Is it reasonable to keep on counting days?! Despite a vague D-Day having been set by the French government for May 11th, I have a strange feeling that we shall only move from one form of lockdown to another. Less tight possibly, but still far away from the old times of “let’s dash to Spain for dinner”. Well, you know, that sort of thing one loves to say, but hardly ever does, as children, clients, parents (pick the order to suit your taste) come first…
I was thinking yesterday it is nearly a year ago to the day that I was in Aix-en-Provence, walking my way down to the Court of Appeal to plead a rather bloody estate case, as early as 8 a.m. After the hearing, I came back to my hotel and enjoyed a gorgeous breakfast in glorious sunshine, under the huge plane trees. Staff was amused, because for them it was still too cold to make use of the terrace overlooking the pool, but to any Brit, this was as close as you can get to a perfect spring day. They kindly agreed to lay a table for me, and I worked there the rest of the morning, sipping tea between sunrays as I reviewed other cases and made a few phone calls. It was paradise at work, or work in paradise, whichever you fancy most.
A year later, what’s left of that golden bliss? I can’t help but think about that hotel as it must be today, closed down and silent. The staff, so helpful and nice, all out of work, their salaries partially paid by the State (effectively, the French State is now France’s number one employer…). And the owners, probably biting their nails about the future of their business. How long could anyone stand a situation where all your income has disappeared? The same story, in hotels, pubs and restaurants, is heard all over England too. If there are frontliners in hospitals, doing a very positive job indeed, there are frontliners too in the economic disaster we are beginning to see, and there is no positivity in that.
I suppose many will say that pubs, hotels and restaurants are not essential to the life of any nation. But what’s the wisdom in any classification about what is and what isn’t essential? Aren’t all trades essential in their own way? I remember Churchill's words before the Royal Academy in 1938, saying: “the arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them”. If painting is essential (and it certainly is!), the art of gastronomy, reception, and in this I include a ploughman’s lunch in any good pub, is just as essential as any other job. What’s the point of outliving the Corona virus if it is go back to a life stripped bare of any social life? If I am to plead in Aix again at 8 in the morning, where am I to sleep the night before if hotels are closed because “non-essential”? Isn’t it senseless to say what is essential and what is not? Is a bottle of Chateau Palmer essential? One can live without it (and indeed most do). But the same can be said of a painting from Turner or Picasso. Who lives with such masterpieces hung on the walls of his drawing-room, yet aren’t they essential? I can live a life without golden mornings in Aix-en-Provence, but then I could also refuse the case that sent me to Aix in the first place. Anyone can decide to live a shrinking lifestyle: nothing further than what’s beyond my home, and nothing to dream about beyond breathing and living. But come on, that’s no life! It’s not even half a life. The Jungle Book told us what to make of the “bare necessities” of life…
We are all hiding from a virus, indeed saving lives in the process, but effectively killing other forms of life along the way too. I fear that the scars of such a lengthy episode might prove devastating for the stability of any country in the long run. If our hospitals (either side of the Channel) could cope with 40,000 severe patients any day of the year, would we do what we are doing? I wonder and I ponder, but I would say probably not.
Anyway, we are to keep a “good-humored resolve”, are we not? I’ll stick to it, of course I will. I only hope the people in Aix will do the same and that soon we shall meet again under their wonderful plane trees.
Jerome CASEY, © 2020, all rights reserved