Well, to recap... Part II


Going through so many memories, trying to sort them out one year later is a painful process. I have done this several times in my life  so why is it so distressing now? Is it because one whole year went by and yet we see no end to it all? Is it because I went into such a strict personal reclusion that it ends up feeling like life imprisonment? Or is it just proof that I am terribly scarred by the experience?

April 2020

This is not a joke. I wish it were. One thing that really struck me during the string of lockdowns and restrictions and mainly after the first official lockdown was that I was seriously loosing points of reference. SP was teaching (remote) so it helped a little bit but otherwise I would wake up in the morning wondering which day it was and the day would sometimes end without any reassurance. I am still working on the issue, one year later.

I should have started to write about our (rather boring) daily life but I was feeling so terribly exhausted all the time. Sometimes quite unable to get up from the warm embrace of my favorite armchair. It made sense though since my nights were filled with anxiety and nightmares. And anger too, not knowing what was really going on and who/what was managing our daily life. In retrospect, it really felt somehow easier to fight a recurring cancer and its many side effects. At least I was somehow in charge and fighting. Well, yes, I am going mental.

So April was “Waiting for Godot”… (You probably have heard this expression from Samuel Beckett’s eponymous play which describes people waiting for something to happen, which never happens.) 

Days went by. The end of lockdown kept being postponed. We kept Skyping with Rasima. The weather kept being extremely warm and sunny. Our garden kept getting dazzlingly coloured. Birds kept singing, louder and louder because it was nesting time. Our friends kept sending pictures from a very empty Paris. And we were still kept in.

Our gardeners called us one morning. They had bought the small company from Yves in January and not being able to work was a disaster for them. They were allowed to work outside though but nobody was willing to let them into their garden.

Lucky them! In January, a family of coypus had invaded our pond and our garden. Heartless as we were, they had been (lawfully) trapped and disposed of, because of the very real threat of leptospirosis (which at the time sounded like the most dreadful disease ever). The pond needed to be emptied, cleaned up thoroughly, boulder after boulder, and damages fixed up. Coypus saved a business and it was so nice to wave to human beings whenever we’d catch sight of one of them.

May 2020

The fruit trees were rapidly way past their flowering time and had turned leafy. We felt a flutter of excitement when the first butterfly landed on a "paper plant". Our eldest Wollemi pine went through a sudden reproductive boost, a first for us. Lockdown was not totally negative after all. But its efforts were rather unproductive. It did try though and we were fascinated by the cones, female and male.

Day after day, the sea below was a dream for seafaring men and women like me. Not a single wavelet from morning till dusk. Clear blue skies. Warm weather. I, Olive, declare I could have sailed around the world and loved every minute of it.

Our hair was growing so fast and so long… and so unruly.

Early May, a huge military plane flew right by our house, so low that we worried it’d end up crashing on the beach. The next day, we learnt it was coming back from Brest. They had flown intubated Covid patients from Paris because there was still room for them there and none in the Paris area. Impressive and very frightening.

So we were still waiting for the presidential speech that would somehow free us. We had been told to make masks that would be compulsory at the end of lockdown, following official guidelines. One question? How do you make masks when it is quite impossible to buy elastics or fabric even on Amazon… Ordering on line should not have been a problem. We had become used to ordering food and almost everything online. Delivery was efficient and fast.

I started making masks using whatever I could find in what used to be our holiday home… I became a crack seamstress, recycling T-shirts and summer skirts elastics! We needed to be ready!

And then one day, it did happen… May 11th - we were free but not all of France and our activities were still quite restricted. Some beaches opened up on the 16th but only to go on walks. We were getting less confined but still "at war". Our first walk on our beloved beach was very scary… We would have walked extra miles to avoid getting close to other people.

I mean I would have walked miles to avoid people but I couldn’t. Walking again on a regular basis proved rather hard and painful after missing out so many months of physiotherapy. Thank goodness for crutches… But actually it didn’t take too long before the crutches were simply carried around for safety reasons and my leg got stronger and stronger.

 Very soon we started feeling less threatened on the beach. Strong and coldish winds started to blow at the right time, deterring crowds from invading our beach!


And then what?  

...To be continued…

Good Night, and Good Luck


Well, to recap... Part I




                                     © Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, Belgium


 The way I see it now, 2020 is at first glance our top “annus horribilis”. Then with hindsight it turns out to be the year we will remember with bewilderment and sideration even (mentally speaking) but also with some kind of fascination. Some of us almost didn’t make it and some of us did not survive. It was a year of discovering our friends and fellow human beings the way they really were. Some very generous. Some extremely egocentric. Some very wise and others so wildly insane. It was like being thrown back to very olden times so well depicted by masters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder or El Bosco… in plague times or war.

The previous year - 2019 - had not been a very easy year. I had spent most of it trying to learn to survive (or not) with a very “exhausted” heart and mending broken bones (without surgery nor cast). But on the positive side, this was also the year when our son got engaged to the most delightful young woman ever with a wedding planned for 2020. Actually two weddings - one in February in France and one in India in April. It had also been the year he chose to leave the US to become a happy and proud academic in a country probably bound to leave Europe pretty soon (but there was still hope then). On our side, we were planning to leave Brussels behind forever and get settled in a house we had fallen in love with and bought in Paris.

So yes 2020 was going to be a very happy and fulfilling year.

January 2020

The first day of the year was a very cloudy and cold day in Brittany but I didn’t care because I knew that within four days I’d be in London with my son and I’d spend one great week in museums, the Barbican Centre (“As You Like It”) and one night at the opera (“The Traviata”) with P. who would join us to help me choose my dresses for the Indian wedding.

Once there, I stayed in my beloved hotel in London (after one whole year away for the first time in six years due to my health problems). And once there, they did spoil me, upgrading me to the grandest suite they have, befittingly called the Opera Suite!

Then back to Paris for one day and back to Brittany to welcome our couple in love. They spent a few days at Les Tertres to get all the paperwork done for their French wedding in the lovely city hall of our village, mid-February. And then they went back to London where R. had to attend a workshop and discover her future home.

P. and I went back to Brussels. We had officially denounced our lease and we needed to hire movers, a very easy thing ever after all. The worst part being all we needed to sort after spending 22 years in the same place, amassing so much stuff!

We already knew a weird and possibly deadly virus was going around but we did not feel too worried. We had been through so many bad “bugs” throughout all these years and all of them had been stopped short.

February 2020

We were still in Brussels when on the 4th, we learned that people had been hospitalised with Covid-19 in Belgium, just like in France and Italy. Our Chinese friends in Brussels sounded very worried about it, though, because of a city called Wuhan. Well, Wuhan was in China and a long way away.

We worked hard and we did a lot of worthwhile sorting out and by the 11th of February, we were ready to go back to Brittany. Exhausted but rather satisfied. One or two more weeks in March and we’d be ready to let professionals do their job!

The civil wedding was programmed on the 15th. It would be a very simple thing since it was to be followed by a very traditional 3-days Indian wedding in Delhi.

Attending in Brittany would be the parents (us!) and two witnesses for the groom, and the bride's parents, her brother, sister-in-law and young niece.

We went to pick them up at the Lamballe train station on the 14th. Valentine’s day.

That very day, the first Covid-19 patient died in France.

The bride was arriving directly from Delhi, India, along with her parents. Her brother and family had been flying from Melbourne, Australia. The groom was coming from London and we had been travelling from Brussels to Brittany via Paris. But all this took some time to sink in.

The wedding was perfect, so different from a regular civil wedding in India where you just pop into an office, sign papers and that’s it.

The mayor wearing his impressive official sash officiated at the wedding (we were told it was a great honour). I stood by him to translate the whole ceremony in English. It was quite an experience to stand opposite the bride and groom, witnesses and family members. Watching feelings and emotions on their faces while trying not to get too emotional to deliver a good translation.


(The happy lawfully wedded couple holding their "livret de famille" - the official family record book containing registration of the wedding, births and deaths)

They all left the following day, back to their own homes and work places. The bride needed to get her French papers processed in India and we were all to meet again in less than two months for the Indian wedding. The married couple would then fly back to London to start their lawful wedded life!

We stayed a few more days in Brittany. I needed to rest. Happiness can be very exhausting sometimes.

Back in Brussels, we finalized our move. It would last one whole week and would start on the 23rd of March.   

Then back to Paris driving across a very snowy Northern France.

March 2020

SP was waiting for us in Paris. He had meetings at the UNESCO but he found time to go buy his suits for the wedding. He was very worried about weird happenings in his department. Colleagues getting very sick with extremely strange symptoms, a few leading to some kind of pneumonia.

Some parts of France and Belgium (and other European countries) were already hit hard by this new plague. ICUs were filling up but what can you tell people when there were no masks and no disinfectant available other than soap? So life was going on in a superb lack of concern. Hard to fear what you don’t really know…

We went back to Belgium to get some more work done to prepare the move. An old woman died in the hospital close to our house. The first Covid-19 death in Belgium. “People die from the flu every winter”, said the government.

We started being more careful, trying to avoid close contact with people. We were rather ready to move and we went back to Paris where on the 10th, our Indian family wished us a “Happy Holi” via WhatsApp. We made our flight reservations and got all the papers ready for our visa.

On the 11th, late at night, we got a phone call from friends who would be attending the Indian wedding celebration. They just couldn’t finalize their visa applications on the Indian government website. They kept getting a message: “Please get in touch with the nearest Indian Embassy”. India had suddenly gone into lockdown.

On the 13th, SP came back from London because he had meetings scheduled in Paris. We went to pick him up at the station. There only were a handful of travellers in the Eurostar.

The following day, British universities closed down. Online teaching would be the trend unless…

I had a cancer and a cardio check-up scheduled at the hospital. It was very creepy. Empty waiting rooms. Doctors wearing masks. No handshakes. Social distancing. They all told me: “Go away. Go to Brittany and stay there. Be very careful. “This” one is a real killer.”

So off we went. The three of us. After packing the car with whatever we thought would be needed for a few weeks. While on our way, we got a phone call from our daughter-in-law. The Indian wedding was postponed sine die. She would stay in lockdown with her parents in their apartment up in the sky close to Delhi, working remote.

On the 17th of March, France entered a lockdown that was supposed to last two weeks, said President Macron. Everything came to a standstill. All stores (except foodstores) and every venue dealing with customers closed. Beaches and parks and forests were out of reach. We were allowed to take a "one hour walk outside" per day - individually or only members of the household - and no further than 2 kms away from home (round trip) after filling a very precise form. And there were forms to be filled every time we’d go get food or medicine, etc. No form and you'd get a fine. In a eco-friendly system, those forms could be filled using an app which most people refused to use anyway since most felt they would be spied upon by the government. But the birth of those conspiracy theories didn’t prevent them to vent their feelings on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the said phones.



We felt very lucky to be at Les Tertres. It was not very warm but extremely sunny. The orchard was blooming. Due to lockdown, there were no other sounds than the songs of the birds, the wind in the trees and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach down below. Not one single sound of so-called civilization. No planes in the sky. No boats on the sea. No cars on the roads. A perfect time to meditate, to calm down and to start planning our new life.

Planning. Who was even trying to start planning whatever would become our life once lockdown would be over? We were in the harshest lockdown, not knowing much about the new plague and not at all equipped to face it. And even more, not even knowing if or when the lockdown would end. Dreary news from all over the world. 

But we had the will to survive. So we followed the rules very strictly. Our friends sent us pictures of Paris, so eerily empty and silent. We sent them pictures of the empty beach below and of empty skies with no white trails of planes. We also sent them recordings of bird songs and pictures of wild animals (hares and deers) that took to roaming around the house.


And we started waiting, our lives brought to a standstill. Hearing about friends getting sick. Hearing about friends just barely surviving and friends dying alone in places that used to be so close but which were now out of reach. Waiting for news. One day at a time. One day at a time.

(You have probably guessed by now that we did not move from Brussels to Paris in March. The flu that was definitely not the flu closed borders and started series of lockdowns that by the way are not over yet... but this is to be continued...)



 Good Night, and Good Luck