Quarantine love letters volume 1

I realize that if anyone even reads this it will be rather confusing, so I thought I’d give a brief rundown on my life and current situation. 
I am 18, my name is Avery, and I moved to Paris in September 2019 to work as an au pair and teach english on my gap year before University. I have travelled to 6 countries in Europe so far, met many amazing friends from around the world, and have been having the best and most challenging year of my life so far.
However, this might be getting cut short. I was supposed to come home in July. My family was supposed to come meet me to celebrate my birthday in Paris early July and I could finally show them around my home. My brother was supposed to come visit in April, I was supposed to travel to 4 more countries, 2 of which with my friends that live in Ireland and Germany to see their homes and meet their families. It was meant to be perfect. Now, most of my friends have left Paris and gone home. Some as far as Australia. I don’t know when I’ll see them again.
This isn’t meant to be self-pitying because everyone is making sacrifices right now to flatten the curve of this pandemic. That being said, we all have the right to grieve times in our lives that have been taken from us that we won’t get back, that will not ever be the same as they would have been.
This is my life right now, I joined my host family out into the Normandy countryside where we are taking refuge from the virus in their Chateau. I only have a backpack of clothes and belongings with me.
I’m taking it day by day. 
I don’t know how long I’ll be here, if I’ll have to go home, how I’m going to get my things from my apartment in Paris. So for now I’m blogging my life as a type of cyberspace journal, which I’ve coined “quarantine love letters.” I find the name ironic because nothing, not even the slightest bit, of what I’m writing about right now is romantic. But regarding the current situation of the world, it seemed fitting that love letters be the medium of choice, because hugging and holding hands and kissing and physical affection is not really safe. But the combination of postage stamps, callouses from handwriting, a pen with leaky ink and a silky red ribbon tied around the letter is a nice surprise to think about receiving.  
Welcome to me being vulnerable on the internet. First time for everything I guess.
My instagram is @averythealien for some more insight into moi xx 
(Note: the names I mention are my host family, I’ve replaced their real names for privacy. However for the context, my host mom is Madeleine and host Dad is Christopher. The boy I look after is Henri, and his three older sisters are Zoey, Pyper and Quinn. Quinn and Pyper are teenagers. 

For some reason I feel like my whole life has boiled down to these moments I am spending here at the country home. Well, I wouldn’t even call it a home, it is too cold and too big to be cozy like a home should be. It is called Chateau de Creullet, and it is a structure that has withstood time and era to sit here and possess many millions of dollars worth of priceless paintings, artifacts, and stories. Stories which I bet many of have been forgotten by now, by all except the house that bears them. Oh well, they were only hers to keep alive anyway. 
My host parents joke about the conservatism that shaped this house to be what it is. “Look around,” they say. “Of course we are conservative living in an imperial house like this.” I have never experienced a level of richness where they can joke about the political side of their ancestors while praising it at the same time. 
My days are becoming routine and tiring. I get up, I eat a small breakfast, I do english with Henri, I read and write a lot in between while I wait for lunch. Or I take a walk along the grounds. I wish I could go for a run, I’m getting much too impatient physically. 
The church bell across the road strikes twelve. Another morning came and went. 
Lunch is the only time we eat all together, the twelve of us. I take too little and am always still hungry after meals. I’m easing out of that habit. 
After lunch I enter a sleepy trance that lasts all afternoon into dinner. I couldn’t tell you really what I do then, various different things. Yesterday I walked out into the cow fields with two of the girls and rode passenger in the off-road jeep back towards the house. The men and the kids were cutting down some logs for the “chauffage” which means heating in french. However it is still freezing in the house. I suppose the afternoons are the blurriest because I am just trying to enjoy the sunlight, the one time I can say I am warm throughout the day.
Dinner is too long and exhausting. I’ve cooked the past two days and I will say it’s a nice way to pass time and they always compliment me on it. I can’t say I love to cook but it is rewarding when people say it’s good. My mom would be proud. 
I sit in silence listening for most of the table conversations because they eat dinner so late. Between 9:30 and 10:00 pm I’d say and by that point I am too sleepy to strike up a dialogue. My stomach growls at 6:30 when I’m used to eating dinner. And sleeping more than usual has made me tired throughout the days. So I just sit and absorb the french conversation and make mental notes of a couple words that get tossed around that I’m unsure of their specific meaning. I reckon I’ll come out of this a true genius to the topic of french conversational skills. That wouldn’t be half bad at all, what with being a parisian and all. 
I do not have my video camera here so I cannot start editing which bothered me at first but I presumed writing is another back burner profession in my life so I could take it up in the meantime. I have one pair of jeans to last me god knows how long. 
I am in the sitting room.  The oldest part of the house. If I showed you a photo and told you it was Versailles you would believe me unhesitatingly. The crown molding and antique gold mirrors with age spots on them look exquisite in the early afternoon sunlight. The pale, robin egg blue wallpaper with dainty flowers makes it my favourite room in the house. You can hear the birds chirping from here. The lawn is a vibrant green, one that you see on artificial lime sucker wrappers, not in real life. The forest is complete with a sprinkle of lilac and white flowers blooming in the grass and it looks really magical, like it shouldn’t be a place that I’m in and rather a photo I’m seeing on tumblr. I haven’t stepped outside yet this morning but it looks like it will be a nice day. Perfect for social distancing and worrying about this virus. That’s how all the days are really, we can try to distract ourselves with wit and literature but at the core we are all a bit unsettled. Canada closed its borders earlier today and France’s yesterday. 
If you had told me a year ago that I would spend Saint Patricks day face-timing my friends that went home to Belgium and Ireland and my parents that are still being made to go to work at home despite schools being shut from a French Chateau in the region of Normandy, France, specifically a village called Creullet, where I am self-isolating with my host family to avoid getting or being a carrier of an illness called the coronavirus that is sweeping the world and halting everyday life I would giggle and say- absolutely the fuck not. 
But alas.
Here we are. 
So I do a workout and some yoga before bed while listening to an Irish podcast that Kate (my Irish best friend) told me about. And I curl into bed cold but I have a hot water bottle now which made last night better than the previous two. I would love a cup of tea, maybe I’ll see if the water is boiled. 
You know, it’s a skill to be able to talk about mundane everyday things and have other people actually be intrigued, but really that is all we are going to have for the time being. Ordinary tasks, at home procedures. It gets nicer the more I think about it because instead of discussing work advances or how a particularly eventful soirée went we are going to have to compare the growth of our house plants and the best recipes to bake. Sunbathe from the windowsills and take comfort in the fact that human existence is relying on the effort of us all to stay at home. Now, I’m not saying people will be intrigued by this, I’m just acknowledging that this probably won't be particularly exciting, and will contain a fair amount of melancholy. 
I’m outside now, Zoey was right it is a lot warmer than inside, fifteen degrees at least I’d say. But I still want that cup of tea for my raspy throat.

I sent an email to one of my prospective university dean's next year telling her I would not meet the deadline for my dance video submission due to the studios being shut down in Paris and me having to flee the city. It feels strange to make an excuse that is so valid yet so completely terrifying in such a casual medium. Emails are not meant to contain information about world pandemics. 

Day 5 and a half 
It is hard for me to do something without feeling inherently subconscious. Taking jam for my toast, wearing my coat at the table because it is cold. Mentioning that I actually was not shown where the laundry machine was. Taking a snack (french people don’t snack.) 
It is tiring being perfect. Quiet and not in anyone's way is so contrary to my outgoing personality it feels like I am sacrificing a part of my existence. Chrisopher asked me if I spoke english or french with my parents at home and I took that as a compliment to my bilingualism. Maybe those hard years of french schooling paid off. I am starting to lose my english a bit though. Just remembering words for simple things comes more naturally in french now. It took me a good 2 minutes to remember what doorknob was in english and longer to remember “fromage rappée” is grated cheese. 
I’ll go for a run this afternoon. Christopher said there is a forest to the left of the gate. 
A year ago today I was getting ready for dance competitions. Despite the nerves of being backstage I would trade a lot to go back to the naivety of group sports and show life. Where my biggest concern was remembering the steps in my tap solo or putting my flashy diamond earrings in before lyrical. I miss it, I miss the comfort of knowing what the next day would look like and the day after that and after that. While it is almost never valued at the time, routine is something to cherish, always. Having a purpose and something that you belong to that would suffer if you were not there is a gift. People search all their lives for a sense of belonging. Not having it now is taking a toll on me. I have always been an easily likeable person which caused me to take a lot of unnecessary stress and to sometimes be thrown under the bus. I don’t make a fuss over things, people took advantage of that. I let things roll off my back like a raindrop hitting the soft plastic of an umbrella, pattering down the sleek material and then dripping onto the wet concrete sidewalk. 
I would take a week of rainy days in Paris to be back there with my friends right now. 
And I would let people use me again if it meant I could go back to normal life. 
I mean, I would let a person use me, or more. Whatever it takes to be sitting out my window laughing about the time we thought humanity would slowly die off from a pandemic. If there even comes a day where we can laugh about it that is. I remain hopeful. 
It is night now and I’m sitting in bed debating if I should go see if dinner is ready. If it’s not, I’ll risk standing around looking mindless and then try sneaking back up to my room before anyone notices me too much. I guess I’ll keep watching the art documentary I started for a bit. I love documentaries. It feels strange to watch sappy romantic comedies right now so I’ve rekindled my love for philosophical studies of artists in film form. This one is about a genius polish sculptor named Szukalski.
I went for a brisk run / walk in the forest I found today and felt something I haven’t for a long time- freedom. Strange how I could feel freedom in a time that is literally, by law, instated that we don’t go anywhere. But I felt so alive and aware of my surroundings. So at home despite being very far away. Something about nature always connects me to this feeling of limitless possibilities. I walked to the end of the tree line and saw a misty field that stretched on and on. The vastness of it made me think that there is so much of this earth I will not touch my feet to. In retrospect that should have made me anxious, but instead it made me make a mental note to be more moved by the ground I do get to walk on and the places I do get to see. The me of the summer would have been in a full blown anxiety attack over that thought alone. I guess I have grown. Maturity doesn’t come with age, but with realizing that your problems are momentary and passing. It sounds belittling but it’s really just simplifying. I figure why have an anxiety attack when you could just put the subject at hand in a way so that your brain doesn’t freak out over it. Today my host mom said that I must be bored here because I’m so hyperactive, which struck me as something very intimate to know about me at first but then I realized that I must just come across that way. Without explicitly telling them, they can tell that I keep myself very busy and am similar to a computer with too many tabs open. I was aware that I am like that obviously, but I didn’t think other people could tell too.

It has been a few days since I’ve written. The weekend came and went and now I am on week 2. I miss my agenda, so I made a makeshift one on docs. I’m writing and I’m helping in the yard and I’m calling friends and family and I’m doing university work and running in the forest. I wish I had my video stuff but then again I could only edit where there's internet in the big living room and it might seem rude to have my air-pods in. Today when I was going back to my room to use the washroom my host dad remarked: “don’t lock yourself in your room” knowing him he was joking and meant it sincerely as they want me to hang around them more, but something in me was appalled by the statement and it instantly presented many questions in my brain. Such as- I don’t even spend that much time in my room here do I? And the truth is if I am it’s because I’m on face-time with my family or friends. Also when I do hang around them no one really makes an effort to talk to me anyways, so why would I just be a wallflower and mindlessly try to know what to do and how to act? Maybe I’m overthinking. And I bet it’s an adjustment for them as well so I shouldn’t be so harsh. 
Structure. Something I need to thrive. My plans are changing again for next year and I wake up with a headache thinking about everything. I think I have slept more here than I ever have consistently in my life probably but I am always permanently sleepy. And I always wake up at 7am, check the time, and go back to bed. This is a weird time for everyone I think. 
Sometimes I feel so in tune with them, like last night at dinner when I was telling them about poutine and chatting throughout the meal but then other times I am utterly invisible. 
I guess I’ll never be able to entirely relate to people who drink champagne and munch on oyster shells while watching the evening news. And maybe they understand that about themselves or maybe they are oblivious to it. I am almost more surprised when they do something normal, like when my host dad and his sister (who’s family is also staying here) physically fought on the couch today. It made me think of my brother and the all too common sibling rivalry arguments that turn into fist fighting and tackling each other onto the couch. I was thoroughly amused by the normality of it, it so much contrasted the upper-class genre of this chateau and the family's status. For a lineage that escorted the King of Norway when he was visiting in France, I assumed sibling fights just weren’t tangible. My host mom told me the story surrounding the King’s visit, how her brother had jumped in the Rolls Royce that was transporting the royal luggage and drove behind the king's car without a driver's license. I guess every family has things they laugh about now, just their not usually as grand as chaperoning the King of Norway. 
We watched a classic french film last night called Le Gendarme de Saint Tropez. I was obsessed. I’ll have to tell my mom to watch it. I looked up the main actress in it after and her name is Geneviève Grad. It reminded me that if I ever have a daughter someday I would name her Geneviève, I think it’s a beautiful name. That is most likely never going to happen because despite the sayings of others that my mind will change, I persistently advocate that I am not getting married or having children year after year. I’ll just make Wyatt (my brother) name one of my future nieces Geneviève. 
The days are getting longer and I’m getting more tired and achy and impatient. I herded sheep 2 days ago and spent the afternoon yesterday in a tree removing this green tumble-weed looking plant that infects the trees. A true Alberta girl you could say. It’s warm out so for the first time, after lunch Quinn invited me to join them outside. I got offered a coffee but said I was fine which I am regretting now. The three men offered me whisky jokingly which I also declined but I wouldn’t have minded some honestly. I bet they don’t take me as the hard liquor type, which I mean fair enough, I am a 95 pound girl. But hey, if only they knew I prefer pure hard liquor to anything else and if only they knew my dad likes a glass of wild turkey bourbon every now and then and he may have passed down that habit. 

It is Wednesday.
My dudes
Bet you weren’t expecting that one !!!
Anyways, apart from that awkward intro I’ve actually had a pretty non awkward week. 
Yesterday evening I was talking to my mom on the phone and Pyper came and knocked on my door inviting me to go drink with the adults in the main sitting room. I came down and was immediately met with roaring laughter and a glass of champagne. Things could be worse. 
My host mom tends to surprise me a lot. I guess I was intimidated by her at the start and still am a bit. But she commented about how mature I was for 18 last night talking to someone who is her brother (I think) and they laughed for what I assumed was a collective thinking of what he was like at 18. She compliments my maturity a lot, so she must really mean it. Then they left and Madeleine surprised me again by showing me a book from a stack beside me that the Chateau is featured in. It’s a cookbook with recipes based off of the chateau’s in different regions around France. How much cooler can this place get for real.
What surprised me about it was that she said it would make a good souvenir, I’m not sure if it was meant to get my approval for a souvenir that they would give me or more a souvenir that I could purchase for my family. Reading french people is hard. 
Then I had a nice night helping Quinn with her Othello homework while her aunty made yogurt cake (must be a french thing.) It honestly made me miss English class, I’m such a nerd sometimes. 
Flash forward to today and I had a pleasant breakfast by myself. I like when everyone else has already eaten so I can chill and go on my phone and make myself a coffee. Today I tried quince jam. Not even sure what the fruit (is it a fruit?) “quince” looks like because I didn’t even know the word for it in English. I liked it, it was a flush coral colour. Having baguette with fruit jam for breakfast is probably one of the greatest luxuries in life in my opinion. With some hot coffee or earl grey tea with honey and milk. Splendid. 
Today I was busy with Henri's homework in the morning and the kids dinner and helping around. I had a fun afternoon though sailing with Pyper. I told them I had sailed before at lunch which was partially true, I meant more I had kayaked and canoed before but nonetheless it went smoothly out on the “piece d’eau” (the direct english translation is the piece of water but I’d call it more a pond or water feature.) However returning to the land was another situation. Pyper had never sailed before and there was something off about our sail, which alas it resulted in us being towed back to shore by a rope. Which was almost more challenging than just paddling back because we kept jamming into rocks along the shoreline. It was a good memory though and Quinn took some non-aesthetically pleasing but nice for the memories kind of photos on her camera. And they are super quality. Maybe I’m admitting Nikon is better than Canon.
 Lily (my Australian friend), facetimed me just after 7am this morning, luckily I was awake and watching the sunrise out my stunning window view. The fog was settling over the pond and the fields looked like glassy pale green stained windows. It made for such a pleasant morning. It was a good day really, maybe the best yet. I also didn’t feel dreadfully tired all day which was a plus. 
I miss my friends a lot. 
It hits differently than missing my family because I haven't seen my family since Christmas and wasn’t planning on seeing them until July. But my friends, I was supposed to have them for the rest of the year here and many I hadn’t seen in a bit because I was away the two weekends prior to corona. This year the friends I made became family quickly because my family is far away. So missing them hits like missing people that are really close to me. I love my old friends but these friends served a different purpose. I didn’t have to take my old friends as family, so I could be picky about who I kept close. My best friends remained constant pretty much from kindergarten or middle school to Grade 12. It was nice to have them around obviously and I love them, but I wasn’t forced to rely on them. These friends have made me learn so much about myself and other cultures and they instantly clicked with me. I deemed them family with no hesitations, it was easy to picture myself being close to them forever, despite living all across the world. 
I also miss my mom. Her voice makes me cry happy tears when I hear it on face-time because I miss it so much. I could not be happier with my new “honey” tattoo in her handwriting. A podcast I listened to once said that as you get older the more your mom becomes your best friend. I already felt like she was my best friend but I feel like my teenage rebellion against my parents has completely eviscerated this year and I can get to know them on more of a relatability level. 
My brother's flight is 99.9% cancelled to Paris. I am sad now but I will be more sad when April hits and I realize he’s not coming for a while longer. I am so excited to show my family around here that I really couldn’t wait. My impatient self is really being tested these past few weeks. I know he’ll come this spring, especially now that his school is out till September and the restaurant we worked at is closed, he could really come whenever now.
Trying to remain hopeful is draining but it must be retained. 
I’m going to grab a yogurt (still find it odd they eat yogurt for dessert here and not for breakfast or as a snack) And then I’ll facetime Leonie (my German friend.) Maybe tomorrow I will actually blog this. 
Goodnight mes chéries xx 

Thursday. I’m watching the sunset out my window. For some reason all the sunsets look the same here, a watercolour cotton candy pink that rests just above the tree line, fades into a yellow and funnels out into a baby blue. I sailed the piece d’eau with Pyper today, and we made it back surprisingly! Only took about 40 minutes but it was really rewarding actually. We switched spots halfway through so that I ended up controlling the sail while she navigated the mast and I think it worked out much better that way. We learned a technique of zigzagging back to the shore line from her Uncle that served us well. Before that I went on a walk and spotted my host mom’s parents working in the field. Her mom always wears these adorable beige and blue plaid gardener pants. I finished the day by journaling and then we watched a satirical cleopatra film based off of a french comic book series called “astérix et obélix” after dinner. To be honest I was half asleep for most of it, I am exhausted again. 
It has been sunny all this week which has been a major bonus for my capricious mental state. I woke up with another headache today but have proceeded to spend the day updating my journal. I stopped recapping the months in my journal 2 years ago to the tee. I always had something more important going on that caused me to push it to the bottom of my to-do list, but I’m finally getting around to it. This summer I’m going to fill in the pages with the top 2  photos of the months by mod-podging them in between the recaps. Right now I am in a time of reflection. The past 2 years I have been in a time of the future. In a time of “what can I do right now that will help me later on” or “what trips can I plan for the upcoming months” or “where should I go to University that will best expose me to the industries I want to make my mark in.” While that has been a good mindset to have as a teenager with the whole world in front of her, it is one hundred percent mentally deteriorating. I am learning to include reflection as a daily practice because if you are constantly yearning for more in life, you will never be fully happy in the moment. Not pausing to appreciate the checks off the list is a crime committed to yourself. It’s fantastic to have goals, but they have to be appreciated once they’re achieved, which is something so healthy and seemingly obvious yet so new for me. 
France just announced an extension to the lockdown until April 15th. 
I guess I should start looking at ordering some clothes.

Today was a very productive Saturday. I got up, had petit déjeuner with Madeleine, worked on this blog post and University work, journaled, read a Malcolm Gladwell book that my dad sent me, vacuumed my room, did English with Henri, called my parents and brother.
Madeleine's parents came over for lunch today and they were asking me about Canada. Her father said something that struck me as funny- he said "well all the forests in Canada must make it harder for the virus to sweep through the country." It's funny because while it is a massive stereotype, there is a truth to it especially being in Alberta an hour from the Rocky Mountains. He was confused as to why corona is spreading so fast in the states and not Canada. I told him it's most likely because Canada is a lot bigger but has a much lower population, healthcare is free so people were actually getting tested, and they saw what was happening in Europe and reacted by shutting everything down even though there were hardly any cases across the country. And, to be fair, Justin Trudeau is much better at delegating than Donald Trump. They agreed with me.
Dinner was casual, a nice creamy veggie soup and chocolate mouse for dessert.
We watched a Sean Connery James Bond movie, Goldfinger. I was pretty sure I'd already seen it in English but it was good nonetheless. The French dubbing was actually not bad. Quinn is on a mission to watch some classics this quarantine because she says she hasn't watched many of them. I suppose having watched cult favourite films is really an identity trait that exposes you to a certain aspect of culture where nothing else quite can. I'm just realizing how I said "this quarantine" like it's a recurring holiday. When you put it that way it sounds so innocent. If only that was the reality.

Well, I'm signing off. About to do a quick plank workout before bed and then conk out. I didn't leave the chateau once today, I thought about it but ultimately the howling wind all day made me stay in. I love rain but despise the wind.

I guess I'll see you all in part 2, stay safe and healthy and please, for the love of god, STAY INSIDE. The party can wait, trust me. 


  1. Hey.
    Pretty good writing there.
    I know the feelings you speak of.
    Feeling a little lost, depending on the day, a lot lost.
    I know how tough it is to get through the day when feeling these feelings. We all do at home.
    It's because when you left we all felt them her; still do but not as intensely and I'll tell you why.
    We're living your dreams through you.
    At first when you went to France none of us knew what that would look like for you. We didn't know anything about where you'd live, what your lifestyle would be like, who you'd having around with or what your job would be like. It was all very scary for us.
    Then you left, and once you go there we began to get answers to our questions about what your life would be like there. We grew increasingly impressed with the way you were handling things, your maturity and your compelling, outgoing nature, and we knew you had friends, and a wonderful family to work for and a really cool kid to take care of.
    Although there were some social media posts we chose to look the other way on, we knew that you were going to be alright, and we still do.
    Those feeling of loneliness and isolation diminished and turned into feelings of pride and happiness for you and the dreams you were, and are living every day.
    The degree to which you've grown through this experience is staggering.
    Mom and I tried our best to teach you how to be independent and strong willed, hard-working and resilient, outgoing and personable, and then you became all of those things and more. Then you decided to move across the ocean and all we could think about was, "what the fuck did we teach her how to be all those things for?"
    Just kidding, but not really, no just kidding for sure...
    Reading this was the highlight of my year since you moved to France. I know it may not end as you intended, but the very moment it does end, the future that this au pair experience in France has enabled will begin. All the friendships, memories, the things you've learned and the ideas you've advanced will carry on with you for ever.
    That... is the value of it all. Experiences never end, they just begin. Do with this experience what you will, but never think of it as something that is done or finished. Think of all your friendships, memories, the things you've learned and the ideas you've advanced as just the beginning of A very Avery adventure.
    I love you Avery.


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