THE word of this extraordinary winter in Paris has been couvre-feu. The very expression is still heavy with associations from the 1940s occupation, even if the order to “cover your fires!” was originally intended to protect medieval wooden cities from burning down.
The mid-January tightening of France’s latest couvre-feu – to start at 6pm instead of 8pm – disrupted two important gastronomic rituals: the early evening baguette and the apéritif. Since a quarter of baguettes are normally baked after 6pm, the earlier curfew has created long bread lines after about 5pm. Giant boulangerie queues naturally defeat the very object of a curfew, creating a health risk similar to commuter trains now briefly packed between 5pm and 6pm The 6pm curfew is also intentionally targeting l’heure de l’apéro. Restricting convivial meetings over saucisson and sancerre has helped drive record viewings on French Netflix, in particular for Omar Sy’s excellent “Lupin”.
Our couvre-feu, however, is NOT a strict confinement. Schools and shops in the Paris area are (mostly) still open, but not restaurants, bars and cafés – except for limited takeaway services. Just off the Champs Elysées, traffic still flows past my Europa office but the pavements feel quiet. No waistcoated waiters from stylish brasseries serve creamy noisettes and no fresh fruits de mer are on ice outside elegant fish restaurants. Somehow central Paris has the subdued vibe of the city during a ‘normal’ month of August.