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Freedom in France has been reduced to government-authorized drinking on outdoor patios. Where is La Résistance when it’s needed?

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On May 19, the French government authorized restaurant and café patios to reopen, and people have been acting like it’s the Liberation of Paris all over again. Except, sadly, it’s not.

In August 1944, the Nazi General in charge in Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, surrendered to French and US troops as four years of occupation came to an end. The moment marked the definitive end of curfews for Parisians and the need to carry an Ausweis – a Nazi-issued identity document – when outside at night. 

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Around the same time, writer Ernest Hemingway “liberated” the Ritz Hotel – and bar – where he requisitioned a large room and proceeded to faire la fête, allegedly ordering sixty dry Martinis for his rowdy company of adventurers, according to Andrew Feldman’s biography, Ernesto: The Untold Story of Hemingway in Revolutionary Cuba. Never again would the French allow their freedoms to be taken away.

Well, unless a scary virus that kills an infinitesimal number of people happened to come along, in which case, “take our freedoms, s’il vous plait.” 

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron outlined a three-phase plan to restore citizens’ basic freedoms after over a year of stop-and-go Covid-19 related restrictions. May 19 marked the first step, in which bars and restaurants would be allowed to reopen their outdoor patios. Restaurants with fewer than 10 tables aren’t obligated to apply the 50% capacity reduction to their patios as long as they have separating panels between tables. They do, however, still have to impose a maximum-six-per-table restriction. Government protocol obliges diners to wear masks outside on the patio “when ordering, before serving the first course, and at the time of payment.” 

Patrons are then officially invited to evacuate the sidewalk patios by 9pm to get back home and resume hiding from Covid-19, two hours later than the previous nightly curfew under which French have been living since January and after which citizens are still required to produce an Auswe…er, authorization, downloaded from the Ministry of the Interior, justifying their reason for being out in a public space. 

Driving across town the day the restrictions were lifted, patios spilled out onto the street, between parked cars, as restaurateurs attempted to maximize revenues after months of government-dictated shutdown. Some adjacent non-restaurant businesses even allowed for their restaurant neighbor’s patio to spill onto their property, in what appear to be friendly private arrangements. 

Restaurant patrons laughed and cried tears of joy behind their masks on patios nationwide as headlines, like one in Le Figaro newspaper, underlined how great it all was: “The French rediscover the scent of freedom.” 

Seriously? “Freedom” in France now is being able to attend museums, movies, and outdoor dining with a mask on and strict social distancing rules? The government throws the French a few crumbs after taking away the whole cake and suddenly they think they’re in Candyland. What the heck has happened to the French? This is, after all, the same country whose citizens beheaded their leaders during the French Revolution for merely existing. And now they’re celebrating the ability to drink outside on the sidewalk with limitations.

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Freedom is the ability to go to the limit of one’s desires. And right now the French can’t even go to the limit of Happy Hour, since in various cities across the country, the cops showed up after the 9pm curfew – with tear gas in some cases – to forcibly evacuate diners from the patios or to break up outdoor gatherings. 

As a result of these “excesses,” some local authorities have now banned the sale of take-away alcohol after 6pm, or (in the case of the city of Tours) its consumption in public, away from an established patio, altogether. 

On this oh-so-momentous occasion of varying degrees of sidewalk beer-drinking authorization and prohibition, President Macron called on the French to “live in the present moment.” I guess he means until the cops show up and ruin the vibe. “Yesterday, [the terraces] were not open, they are today,” he said. “If we manage to organize ourselves well collectively, to continue to vaccinate, to maintain a collective discipline (…) there is no reason we can’t keep moving forward.”

Macron has already said that his fellow citizens’ so-called freedom will now be conditional on Covid case-counts staying under 400 cases per 100,000 population. 

The moment it goes back above that – whether it’s next month, next autumn, or next year – “freedoms” are once again fair game for rescindment. And it’s all because the French people have and continue to tolerate it without any significant resistance, despite evidence that the data being used to justify lockdowns and restrictions is less than credible. On May 20, French authorities quietly revised Covid case data to subtract 348,846 Covid cases from the total going back to February, representing a reduction of 6% in previously reported cases. 

Today, Hemingway couldn’t have liberated a bar patio from Covid restrictions without being manhandled or teargassed by French cops, and people are pathetically cheering their ‘freedom’ and waiting patiently for the green light to have other fundamental rights restored, rather than simply taking them like they already own them. When is the resistance coming, already?

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