On the sidewalks of the Marais, the vibrant central Paris neighbourhood that is both quaint and chic, local residents, merchants and workers enjoyed each other’s company on the first day of the easing of France’s Covid-19 lockdown. FRANCE 24 reports.
A little after 11am on Monday, Frank Barron, 40, was enjoying a latté at Fringe, a small coffeeshop on the Rue de Turenne, for the first time in almost two months. He had to stand on the sidewalk, but his drink, with an artful, leaf-like design on its surface, came in a ceramic mug.
Barron told FRANCE 24 that making coffee at home, which he’s been doing since France’s lockdown began on March 17, isn’t the same as drinking it at a neighbourhood spot. But that isn’t just because of the java – it’s also due to the camaraderie with neighbours.
Barron was standing next to Cyril Muller, 38, another resident of the Marais, a neighbourhood that consists of parts of Paris’s 3rd and 4th arrondissements (districts) and is known for its quaint streets and compact museums, art galleries and boutiques. The Picasso Museum is here; so is, arguably, the best falafel in town.
Muller, a spice distributer, said that streetside conversations are an important part of city life.
“I missed it,” he said. “Everyone needs to meet to talk.”
Standing behind a barrier of a table and a pastry shelf, Fringe owner Jeff Hargrove, 56, said it felt strange to be able to serve customers at the door, but not inside.
“Our place is more welcoming, cozy, but we have to keep these distances,” he said.
Hargrove won’t be able to seat customers until the French government allows cafés and restaurants throughout the country, including the wider Paris region, where it says that Covid-19 is still actively circulating, to fully reopen.
For now, it makes him happy to see his customers, many of whom are local residents, at a distance.
“Actually, I’ve not had anyone I don’t know,” he said.
A few doors further up, Jonathan Benhamou, 32, a salesman at Danyberd, a men’s clothing store, said that two of his regular customers had already visited since the shop opened.
“They gained weight, so they had to buy new suits,” he said.
Out on the sidewalk, a man and a woman stopped, arched their bodies back and smiled in recognition, and a cheerful conversation ensued.
The man, James Rose, 56, – who happened to be Barron’s partner – said that “seeing friends for real” was pleasing after so long.
Nadège Maguet, 54, a local postal worker walking by, said she has been seeing residents along her routes for 25 years.
“I know their children, their grandparents. All the family,” she said.
During the lockdown, Maguet played music on her cellphone as she wheeled her cart, which sometimes prompted people to open their windows and say hello.
Children living in the Marais made her colourful pictures to thank her for delivering the mail. One picture, which she displayed on her phone, showed a yellow shooting star on a light blue background with a large-lettered “Merci” (Thank you), and a smaller “Nadège” above a heart.
Maguet said that Monday’s greater number of face-to-face exchanges made her feel good.
“It’s human,” she said.
Around the corner on Rue des Filles du Calvaire, César Levy, 38, sat amid abstract metal sculptures and minimalist paintings in 193 Gallery, the exhibition space he opened two years ago.
The latest show opened about two weeks before the lockdown began, so Lévy decided to extend its duration. He spent part of his time in lockdown digitalising the gallery’s catalogue, and hopes that collectors will return this week.
“Psychologically, to not see the collectors, the artists for two months, it’s very hard,” he said.
Across the neighbourhood on the Rue des Rosiers, Hanna Abergel, 65, the owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant bearing her name, lamented the absence of tourists, who she said were her main customers.
“It’s sad,” she said.
But her partner, Guy, 61, made sandwiches for a group of three teenagers and for Marais residents Valérie Geoffrey, 49, and Betty Lachgar, 44.
“They have to get back into the habit,” he said.
On the busy Rue de Bretagne, where many specialty food shops were open during the lockdown, one hair salon was so busy that no one had time to talk. On the quieter Rue des Archives, hairdresser Françoise Myoho shared her opinion of post-lockdown tresses.
“Catastrophic!” she said. But she acknowledged that some of her customers had achieved “interesting” results by taking scissors into their own hands.