PARIS: The people of Paris are approaching their second week of lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak that has claimed over 600 lives in France. “We are at war” were the alarming words of President Emmanuel Macron, who lately described the virus as an “invisible, elusive” enemy.
It has become an enemy to the normalcy of everyday life, the running of businesses and social relations, turning the capital into a ghost town.
There is a popular Arabic saying: “Paradise without people is not worth going to.” This line of thinking was expressed by Parisians of Arab origin, who shared with Arab News what life is like under rigid confinement.
“Life in Paris has become complicated,” said Mahmoud Mseddi, a French-Tunisian baker at Boulangerie Maison Mseddi, in the 14th arrondissement. “We don’t go out anymore and the police are patrolling the streets everywhere. Everyone is staying at home — Paris is empty, no one is in the streets. I need to go out because I serve people in my bakery.”
Adapting to the current environment, Mseddi — whose bakery won the prestigious “Grand Prize for Best Parisian Baguette” in 2018 — had to make changes to keep his business afloat.
He closed one of his four bakeries due to a lack of customers. The other three operate seven days a week, opening and closing an hour earlier than usual. Clients are mostly buying fresh baguettes, which are an essential staple of their diet.
According to Mseddi, because clients fear catching the virus by leaving their homes, the quantity of baguette production has dropped significantly from 400 to 150 per day.
A maximum of two clients — distanced by one meter — are permitted in the bakery, creating a long queue outside. The Maison Mseddi team has also stepped up sanitizing measures.
“To reassure our clients, we use pliers as we have already been doing. We also wear gloves and masks, and clean our door handles and materials with alcohol. We try to do our utmost in cleaning, disinfecting and most of all surviving. It’s a difficult time.”
Born to a Lebanese father and a French mother, Sabrina El-Baba is a public relations coordinator who organizes events for French companies. “It’s difficult for me, because I’m actually alone. I would have loved to be with my family. Going to work helps a little, although the ambiance is still difficult. I usually walk to work, although I could use the bus, which is really empty nowadays. If the weather is pleasant, I prefer walking as I need to clear my mind — the virus is what I hear about all day long.”
In these unusual circumstances — where citizens are obliged to print an official form stating the reason they’re outside — El-Baba believes it’s important for people to stay in their homes, as it is a precautionary measure to protect the public. “It’s like we’re in wartime,” she said, adding: “I remember the war in Lebanon, and when we were told to not go out, we listened.”
Canadian-Lebanese Nathalie Abi-Nassif moved from Beirut in 2018 and is reaching the end of her unpaid leave, initially taken to get her master’s degree. She believes the abrupt arrival of the virus will slow down the hiring process.
Although Abi-Nassif lives away from her loved ones in Beirut, she is comfortable in Paris: “In terms of security, rights and quality of living, I prefer it here than Canada and Lebanon. Until the chaos in Lebanon becomes really minimal to the point where they have order, I will not be happy going there.”
Living in 15th arrondissement, Abi-Nassif said that all shops and eateries are closed, with the exception of pharmacies, bakeries and supermarkets — all of which have been authorized to remain open. She said that people weren’t buying excessively in supermarkets, unlike the start of the lockdown when people were panicking.
She said social distancing has had an effect on her mental wellbeing. Trying to cope with this new reality, Abi-Nassif spends time reading articles, attending webinars, meditating and taking the occasional but brief outdoor walk.
“This situation is draining me,” she said. “I think I’m not the only one, and the thing is, when you’re not in contact with people, it becomes extremely hard. I was in denial and now I’m accepting the situation and I need to organize my life around it as much as possible.”