Welcome to QWF series ‘Chronicling the Days’, specifically for this strange uneasy time of coronavirus and pandemic, of social distancing and self isolation, of lockdown and quarantine.
In April 2020, we invited writers in Quebec to submit a story – of a single day at this time, because while we’re all living through this time, we know that we’re not all living through it in the same way. To stay connected – to know how we’re getting on. Every story valid.
Submissions have now closed for the series but we’ll be continuing to publish the pieces throughout May. Keep an eye for them here, or join us on the QWF FB Community page, and let the authors know if their words resonated.
This piece is by Rita Pomade, writing on Monday, March 23, 2020.
Leaving France in the Time of COVID-19
When news first broke on French TV about COVID-19 raging through Italy, I had a twinge of discomfort, but believed it would be contained. When it hit a town on the French border, my partner and I still felt safe. We were in the centre of France in a small village outside Orleans in a house belonging to his deceased mother. We were reluctant to see the writing on the wall having only arrived two weeks before for a 6-week stay.
By the time we faced the gravity of our situation, our airline had stopped running, and the airport we were to have left from had closed. The only airport functioning was the Charles de Gaulle outside Paris—3 hours away by car. By chance, we managed to secure one of the remaining flights on Transat Air, but had no idea how we’d get to the airport. All buses, trains and shuttles to the airport had stopped running. Drivers needed permits to say why they were on the road, the only reasons being work and a divorced parent driving a child.
After numerous phone calls, we managed to find a driver with a permit who, for an obscene fee, was willing to show up at 5:00 in the morning to take us. I spent a sleepless night wondering if he’d find the house in this small village, and worse, would he’d come at all. And if not, how would we get out?
On March 23 at 5:00 in the morning the driver arrived as promised, relieving a good part of my anxiety. He drove like a madman, got us to the airport in halftime, and wiped down our luggage cart with disinfectant before driving off—an extremely gracious gesture that made up for the hair-raising ride.
We donned our masks and gloves before entering the cavernous Charles de Gaulle Airport, and found the place devoid of life. The only sound was our voices questioning where terminal 1 was—the only one open. Every so often a person drifted by in mask and gloves looking equally lost. There were no personnel to be found until we reached our terminal. The scene was eerie and unsettling. I wondered if there really was a plane coming for us.
We passed through customs alone. Soon other travelers started to appear in the waiting area—each masked and silent, keeping their 6-foot distance until we boarded.
The Airbus, less than a third full, permitted us to spread out. We sat apart, wearing our masks, staring straight ahead, looking like extras in a dystopian film. Regular flight meals couldn’t be served due to the epidemic. A steward laden with plastic bags containing frozen Mexican salads, Pringles potato chips, and small packets of truffles tossed the bags onto our laps and disappeared. We passed the time waiting for our salads to thaw, and wondering what would await us in Montreal. But it didn’t matter. We would be home.