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Paris
Anne Weber, writer and translator

Portrait of Anne Weber against a gray background; she has curly brown hair and is wearing a black sweatshirt © Anne Weber
What would you say are symbols of your current situation or the current situation in your country?

A lot of things are becoming symbols of the current situation, from holing up in our “mouse holes” to empty shelves in supermarkets. Naturally, these are symbols not only of current-day life here in France, where I live, but in plenty of other countries too. Maybe the mask suits France best, where there have been heated debates in recent years over the Islamic headscarf and various types of veils; headscarves have been completely banned from schools here. Just last year in Burgundy, a far right-wing member of parliament attacked a mother wearing a headscarf whilst chaperoning a class trip (although the headscarf was authorized in her case). Now, half a year later, the whole nation is concealing their face. Those who don’t have masks – which is a lot of people because masks are scarce and reserved for medical staff and the seriously ill – wrap a scarf around their face, improvise makeshift masks out of coffee filters or vacuum cleaner bags, or at least hold a tissue over their mouth and nose. A whole nation in full-face veils.

How will the pandemic change the world? What do you see as long-term consequences of the crisis?

Well, as an expert on crises, I’d say ... No, I’m not an expert on anything, much less systemic matters. We writers have more to do with individuals than systems. I’m no social scientist either. Like everyone else, I’m just trying to make sense of what I read about the situation here in this country and in the world. My impression, which is not terribly original, is that the borders might close and a massive economic crisis is heading our way. Global economic crises are not known for bringing moderate, sensible politicians to power; on the contrary, right-wing extremists tend to profit from them by exploiting people's despair and insecurity for their own ends. So right-wing extremism, which has already gained plenty of ground in recent years, might spread like wildfire in this situation. What lies in store for us might well be dictatorship and the surveillance state.

What gives you hope?

When I see how dedicated the people are whose work is essential to keeping us supplied with food and medical care, how they keep doing their jobs and wearing themselves out as if it were a matter of course, that gives me hope. When I see that a nurse friend of mine who retired two years ago is preparing to go back to work, that gives me hope. And every single person who smiles at me from across the street gives me hope too.
What is your personal strategy for dealing with this situation?

What is your personal strategy for dealing with this situation?

President Macron spoke of war, a war that I, armed with soap and disinfectant, am supposed to fight mainly by holing up at home. Another war awaits me there: the war against myself and my fears, which no soap will wash away and for which there is no cure. So what’s my personal coping strategy? “Strategy” is a word from the art of warfare – does that mean that war is one of the arts? The trouble is: the more scrupulously I wage war outside – in other words the more often I wash my hands, for example, the farther I stand from the woman queueing in front of me at the bakery, the more I use only my pinkie (and in a rubber glove for good measure) to pull open the handle on the refrigerator door in the supermarket – the stronger the enemy inside becomes. And the stronger it becomes, the more I reach for the soap gun, and so on and so forth.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m better off with no strategy. Giving myself up – not entirely, but a little – for lost.

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