“And have there been any cases of Covid in La Bréchoire?” we asked. “Yes, one lady, ‘Madame X’, sadly passed away in a care home in Rouillac. Mind you, she was 102.”
As I write, France has recorded well over 200,000 cases of Covid-19, with 2,500 or more new cases every 24 hours: the highest daily rise since lockdown was lifted in May. Nevertheless, deaths have remained at a low level. The reason for this second wave seems to be that young people on holiday are catching it from one another, but are only rarely presenting serious symptoms.
So if you want to stay safe, avoid young people… like the plague
It would be true to say that rural Charente has not (yet) experienced a deadly wave of infections. In the departmental capital of Angoulême one might be wise to take precautions, but even there the situation has been nothing like as bad as in large cities such as Paris, Marseille or Bordeaux, where the wearing of face coverings, even in the open air, is now de rigueur.
As we have no wish to contract Covid, this is a pretty safe place to be, staying in our own holiday home in a hamlet of no more than 40 inhabitants. Social distancing is easy here in Charente, where you can go all week without seeing another soul.
Although infection rates locally have been very low, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been disruption. The initial lockdown in France was more severe than in the UK. Just a short drive to buy food (there are no shops within walking distance of the village) required people to fill in a form in case they were stopped by the police. One elderly couple we know were unable to see their daughter, who works over 100 km away in Bordeaux, for four months.
I get the impression that matters have been pretty well handled so far. Mask wearing, compulsory in shops and restaurants, has been almost universally respected. The local farm shop has instigated a one-way system, with hand-washing on entry. Queuing outside the pâtisserie rather than inside is hardly a major issue. In certain respects, from our point of view, it’s business as usual. As in England, the weather has been extremely hot and dry, so nearly everyone has chosen to eat and drink outside. In the evenings you can hear unfamiliar fluting notes of birdsong.
Nevertheless, some activities have been curtailed. August in France is all about family holidays, and everything is scheduled to take place when people can get out and about in groups. For example, there is a calendar of evening markets. At Saint-Cybardeaux, a few kilometres from where I am staying, once a year local producers of meat, cheeses, wines, bread, vegetables (and snails, indeed) set up stalls around the village square. Normally there is a big barbecue on the go, chickens roasting on spits and a well patronised buvette. People buy what takes their fancy from these producers, then sit at long trestle tables to enjoy a socially-undistanced supper. It is a perfect way to make friends and support local farmers, and is one of the highlights of the summer. Although the market did go ahead this year, it was poorly attended and there were no tables. We stayed for 15 minutes, bought a few items to show willing, then went home.
It was not the same
July’s Blues Passion festival at Cognac was cancelled. Nor were there any concerts at the local abbey church.
Rouillac swimming pool has been closed, a real loss in this heat, but there are other places to cool off.
About 15 minutes away is Les Gours, a natural plan d’eau fed by springs, with a sandy beach. But when it gets busy – which it certainly is now – the water can be a little murky, and I prefer to drive a bit further to Jarnac (proud home of Courvoisier) and jump in the river. With temperatures in the 30s every day so far in August, it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour or two.
What does the future hold?
As of yesterday Britons returning from France will have to go into quarantine. This is a nuisance but hardly a tragedy as far as we are concerned. But my wife’s cousin, on the point of coming out to a villa in Provence with his young family, has had to cancel. It’s another blow to French tourism. Many shops and restaurants here are struggling to stay in business. Without us Brits I am sure many would have closed years ago. Our lives are so entwined that there can be very few people – in any country – who have not been, or will not be affected by this pandemic. With the situation changing from day to day, this blog may look very out-of-date by the time you read it.