Paris Regained

Return to Café Life

July 15, 2020By Nick HammondTales of la Ville
The Place Saint-Georges in Paris’s ninth arrondissement.
The Place Saint-Georges in Paris’s ninth arrondissement.

With the devastation and terrible loss that Covid-19 has wrought across the world, it might seem churlish to bemoan the lot of anglophone lovers of all things Parisian, but communication by Zoom and its equivalents with my British and American friends has vividly reminded me of the hollowness we have all felt at the prospect of a Paris-less summer.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s mishandling of the crisis means that there remains little prospect of Americans being allowed to visit France soon. The marginally more responsible yet still utterly chaotic British response to the virus means that British residents have been allowed to return to Paris at the very moment that the Brexit-obsessed dimwits in the UK government are putting out multimillion-pound advertisements telling British residents like myself that we will have to pay higher rates for travel, medical insurance and data roaming in preparation for the country’s glorious severance of all meaningful ties with Europe.

It felt all the more momentous, therefore, to finally find myself in the Eurostar terminal in London after several months away from Paris. Although I have been there hundreds of times before, the emptiness of the station at a normally busy time and the sight of solitary, socially distanced figures wearing masks gave the whole experience an eerie, unfamiliar air.

Looking across at my fellow passengers awaiting the train, I thought I recognized a friend, but, with his face covered, I wasn’t sure, so I resorted to a little modern-day detective work. Knowing him to be a frequent Tweeter, I was sure he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to announce a Parisian trip to the wider world. Since he had, of course, done so, I was  able with complete assurance to greet him (minus the customary bisous, bien sûr).

I have never lost the sense of wonder at stepping off the train at the Gare du Nord and finding myself right in the middle of Paris, but this time it felt all the more awe-inspiring, despite the noise and pollution that have returned to the city post-lockdown.

I was reassured to see a large number of people wearing face masks in the streets, but subsequent reports of large mask-less crowds viewing the Bastille Day fireworks and the announcement that Disneyland Paris is about to reopen underline the very real dangers of becoming complacent. At that moment, however, as I walked toward my apartment, it was wonderful to see and hear a city that was alive again.

In the early evening, I made my way to one of my favorite spots, the Place Saint-Georges in the ninth arrondissement, and indulged in that ultimate Parisian pastime: enjoying an aperitif and people-watching on a café terrasse. The square was bathed in beautiful early-evening sunlight, and it felt so, so good to be back.

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