專欄 Patsy Lo
      Patsy Lo

      #SpeakingInDance: Paris. 58 days. Lockdown.

      Day 0

      I am attending a private event on March 15 at Galeries Lafayette on Champs-Élysées when, suddenly, the store announces that it will close in 10 minutes. The country is going into lockdown from midnight as a preventive measure against Covid-19.

      They say you tend to remember what you were doing when dramatic events take place. This is one of them for me.

      Day 2

      Just like that, my life takes an abrupt turn.

      No more dancing 20 hours a week. No more walking around the city as I please. No more eating hot pot with my friends.

      I can only go outside for one hour per day. And only if I have the proper paperwork.

      I sit on my bed for most of the day, trying to convince myself that, yes, for sure this is only for a couple of weeks. But deep within me, I know I’m deluding myself. The French government only says it is for a couple of weeks so that the lockdown is easier to stomach.

      Only “life essential stores” are allowed to remain open — pharmacies, supermarkets, tobacco shops and liquor stores.

      There is no one on the street. No one.

      Day 7

      The silence at night starts to get to me, an eeriness in the air. I can almost hear my own heartbeat.

      Living alone does not help.

      That night, when I take out the trash, I see someone projectile vomiting on the other side of the street. I freeze.

      Day 10

      My body starts to break out in hives.

      I google my symptoms and read this on Wikipedia: “Urticaria, also known as hives, is an outbreak of swollen, pale red bumps or plaques (wheals) on the skin that appear suddenly — either as a result of the body’s reaction to certain allergens, or for unknown reasons. Hives usually cause itching, but may also burn or sting.”

      In my case, the cause is usually stress. In this instance, it escalates into waking me up in the middle of the night, covering large parts of my body. It feels like someone is using a fork to scratch me from under my skin.

      Fortunately, I have had this before. Otherwise, I will have to rush to the hospital — already overburdened with Covid-19 patients — and risk getting an injection of steroids or antihistamines. This may stop the itch but also make my body weaker.

      Instead, I start having chats with my hives: “Hey hives, how are you? Not so good, uh? Please tell me what I can do to help. Things are not so bad, no? We have an apartment, we have food, we can still dance… Not on my face today, ok? Things will get better, I promise.”

      I can’t explain why I don’t hop on a plane to go back to Hong Kong. There are still flights.

      Maybe I know I can make it through. More importantly, maybe my body knows I can evolve from this experience.

      The desolate Louvre, on one of my daily runs.
      The desolate Louvre, on one of my daily runs.

      Day 16

      It is the end of March and it becomes clear that this lockdown will last for many more weeks.

      I begin to wonder if I prefer to “live free or die”.

      To keep occupied, I join one-on-one online dance classes with Rafael Molina (@rafaelmynewyork) and Jean-Baptiste Ferreira (@jbc.ferreira), two dancer friends (and Martha Graham dance teachers) who have adapted their lessons for me. To save me from talking to myself too much. Hives start getting better.

      Day 23

      I crave human interaction. I turn on the TV just to feel connected to the world.

      Day 29

      France launches an online platform for the paperwork which you need to complete in order to go outside.

      “Wait, it is obvious that they didn’t build a back-end server to host and track how many times you have filled out this form each day. So practically speaking, I could cheat the system. Maybe I can do multiple forms each day. Walk more than the 1 kilometre allowed… maybe no one would know…” The wheels in my brain start to turn. I think: “Jail break could be my only way of survival.”

      I start taking longer walks. Whenever I see another restaurant resuming business, even if it is for take-outs only, I feel so happy. It is like seeing life springing up through cracks in the earth.

      Pont Neuf, a foot bridge over the Seine river, at sunset.
      Pont Neuf, a foot bridge over the Seine river, at sunset.

      “OMG! They are delivering hot pot on 方圆食里 [Chinese food app in Paris]. 花膠 soup-based hot pot! They have pig’s feet. Wait, this Michelin-starred French restaurant is now offering delivery on Uber Eats!”

      The people delivering food become my only human contact. I become addicted to seeing their faces — or the parts visible above their masks. They make the extra effort to ensure I get my food. One of them glues his face to the keypad on the entrance, trying to figure out what the codes are. They have to maintain contactless delivery and I can barely understand a word of what they are saying because of my limited French, but seeing the smiles in their eyes is enough.

      Day 44

      As April comes to a close, I do more research on Wikipedia: “Stockholm syndrome has been defined as a (mental disorder) condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity. Emotional bonds may be formed, between captor and captives, during intimate time together, but these are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims.”

      France announces that the confinement will end on May 11 with gradual reopening of various industries.

      I feel a sadness that this confinement is coming to an end. In some ways, I have developed Stockholm syndrome with this lockdown. Loving certain aspects of it. Not sure if my mind has done it to survive or I truly love it.

      I am going to miss running at 8pm every night and watching the sunsets in the silence of the city. I am going to miss the virtual movie nights, where my friends and I video-call each other on WeChat and play the same movie together. I am going to miss falling asleep with my friends still talking on the other end of the group video chat. They are just a few kilometres away, so close, yet so far. I am going to miss reaching out harder to each other because of the imposition of safe distancing.

      Day 58

      There is a story which has often been retold from the final years of Franz Kafka. The novelist had encountered a little girl in the park where he went walking daily. She had lost her doll and was crying.

      Kafka offered to help her look and arranged to meet her the next day at the same park. Unable to find the doll, he wrote a letter from the doll and read it to her when they met.

      “Please do not mourn me, I have gone on a trip to see the world. I will write you of my adventures.”

      This was the first of many letters. When he and the little girl met, he would read to her from these carefully composed letters and tell her about the imagined adventures of the beloved doll. The little girl was comforted.

      At their last meeting, Kafka presented her with a doll, which obviously looked different from the original doll. In the attached letter, the doll explained: “My travels have changed me…”

      Many years later, the girl, now all grown up, discovered a final unread letter stuffed in the doll. It said: “Everything that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”

      It is unclear whether this is a true story or a beautiful legend, but the sentiments expressed are both brutal and tender.

      On the last day of the lockdown, I decide to stay at home and to savour what’s left of my time alone.

      The self-isolation. The silence, the hives and the rest of its beauty. And following that — a rebirth.

      Corona dance.  A beautiful piece by my beautiful and amazingly soulful friend, dancer Valentine Raymond.  Made with her filmmaker father, Bruno Raymond-Damasio.


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