria and is still affordable. And also accepts pets.

Where do you see yourself — today or tomorrow?

La polémique

It is something of a national sport in France. Controversy: it leads to discussion, debate, disagreement. Which is mostly fine with me. I am a bit of a contrarian myself.

I grew up with a healthy sense of controversy. Discord was the essence of our family dynamic. My parents disagreed about everything from religion to politics and my father loudly aired his opinions at the dinner table each night. As the eldest of four children it was up to me to lead on behalf of the youth front. So I can hold my own in an argument.

But the French love of ‘la polémique’ goes too far. It is bad enough when things are normal. Last year it was les gilets jaunes, the yellow vests, an entire movement founded upon nothing more than perceived social and economic injustice. Now that we have an actual crisis, imagine the debate. First it was confinement. The government was insane to want to lock us up in our homes, require papers for every outing. Now it is deconfinement. The government is insane to expect us to go back to work, to put our children in school. They are lying, covering up, incompetent. Likely all three.

Controversy happens at every level of life in France. Not even language is exempt. Case in point: a recent item featured on the 8-oclock news about the correct usage of the word ‘reopen’. Is it, in fact, rouvrir or réouvrir?

“Réouvir,” said my husband, as we watched TV together during lockdown. Ha! I knew the correct answer, having learned it recently enough to remember. Especially as it goes against what I would naturally translate from English.

“No, it’s rourvir,” I said.

“What do you know, you’re not even French!” Clearly, the gloves were off.

Controversy, as I said, is a national sport and it’s also one that flourishes in our marriage. Besides, after several weeks of imposed togetherness, any filter of politeness was lost.

“You’ll see,” I said.

“Rouvir,” said the expert on the nightly news, putting an end to at least one debate in our household. Husband was consoled by the fact that the anglicized ‘réouvrir’ has sufficiently infiltrated his mother tongue that most people get it wrong. Also by the fact that the verb and the noun don’t align. It’s ‘rouvrir’ to reopen, but ‘réouverture’ for reopening.

France began the gradual reopening of the country this week. The lockdown may be over, for now, but the controversy still flourishes. They’re even talking about a second wave, not of the dreaded virus, but something almost as dangerous. Les gilets jaunes are preparing for round two.

I admit I’m somewhat divided about the need for so much debate. On one hand, I admire my fellow countrymen for fighting back. Here in France we all watched aghast as Brexit approached and marvelled at the lack of outrage outre-manche. Clearly our friends in the UK had been sold a bunch of lies and made an ill-informed decision to leave the EU. Yet no one was in the streets. The Brits’ ability to keep calm and carry on, while serving them well in a crisis, borders on apathy when it comes to politics.  

Yet the French are so absorbed in arguing that we have difficulty moving on. The latest polémique is now about whether individual members of the government should be held responsible for mistakes in leading us through the COVID-19 crisis. Did the lack of PPE at the outset of the pandemic lead to healthcare workers losing lives? Clearly. Should our leaders be made to pay? I’m not convinced. Several lawsuits are pending. Time will tell whether they will be found guilty. But given the French need to finger point and the ‘off-with-their-heads’ drive for justice, we will surely be arguing about who is responsible for a long time to come.

All of which makes me long for a dose of peace and harmony.

How do you feel about controversy?

A quelle sauce on sera mangé

With which sauce will we be eaten? This is the question the French have been asking themselves ever since Macron announced that the coronavirus lockdown in France would be lifted starting from May 11. If we all behave ourselves and stay home until then, that is.

The political system in France is based on a President, who makes high-level decisions, and a Prime Minister, who puts them in motion with the ministers in his/her cabinet. The hierarchical nature of such relationships was first made clear to me in an interview with the late French President Jacques Chirac, who, when asked to describe his relationship with his then-Finance Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was famously quoted as saying: “Je décide, il exécute.” (Basically: he does what I tell him).

No one was really surprised when PM Edouard Philippe began presenting his detailed plans for deconfinement with a warning that May 11 could easily be pushed back if there is a spike in new cases before then. Meaning: stay home now or forget about going out again any time soon.

The plan is based on three pillars: protect, test, isolate. It is a phased approach in which schools, stores and most everything else will reopen and get back to business over May and June. As of May 11, people will no longer require a document stating their business when outside home. But we will have to stay within a 100-km radius for now, unless for work or family emergencies. This is to prevent the entire country from racing to the coasts for the May-June long weekends and causing a new wave of COVID-19 to spread.

In the meantime the goal is to step up testing to 700K tests per week. Tracking and tracing through an app is also planned so that any new outbreaks can be contained. Masks will be available, and required in some public places like the trains and métro, although people will have to buy them, a concept that many of my state-reliant fellow citizens find abhorrent.

Restaurants and beaches will remain closed until further notice, probably reopening sometime in July for a later-than-usual holiday period.

All in all, people in France will still have to be patient but there is hope that things will return to a ‘new normal’ by summer.

As sauces go, it could be worse.

There is a consensus among many of the media that France has fucked up in its management of the pandemic. The dearth of masks and hand sanitizer, the earlier confusing messages about whether or not to wear a mask, to go out and vote in municipal elections or stay safely at home — all of these critical points and failures are true. It’s their interpretation that is somewhat open to debate. Yes, our leaders could have handled many things better. But when I look around at what has happened everywhere else in the world, it could also have been a lot worse. It seems this healthcare crisis has exposed the worst cracks in our society at every level, like fault lines in an earthquake. I only hope we will learn from it and that these mistakes will be lessons on how to do things better in the future.

In the end I suppose I’d rather be eaten in a French sauce, even mediocre, than a Chinese or an American one.

Et toi?

Guet-apens

There is something particularly horrifying in the idea of setting a trap or organizing an ambush against those whose job it is to protect us. Yet that is what is happening in our second month of lockdown here in France.

I was horrified to learn in the news yesterday that police are being targeted by groups bored by confinement in the Paris suburbs. The media call such acts ‘guets-apens’ (pronounced the same in plural or singular: get app-on), which means n ambush or trap.

Years ago French urban planning in all its wisdom created many ‘banlieues’ (suburbs) or ‘cités’ (projects or housing estates) around major cities like Paris and Lyon. In what was once thought of as modern, these high-density living areas of apartment towers were built, some not so long ago, around roads and hypermarkets rather than parks and communities. The model was presumably American but it doesn’t translate well. In France these low-income areas are a socio-economic disaster. Chronic unemployment, immigration, gangs: basically it’s the whole gamut of urban decay.

Now, with people stuck indoors, and many out of work, these areas are like a powder keg. And it seems a match has been struck.

I get it. I do. It’s starting to feel like forever since we were allowed to go about our business freely in France. For those crammed in apartments, with little or no access to the outdoors, May 11th is just too far away. There’s some relief in sight: kids will go back to school in waves next month, starting with the youngest classes and finally the lycéens. But it’s not enough to defuse the time bomb of pent-up frustration.

This video pulled from YouTube tells a story of what the police are facing. Here they are the target of mortar fireworks. It follows an earlier incident in which a driver refused to stop for a police check and sped away before abandoning the vehicle and running off, leaving four children alone in the car; thankfully they were not injured but it set off a series of riots.

And it’s not the only incident. In the cités especially north of Paris, bored kids go out on scooters and race around in ‘rodeos’ that drive the neighbours to distraction. This escalates to setting bins and cars on fire. The police are called and voilà…un guet-apens. They are shot at, or get bricks or Molotov cocktails thrown at them. Reinforcements are called in, rubber bullets and tear gas are used. It’s a potentially explosive set of circumstances that could easily escalate into full blown riots at a time when police and hospitals are already stretched to breaking point.

The above incident happened in Grigny last week, a suburb south of Paris. Many years ago when we first moved to France I worked in nearby Evry, a local hub for business, teaching English at Berlitz. It is a pretty area, with a lovely forest (Forêt de Sénart) and convenient access to Paris. We briefly considered settling there before deciding to move south to Lyon, which aside from its obvious charms has its own problems but on a smaller scale.

As we enter our final weeks of this confinement (and who knows if there will be others?), and as the weather gets warmer and temperatures soar, I hope that these incidents will remain unfortunate exceptions and not the beginning of deeper discontent.

It feels like we are all trapped in a guet-apens by this coronavirus. Now more than ever, we need solidarity for those who are suffering from this terrible disease, and especially all those in the police and medical professions who are working so hard to keep us healthy and safe.

How are you feeling?

Torticolis

Stiff neck. Leave it to the French to give it a fancy name!

How can something so much fun to pronounce be so painful to endure? That is the question I’ve been asking myself since being plagued by a stiff neck for the past week.

‘Torticolis’ is the term for a stiff neck in French. I find the French always prefer a highly technical medical term to describe even minor ills: a sore throat is ‘une angine’, an ear infection ‘une otite’, a chest cold ‘une bronchite’ and stomach flu is ‘une gastroentérite’. Note that all such afflictions are feminine in gender. (But that is worthy of another post.)

I am not sure why my neck would choose to play up now. I’ve never had a healthier lifestyle than in the past few weeks of confinement. My workload is low, so no stress there. I’ve been getting lots of sleep, eating healthy home-cooked food and exercising a reasonable amount each day. The only thing I may be doing a bit more than usual is sitting. And looking at my phone. And, come to think of it, worrying about running out of time to do all of the million things I would like to do in life before possibly dying on a respirator.

So maybe I am a bit stressed.

But, unlike the novel coronavirus, there is nothing all that new in this for me. I am a worrier by nature, constantly fighting down negative thoughts. Overall I do pretty well. Stay upbeat and mostly keep the demons away with a good balance of healthy living and therapeutic alcohol.

But back to the torticolis… (Seriously? doesn’t it sound like a fun type of pasta?) It seems I probably have some sort of cervical osteoarthritis, surely exacerbated by being deaf on one side and turning my head all the time to the right. Also sitting in front of a computer and right-side mousing. I spoke to my doctor about this on a video consult yesterday (the only kind he’s doing during the lockdown), which probably didn’t help my neck as I was staring at a screen again. He suggested the possibility of regenerative medicine, and platelet-rich plasma injections.

It certainly sounds promising and I intend to investigate further. While also trying to improve my posture at work, sit less and spend less time online. In the meantime, thanks a million to my friend Meeka for sharing a wonderful video of stretches to help correct forward head posture, along with much helpful info about COVID-19 on her blog.

Hope you are all staying healthy! Anyone else got a pain in the neck, back or other?

Photo by Aidas Ciziunas on Unsplash