Rain drops splatter on the ground as I cross a bridge over the Seine and set foot on the Left Bank. It’s a cold and bleak December day in Paris and I’m attempting to visit the Edgar Degas exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay for the second day in a row. The day prior I arrived to find the museum unexpectedly closed, another unannounced victim of a transportation strike that will grow to be the country’s largest in three decades.
While strikes are all too common in French life, this particular strike is more drastic than most. Transportation workers are protesting changes to the national pension system and virtually all modes of transportation have ground to a halt. From airplanes and trains to the metro and buses, the majority of drivers are on strike. In Paris only two of 16 metro lines operate – the two automatic lines that don’t require drivers. Many drivers are also taking to the streets in angry groups to protest near government buildings and tourist attractions.
The interruptions and furor over President Macron’s proposed changes have cast a cloudy glow over my time in Paris. I’m here for work and meetings that are usually upbeat and jubilant are filled with an aura of foreboding as worries over the duration and intensity of the strikes grow.
The gloom carries into the weekend long after all meetings have ended. I had planned to spend a weekend enjoying the city with my good friend from Italy, but with flights canceled and transportation to the city center ground to a halt, the tires in our girlfriend getaway have been deflated and I’m left to pass a wintry weekend alone.
At many chapters in my life the prospect of a solo weekend in Paris would have filled me with glee. But in December 2019 I feel only ennui as the 48 hours that remain in my visit to France stare back at me like the slow moving hands of a ticking clock. Had I known that this would be my last international trip before coronavirus changed the world forever would I have tried harder to brush away these downcast feelings? (more…)