To say I’m nervous about Paris’s partial reopening/un-confining tomorrow, May 19, is an oversimplification. I’m extremely excited, pumped, relieved, excited again. I really want to be able to buy some objects in person, look at some arts, or sit at a table when I grab lunch with friends instead of on the ground at a park. But, I’m also nervous.
I wasn’t expecting this to be how I felt on the eve of such an exciting day. I’ve been railing against Macron’s talk-without-walk and pushing of the date for months. But when I discussed dinner plans with a friend yesterday, I noticed a twinge of anxiety as I anticipated the day. I wasn’t feeling total and complete happiness, it had contingencies, little flecks of hesitation muddying the purity I had wanted for the moment.
Full disclosure, I’m kind of a nervous person anyway, all the time, since forever. I’m nervous at work, I’m nervous at parties. I’m nervous at the gym, I’m nervous walking in a straight line. I’m nervous at the store, I’m nervous especially at book stores (because I always think they’re going to think I’m stealing a book and I won’t be able to explain that I’m not because my French is still so bad). So that might help provide a little context for my personal brand of excitement mixed with nervousness–my body may not be capable of much else.
When I try to pinpoint why I’m having the feeling (if you were wondering if I’ve ever been to therapy, now you know), I think the nervousness is tied to two things. The first: the chaos that has to ensue the evening of the 19th. The second: what if it sucks.
To the first: I recall last June when they reopened terrasses in Paris for the first time after THREE months. I was riding my bike home from the 2eme to the 18eme, and as I got further north, the sun set further and further, and the streets began to crawl with more and more ecstatic Parisians. Their enthusiasm for sitting at crowded tables slowly escalated from giddy happiness to almost bacchanalian revelry. Parties spilled onto streets, a hum of laughter and chatter overtook the city. Traffic was halted on narrow streets to favor foot traffic and cafe tables, beer gushed over sidewalks. Honestly, people sat way too close together given that we were in the middle of a pain de mie. It was actually pretty fun to see and I was happy for everyone who was happy.
But that was after just three months of confinement. It’s been over six months now since we last sat at a restaurant, cafe, or bar, or enjoyed a Parisian terrasse. If the level of fervor is in direct proportion to the length of confinement, then we’re looking at at least 2x the energy, maybe even more considering the number of false starts we’ve been given for reopening. (Remember when Macron had initially told everyone January 6?)
Now, I’m not afraid of things getting out of hand, in fact I can’t wait to see it. I want to see utter chaos in the streets, maybe a few fires, I hope to witness French people break out into song. But as an older child who was conditioned to anticipate the reactions of adults to maintain peace in the household, I’m a little worried about how the government might feel about such partying. Let’s say, for example, the case numbers spike after reopening of restaurants, stores, and museums, and they set the curfew back to 7pm or close terrasses again. It sounds unlikely, impossible even, but if you told me in October 2020 we’d still be partially confined in May 2021, I wouldn’t have believed that either.
Anyway, classic anxiety kid worried about the consequences of actions that haven’t even happened yet. But that’s why some of you broke bones playing as children while I was busy reading books and experiencing nirvana by saving my allowance. Joy always has contingencies, some of you are better at living with them than I.
And as to the second: what if it sucks? This is a brand of nervousness I’m a little more proud to own–I feel like it’s a nervousness even those of you who aren’t so naturally nervous can relate to. We’ve been waiting for this day for so many months, I fear it’s become a panacea in the collective Parisian consciousness; once restaurants reopen, life will be good again. We’ve put all of our eggs into the reopening basket, and I wonder at the malaise we all might feel when we wake up on May 20 and our problems still exist.
The good news is that, at least with shops and restaurants open again, we’ll be able to cross “confinement” off the list of things that might be ailing us. Loneliness, boredom, the economy–these won’t be the fault of the lockdown anymore. And any problems leftover after the reopening can be addressed with shopping, eating, drinking, art-looking, hanging out, etc.
Of course, as I conjectured earlier, these might all be the coping techniques of a nervous child, and the real bummer will in fact be fart more practical. Maybe the reopening will suck because I won’t be able to get a table. That’s a risk each of us will face tomorrow, though at this point I’d be just as happy to see a terrasse full of happy people, any people, even if I can’t squeeze in a seat.