Confiné © Damien Boeuf

Un Anglais à Marseille #8

Prof d’anglais et coursier à vélo à Marseille, Rory Launder livre son regard sur la ville tout en vous donnant une occasion de réviser votre anglais. Dans ce huitième épisode, il raconte les premiers jours de la période de confinement national, alors qu’il fait partie de ces millions de personnes qui travaillent encore pour subvenir à nos besoins…


Walking back and forth. Bicycles in the bedroom. Scrumpled clothes strewn over every surface. Turn off left-on light in bathroom, into kitchen (a mess). Out onto balcony, crushed cans on the floor. An empty bottle, a circle of sun-dried Merlot at its bottom. A glass with the same. Back into kitchen, I should take the recycling out. Bathroom light is off, bedroom. I should clean the windows, but settle for closing the curtains. (And repeat.) And I’m one of the lucky ones.

On Tuesday I wrote: I just cried for the first time since last writing about the Rue d’Aubagne (a month ago). With two minutes to go, at 19.58 I received a text message encouraging people to open their windows, get out on their balconies, to applaud. At eight o’clock exactly we applaud. We applaud the emergency services. The nurses, the doctors, the ambulances drivers. This loud public outpouring of solidarity cracked the stiff upper lip, the keep calm and carry on. Shivers down the spine, like remembering a live concert. Oh it’s coming. Weak in the legs, hot from the stomach up, stinging the nose. No one can see me, I step forward, clapping louder I embrace the tears.

It’s Friday. Exactly a year since the first article. “Difficult and destabilising days, a new and distressing Marseille malaise.” This time it’s global. But there’s no doubt the days are destabilising and difficult.

I remember when this virus was a joke. When we were laughing, saying it was nothing. In many respects it still is nothing. Since November more people have died in traffic accidents. I heard that a terrifying 24,000 people die per day due to malnutrition. I remember asking my Dad a week ago (just to check the panic levels) have you started stocking up on cans of tuna? “I bought four yesterday.” I was delighted. Such a British response. My father would normally buy between zero and two cans of tuna per week, so buying four seemed to hit perfectly that sweet spot between panic and precaution.

Half of my friends are sick. Most are already on their way to recovery. I don’t know anyone in hospital. Our team of ten coursiers a vélos has been devastated. One is on long-term broken leg, one lives with his Mum and has decided not to work, one left at the end of his contract and is currently volunteering at St. Just, one has a young child and can’t decide whether he should be going outside or not, one went home to Germany, two are sick, so that leaves three. We have recruited two new ones. Two artists suddenly out-of-work, that we met in the street.

We’re the lucky ones. We can work, be outside, and cycle all day. We deliver food and other essentials from Carrefour Centre Bourse to people at home. I wish we could block people under sixty from ordering. Or only allow people who have additional needs and the elderly. The reality is we can’t meet the demand, and the majority of deliveries go to youngish people with internet connections.

My girlfriend has stopped speaking to me. I understand her completely. A colleague of hers tested positive eleven days ago, we spent the week together, and on Thursday she started feeling sick. I left her on Friday night, and have only seen her once since (to deliver some vegetables with our now standard precautions: gloves, mask, no going into the apartment etc etc, which as you would imagine also excludes hugging and kissing). She’s feeling better now and with her strength returning so has her anger.

Most of my friends agree that abandoning her was the correct thing to do, but by contrast regard my friend in Bruxelles, who on hearing his girlfriend started to feel sick cycled 80km to Liege to be with her. They are now both sick, in self-imposed quarantine, together.

My brother married yesterday. In England. Fleeing Prague hours before the border closed, the happy couple don’t know when they will return. The ceremony was planned for April 5th. A hundred guests had confirmed. I bought a suit (which is now locked in a closed-down shop on the rue de Rome). I was hesitating to buy the shoes, another 70€. Maybe the money would be better spent on cans of tuna.

So I finish this article with a cut-and-paste of the end of the speech my Dad read in my absence at the wedding:

I imagined a wedding with a 120 people, like all the other weddings. A wedding with 60 people would have been a bit sad. Then I imagined a wedding with ten people, or even just three. The priest and the two principals. And in these complicated times, I felt something.

My brother wrote me to say the vicar is getting itchy feet and he’s worried if we don’t do it now the church will be closed, and we might not be able to do it at all. And it’s here I find the magic. They organised a ‘big’ wedding, a normal wedding, with a 120 people from all over.

And then the vicar says “do you want to get married tomorrow?”

And boom. They say yes.

And here we see the strength of this young woman. No hesitation. No dilly-dallying. We do it tomorrow.

I can’t think of anything more romantic.


Rory Launder