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