Coping with Confinement: My Lockdown Strategies
As of last week, France has gone back into lockdown, which prompted a 454 mile (730km) traffic jam as people tried to get in and out of the city. The lockdown is expected to last a month and while it’s not ideal, it’s not nearly as restrictive as the lockdown we had last spring and everything from taking a walk to going to the grocery store was tense and fraught as there was less information as the Covid-19 virus is spread, and masks were in short supply.
On the second day of the current lockdown, I went to get a few groceries and there were people on the streets, people eating food in front of restaurants, people in offices, and even the local vodka shop was open. (Bookstores, however, are closed as they’re not considered essential businesses. Interestingly, large supermarkets can remain open, but aren’t allowed to sell books either.)
The situation is evolving and my hunch is there will be more stringent measures put into place, a feeling shared by everyone I’ve spoken to here. But unlike last spring, I have enough baking chocolate, flour, and sugar, to last for a couple of months. (Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has also agreed that this lockdown is likely to continue through Christmas.) For the record, I’m not a hoarder. Because of what I do, I always have a few month’s worth of baking ingredients on hand because, well…you never know, do you? Last time I was caught without any chocolate, which in my line of work is considered “essential.”
In my November newsletter, I wrote up a few things that helped me get through the last lockdown, which I’m applying to the current one. I’ve been hearing from people around the world how difficult lockdowns have been for them, so I thought I’d share some things that I do, that kept me sane, while I adjust to the new reality – again.
Many people are dealing with “pandemic” fatigue. Wearing a mask, being afraid to touch everyday objects, unable to eat in restaurants or have a drink at a bar, not being able to travel, nor being able to see friends and family, has been taking its toll on everyone. Earlier last week, I fell into a little depression. The everpresent grisaille (gray skies) was hovering over Paris and the city was damp, drizzly, and dreary, and when I went to the market, I missed the brightness of the previous season’s cherries and peaches and came home with squash, apples, and a pineapple. I am fond of squash, apples, and pineapple, but the combo wasn’t enough to rouse me out of my funk.
So I met a friend for lunch and had a “smashburger” at Echo Deli. If you read my book L’Appart, you’ll remember that burgers became my comfort food when the going got tough during those months…which turned into years. (Back then, they were still a novelty. Nowadays, burgers show up on 85% of the restaurant menus in France.) Just spending time with a friend and eating something that made me feel better was the double-header I needed, and I felt a lot better. And while I don’t think the burger had anything to do with it, the sun came out and the walk home was glorious.
Every morning, make a list daily of what you want to accomplish that day.
Make the list large and tape it to the wall so it’ll seem more important. (Which it is.) I started this when I began doing Instagram Live Apéro Hour videos and had to organize my time, as well as my guests, my recipes, and my liquor. As an ex-professional baker, I know the importance of “the list” and how complete it should be. So even something as insignificant as “Take a shower” or “Call my aunt” should go on that list. Crossing things off as you accomplish them will make you feel like you’re moving forward and getting things done, and carrying on with life.
I’m one of those people who can’t exercise unless someone is yelling at me. Ok, that’s not quite true. They don’t need to be yelling, but if someone is not standing over me or if I’m not in a group, I’ll quit after 5 minutes to check my email or rummage through the refrigerator for a snack.
After a knee injury a few years back at “boot camp” I now do Pilates. Fortunately the two studios I go to in Paris have been offering classes on Zoom which keep me connected to my teachers and the other students. At the very start of the previous confinement last spring, I made a commitment to myself that I would exercise every single day, and I had no excuses not to. Except…with classes costing €18 ($21) at one studio I go to (yes, even online), taking classes daily at 18X30 would cost €540/$640 a month, and I’d be heading straight from confinement to the poorhouse…albeit with impressive shoulder muscles.
To soften the financial blow, I found some very good classes on YouTube, particularly those by Katja (who does yoga and Pilates) and Beth, who are both calm and clear instructors. But even if you’re not athletic, it helps to do some stretching and it’s nice to have a guided voice to keep you motivated. A little searching around will help you find the right people to follow that meet your needs if you’re like me and need to be prodded. (Update: Readers in the comments recommended Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and Pilatesology for online Pilates.)
Note: If you do free online video classes, you’ll notice there are ads before the workouts. That’s how the instructors make a living, especially now that many gyms and fitness facilities are closed and some are doing online classes. So let an ad or two run before you workout so they make some money for their work. The cost to you? Zéro. Zip. Nada. I click on the video, then get changed and unroll my mat while the ads run :-)
I tried Glo and used their two-week trial for free fitness classes which are quite good. It goes to $18/month after the trial period. And kudos to them for having teachers with different body types than the usual ones you see in exercise programs. Another platform, Patreon, has become popular for content creators and has a fitness section, although I haven’t tried any of them. Another option is Apple Fitness+ (if you have one of their watches, which I don’t.) In terms of mental fitness, if you need to calm your mind and help you sleep, I’ve been using the Calm app for a couple of years and I like many of the options and programs it features for relaxing and sleeping. Headspace is another good app for that, and Insight Timer is another (which I don’t use) but is free and has live yoga classes.
[UPDATE: I should mention I use a daylight therapy lamp, mine is made by Beurer, which I don’t have concrete proof that it works against Seasonal Affective Disorder, but they are recommended and I do seem to feel better for using it. Also many in France take Vitamin D supplements which are said to help.)
That’s admittedly hard to do if you can’t easily shop for ingredients, and I know it’s easy to eat frozen pizzas, chocolate, ice cream, peanut M&M’s, and leftover Halloween candy corn, which I enjoy in moderation. But I do make it a point to include lots of vegetables and salads in my diet and recommend the same. It makes me feel good to eat well.
Many communities have CSA boxes which are a fun way to add variety to your life, and diet. Here’s a directory of them in the U.S. I tried a few in Paris but wasn’t entirely pleased with the offerings, one of which Romain described as la misère when it arrived, so I stick with getting my produce at shops like Biocoop, Terroirs d’Avenir, and Au Bout du Champ, which feature produce from small growers. Eating well is one of the best and easiest ways to stay healthy and eating local, if you can, helps others in your community.
And while you may not be able to travel, if you want to do some French cooking, La Cuisine in Paris including Live Cuisine Camp classes, Kate Hill in the Southwest of France, and Les Petits Farcis in Nice, are offering online cooking classes, as are my friends Susana Trilling at Seasons of My Heart in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Judy Witts in Tuscany. As for me, I’ll be doing a French Apéritif Class for Context Travel on November 15th if you’re feeling thirsty for France.
Organize something…and use everything.
I never was able to wrap my head around a total Kondo-style purge, which has you go through everything in your home at the same time, rather than room-by-room or closet-by-closet, as most of us normally do. But I did organize my liquor shelf, which boasts 150 bottles that were in complete disarray during the last lockdown. Not sure if that would please Ms. Kondo, but at least I can find my ginger eau-de-vie and curaçao.
While remaining mindful of keeping a reasonable supply of food on hand, when it became clear that there wouldn’t be any major food shortages here last spring, I went through my refrigerator and freezer, and scoured through my kitchen drawers and cabinets, to gather and use all those bits and pieces and cans and boxes and bottles of everything that’s been sitting around, waiting for the right time to use them. I dawned on me, “Now’s the time!”
I melted the 5 packets of flavored butters I found crammed in various spots in my freezer to make cornbread, which turned out to be the best cornbread I ever made in my life. Kitchen Sink chocolate chip cookies which used a little bit of this, and some of that, to become a lockdown staple around here. And not a single radish leaf went to waste as I made a nourishing (and thrifty) Radish Leaf Soup, and Radish Leaf Pesto.
So in the name of anti-gaspillage (being against food waste) and fun, dig through your cabinets and refrigerator and see what you can come up with to use all those odds and ends.
Do good online.
A lot of people aren’t feeling or doing so great right now, especially small businesses that have taken a profound hit by having to close their doors. France has offered financial assistance to businesses that have had to close and to pay employees up to 84% of their salaries, but they are still struggling, as are people elsewhere.
Having worked in a number of restaurants, I know that very, very, very few people go into the work and say, “I’m going to use this opportunity to do a bad job today.” I like to think that people are doing their best in whatever endeavor they’ve chosen to pursue, so let’s support people in the food, beverage, and hospitality business as best we can. So before leaving a negative review of a restaurant and other establishment online, if something is really off or you’ve had a negative experience, rather than post about it, send a message to the management to see if it can be resolved.
Even if you haven’t had a bad experience, small businesses could use your help so take some of that free time you’ve got on your hands to write positive things about your favorite restaurants, bakeries, cafés, and bars on social media and websites. (As well as your favorite books on websites that allow reviews, which really help authors.) Tip well if you can and be patient with the staff.
In other places online, such as on social media, before you hit the “Send” button, think about what you are posting or how you are responding to a comment. Are you adding something positive to the conversation? Or just being a pill because you don’t agree with someone who prefers creamy peanut butter to chunky, or they didn’t have spaghetti so used rigatoni in their pasta Puttanesca. Stop, take a breath, and turn that attitude around.
And if you want to start a quarrel because someone posted a picture of a pair of chopsticks next to a bowl of Bibimbap, which I naively did (for the record, I usually use a spoon, and chopsticks for the bigger pieces), use that energy to volunteer at your local hospital or community center, where you’ll see there are bigger problems.
Give yourself a break.
Whew! This one is so hard to do. We are told to “be strong,” which is indeed a worthy goal. But it’s hard when there’s a global pandemic, global leaders are saying n’importe quoi and blurring the lines between truth and reality, and neighborhoods and businesses are in upheaval, are adding to global feelings of frustration while the virus has turned our lives upside down.
We’re dealing with a wheelhouse of emotions we’re not used to confronting, during this unprecedented time, most notably loneliness, depression, hostility, futility, and helplessness. Stay mindful of the news and be vigilant. If you live in the U.S. or are American, be sure to vote. That’s one thing we still have control over and hasn’t been taken away from us. But feel free to take a moment away from social media and television and engage with people in positive conversations. Or go for a walk to experience nature and see the good things around us. I’m about to do that right now. But in case that doesn’t work, that restaurant is still offering smashburgers (à emporter/to go), in case I need another one in the next few weeks, or longer…