Letters from Paris: ‘A Small Village’

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By Xander Brett, Third Year, History of Art and French

The Croft Magazine // This week, Xander Brett discusses his return to Paris and the sparsity of Covid-19 vaccines in France.

Welcome back to Paris! Endless paperwork has got me across Channel, just as the borders are even tightly squeezed shut. France is now even closed to fellow Schengen Zone citizens, requiring them to present a negative PCR test on the frontier. It seems, however, that strategy of creating a bubble – and living in relative freedom within it – is working. The 6pm curfew empties the streets, but the only sign that over the Channel people are living in lockdown are the chairs piled on tables in bars and restaurants, still able to offer takeaway only. The shops, schools and universities have reopened. So, life is different to last term, but it’s by no means over.

Shuttered shop front, Paris | Epigram / Xander Brett

It was interesting to watch this week as, for the second time this pandemic, the European Union shot itself in the foot. Last March, it was silent in a time of crisis. This time, while the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen seeks a pan-Continental strategy, individual states continue to ignore her. Von der Leyen is clearly infuriated by the United Kingdom’s vaccination success. Now outside the EU, the UK can order its own vaccines, meaning almost 1 in 5 adults have now received a first dose. We’ve ordered many from the French company Valneva, enraging the whole French nation and causing the EU to hit out in jealous rage. First Von der Leyen falsely claimed the UK had rushed into approving vaccines, then President Macron and Chancellor Merkel suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine was “ineffective” for under 65s. The EU then broke the terms of its own agreement by imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland, designed to prevent a “leak” of vaccines to the UK. It went against World Health Organisation advice and basic business rules, and it led to a frantic phone calls from the British and Irish prime ministers. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the EU to be a force for peace. Embarrassed, Von der Leyen went into hiding and refused questions from the press. As last week’s Observer/Guardian opinion put it: ‘The vaccine crisis has shown the EU at its worst and Britain at its best.’

There were few tourists here in the Autumn, now the only language only the street is French. At the Gare du Nord, the multilingual announcements tell of a time when Paris was Europe’s second most-visited city. The currency exchanges are closed and in the streets around Notre-Dame, once a swam of snappers and selfies, the tourist shops are shuttered too. As I said in one of my columns: Paris is two cities. To visit for the weekend, you’re living a parallel, tourist’s life. Well now that parallel world has been eliminated. Paris has become a village. We’re all locals… and we’re all wondering when it will finally stop raining!

Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett


Listen to Xander's weekly Burst Radio podcast 'Letters from Paris' here.

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