Paris dispatch: Finding comfort in confinement
How do we occupy our time in these uncertain times, isolated in confinement? It’s a privileged question, one I think about often. I do not have to expose myself to greater risk by venturing out to work. I haven’t taken public transportation in over a month and my longest walk took me from my home in the 11th arrondissement to Place des Vosges (that was prior to the 1km max rule), which is to say it was both not very far and purely to stretch my legs. Still, isolation is challenging– mentally, emotionally, physically — with plenty of fluctuations in spirit and motivation.
What have I been doing? In between a few work assignments, I’ve taken great comfort in books (once I could get back into them. That began week 2), in the levity of comedies like Brooklyn-99 and Schitt’s Creek, in my zoom pilates classes with my usual instructor whose voice is reassuring, and in digital contact with friends (and real contact with my cats). I’ve also started teaching myself Italian using Duolingo and haven’t missed a daily lesson in nine days. Fascinating how possible the impossible becomes when we restructure our time.
As a way to share inspiration with you, dear reader, I thought I’d call upon my friends in Paris to comment on their sources of comfort during quarantine.
“I’ve been coloring each morning while I drink my coffee. It’s sort of my new “morning pages,” but instead of writing like I normally do, I color. I only have 12 colored pencils to choose from so it’s been a real test of my shading skills to get more bang for my buck. And the “mindfulness coloring book” I happened to have on hand could use a bit more variety when it comes to the design scenes, but these limitations only push me to be more creative. I find it’s a relaxing, yet energizing way to start each day. I appreciate the consistency, too. Like, ‘What design and I going to choose today?’ or ‘How can I use this red in a different way?’ Sometimes I’m proud—impressed even!—of how it comes out, and other times I wish I’d chosen a different color palette. But either way, I’m encouraged to do it again the next day. I’d also add that I am finding immense comfort and joy in watching chef Taku’s 2.5 year old kid Marlow cook on Instagram. It’s seriously the cutest thing ever.” –-Sara Lieberman, writer
“I’m taking pleasure in listening to podcast episodes of the dry, erudite BBC radio program In Our Time, one of whose main attributes is actually that it has nothing to do with this particular moment. It’s a comfort to lose yourself in history’s sweep. So far, I’ve brushed up on the Valladolid Debate, George Sand, Papal Infallibility, Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow. Still, you make connections. During a segment about the The Gin Craze in 18th-century England, I learn about Puss and Mews, an early cat-shaped vending machine that shot gin out of its paw. The parties are going to be wild once coronavirus lifts, I thought. “ — Lauren Collins, The New Yorker
“The beginning was rough and tumble and I felt like I was grieving my life and a sense of normalcy. I have now moved on to the next stage of acceptance: This too shall pass. Every day I find a quote and write it down to inspire me through the day. Underneath the quote, I like to write what it means to me or how I can apply it to my life. The other day I stumbled across a quote from “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” For me, this means that the current chaos of the world, and this time when our work and movements are halted, is a time for creativity and innovation. Since I can’t be out trolling flea markets or styling events, I am inside working on things I usually don’t have time for and this is inspiring me. The past few days I’ve been getting lost in Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence and plotting a provençal retreat for Madame de la Maison when this is all over. –-Ajiri Aki, Madame de la Maison
“Like most folks, food plays a huge role in comforting us right now. On weekends, we’ve been experimenting a bit—investigating new-to-us ingredients, trying old recipes from family cookbooks, or finally testing out recipes we’ve had bookmarked forever. There’s time for that on a Saturday and a Sunday and it feels fun. But on weekdays, we need a routine. We’re both freelancers who are fortunate enough to do our jobs from home, so mealtime usually includes our standard repertoire of dishes we can prepare quickly without a recipe. To keep things from getting too boring, though, we are leaving some room for creativity. Has our endive salad become too samey-samey? We add some hard-boiled eggs and chives and see if it works. Another quiche? (My husband is French. There is always a quiche.) A half meat/half veggie version may do the trick to save us from the same lunch three days in a row. If anything, it feels good to have meals that make us feel normal—if that’s even possible right now—while also allowing for the joy of discovery as our “normal” evolves in every way. ” –Amy Feezor, writer & creator of Fed by a Frenchman
“Instinctively, I immediately turned to what makes me feel good in “normal” times, which is yoga and meditation. I’ve given myself two rituals: yoga in the morning with Adrienne (on YouTube) and a live meditation session every night on Instagram at 6 p.m. with Lili Barbery. Between those moments, the ay goes by without really being able to work. It took me almost two weeks to get rid of the guilt I felt for not being at home in Paris but elsewhere –I’m just trying to handle the stress the best I can. Also, I’ve taken comfort in a line I read that comes to me every time I look out the window or step outside: “Do Remember They Can’t Cancel the Spring”. It’s also the title of a new series of drawings by David Hockney that he has worked on from home in Normandy since confinement began. I can always count on art and artists to make me feel better. “ — Sophie Peyrard, writer/filmmaker
“I”m finding comfort through knowing that this is the best way to keep everyone safe. Perhaps unlike many others, I have the luxury of using this free time to slow down, work on personal projects, cook things that take more than 30 minutes. For example, I’ve learned how to make things I’ve been craving and cannot find in my neighborhood, from pitas and noodles, to a slow-cooked ragu. I’ve basically steered away from any recipe that said ‘let rest for 2 hours’ until now. It’s also given me new appreciation for the artistry and hard work behind it all! I look forward to supporting my favorite businesses once this is all over.” — Joann Pai, Slice of Paris (and photographer for my book “The New Parisienne”)
“I’ve been craving all the comfort treats I grew up with. So in terms of baking, I’ve made batches of chewy chocolate chip cookies and countless loaves of my aunt Penelope’s famed banana bread. My new daily ritual is preparing a café creme at home which has multiple steps and has become almost meditative. The process starts with grinding the beans, brewing the coffee in a moka pot, and finally frothing the milk using a French press. It’s a laborious journey for just one cup of coffee but I’ve found it rewarding and quite soothing during this time of quarantine.” — Frank Barron, Cakeboy Paris
Top photo: @dathhh