Notes from a locked down country

Despair and solace in complete isolation

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

NORMANDY – What do you write in times like these? First I was paralyzed. Living through history takes a moment to sink in. I kept waiting for the hidden cameras to pop out. “Haha, gotcha!” the producers would say, as I finished writing the pledge on my honor required to step outside my own door. Then I felt I could only publish something perfect, something commensurate with the circumstances. But nothing is, so I stayed quiet. That won’t work either.

I’ll just tell you what the last few days have been like for me. This won’t be literature, not even journalism, but at least it’s not another brand telling you how they’re disinfecting their stores. Maybe it’ll help you. Honestly, I’m writing it to help myself.

I last took public transit on March 11. That was the day I sat in my last café and gave my last hug to a friend, briefly, with my face turned away. I have since been in cars with two people, there was one worker in my house. Deliveries were dropped on the doorstep. I turned down three in-person meetings and a birthday in a pub. I shopped in a bakery once, with gloves on. I washed my hands often enough to crack the skin. I saw one landlord and three neighbors, from a distance. Two parents.

This is my rosary. Counting my few human contacts reminds me I was more careful than most. When Londoners around me were still going to pubs and plays, I hunkered down. The biggest risk was heading home. Concerned by the laissez-faire attitude in Downing Street, I joined my parents in Normandy rather than face weeks alone in London. The decision was an agony; it continues to be as I tick off the days the virus could be incubating and passing to them. A less soothing rosary.

I am luckier than most: I have company and a large garden, no children to mind, no business to run, no financial concerns. I am not a medical professional. For perspective, I even started a list of everyone who has it worse than me in France. I’m on page 4. Yet yesterday I gave in to despair. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. If one more person tells me Newton discovered gravity and Shakespeare wrote King Lear in isolation, I might virtually punch them. It’s not enough to stay sane in this madness, I have to create my best work, too? The two things I fear most are losing my loved ones and living in a cage. Both are becoming very real. You’ll excuse me if I’m not inspired.

Still, there is solace in small moments: muted laughter over family dinner, a glimpse of a child over the garden fence, storks nesting not far away. Wherever you are in the world, however far you are from making those same decisions, I hope it helps you to know there is a certain peace on the other side of options. I don’t expect to leave this house until May. All I can do now is wait. Everything else is out of my very clean hands.

Women who should have been in your history books

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Enough about me. I’d like this newsletter to look outward and provide solace in these trying times, however much it can with its author stuck among fields and dairy cows. What would you like to read that you’re not getting elsewhere?


Isabelle Roughol Twitter

Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.