Like an employee who has given notice and immediately becomes worthless to everyone, the looming expiration date on my experiences abroad has served to place my life into an awkward limbo, and often tempted to me to feel the days are become pointless.
The problem with happiness has always been that once acquired it can then be lost or taken, and will be, sooner or later. The process of watching it go entails pain, which most people would say is the essential opposite of happiness.
The best thing to do (as they tell us) is enjoy what you have while you have it, to appreciate the moment in the moment without casting eyes to the future, and “to love that well which thou must leave ere long.” And so I have tried my best to do.
Meanwhile the world keeps turning, or devolving as it seems to prefer, but I felt certain the course of history would continue to take into account my dearest preferences, at least for my remaining weeks in France. Of the universe nothing could be more reasonable to ask, and so when rumors reached us of hard times in the large cities, and then curfews, and the closing of restaurants and other annoyances, I did not let it trouble me too much. Always these things happen elsewhere, and always serve to annoy someone else; for example, whoever thought it was a good idea to live in Paris.
As for Annecy, I told myself it was like The Shire, a small out of the way place through which troubles never pass. The worst that could happen to someone in Annecy, it seemed clear to me, would be to leave it. And indeed I must leave it, but not at present, and at present we were channeling Budha so the future could worry about itself.
So it went until one afternoon in October, when shuffling through yellow leaves on business of my own, I was pulled aside by a gendarme and told to put on my mask in an area where it had never been required before. A consequence of not reading the news is not seeing when things start to change. Shortly after and seemingly out of the blue, but which was probably a surprise to no one but me, the nighttime curfews came even to this small corner of the country, and with them the end of the Annecy social club.
Finally on a random Wednesday evening Macron gave an address to the country and announced the re-imposition of what he previously promised was inconceivable, a second nationwide lockdown. The French were given scarcely 24 hours to prepare; God forbid they have a final weekend. And what weather we were given that weekend, that no one enjoyed!
I went out on the last afternoon of freedom. Everybody else in the world was out too – meeting friends for the last time at the café, eating the last crêpe, buying the last roll of toilet paper, or saying the last prayer at church which henceforth will need to be recited in the kitchen.
I saw tears, I saw heads in hands, but amongst others the mood was almost festive; though this was possibly a form of delirious incredulity. Confinement means different things to different people. For some it is nearly a joy, a chance to work from home; or not at all, a time of quiet and reflection, a temporary escape from the world. To others it means disruption, isolation and separation, going broke, or worrying about a business descending further into debt. For one American it meant an end before the end, and a sudden collapse back into solitude.
I realized that without ever knowing to say goodbye, I had already seen everyone I knew for the last time.
The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I should just go back to America three weeks early. What could be left to do here, and what difference does such a short amount of time make anyway?
But in fact I do not know the answer to those questions. What could be left to do here? What difference does a few weeks make?
We shall find out.