Day 8, Monday, March 23
It seems like day 108, not Day 8, but I suspect that’s how most of us must feel being isolated. The first thing that happened today was an emailed dressing down from the editor about being too frivolous at such a desperate time. “Just write about how your week was, and leave the clever stuff to me,” is what he seemed to be saying. Anyway, we live at opposite ends of the municipality and he can only be remotely unpleasant, assuming he can find a wifi connection, that is.
I hear my neighbours’ children playing loudly in the street, something that would have irritated me eight days ago. But now I see their shouting as an affirmation of life. If my time is soon up, there’ll be lots of young people to take over, and at least in this part of the world they don’t have Australian accents.
Day 9, Tuesday, March 24
My wifi connection is better at mealtimes, I’ve noticed, from about noon until two in the afternoon and from about five minutes past six until they put their TVs on again.
The French are so very good at two things that spring to mind, and one of them is eating. I hear the clatter of plates through the wall. And the tinkle of wine glasses. So far there’s been no evidence of the other thing.
Day 10, Wednesday, March 25
Yes, yes, yes!
It came to me in a flash. I would buy eggs and boil them, one at a time. That will take up 20 minutes every day, what with the cleaning of the saucepan, the running of the water, the bringing of the water to the boil, the careful placing of a perfect brown egg in the centre of the pan, eight minutes on the boil, and five more minutes to eat it. These everyday 20 minutes make up about one percent of my waking hours. If I’m cooped up here for one hundred days, that’s one entire day taken care of.
It’s also my wife’s payday, so I can go down to Marche U and buy eggs and a decent bottle of Saint Emilion. I’ll tell her it was for cleaning materials.
Day 11, Thursday, March 26
I read somewhere that there may be a connection between being on the large side and becoming ill with coronavirus. Make a note to give up the Tartes aux Fruits, starting next week.
More robust people are often very amusing, look at Laurel and Hardy, for example, and Alfred Hitchcock, without whom Grace Kelly might never have stepped foot in Monaco.
The news about the virus gets worse and worse. So many lives lost. Several times a day I choke up with emotion. It hasn’t yet dawned on me that I can bawl my eyes out and no-one will ever know.
Day 12, Friday, March 27
Tomorrow it will be the weekend. Have used up all the eggs. Resolve to go to Carrefour to see if they have any tomato plants. Then all I’ll need is some soil and a few pots and those green sticks that stop them falling over. Everyone is very kind. I stagger a bit approaching the checkouts and a young man immediately comes to help me take the eggs and other items out of my chariot. I bought a hydrangea instead of tomato plants, as they had hydrangeas but no tomatoes. Not even seedlings. It already has a pot.
Things don’t look good in the States. I’m sure the country will be the worst hit. When I lived in California – no, hang on, this is quite interesting and relevant – I twisted my ankle quite badly. I went to the hospital for the first time in nine years. They offered me a seat, not because of my swollen foot but because the first thing you need to do is pay them. I wrote them a cheque for 175 dollars and hoped it wouldn’t bounce. I was invited to hobble through to an examination room. A doctor came and spoke to me, for about 45 seconds. He advised me to get some crutches and then he left. Somehow I drove the Chevvy Monte-Carlo back to my small apartment, crawled up the steps and thought no more of it. The trip to the hospital, that is. Two days later a bill came from the doctor. I remonstrated on the telephone, and I told them that this was like going out to eat and then, later, getting an invoice from the chef. “Sir,” they said, “if you don’t pay we’ll ruin your credit.” They did. Within weeks I’d moved back to Europe to ruin my credit in less heartless surroundings.
Day 13, Saturday, March 28
I’d love to say the day passed in a flash. But it didn’t. I rearranged the rubbish, so the plastic pots can be put in one thing and the empty wine bottles in a different thing. The egg shells I take to a different dumpster altogether. I am afraid the news from the medical front gets worse, not better.
Day 14, Sunday, March 29
I remembered to put the clocks forward an hour, which means that today will be one hour shorter than yesterday. I didn’t need to put the clock forward, of course, because my smartphone and my laptop did it for me. But the intention was there.
There are still so many things I can do with all the time that’s so suddenly available. Finish one of the three novels I started 20 years ago, for example. And I won’t, of course, which means that I never intended to finish them anyway. I will die unpublished!
Connect to the internet while the neighbours eat. I don’t have a problem with words, usually, except perhaps I use too many, but there is a certain UK politician I can find no words for at all. But I’ll try. His 11 year-old face, stuck in puberty’s no mans land, stared out at me from the front page of a newspaper I won’t identify because, dear reader, you will pigeon-hole me as a bleeding heart liberal. Swear I’m not.
In case you missed it he’s blamed the Chinese for not alerting the West to the seriousness of their Wuhan epidemic, never mind the fact they made everyone huddle indoors for a few weeks under very strict orders and now they’ve sorted it. And they had tests. And they had gloves. And they had face masks. And goggles. Perhaps he thinks the Chinamen are getting their own back for the Opium Wars Britain inflicted. There’s no way of knowing what’s going on in that skull of his, except it would be so much more reassuring to know that all the materials and safety equipment that doctors and nurses need, and test kits, were available where they were needed.
I am so happy I left two weeks ago. And I’m never going back, except to collect my family, and dog, and pack.
…to be continued for longer than we would like
PHOTO: The tarte aux fruits, the biggest enjoyment there is without removing one’s clothes
Jeff Daniel’s contributions are published in the interests of editorial diversity, and any views expressed are not necessarily those of the publishers.