Covid-19 Lockdown - Nice, France
March 20, 2020
I spent much of March 19 perched above Nice, near the top of Mont Chauve, fixating on the quiet. Try as I might, the only industrial sounds I heard were from the infrequent cars rounding the nearby hairpin turn.
With the morning routine complete, I spied 4 pairs of socks in desperate need of a wash. The old ways came naturally, the rhythmic cleaning motion a welcome distraction and the socks soon hung to dry. The afternoon hours floated past while Kiira received some cosmetic attention.
If you are not comfortable with isolation, enforced isolation might prove a challenge. And living in a small space is not for everybody. My van – Kiira is her name – is loaded for isolation and, fortunately, I am comfortable with me, having lived out of a backpack, sea kayak or saddlebags for nearly 30 years, mostly solo.
It was bound to happen sooner or later, especially given the government of France has added 100,000 officers to patrol. The Gendarmes truck stopped and reversed, so I stepped out to meet them. Three young men looked me up and down as we exchanged ‘bonjour’. As they edged closer, I asked them to respect the 2m rule but they reduced that to 1m.
The oldest, possibly 28, asked if I was staying there and the questions began. I explained that my daughter lived in Nice and I was staying nearby in case her mother was called in to work. They seemed unsure, but okay with that and left.
Ten minutes later, they were back, and the formerly unsure young man was now sure it was against the law to sleep in a van and his chief told him I had to move. I would be ‘controlled’ tomorrow, he threatened, and likely fined. Noting the Swiss plates, he said “Just go back to Switzerland.” I pointed out that the decree prohibited me from driving and the borders were closed, but he was becoming more aggressive, so I smiled at another and asked in English “so what do I do now?”
They wanted to see my Attestation? Why had I not printed one out?
The van is not equipped with a printer, I explained, but I had read the official decree which stated that if you were unable to print the document, you could write your own. I showed the .pdf file of the Attestation and asked which box I should check. As he reached for my phone, I pulled it away and asked him to respect my distancing. They stared at the document on the screen and agreed “la garde d’enfants” applied, to which I said I would fill it out immediately.
“You can do that this evening,” the older guy said, which I assumed meant I could stay the night.
It gave me pause to think. I am confident that any Canadian would see the foreign plate and offer assistance not roadblocks, especially in this challenging environment. Clearly, the inexperienced officer was not taught that at Gendarmes school. And, as evidenced, they have not had training about respecting distance, as decreed.
The sun fell behind Mont Chauve, twilight soon followed, and darkness took over. The moon was soon accompanied by three planets, the stars slowly set in from the east and a deathly silence fell about. The normally bright lights of Nice seemed somehow dim and the crystal-clear sky erupted above, a rare opportunity to declare its dominance. I have been in this exact spot plenty of nights, but on this night, I sensed an air of anxiety and doom floating up from the city below.
The sun crept over the mountains and shone into the van and I woke to make coffee. Sipping in silence, I decided to move down mid-morning and avoid another Gendarmes interview. I had my freshly written, signed and undated ‘Attestation’ in hand, and descended the one lane mountain road onto deserted streets.
I slid into my second-choice spot – a parking lot with only a few homes looking down from above. People are strange in France when it comes to living in a van and venomous stares, license plate photos and, occasionally, aggressive words are not uncommon. Here, I hope I am okay for a few days.
Although reports say more than 40,000 tickets were issued in the first 24 hours, most people seem to be taking the lockdown seriously. My goal is to lay low and watch how this progresses, isolated, yet taking solace in the knowledge that I am close to my daughter’s home.