What It’s Like to Be in Paris Right Now

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In our Windows on the World series, we ask Canadians living abroad to give us a sense of how it feels to be where they are right now. It’s a way to cross borders without leaving home.

Amid the pandemic, the typical soundtrack of Paris – honking scooters, wailing sirens and the overall din of Parisian and tourist voices bouncing off one another in the electrically charged air – has been replaced with an unfamiliar but welcome stillness.

At noon on a recent Saturday at the Eiffel Tower, when I would normally be competing against awestruck first‑time visitors and influencers for the best spots to shoot the Iron Lady against an explosion of magnolia blooms, I find myself on my own. Aside from a few passersby who stop to appreciate the spring show and take a snap or two, I have her all to myself.

April 16, 2021
A man jogs by a bridge with only a small group of people in sight below it
A jogger runs past friends who have taken a break under the shadow of the Pont Alexandre III.
Small groups of people go for walks along the Seine River in Paris
Trees that line the Seine bear scars of love messages carved in their bark.
Purple hyacinths at the Jardin du Palais‑Royal in Paris
Spring flowers at the Jardin des Tuileries.

I decide to walk the 50 minutes to my next destination, Jardin du Palais‑Royal, and take the residential route. The eerie silence and empty city streets remind me that this third lockdown is unlike the last two we experienced, in which outings were at first restricted to essential services only, then expanded to allow excursions that were limited to a distance of five kilometres from home and a time of one hour, with signed affidavit‑like documents declaring our place of residence and the purpose of the trip.

While non‑essential services are closed once again, this time around our outdoor walks are not time‑limited and have been expanded to a 10 kilometre radius, while a 6 p.m. curfew has been extended by an hour to 7 p.m. Gone also are the written certificates. This looser approach to lockdown has been mocked and questioned for its efficacy, but at the same time welcomed for giving us more breathing room.

A cluster of French flags hang from a building on an empty Paris street
A deserted street in the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

Despite the increased freedoms, however, the tony seventh arrondissement (home of the iconic Eiffel Tower) shows no signs of life. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that many of the families who live here were part of the mass exodus of affluent Parisians who fled to their second homes and countryside Airbnbs upon news that we’d be placed under another lockdown. The result is a semi‑abandoned city.

I myself don’t want to escape from Paris – it’s now been more than 10 years since I moved here from Toronto by myself. I built a new life here, asking myself some hard questions, confronting my fatal flaws, making multiple mistakes and gaining a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. But in the latter years of my time in Paris, exacerbated by the pandemic, I have begun to question the notion of home.

People enjoy a walk along La Seine in Paris
The Parc Rives de Seine extends along both sides of the Seine for a total of 7km and is a popular spot for locals.
A couple lean on each other from their lounge chairs in front of a Paris fountain
A couple takes advantage of a slow leisurely morning at the Jardin des Tuileries.

When heartbreaking news from Canada reaches me, the transatlantic distance between Toronto and Paris suddenly feels colossal, and an acute, inky black loneliness and feeling of powerlessness starts to stain my days.

Every time my mother tells me she misses me during our near‑daily phone conversations, I feel a sad kind of heaviness. There is guilt, doubt and a sharp ache for home.

In the meantime, firm travel restrictions and the glacial pace of vaccinations in France leave me with no choice but to stay put for now.

Pink magnolia trees in Paris, France
The Jardin du Palais‑Royal explodes every spring with magnolia blooms.
Parisiens out for a stroll under a bridge on a sunny day
Families, couples and friends stroll along the pedestrianised Parc Rives de Seine.

So during an afternoon Zoom call with one of my dearest friends, I turn the phone camera over to show her the velvety pink magnolia flowers that have taken over the Jardin du Palais‑Royal, hoping she will find some comfort and awe in their beauty.

And for my parents, who have struggled during the lockdown in the knowledge that the pandemic has knocked more than a year off their aging, finite lives, I dangle the hope of another trip to Paris, where we will walk the once‑more bustling streets all together.