France lockdown: A report from a beautiful prison

Today is jour 46 of the France lockdown. Forty-six days of confinement.

I detoured to Nice on my way to Italy in March, hoping to avoid the worst of it. But a few days later, covid-19 slammed France with unexpected ferocity, and the entire country turned into a red zone.

Today my rented apartment in the Jean Médecin district is a cage. French police and military patrol the streets. My three teenage kids and I are only allowed out of the house for an hour a day.

Curfew starts at 8 p.m.

How did I end up trapped in the France lockdown?

How did we end up here? That’s a question I ask almost every morning while I’m pacing my cell.

This was supposed to be our last trip as a family before my oldest son left for graduate school. I had planned a year-long adventure to show the kids the Europe I grew up in. I wanted them to hike the Alps with me, to see the Colosseum in Rome, to eat a krapfen at my favorite Kaffeehaus in Vienna. And I could keep writing and since my kids are home-schooled, they could continue their education while we were abroad.

And for the first two months in Lisbon and Porto, it worked. But then, on the train from Barcelona to Marseille, we learned that Italy had closed. I made a snap decision to reroute to the Côte d’Azur and rented an apartment on Vrbo for the rest of the month.

How the France lockdown happened

In Nice, the museums closed shortly after we checked in. The next week, bars and restaurants shut down. Then the mayor tested positive for covid-19. And within a few days, the city went from a vibrant Mediterranean tourist destination to a police state.

France is one of Europe’s coronavirus hot spots, with more than 159,000 cases. You can’t leave your apartment without an attestation — a signed form that states you are buying groceries, exercising or going to work. You can print the form, write the information on a piece of paper or create an electronic document on your phone. If authorities catch you more than a kilometer away from your residence when you’re out walking, you’re looking at a fine of between 38 and 135 euros, or about $41-$146 in U.S. dollars.

“There are worse places to be stuck,” a friend texted me after we arrived.

France lockdown
French troops patrol the streets of Nice during the France lockdown. The military was deployed as part of Operation Sentinelle after the 2015 terrorist attacks; they have stepped up their presence during the covid-19 outbreak.

Trapped with three teens

Well, that depends on your circumstances. I’m in an apartment with three teenagers. The boys (ages 15 and 17) are taking online classes at the University of Arizona. They’re also learning several languages, including Portuguese, Spanish, French and Japanese. My daughter, 13, is in ninth grade and works with an online tutor four days a week.

When we talk, it’s about what we’ll do after this ends. Should we return to the States? Or stay in Europe as planned, finishing our journey?

The best part about being trapped in an apartment with adolescents is that you never run out of food. They’re constantly at the nearby Monoprix supermarket replenishing our supply of cereal, fruit and fresh baguettes. Teenagers are like hummingbirds, eating twice their weight in a day. That’s only a slight exaggeration.

The worst part? No, it’s not the eye rolls and the “Dad, you just don’t get it,” responses to every other question. The worst part is not knowing whether their in-ear headsets are on. To find out, just ask them a question. Silence means the headsets are blasting music or language lessons.
The kids aren’t afraid of getting caught outside. Their paperwork is always in order and they quickly adjusted to the strict social distancing rules. Also, their French is much better than mine.

France lockdown
A sign greeting shoppers at the Monoprix grocery store in Nice explains the steps it is taking to prevent new coronavirus infections.

A uniquely French lockdown

Come to think of it, no one seems overly worried about the police. That’s because this confinement isn’t just uniquely French, but southern French.

Every day while I’m on my government-sanctioned walk, I see the police in the same places: near the main thoroughfare along the beach, the Promenade des Anglais; on the main shopping district at Avenue Jean Médecin; and in the town squares. Avoiding a checkpoint is easy, and the police make little effort to enter the narrow streets of my neighborhood to find scofflaws who resist the lockdown.

In the early days of confinement, the streets looked unnaturally empty, like those in a Warner Bros. studio tour. People took the threat of a pandemic as seriously as anywhere else. But it didn’t stay that way for long. A nonessential chocolate shop defied the lockdown last week. Yesterday, I walked past a bar that had opened its door a crack. Inside, I could see people enjoying a beer.

Crossing the line during the France lockdown

Although authorities barricaded the beach, that hasn’t stopped some residents from crossing the line. I watched one woman duck under the tape and stroll along the water’s edge as pedestrians on the other side of the road nodded approvingly.

This is a lockdown a la Nice.

My attestation allows me just one hour outside. I wish I had more. Springtime in Nice is an event you should savor at least once in your lifetime. A Mediterranean breeze carries the heavy scent of orange blossoms through the city. The overgrown gardens have delivered a tide of purple and red flowers. You hear them before you see them, thanks to a deep buzzing of insects feasting undisturbed on nectar.

Two Nice residents defy social distancing rules during the early days of the coronavirus lockdown.

Masked ou maskless?

The people I meet fall into two categories: masked and maskless. Those with masks move quickly, often crossing the street to avoid me. The non-mask-wearers stop to talk to each other and don’t seem to care if you get too close. Most of the maskless Niçois are elderly or homeless, but I also see young people sans protection. Last week, I watched two men shaking hands in public. In a world obsessed with social distancing, that’s the ultimate sign of defiance.

The U.S. Embassy in Paris emails me every few days, warning me that I should be prepared to remain abroad for an “indefinite” period. But for how long? The French president announced France’s lockdown would end on May 11. My lease runs out a few days before then. Should we stay in Nice and wait until the “all clear?” If we press on, do we go to Italy or double back to England, which is more familiar but further behind on its covid-19 recovery?

Or do we come home? That’s tempting, except that I sold almost everything I owned — including my car and house — before embarking on this odyssey. If we returned, we’d have to start over. I’m not even sure where we’d go.

For now, there’s the daily and predictable routine of 23 hours in an apartment. There are walks down abandoned, orange-blossom scented avenues, trips to the boulangerie and supermarché, and more conversations with the children about our uncertain future. I hope when this is over, they will return here to see the France that I remember — not to this beautiful prison.

Posted in On Travel Tagged , , , , ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

%d bloggers like this: