In 2018, France was the No. 1 international tourism destination in the world, according to the World Tourism Organization of the United Nations. Tribal member Melissa Brown lives in downtown Paris, a stone’s throw away from the Seine River, in the region with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.
“We’re near Notre-Dame. We’re in a very touristy area. But right now, obviously, there are zero tourists. So we don’t see really anyone out and about,” Brown said.
Brown has lived in Paris for two and a half years with her husband, Assan, who is French, and their daughter, Zoe. The government put the city on lockdown beginning March 17. At the end of April, France had the fourth-highest number of cases worldwide. At that time, Brown and her family had been in quarantine for 45 days.
Almost a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, a large fire consumed one of the most recognizable religious sites in the world — the Note-Dame Cathedral. Construction crews began rebuilding the cathedral located near Brown’s home in 2019; however, progress halted for six weeks in early 2020 before resuming at the end of April.
“I was glad when I realized, ‘OK, no one’s working on it.’ And that’s a good thing. They’re at home with their families. … I don’t think construction workers should have to work during confinement,” she said.
The government requires residents to fill out a form, on either paper or a smartphone app, stating their destination and intention before leaving their house. Anyone stopped by police and unable to produce this information faces the consequences. However, in Brown’s experience, they are stricter in some communities.
“In another neighborhood, we heard that a lot of people were out and about, which here, we don’t see. Maybe we see one person walking down the street at a time, but in another district, people are out and about walking around with families,” she said.
Life in the French metropolis is much quieter. The Nadeau descendant and her family hear birds chirping throughout the day, unimpeded by the rumble of traffic.
“It sounds like the countryside when you wake up, and you open the doors because usually, we hear buses and cars all the time. We hear the ambulance going up and down the street, but that’s it,” Brown said.
French culture, especially in Paris, includes spending the majority of time outside in nature; a picnic with a bottle of wine and a walk through the park constitutes a normal day. Before the stay-at-home orders, Brown and her husband longboarded through the city, snapping pictures of street art as inspiration for future endeavors.
“Usually people walk along the river, the Seine. People are constantly just walking around and sitting at cafes or going to restaurants. … It’s like we’re in this city that’s meant to be enjoyed around the river and the parks, and we’re not allowed to do those basic things,” Brown said.
The government instructed people to stop “la bise,” a common greeting with a kiss on either side of the face while touching cheeks. It often signifies friendship and familial love.
“They even think that maybe we won’t do it anymore. And I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ That’s such a big part of daily life in France is when you see someone, even your colleagues. … For me, it was very uncomfortable because it just seemed so personal, but for them, it’s a sign of respect. It was very surprising in the beginning, but now, it’s just to be very safe,” Brown said.
The sweetness of home life
With the park gates locked and the riverbanks empty, Brown and her family find moments outside on their small patio. They open their doors, thanks to the lack of cars. However, they struggle spending all their time inside.
“It seems just really unnatural to be at home all day and just sitting and not moving and not exercising, just all the daily movement that we’re used to,” Brown said. “So that’s probably the biggest and hardest thing. But at the same time, we’re healthy, and we’re grateful to be healthy.”
She and her husband try to remain positive for themselves and their 6-month-old daughter. They are thankful to spend extra time with her while working from home.
“We get to see her roll over for the first time and do a lot of things that we probably wouldn’t get to see firsthand,” Brown said. “So, that’s been a huge blessing.”
She works as a teacher, instructing English as a foreign language to students around the world. Brown’s students live in Paris, Hong Kong, Israel, California and Korea. She feels comfortable working from home, and she always “dreamed of doing online classes.” It allows her to keep in touch with colleagues and previous students who otherwise would have transferred when she moved.
“Now with COVID, I definitely have been enjoying teaching online because it gives me a sense of fulfillment that I’m doing my job,” Brown said.
“I ask (my students) what their experience is. But we try not to focus on it too much, you know, especially for kids. … It’s been very interesting to see that we’re all in the same situation.”
In addition to work, Brown and her husband began their dream side business — Zôzotte, named after their daughter. They bought a sewing machine to produce handcrafted textiles from beautiful fabrics that show a piece of each of their backgrounds, whether that’s Melissa’s Potawatomi heritage or Assan’s Malian ancestry.
“His goal is to eventually sew clothes, but right now, we’re starting with basics, more like decorative stuff,” Brown said. “And I make jewelry. So eventually, I want to incorporate jewelry and beading into the pillows and the table runners.”
The business provides a productive way to focus their energy and fills their apartment with bright colors, providing a “creative outlet” while the vibrant life of Paris is paused. Brown hopes they continue the business for years to come, but the unknown makes foreseeing impossible for her family and the streets around them.
“It’s hard to imagine the city bustling again,” Brown said. “It’s going to feel really weird, but I don’t know what to expect.”
Keep up to date on COVID-19 response and information from the Tribe at cpn.news/COVID19.