The Pompidou Centre, a complex building in the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement / Photo by Melinda Nagy via Shutterstock

The Year That Wasn’t

Around the corner and up a busy boulevard is my neighborhood bakery. It isn’t the best bakery in the Quartier Beaubourg — that would be around the block in the other direction where people line up and order their lunches of fresh salads, quiches, and homemade sandwiches. The bakery I go to has all of those things (except the salads), but the wait is much shorter, and the quality is just fine but nothing award winning (we’ll go to the fancy bakery for special occasions, such as in preparation for Christmas to get a really good crusty baguette and a decadent pistachio and chocolate bûche de noël cake).

All of which is to say that because I’m a creature of habit, and I hate waiting, I frequent the less charming bakery on a near daily basis. From what I can gather, there are two couples who work there — probably related somehow — and we make polite small talk when I’m paying for my bag of four madeleines or my lunch sandwich. Mercifully, the banter is kept to a minimum since that kind of socialization is near the bottom of my list of what I’m looking for unless it involves gossip. One can learn a few things from a well-oiled loose tongue, and it was from my baker that I first heard the rumors about when the government was going to ease some of the COVID-19 restrictions that had kept restaurants and bars closed for almost six months in Paris.

Typically, the thread of rumors was said in a kind of sing-song manner. “I heard that they are going to require a vaccination passport,” was first reported by the baker’s wife in an ever-increasing octave as she bagged my purchase.

“Oh?” I replied politely, not sure what to make of her sources but mildly curious what this might mean for me.

Her prognostications had been pretty accurate throughout the COVID pandemic. So, as the spring became the summer and the government finally announced a requirement that in order to go to a restaurant, bar, or even the cherished sidewalk café, one would need to show proof of double vaccination (called the pass sanitaire in French), I remembered the prophetic chorus of my baker from weeks before.

The thing is, it worked. As much as I can’t stand Macron and his neoliberal government, the vaccination passport achieved its aim of making everyone who wanted to participate in normal life get their COVID shots. The rate of vaccination among the French as I write this is at 88.6% for adults. Yes, there is a fifth wave of infections with hospitals again feeling the pain of dealing with a spike in ICU patients. But over 75% of those in the hospital are unvaccinated people.

Aside from the now ubiquitous use of face masks everywhere in public — my mask(s) are part of my normal pocket check before I leave the apartment, along with my keys, wallet, and dog’s poopy bags — life is back to normal in France. That’s not to say that things might still change and we’ll have to face new challenges or restrictions after the holidays (my baker/oracle has remained strangely mute on this topic), but in comparison to 2020 this past year has been markedly better.

My thoughts turn to how the United States could have better managed its vaccination efforts, to mitigate the resistance of so many anti-vaxxers (of which France has a large and vocal contingent as well, who largely fell in line when the possibility of no longer being able to sit and smoke on a sidewalk terrasse loomed large if they didn’t get their vaccination passport). Perhaps if the U.S. government had found a similar lure in its fisherman’s box of rules and regulations. Maybe if it required a vaccination passport to fly domestically, or to go to sporting events, or to purchase a gun.

Ah, I think that might have changed the course of the spread of the virus.