COVID-19 caught FQJ's managing editor and her husband during an extended stay in France, leaving them with a difficult decision to make.
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
- photographs by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Last night we had aperitifs on the veranda and watched a setting sun wearing a cloud veil. It was hard to remember, for a moment, the suffering and stress going on worldwide.
We have decided to stay in France. After much discussion and late-night agonizing, we weighed our choices and the known consequences and canceled our flights.
As we adjusted to the French lockdown here in the countryside of the Charente, the U.S. State Department decreed that citizens should get home right away or prepare to stay put. There wouldn’t have been much question about staying put, except our three-month visit allowed by our U.S. passports expires the end of April.
So out of fear we booked a flight from Bordeaux to Amsterdam to Atlanta and tried to wrap our minds around flying in a crush of humanity and standing in long airport lines. Then we looked outside at the wheat and bright yellow rape fields all around our secluded house in the least-impacted region of France, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine, in the most coronavirus-free department, the Charente, and thought, “Why?”
It didn’t help that we have little confidence in the U.S. leadership in time of crisis, and that International CNN, our main source of information about home, keeps airing the Dunderhead-in-Chief saying the most ridiculous things. His own re-election committee should put a muzzle on the man.
So, for now, we live with our decision, the key word for all of us these days being “live.”
We fill out our paperwork each day and take the short walk allowed by the government. I am not sure if we legally can walk together, my husband and I, but we do. We rarely see cars, but sometimes spot farm equipment.
Yesterday we went to the village butcher shop and bought a chicken, some local goat cheese, crackers and pate. The owner of the small shop is Monsieur Robert who seems more cheerful than ever in the face of the crisis. His prices are higher than the grocery store in nearby Ruffec, but we encountered no other shoppers. Germ-free butcherie.
We dropped off our green glass at the recycling bin on the way, each empty a testimonial to stress. I also pushed stamped cards into a mailbox in front of a closed post office, wondering aloud if anyone appreciates the effort or the cost of international stamps.
Routine is the thread that holds the fabric of life together. I am trying hard to establish one. The maps we bought of the area are stacked and useless, the tourist brochures left by previous guests a mockery. So I write a little, then I read a lot.
I think of words I have learned to spell so far during the crisis: Draconian. Quandary. (Didn’t know about that silent “a.”) Quarantine. Chloroquine. I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting.
Speaking of forgetting, I cannot for the life of me remember what day of the week it is. Every morning I must look at my calendar to remind myself. The English-speaking channels we watch for diversion all seem to play Midsomer Murders all day, all the time, so that doesn’t work as a reference.
I thought about teaching myself to cook, but that might entail too many trips to the grocery store and I’d just waste precious ingredients. I decided to write rhyming poetry instead, which I think is a lost art, gone the way of the eight-track and Lawrence Welk reruns.
In this time of worldwide stress
I have found that I need less
Money doesn’t mean that much
With stores all closed and such
At this time it seems to me
There’s only one great luxury
And that’s to be with those you love
An unread book, an extra glove
A pleasant view, a chore to do
To hear him say, “We’ll make it through”
Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a veteran reporter and former syndicated columnist for King Features Syndicate of New York. She is the author of eight books, including "Poor Man's Provence; Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana" and "Good Grief," the only authorized biography of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. She is the recipient of the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award and the National Headliner Award for commentary.
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Rheta Grimsley Johnson
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