My monthly hello – March 2020
….. the newsletter you’ve all been waiting for
This month, there will be no apology for my lateness. Not just because I always apologise for it, but well…. I think you will all be aware by now that stuff has happened. And everyone has a story about it. Also, that the newsletter is a couple of months late, or was it three. So what the hell.
It’s longer than usual, but since I know everyone is isolated and at a loose end, I felt sure you wouldn’t mind.
Anyway, before we get on with virus-related things (and isn’t everything nowadays), pop over to my writer’s blogs at www.jlcrozier.com and read something totally unrelated to pandemics. I kid you not. I started this a while ago, before all the bad and unnerving news, and after due thought decided to continue on a theme unrelated to the news you are hearing every minute of the day. This is about mediums and spiritualists in the Victorian age. A little cobbled together, probably, but amusing nonetheless. As you know, you can find my novel, What Empty Things Are These at any online outlet and it’s orderable at any bookshop (when they reopen).
My story of this year of the plague goes like this. Way back in another eon, that is to say about December, I heard my son and his Emerald (or if you like, Emerald and her Alan) were planning to be married in April. In Australia. So could I buy the tickets and come on over. Well, of course! So I found an online agency and bought tickets to go from Barcelona to Melbourne and back. Leaving end of March.
You are probably beginning to form a picture of what happened next.
In the meantime, mon Chéri and I took up a friend’s offer of occupying his house in Brittany for a couple of weeks. We drove up (across France) via the tiny, picturesque township of Parisot in Tarn & Garonne, where I gave a talk about Victorians and attempted to sell copies of my book. They do a literary festival there annually, and a number of author events in between. Have novel, will travel!
We were clapped and fed, and then we moved on to the lovely though wet and chilly Huelgoat, where even the trees are green and I’m not referring to leaves. I would highly recommend Brittany for Spring, Summer and Autumn, though perhaps not so much for Winter. We met up with fellow writers, Kathleen and Pascal, who put up with us overnight and took us to lovely places by the sea. Back in Huelgoat, Chéri rediscovered his fire-building skills. We both discovered ways of acquiring wifi when it’s been turn off. In the end, any recent mobile phone should have ‘hotspot’ listed in ‘settings’. That’s what you need to reconnect with the world. You learn everything here.
Sometimes the sun shone, and on those days Brittany, especially its shoreline, was clean, wild and wonderful. Huelgoat has a lake, whose waters rush over and under huge boulders, a tumble of which is known as a ‘chaos’.
Then we drove back in the driving rain accompanied by muscular winds.
While we were away, the anglophone community back home continued to carry on its life, which tends to be very social. At one or two of a number of events some people picked up the virus. All three that I know of were hospitalised and, very very sad to say, only two survived. Don’t say it can’t happen to you, or the person sitting next to you. And realise that yours or that person’s death will devastate your family.
When we returned, not astonishingly, we soon began to venture out less and less, so wary we had become. Given I expected to be flying to Oz soonish, I was more or less isolating.
Then the emails and messages started to become more and more anxious. Could I change my flight to …virtually right away? Foolishly, I didn’t immediately. But I did find that (by accident – and I don’t know if anyone at the agency was going to tell me) one leg of my journey had been cancelled. Someone obviously very tired and working overtime then replaced the Zurich – Singapore with Frankfurt – Singapore. After two days of constant dialling and redialling, I was able finally to point out to a young man that flying into Zurich and out of Frankfurt, within an hour or so, is not only unhelpful but impossible. We agreed it might be best if my tickets were refunded. Let’s call that Booking A.
Booking B was with Etihad, also out of Barcelona. I think I organised it that way because it was in the morning and we could stay at a hotel overnight. Honestly, what was I thinking. I booked for more or less the same period as previously. End of March to mid-April.
You guessed it. The emails and messages were getting more and more anxious. Then it became clear there was every chance that pretty soon I wouldn’t even be able to cross into Spain, much less leave from Barcelona. I would have to make an attempt at a flight in a couple of days, furthermore, rather than wait until the end of March. The news from Oz was that travellers must quarantine for two weeks; if I left right away, I could still stand a chance of attending the wedding. Mother of the groom, you know.
And so to Booking C and more hours on the phone. Having, I thought, cancelled Booking B, though things were no doubt getting very hectic by then in the aviation industry, I now had tickets leaving Toulouse. This was an advantage in that at least there were no foreign borders to cross.
I’m told there were tears of joy and relief from the affianced couple when they heard I was pretty well on the way.
On the same day that my faithful Chéri drove me to Toulouse, France brought in new rules limiting personal movement. You would need to fill in a form stating where you were going and why; this continues but has become more restrictive. Now you can’t go out for more than an hour. You must be alone. Your activities are limited.
So I made the plane from Toulouse. Tourbes to Toulouse is over two hours’ driving, and I had missed breakfast. I attempted to get water from a machine at the airport, but it ate my money. Ironically, I was able to show a young woman how to use the machine. Even though she was gloved (as was I) and masked, she did insist on leaning in confidingly. Charming, but given the circumstances, unnerving. Does one cross oneself and move away? But that’s so rude!
The Toulouse to Paris flight was by an Air France plane, and apparently staff had decided to minimise their contact with passengers. This included feeding them. The airport’s food outlets were closed too. As were most of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport’s outlets, except for Starbucks. So what I ate that day were two munchy things and a cup of coffee.
As I walked to my departure lounge in CDG, I came across one of those airport pianos you’ve heard about. Someone was playing and someone else was listening. I wish I could show you the strangely haunting video.
Weirdly, as I reached the sparsely populated and quietly murmurous lounge, we could all hear what sounded like a vast celebratory crowd just over the wall. A little like one of those wild plague parties you see in movies where everyone gets drunk and lascivious because they’re all gonna die. Well, I may be adding colour here. Still, it was odd.
At 9pm it was time to get on the plane to Abu Dhabi. The woman at the desk having roundly refused to upgrade me (well, it was worth a try), I found my seat and awaited dinner. Interestingly, they’d changed the seating so that wherever possible passengers would be separated by a space. This continued to be true for the rest of my trip.
I ate up every scrap, which was very nice – Lamb Biryani, salad, dessert, cheese, wine – and promptly got heartburn.
By Abu Dhabi I’d lost heart and failed to look for anyone to hoist me up to Business Class. Still, a spare seat next to you is better than nothing, especially in Economy. But my god, Australia is a long way from anywhere. Watched movies; attempted sleep; read Hilary Mantel. Wondered where the next meal was. Wondered what it was going to be, given time on board was very different from either time in Abu Dhabi or Melbourne. Had a very odd but tasty thing that attempted to combine lunch with breakfast at 4am Melbourne time.
Abu Dhabi really is in the middle of the desert, by the way. I saw it from the plane.
Incidentally, while there were passengers who assiduously wiped their seats down with antiseptic something, it did strike me that on board may have been the least risky part of the journey. After all, the stench of cabin fumigation has always been my least favourite part of flying. It doesn’t smell as much nowadays, but I’m sure it still happens. In spades, I suspect. Nothing could live in it.
In Melbourne, we were all told to await the immigration/health people. I imagined burly guys with kalnashnikovs and alsatian dogs, forms detailing intended places of stay, a general grilling, perhaps a health test. Well, maybe not kalashnikovs and dogs. Kalashnikovs are more the French police’s style; in Melbourne people in uniform are more likely to wear guns on their hips.
But no. When we were told we could leave, we were met with diminutive people (could they have been retired public servants?) in hazmat suits and masks, who handed us sternly worded leaflets. Since then I have had the discussion with various mansplainers online, who insist all was ok because authorities would know where to find us travellers via our passports and our immigration questionnaire forms.
No, they wouldn’t. I am not staying at the address on my passport. The emergency name and email address I gave is my son’s. I’m not staying at his place either. Thank you to the lovely Kate who has moved out so I can spend my two weeks in isolation. The hazmat suits didn’t ask anything else. They could email me, I suppose, but that doesn’t exactly tell anyone where I am.
So several hundred of us wandered off into the dawn, to … somewhere. I saw no-one being tested, though that doesn’t mean no-one was, I suppose.
I understand that new rules apply since those days of a week ago – everyone must now do his/her quarantine where he/she lands and in a hotel of the government’s choice. It makes more sense, though I’d have had to stay in Melbourne rather than drive to Ballarat. I do prefer Kate’s house. There’s a possum to feed on the back porch and everything.
The rest of the story is mostly about struggling to undo all that ticketing. I’ve just emailed regarding Booking A and its promise to refund, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve gone bust. I was hoping for refunds on B & C (the half of C I haven’t used, of course) but it appears they will only credit towards a future booking. So after days of fruitless emailed pleading for refunds, Cheri and I from different parts of the world have done our best to be credited. We can sort of keep that up over a 24-hour period I guess, between us.
We think we may have succeeded, but we’re not positive. We won’t know for a few days. I would really like not to have paid three times for the privilege of travelling one way in economy class.
In the meantime, I have regained the use of my laptop. I’d left my charger in Tourbes, which sounds like a song but is serious. I now have another.
I also decided that if soap on hands spells doom for the virus, it probably does the same for money. Though, still no-one wants it. Anyway, I laundered some. There would have been a picture of $50 drying in the dish-rack, but this platform doesn’t seem to support pics.
The wedding, nobody will be surprised to learn, is off. The deeply disappointed and exhausted couple confessed it was a relief to know that they categorically are not allowed to hold it, rather than have to decide from day to day whether to continue with plans; they’ve put it off until next year. Instead, they will have Mother/prospective mother-in-law in the back room for some time once my quarantine is lifted.
And here – and this won’t astonish you either – I am left with another set of dilemmas. Everything is closed to me too of course – I can’t leave the country at all right now, much less fly into or out of any number of international airports. Do I plan to go back to France at some stage and return in a year?
What of…. my carte de séjour? Those of you who religiously read my newsletter will remember the last chapter, in which I had attended appointment for one further year’s residency in France, and was offered ten. Long story. This is all very well, but since then I have been waiting for the official card, and only have in my possession a ‘récépissé’, an official-looking receipt that would stand in for the card until April 1. O dear. However, the French government, most of whose offices are now firmly fermé, has promised to extend all of our out-of-date cards until September 30. I think this gives me a date to work around.
I will, though, have to buy some winter clothes, having come to Oz for a month to attend an autumn wedding.
I do have a hat, however. A fascinator I bought online when I still thought I had a wedding to go to. I wander up and down the house with it on. It’s quite classy. I will post this and other pics on Facebook since I can’t put them here.
Stay solitary and wash your hands.
With all my love.