The city as stage: Experiencing Clermont-Ferrand, France, during the first lockdown, March-May 2020
In France, on 16 March 2020, the French President Macron announced mandatory home lockdown for fifteen days starting at midday on 17 March 2020. This was extended twice and ended on 11 May 2020. The French population was, therefore, confined to the home for work and leisure for a total of fifty-five days. Outings of a maximum of one hour within a radius of one kilometre from the home residence were permitted for exercise as were trips for an unspecified time to buy provisions for the home and for other unavoidable reasons (professional, medical, etc.). Everyone had to be armed with a form to be filled for each outing. Not only did one have to write one’s name and address and the object of the trip but also the date and especially time of departure. Throughout this period, however, I was not once stopped by the police or other figure of national authority and asked to show the said document. During the previous months, I had regularly travelled back and forth by air and rail transport from Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, where I reside, to London and had manifestly not caught the coronavirus. And while I did not doubt its virulence, I felt no fear and, with my husband, ventured forth onto the streets of Clermont for a daily evening walk. Each outing became an extraordinary scenic and sensory exploration of this provincial city – a discovery not only of byways and buildings but also of birdsong and plants. With a population density of 3 439 inhabitants per square kilometre, one would have imagined encounters to be frequent. The streets were, however, virtually deserted with no cars and few people if one took to the streets after 19h30, the beginning of the French evening meal. It is this experience of a microphysical touring of a one-kilometre patch of the city, that I wish to present using different narrative strategies. Based on an autoethnographic approach, I shall attempt to convey the experience that walking under COVID and off the pavement produced during this first lockdown before the wearing of masks became both necessary and obligatory. This first-person narrative will be supported by the testimonies of others as well as primary and secondary audio-visual sources. Reference to Michel de Certeau’s seminal writing on The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) underpins my approach as do the works of the anthropologists Tim Ingold (2007, 2010) and David Howes (2004, 2013) amongst others.
Georgiana Gore (Université Clermont Auvergne)
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of Clermont Auvergne (ACTé), and founder/coordinator of masters in the Anthropology of Dance including the Erasmus Mundus Choreomundus. Publications include Anthropologie de la danse: Genèse et construction d’une discipline, 2006 (with Andrée Grau) reprinted in 2020 with a new Preface by Gore.