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United in Paris: A Day in the Covid-19 Life

by Kasia Dietz
An Paris is empty. Photos by Kasia Dietz, taken on a walk through the Haut Marais.

We checked in with our writer in Paris, Kasia Dietz, to see what life is like during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The streets eerily quiet when I head out to buy bread at the local boulangerie, which I'm glad is still open. I pass by the homeless man in his usual spot, promising to bring him a croissant, and smile at a few stray dog walkers along my path. I spy a runner and envy his momentary freedom. The sun shines with the promise of spring, and yet I wonder if we’ll have the chance to enjoy it. Today marks day nine of official lockdown in Paris, with social distancing the new normal in a city where bises flew as freely as migratory birds.

Because I’m a writer and designer and was already used to working from home, my business day proceeds much as it used to — and I am grateful to have work.

Everywhere in France, all non-essential businesses are closed. Parisians are only permitted outside to buy groceries, to visit a doctor or pharmacy, or for quick exercise no farther than one kilometer from home. When I do leave, I have to sign and date an official government form stating why I’m out. The note is mandatory, as police are standing guard and checking. This does not stop us from living what has begun to feel like a familiar life, as social connections become stronger than ever. Picking up still-warm baguettes for my husband, who now works from home, I rush back, not for dinner (that can wait) but for a dance class.

My lockdown days end with pliés and kick-ball-changes at 5 p.m., led by fellow New Yorker and dancer Michael Pereira, who I met when he arrived in Paris five years ago, bringing Broadway to Paris. His free daily Facebook Live class alternates between ballet and Broadway jazz. Afterwards, if I need an extra cardio kick, I join a class led by another recent New York transplant, ballerina and yoga instructor Julie Granger, who opened The Studio in the Haut Marais neighborhood on March 2. (I don't think her business plan included the complimentary classes she now offers daily.) As I try to keep up alongside classmates in Italy, Ireland, Spain, France, Poland, United States, Canada, and Egypt, I forget about the state of the world, thinking only that we are all united in dance.

It’s time for our 8 p.m. nightly ovation. Windows all over Paris open wide to a symphony of applause in honor of the medical workers risking their lives to save those at risk. The sweat from my brow mixes with tears as I feel an overwhelming sense of unity in my adopted city. I suspect this is how the Italians feel while serenading their healthcare workers every night since their own lockdown began. My husband’s family is among them.

My eyes glued to the local news, I take comfort in the pledge of the French government to support small businesses and compensate the nation’s countless unemployed during this uncertain period. I breathe a sigh of relief for expat friends who have contributed in weaving the cultural thread of Parisian life, like cooking school La Cuisine Paris, coffeeshop Loustic, and favorite eateries Holybelly and Café Mericourt, among many others.

My spirit is lifted as I learn that luxury and beauty brands Louis Vuitton and L’Oreal ceased regularly scheduled production to make hand sanitizer for French hospitals, a rare commodity these days. Just today, the LVMH group delivered 10 million masks to medical workers. Wine and spirits giant Pernod Ricard is donating 70,000 liters of alcohol for the production of hand gel. Even Disneyland Paris is offering a helping hand, donating 15 tons of food to local charities.

When it’s time to make dinner, I open one of the cookbooks by Francophile chef friends Laura Calder and David Lebovitz that had been collecting dust. It’s a good time to remember the things I took for granted, that I thought I could get around to one day.

I check the website of the Paris Opera. Which free online performance will we watch tonight? I’m hoping it’s Don Giovanni, but if not, I can wait.

Find more resources, relief, and recommendations in our Travel During Coronavirus coverage.