Last week as we prepared one of our final, self-isolating dinners at home in Toronto, Philippe scrolled through his emails. “Walid wants to know if we’ll join him at a soirée dansante at the golf club,” he said.
A dinner dance at a golf club? I nearly broke into hives. My husband’s buddy was anxious for our return to Antibes this summer. I put down my paring knife. “You can’t be serious,” I said. Was he?
“Walid says his wife will go if you go.”
“We’re going to Antibes for the change in scenery, not a change of lifestyle!” I picked up my knife and started chopping again.
The pandemic has turned me into a hermit. The world is in the middle of the biggest social and economic upheaval in modern history, and the rule has been to keep your distance. As I learned these ropes in Toronto, my version of living on the edge became a socially distanced, BYO cocktail in our garden, with me providing the Lysol wipes.
Over the past few months, I’ve been oddly okay with the volume nearly on mute. Writers can thrive in solitude and often have enough slow-burn projects to last a decade. Our 15-year-old daughter Lolo has missed her friends but remained oddly okay with Toronto’s online schooling situation. Yoko, the miniature poodle, was confused by our continual presence and, not so oddly, very okay with our luggage remaining locked in the hallway closet. Philippe has been our troublemaker. To occupy himself during our months of social distancing, he walked hundreds of kilometers and put together thousands of puzzle pieces. Life improved drastically once the golf course reopened, but still it wasn’t enough.
At the onset of the pandemic, we mourned the loss of Antibes, our habitual summer home for 15 years. The Côte d’Azur is our normal. It would be weird if we didn’t show up in June. Instead, we drank (almost) nightly rosé piscines in our Toronto garden. Philippe (when he wasn’t walking, puzzling, or golfing) even baked a decent batch of choquettes, France’s answer to Timbits and donut holes, just nicer.
Friends from Antibes sent photos of our summer home, Bellevue, its red roofing tiles glowing in the sunshine as the pink lauriers bloomed with unusual splendor. These folks kept us apprised of the local situation as the pandemic played out. It had started as a trickle. Some locals indisciplinés ignored distancing guidelines, prompting closure of the beaches. Shortly afterward, the whole country had shut down. Leaving your residence required a printed and self-signed attestation that disclosed your name, date and place of birth (naturellement), home address, exact time of leaving your home, and reason for being out. Except for essential work, medical appointments, and the like, you had a daily hour and a kilometer to play with. Policing was strict (at the start, at least), and the fines were steep. A black cat, we heard, had meanwhile moved into our garden. The neighbouring harbormaster wasn’t happy, but if we couldn’t use Bellevue, we rejoiced from Toronto that at least something could.
And then – ready or not – the world opened up a bit. As I fluttered between excitement and anxiety over our delayed return to Antibes this season, a wise Toronto friend reminded me: Travelling in the middle of a pandemic is a privilege. Hear, hear. First, we are Canadians; happily, I’d battled the paperwork last year to expand my American citizenship. Second, we had the means to travel, and to do so in relative safety. Third, Lolo’s summer science class – the one that originally was going to wipe out the majority of our summer season in Antibes – moved online. By some great alchemy, we arrived in Antibes – and earlier than we had expected this season!
In this same breath, a gros merci to each cherished French Lessons reader who has sent an email during these past months, or has shouted up the driveway from a socially distanced walk. I’m grateful for the encouragement to continue this summer blog, no matter on which side of the ocean I found myself.
A few days after I had nixed the soirée dansante, Philippe had another proposal. We were packing our final things while Yoko slinked moodily between the outstretched luggage. “Walid’s inviting us to a party at their place on the 14th!” he said. “It’s the fête nationale!”
“We’re going to Antibes for the change of scenery, not a – “
“They’ve invited 10 couples – all good people! He says we have to come!”
What was it The Economist magazine had just written? Oh, yes: “You may have lost interest in the pandemic. It has not lost interest in you.”
Fortunately – or sadly? – there is no quarantine for us now that we have arrived in France. Signs at Nice Airport encouraged people to stay one meter apart. What happened to Toronto’s two? The local radio jabbers on about face masks. Where are they? Coming out of lockdown, Antibes’ beaches had been a model of respectability. A friend had sent photos! But as we drove into town toward our beloved Bellevue, the local beach throbbed with teens celebrating the end of their brevet exams, and everyone else.
After a first, disrupted sleep, Walid’s wife sent me a voicemail. “Come to the party! You must come! No handshakes. No kisses!”
What happened to two – I mean one – meter?
She promised she understood. They had hibernated for five weeks. They never went out. “But France is open now. You get used to people quickly. You will see!”
Can I bring my own cocktail and tape measure, and you lay on the Lysol wipes?