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One Kilometer Life

Jeff & Jeff — in Paris & SF — compare notes on daily life within a corona-virus boundary

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Near-Biblical sunsets are visible within my one-kilometer, Golden-Gate-Heights’ life-and-exercise boundary in San Francisco.
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The streets of Paris are mostly empty during the confinement — the French term for the mandated limitations — with residents required to remain within a one-kilometer radius (a little more than half a mile) of home or face fines. There are exceptions for work or trips to buy necessities, but most people in Paris live within a kilometer of at least one grocery store, pharmacy and boulangerie. While it is incredibly tempting to jump on my bike and ride deserted streets, a sense of personal responsibility and a €135 fine are effective deterrents. The vast majority of people I’ve seen out riding a bike are those delivering food or pharmaceuticals.
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Data and good manners suggest that runners keep at least 12 feet from others because of sweat droplets. Most runners in San Francisco seem unaware. Some also travel distances far beyond a one-kilometer boundary in part because there are no restrictions preventing them from doing so. With vehicular traffic still common, the dance from street to sidewalk, or vice versa, can create an unintentional pas de deux.
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Parisians generally maintain the recommended social distance of two meters, whether they are jogging, walking or standing in line at the boulangerie. In grocery stores, however, people wander within that distance repeatedly. For those of us trying to maintain the space, the shopping experience turns into a live-action version of an old video game as we try to avoid the oblivious.
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I’m fortunate to have plenty of stairs to climb within my neighborhood boundary. The tiled steps are just a few blocks away and the shelter-in-place order has kept thousands of tourists from clogging the path.
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The Carreau du Temple — built in 1863 as a covered marketplace — had become something of an eyesore in the neighborhood in the early 2000s. Local residents approved a city plan to convert the massive building into a multi-use, public event space. Reopened in 2013, it hosts a wide array of events most weekends and has led to the opening of many trendy cafes nearby. Events have been cancelled during the confinement, but it has become one of three locations in the city where nearly 5,000 packed lunches are being distributed each day to homeless people by the Aurore association in partnership with the city and national government.
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Like all of San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, the Inner Sunset where I live is very quiet. With ridership down, the streetcars have now stopped running. Buses, which carry far fewer passengers, have replaced them.
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The Marais — which means “swamp” in French — is a mostly flat quarter and is filled with narrow streets ideal for walking and seeing only-in-Paris boutiques. I have never seen our streets this quiet.
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You see things in a different light when you’re forced to look up instead of ahead all the time. Yet while the southern segment of Golden Gate Park is within my self-imposed boundary, I’m now avoiding it as a running or walking venue. The park’s 1,000 acres remain fully open to the public and not everyone practices the appropriate physical distancing.
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Before the confinement, I frequently saw tour groups stop at this wall of an elementary school just down the street from us. It is a reminder of the history of this neighborhood, under which lies the remnants of a Knights Templar fortress — or temple in French — first created in 1139. Although King Philip had the last leader of the Knights burned at the stake in 1311, the walls of the fortress stood until they were destroyed by Napoleon III in 1853 to make way for Baron Haussmann’s vision for a new Paris. The name Temple endures in the neighborhood, as you will see in a subsequent image.
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Cypress trunks and root systems, both living and dead, are a common and sometimes fanciful sight within my boundary’s open spaces in San Francisco. This one made me think of a grounded owl or a standing raccoon. All that’s missing is the characteristic hiss.
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Paris is a very green city with many parks, including the Square du Temple, where ducks and other waterfowl can be seen in and around a pond year round. Since the confinement, city parks with gates like this have been closed.
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The waiting lines for San Tung restaurant, a neighborhood favorite known for serving the best chicken wings in San Francisco, are often around the block. No more. The restaurant is now open only for takeout.
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While the city’s bike-sharing program — called Velib’ — is free during the confinement, the bike docks are pretty full since there’s nowhere to go.
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Strong winds bend trees and the will of runners within my one-kilometer boundary on the western side of the City. Trails are less practical now since they’re often not wide enough to allow fellow runners or walkers to properly distance themselves.
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All too frequently during the confinement, I find myself feeling like this cat looks, perhaps wanting terribly to get outside and simply escape.
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Dry cleaners are considered essential businesses in San Francisco’s shelter-in-place economy. Mine is using its front window to drum up business.
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The confinement has been extended another two weeks until April 15, but many people here anticipate it will be extended through the end of the month. In the meantime, this is the limit of my aerobic exercise, riding my road bike on a stationary trainer. Although it might appear as if I am positioned smartly behind the van in order to take advantage of its draft, I am feeling no benefits beyond the psychological.
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While I’m not stationary like my friend, I am a creature of habit. After every run, I strip in the garage and immediately wash my clothes, just in case. I don’t want a healthy activity to become a cruel irony.
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Jeff Ballinger
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Jeff Miller

Culture writer with an eye for history, science, sports, art, politics, photography, travel, and the original story between the lines.

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