Signs of the times

The Ukrainian flag flying at La Marie, Poitiers

We went on a brief trip to visit my family in London last weekend. There was a large gathering in a Wimbledon pub to celebrate a brother’s birthday and a niece’s engagement. It was all very jolly, but on our return on Monday we learnt that a sister-in-law who had attended the party had tested positive for Covid. Since then, one of my brothers, his daughter, and, yesterday, one of my daughters, have all tested positive. Fortunately, no-one has reported anything worse than mild flu symptoms. Madame and I had tests mid-week. Both were negative, but we were advised to take them again next week.

Perhaps this is how it is going to be in the future: Covid relegated to being on a par with winter colds and flu, and vaccinations being developed to deal with it increasingly effectively. I could live with that.

Tomorrow, 14th March, it will be two years exactly since the night in La Mangeoire when the owner, Florent, told us the government had just announced that all bars and restaurants in France would be closed from midnight until further notice. In the two years since then, there have been lockdowns, reopenings, curfews, and vaccination passes. The wearing of masks has become normal, and checking the daily statistics for new cases has become as routine as checking the weather or the football results. Now, however, there are grounds for cautious optimism.

Tomorrow will see a significant change in France. The requirement to show a vaccine pass – in force in various forms since the summer of 2021 – ends in almost all venues. Only nursing homes, hospitals, and medical centres will retain the use of the pass, and it will again revert to being a health pass – which means that unvaccinated people can use a negative Covid test. The pass is technically ‘suspended’ rather than scrapped, so it could return if cases spike again.

The mask rule, already lifted for bars, cafés, museums, and gyms, will now be lifted for almost all indoor venues, including shops and workplaces. It will remain the rule on public transport and in medical establishments.

Whilst this is obviously welcome news, it comes at a slightly odd moment. After a long and steady fall, the average number of Covid cases has increased for five days in a row. The running average is now 54,372 – about 2% up on last week. A very similar pattern can be seen in the UK. The government seems unconcerned (so far) and expects the coming warmer spring weather to reverse the recent trend. We shall see.

***

Tuesday was International Women’s Day, and the council put banners up on La Mairie to publicise this. Very commendable, you would think, but the gesture was not approved of by all.

The problem was that one of the faces drawn on the banners is wearing a veil. Various opposition groups on the council objected to this. Pierre-Étienne Rouet, on behalf of the group Notre priorité, c’est vous! (“Our priority is you”) denounced this “attack on the fundamental principles of our secular democracy”, and said that the representation of a woman ostensibly wearing a religious sign, whatever it may be, on a public building was not acceptable and goes against those universal values ​​which should be particularly embraced on International Women’s Day. Objections were also raised by Alain Claeys, former mayor and member of the opposition group Poitiers, l’avenir s’écrit à taille humaine (“Poitiers, the future is written on a human scale”), who declared himself “shocked” and said, “I do not have a narrow vision of secularism. But today when we defend the rights of women, this symbol is particularly ill-suited”.

There was no comment from the Green Party majority group on the council, who were no doubt reflecting on Oscar Wilde’s dictum: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

***

International Women’s Day saw the opening of a new exhibition, Guerrilla Girls, at Poitiers’ Musée Sainte-Croix.

Guerrilla Girls is a group of anonymous female artists, formed in New York in 1985. Their declared aim is to fight sexism and racism in art, film, politics, and pop culture. They work via posters, books, billboards, and public appearances to expose discrimination.

The exhibition is small, but thought-provoking and entertaining. It consists of a series of images that the group has produced since they were formed.

Here are a few of them:

At least since the “Oscar” one was created in 2002, some limited progress has been made. There have now been two female Best Directors – Kathryn Bigelow, in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, and Chloé Zhao, last year for Nomadland. I suppose 2 out of 93 is not bad.

***

Being married to a Scot, I am careful to avoid stereotypical references to Scottish taciturnity or tight-fistedness. However, to my surprise, the subject came up in conversation at home this week, and Madame said that, within Scotland, it is the residents of Aberdeen who have this reputation. She told me this story to illustrate the point.

An Aberdonian rang his local newspaper and said that he wanted to put an obituary in the Births, Marriages, and Deaths column. The switchboard operator said she would be happy to help, and asked him to dictate the wording.

The man gravely announced: “Peter Reed from Peterhead is dead”.

(To appreciate this fully, you need to rhyme “head” and “dead” with Reed.)

The somewhat surprised receptionist said that the minimum charge was £1 for less than ten words, and so he still had three words left.

After a short pause, the man said: “Peter Reed from Peterhead is dead. Volvo for sale”.

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