23 March 2020

Staying connected

Cellphones are indispensable but living in Paris I've learned, and more than once, that one never knows when a sector's wi-fi, taken for granted, will go down or worse, how long it will take to be up and running again. That is why we decided years ago to always keep a ligne fixe - landline - just in case, and for emergencies. And right now, as most commerce is closed and many have fled the city (meaning: neighbors are scarcer than you think), it is important to have some kind of communications backup to turn to.

In our Montmartre quartier with its vibrant café lifestyle, the sudden lockdown produced withdrawal symptoms in some, made not that much difference for others and, as the French are self-declared individualistes, le confinement seemed to have changed lives little.

Even so, during these times it is more important than ever to stay connected and connect with those who might find themselves living on their own. In a neighborhood café we frequent, almost every afternoon around the same time, seven days a week, a small group of elderly pensioners would occupy a few tables in *their* corner, cajoling over pots of tea and coupes des glaces - multi-favored scoops of ice cream - discussing everything from the day’s politics to why a splash of Pernod enhances fish soup. Among them: two sisters, a retired monk (do monks retire?), a once-famous French singer's music arranger and a former Russian dancer. All regulars, they'd descend at the same time from nearby senior living facilities and shared apartments. When I'd look up from my laptop, there they'd be, reassuringly, day after day, some with canes, some nodding to me as they'd arrive hobbling past my table in single file, others planting the now forbidden bises on each of the owner's cheeks, and each other's. But now, the sudden closures have put an end to it.

In France, so many in this advanced age group don't have or use computers. They've never been on much less seen a group video chat unless their grandchildren set one up and today, along with those with pre-existing medical conditions, they find themselves at the top of the French Ministry of Health's "most-vulnerable" list.  (Update 2022: just like with Viagra, the age has been lowered to infants and apparently everyone is "vulnerable"). Those in retirement, senior living and nursing homes have been abruptly cut off from outside visitors and, confined to often small apartments, they've yet to receive that promised ipad. A simple phone call now and again could make all the difference. - BPJ

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