The streets might be empty, with police stopping those who dare to venture outside, but COVID-19 is leaving the French art of eating well unscathed.
“A nice cut of quality beef, some goat’s cheese and a good wine,” said civil servant Cyrille, contemplating his lunch as he lined up in the sun outside the Bellevilloise butcher shop in eastern Paris.
“La vie est belle [life is good],” he said with a smile of his forced holiday, all the sweeter since he can eat on his balcony now spring has come early to the French capital.
Trips out to buy food are among the few exceptions permitted during the tight lockdown — and the food-loving French are taking full advantage.
The small bakeries, cheese shops, delicatessens and charcuteries that dot French high streets have been doing a roaring trade since the nation went into lockdown on Tuesday.
The pandemic is no excuse not to live well, was the message from the nation of gourmets.
With restaurants closed, social media is abuzz with people sharing images of the sumptuous meals they have prepared at home, as well as recipes for using up all the ingredients they had panic bought.
Comedian Jeremstar said that he was looking forward to putting on 29kg during his confinement.
Despite the shutdown, some things are sacred.
Bernadette Jeanpierre could not contemplate life without fresh baguettes.
She starts her day by getting one from her local boulangerie and picks up another still warm from the oven in the evening, she said as she waited in line outside with her grandson, observing the strict 2m social distancing.
She was aghast at the thought of buying a supermarket loaf that might last a few days.
“I would rather die. That is not bread,” she said.
With only “essential” food outlets and pharmacies allowed to stay open, there has been heated debate about whether wine shops are indispensable for civilized French life to continue.
While many have shut, some cavistes (wine shop managers), like Cecile Mezzanotte of Cavavin at Malakoff on the southern edge of Paris, say that they are providing an essential service.
“My customers are really happy that I have stayed open,” albeit with reduced hours, Mezzanotte said.
“I really feel it’s helping... I can see their pleasure when they see I’m open, it brings a little bit of joy and laughter back” in these difficult times, she said.
To limit the chance of infection, Mezzanotte asks customers not to touch the bottles and accepts only contactless credit card payments.
Several greengrocers have imposed a similar policy.
Wine merchant Sandrine Chaneac in the well-heeled southeastern suburb of Saint-Mande was letting only one customer at a time into her shop for the same reason, while saying it would be wrong to deprive people of good wine, especially in a time of crisis.
“Cavistes and their customers have a special relationship of trust” which builds up over the years, Chaneac said, adding that people from other nations might not fully appreciate the bond.
“I know their tastes, and I can suggest interesting wines that will please and surprise them even on a budget,” she said.
Yet there were signs on Thursday that the insouciance might be fraying as people begin to realize that the lockdown could be lengthy.
“Yesterday, they were lining up around the block here,” customer Selim Akkoc said at a halal butcher shop in Couronnes. “Today, I walked straight in. There is no one.”
The Chez l’Auvergnat cheese shop a few kilometers away was preparing to batten down the hatches for a prolonged shutdown.
“We are going to close up once we have sold the stock,” fromageur Mickael said. “People have bought enough to keep them going for weeks, and there are fewer and fewer people around every day.”
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