Thursday 28 May 2020

Lockdown and Liberty in Paris: A Photographic Essay

The normally bustling 1st arrondissement in the centre of Paris. Photograph: Elli Ioannou  for DAM Magazine

Our Paris correspondent Elli Ioannou writes about her experiences living under the Covid-19 lockdown, looking across the Louvre from her eyrie, perched high above the Rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris. Her photographs document Paris: deserted as the city has never been before, as the coronavirus took hold; and now as the streets, bridges and parks slowly fill with people again as restrictions are lifted. Story and photographs by Elli Ioannou. Edited by Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Looking across the Louvre at twilight
from Elli Ioannou's apartment,
with not a person in sight
IN PARIS, there was a very real sense of the Covid-19 threat as the city shut down in mid-March. The crisis touched every part of our lives and left us marooned in our apartments, disconnected from the rest of the French capital.

Everyone was an island unto themselves as we watched news reports of the virus spreading so quickly and rapaciously in the European cities around us. At the start, it was difficult getting used to this new reality.

From March 23rd we had to carry the declaration, known as an Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire, stating why we were out in public. If you didn't have the official document you could be fined, if you weren't shopping for food, traveling to work (if it couldn't be done at home) or to help family, and exercising close to your home before 10am for an hour. 

Police set up road blocks to check that those outside their homes had good reason to be and that their exemption declarations were in order. By April 7th, more than 8 million checks had been made, and half a million fines had been issued for failure to respect the rules of confinement. There were telephone denunciations from citizens complaining about their neighbors walking their dogs too often. A woman even denounced her husband to the police for going out to see his mistress.

For me, the first two weeks went very fast, filled with daily video calls from Europe and Australia. But I began to wonder how it was possible to be so unproductive when you were given the gift of time. I was worried about the energy wasted, the distractions, the non-stop chain messages about Coronavirus, the incessant waves of information and the conspiracy theories.

It touched all parts of our lives and left us marooned in our apartments, disconnected from the rest of the French capital 

The Centre Pompidou's colourful facade 
on the Boulevard de Sebastopol
devoid of traffic & pedestrians 
By week three, I had to switch off from the constant overload of Covid-19 updates and reclaim my life and sanity.

By now, the rules in Paris were more defined and strict and they were enforced by a roving police force. I could see them below my windows on bicycles, some even rollerblading around the city, to make sure everyone stuck to the one hour out and one kilometre radius rule.

Yet after the first weeks, I was able to settle down and choose to see this period as one of personal and professional growth, living in between moments where the collective atmosphere of worry and fear got to me. None of my friends in Paris lived near my house. Yet I found I still felt emotionally close to them and my family.

I am a person who always connects with the environment around me for inspiration and reflection. I still had access to the Seine near my house, the gardens surrounding the Louvre, the alleyways of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, the leafy Tuileries entrance and I was able to walk past Notre Dame.

By week three, I had to switch off from the constant overload of Covid-19 updates and reclaim my life and sanity

Place Vendome deserted in the heart of Paris  
“Lockdown” I found too harsh a term, so I avoided using it. Instead, I liked to use the French word "confinement." It gave me the sense I still had the mental and emotional freedom to move, even if I was restricted physically.

Could I look at the Paris confinement as sort of artist's retreat? It felt like a luxury to have this time for my work, with no social outings to distract me.

I tried to cultivate daily moments of gratitude. Most of the time, I didn't feel any fear, I had already survived war as a child in Cyprus with my family. This affected the compass of my life so much, nothing afterwards ever felt so traumatic.

Living a creative career in a foreign country had also given me many tools to deal with adversity and being on my own for long periods. I found focusing on my own artwork and my rituals of meditation and yoga helped me during this period immensely.

Could I look at the Paris confinement as a sort of artist's retreat? It felt like a luxury to have this time for my work

Elli Ioannou contemplates the empty
Pont des Arts near her home
during the Covid-19 crisis
Creative projects I had begun but had no time finish could now be developed during during isolation, including curating an online exhibition entitled What if you Fly. I discovered that everything I needed was already within my reach, I just needed to look.

I live on a very busy corner in the centre of Paris, usually bustling with tourists. In summer, I can barely reach the front door of my apartment building.

But I became accustomed very quickly (to my surprise) to fewer people. I started to recognise the locals, who like me only left their homes for groceries, medical supplies or a quick walk. Sitting at home one evening, I suddenly heard the the sounds of clapping and cheering.

Since my windows are double-glazed, I thought there was a rogue opera outside in the street. But by day three of the clapping, I realised it was for the health workers putting their lives at risk to save others in Paris hospitals. 

I began to join in and was surprised how moving the sense of connection and energy was. Even though I don't have direct neighbours, as I live the opposite the forecourt of the Louvre, I could put my head out of the windows to see them.

Creative projects I had begun but had no time finish now had time to be developed during during the isolation

Parisians enjoy the freedom of being able to
sit on the banks of the Seine again
As I complete this essay, the strict confinement has eased with its one hour/one kilometre restrictions and carrying a legal document is no longer required.

I could now see my friends in person instead of on a phone or computer screen.

I stood on the Rive Droite of the Seine when it opened, and tears flowed at the realisation that it was time to start moving beyond my little world above Paris, the four walls that had confined me. After 55 days in isolation, it was time for me to move on to a new chapter in my life, with a much greater appreciation for the French motto Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Paris dreams quietly waiting for the city to wake again. Tap pictures for full-screen slideshow
Looking across the tranquil waters of the Seine to the Pont Neuf, with the graffiti "1785" referring to the date of the French Revolution

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes Square decorated with the bottles of a last party before Covid-19 shut Paris down

Work stopped on the restoration of Notre Dame after it was ravaged by fire last year

The Paris booksellers had to closed up shop during the crisis 

The famous Belle Epoque Cafe Angelina ,at 226 Rue de Rivoli, with its windows and doors boarded up, a favoured cafe of Coco Chanel and Marcel Proust 

L'Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, looking towards the Louvre, remained eerily deserted 
Making a wish, looking across the Seine River
Anais, one of Elli’s favourite local florists, on Rue Montorgueil, also closed
Edouard Manet;s house in the Rue Bonaparte on the Rive Gauche, within a one kilometre radius of Elli's home

Elli Ioannou looks out across the vacant streets and vast forecourt of the Louvre during the lockdown 

During the Coronavirus confinement spring burst into bloom in Paris 

Elli Ioannou's dormer window onto the world looking over the mansard roofs of Paris 

The Ritz Hotel in Paris has all of its wrought-iron doors shut as it closed down during the lockdown and tourists all returned home

The bridges over the Seine are free of people and traffic  
All is quiet in the delightful Place Dauphine in Paris during the Coronavirus restrictions 

B.Biberon & Fils pulled down its dark green shutters 

The French police monitored the city on bicycles and even on rollerblades 

The stone seats under the trees of Place Dauphine are deserted 

The lush greenery of  Saint-Germain-des-Pres, nature had two months to take the city back

The abandoned Pont Neuf Metro station, silent under the spring sunshine

The home for all English language booklovers in Paris, Shakespeare and Company was much missed during the lockdown

Looking through the gilded wrought-iron fence to the Tuileries gardens
The gravel paths of the Tuileries without the crowds that would normally fill its gardens

The trees begin flowering in the Place Dauphine 

The luxurious Hotel Meurice shut up during the lockdown in Paris 

Nature begins to take over the sleeping city after two months of Paris coming to a halt

The deserted Pont des Arts in the heart of Paris 

Louis Vuitton's Saint-Germain-des-Pres store with doors and windows locked up

The green lawns and chairs waiting for Parisians to return to the Tuileries gardens
Astier de Vilatte shuttered, another of Elli's favourite ceramics stores, on Rue St Honore
I.M Pei's glass pyramid lights up the empty forecourt of the Louvre
Fences close off the great courtyard of the Louvre
A lone photographer shoots the vast emptiness at the Louvre

Saint Laurent locked up in Paris

Daisies and poppies grow by the footpaths in the centre of Paris

Chairs stacked inside the historic Cafe de Flore, on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoit, in Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the 6th arrondissement

A lone cyclist takes in the Places des Victoires

The circular Place des Victoires designed in 1685 by Mansart with its statue of King Louis XIV 

Gilded statue of Joan of Arc opposite the Hotel Regina

The gardens around the Louvre closed off for Covid-19

Fifty-five days after the lockdown began, Parisians are able to walk and stroll to their hearts content

People gather on the Pont des Arts as restrictions are lifted in Paris by mid-May
People gather on the banks of the Seine, with social distancing soon forgotten 

Paris is open again and everyone is out to enjoy it

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