My very last international trip before the global pandemic hit churned with upheaval. I arrived in France in December of 2019 amidst rain storms and the start of the country’s largest transportation strike in three decades. With nearly all metro, bus and even air travel ceasing operations my grand plans of enjoying the city after a business trip ground to a halt.
Despite the disruptions to travel and blustery skies, my friend Lucie, a Paris local, swooped into the rescue, helping me find light in the darkness over live music and beef bourguignonne at Le François Felix. Two nights later Lucie and her partner François welcomed me to their apartment for a dinner party. Wine and conversation flowed over fondu and buche de noel filling me with such a warm feeling of belonging. Moments like this in harmony with friends and strangers are what I miss most about pre-pandemic life.
Life in France during the COVID-19 Pandemic
This Week We’re Talking To:
Lucie Merieux, France
Lucie Merieux is a marketing consultant and avid traveler who lives in Paris. We first met while working for a travel marketing agency in Los Angeles, connecting over our mutual deep love of exploring the world. Read on for our letter from lockdown conversation to learn what life has been like in France during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How would you describe your life before the pandemic hit?
As you know I love traveling as much as you do! Before the pandemic we went to Slovenia for my birthday and then spent two weeks in the US where we had the chance to see each other! (This was 3 weeks before covid hit us in France). We were so lucky to be able to do these trips before all of this. I travel a lot for work too, before covid I was traveling every week, now we do everything remotely which is way more challenging.
What has life been like in France during the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Then during the summer there were no measures anymore, things got a bit crazy in my point of view and we were able to travel for holidays. We went to Zakynthos in Greece (lucky us again!) It was just amazing, we felt like having the entire island just for ourselves, no tourists! A huge breath of fresh air before coming back to France and facing a second lockdown. This second lockdown was less strict, we were able to go out 3 hours a day 20km around your place so we could walk around Paris easily.
Since that second lockdown which started in November everything is closed: cinema, restaurants, museums… So there is not that much to do culturally speaking but we love just to go outside and walk in the capital. It’s amazing how this period helps you to reconnect with simple things.
In terms of work, I’ve been working from home since March 2020, going back to the office only couple times. I’m currently working partially, I have all my Fridays off until April in order for the company to try to get back on track economically speaking. But I’m lucky enough to be well protected in France and by my company and have my full salary secured, so I don’t complain at all.
In your opinion what have been the successes of your country during the pandemic? What could have gone better?
You know that French people like to complain a lot and go on strike for anything ahah so if you ask this question to anybody here they would probably tell you that the French government dealt very badly with the pandemic but I disagree. I think they did the best they could, learning from their mistakes, readapting when necessary. Right now they do everything they can to avoid a third lockdown (we currently have a curfew from 6pm to 6am) but I’m really worried about the economy of the country and small businesses which are suffering a lot from this. I’m not sure how restaurants and local stores will get out from this pandemic.
I’m not sure what we could have done better to be honest except react faster back in March where we knew it was about to hit us in order for the hospital to be more prepared. Every country dealt with the pandemic differently I don’t think any of them did it perfectly and I think in France we were not the worst but I think now it’s time for us to learn how to live with it and be responsible.
This has been a very difficult time for everyone around the world. What strategies have you used to get through the days?
I decided to take advantage of the time, to get the positive out of all of this, to focus on myself, my family, my friends. I’ve been practicing yoga and pilates since the first lockdown to stay in shape as it was hard to go out and run in circle within your 1km ahah. I’ve cooked a lot, even more than before so I let you imagine! I also watched lots of Youtube videos of travelers and van life, and this gave me new ideas when all of this is over.
I also had the chance not to be in this lockdown alone but with François, my partner, with whom we played a lot at board games. He is the most relaxed person I know so going through the pandemic with him by my side couldn’t be easier!
Nature has been very healing to me during the pandemic. What is your favorite natural attraction near you?
As I said earlier, we have a huge and beautiful forest by our apartment where we spent a lot of time during the lockdowns. Nature has this magical power to help you forget everything that is happening around you and just refocus on yourself. I’ve always been a nature lover but even more right now. Every time we can we leave the capital with our little car and travel around the country looking for the best nature spot, getting out of the craziness of the city. I miss the US National parks for this!
I’ve also been spending more time in the kitchen. If there’s one recipe or dish from your culture that you’d recommend others try to feel like they are traveling what would it be?
Cooking, another life saver for me during this pandemic ahah I’m not French for nothing I think! My mother always loved cooking and I got it from her. I can spend hours in the kitchen preparing pastries, chocolates, macarons, bread, meals.
During the pandemic I’ve learned how to bake my own bread! That’s funny how French people took advantage of this time to try to make their own bread. During the first lockdown supermarkets were out of stock of flour! I’ll share my bread recipe with you (I’m sorry this sounds so cliché ahah):
French Bread Recipe
- Mix the flour with the salt
- Mix the baker’s yeast with a bit of warm water
- Pour the water and baker’s yeast of the flour, slowly mix it with your hands. My little secret is to add sesame seeds or poppy seeds, it gives an amazing taste!
- Put the bread dough on your kitchen counter and knead the dough for 5 to 7mn to make it more elastic
- Put back the dough in your bowl, cover it with a towel and let it grow for at least 1 or 2 hours. It should double in size.
- Shape the bread with a bit of flour on your hands, put it on a baking tray and let it grow again for 30mn. You can leave it in one piece or shape small individual breads.
- Put the bread in the oven 240°C, it has to be humid so you can spread some water on your bread with a brush.
- Depending on your oven the bread should be cooked within 20-25mn approximately. To check if it’s well cooked you can slap the back of the bread, it has to sound hollow.
For me the pandemic has been a time to reflect on the aspects of my own culture that may not serve a balanced life. Are there any aspects from your culture that have helped you cope with this pandemic?
What helped me face this pandemic in peace is to know that I’m well protected in France and by my company specifically, no salary loss even if we don’t work full time for example. But also an important health protection that is more than ever essential.
Are there any revelations you’ve had about life during the pandemic?
During this time more than ever I’ve realized that I feel more and more the need to reconnect to nature and to what is really necessary. We live in a consumer society in which I feel like I’m suffocating sometimes. Everything we do has an impact on our planet creating huge pandemic and taking the lives of millions of people.
It’s essential for all of us to realize that we have the power to stop all of this, to live better, to respect everything that was given to us and to stop craving for more. We don’t need all of this to be happy. It’s the perfect time to refocus and to question ourselves on what we can do to leave a better world to the next generations.
I would definitely recommend to watch the last documentary from Yann Arthus Bertrand, Legacy – our heritage, for a full picture of what’s happening in the world.
How have you been staying creative during lockdown?
Francois and I launched our YouTube Channel and Instagram page during the first quarantine. It’s called Cap Archipel and it’s a collection of videos of all our trips we’ve done so far, in France, Europe and even overseas. Some great adventures are coming in 2021 in France and hopefully abroad, we cross our fingers so make sure to follow us if you want to travel even from home 😉 We might launch a website soon, stay tuned!
When it’s safe to travel what are the top things you recommend someone do in your region of France?
About Letters From Lockdown
As we approach the year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic it becomes more and more evident that, despite the promise of vaccines, life won’t be returning to normal anytime soon. The world has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, the depths of which will only continue to unravel as time marches on.
What I’ve missed most about traveling this past year has been the opportunity travel presents to connect with people from other cultures. In living a locked down life in California I’ve found that as the bubble of humans I interact with has shrunk, so too has my worldview. It’s been easy to sink into an existence where the issues that concern me are hyper-local, or at least confined to the United States. It’s been easy to get lost inside myself and forget that there’s a whole world out there beyond my doorstep with people who have been impacted by the global health crisis in ways similar and yet different to me.
With this in mind I’m pleased to launch Letters from Lockdown, a new series of interviews where I reconnect with people who impacted me in my travels and hear what life has been like for them and their home towns during this unprecedented chapter in history.