A Gap Year in Pandemic-stricken Paris

William Sidnam
4 min readNov 24, 2020
The Jardin des Tuileries in October 2020. Photo by William Sidnam.

This probably wasn’t the best year to go on a working holiday.

Seeing how the last twelve months have unraveled, that really goes without saying. But just like the year itself, hindsight is always twenty-twenty.

When I arrived in Paris at the start of March, no one knew a pandemic was less than six feet away from sweeping the globe. Fast-forward several months, and round-the-clock window gazing is back on the agenda.

We’re now four weeks into the reconfinement. For obvious reasons, the French capital doesn’t feel especially festive at the moment; not unless you consider surgical masks as Halloween costumes.

But if it’s quiet now, it was even more so in the hours leading up to lockdown.

As I left the office that late October evening, I placed my work commute justificatif in my pocket and ventured out onto the quiet streets. Sodium lamps bathed the city in orange, offering a warm respite from the darkness all around.

As I made my way towards the Villiers métro station, I saw a couple carrying an exercise bike. On a wall, a makeshift sign read “I breathe therefore I am”. Whatever its intended message, it begged the question: where else but in France could you find allusions to Descartes in graffiti?

I crossed a bridge over a railway line. Behind me, the Sacré Cœur, the gleaming basilica on the hill, grew smaller and more distant.

Out of nowhere, blue lights began flickering on restaurant window panels. An ambulance hurried past, its siren growing loud, then faint.

Down a side alley, a pile of blankets concealed a rough sleeper. Nearby, a woman was counting the till of an ice cream parlour. It was a scene straight out of an Edward Hopper painting, but with sorbet in the place of liquor.

Until recently, the area was alive with the sounds of patrons chatting away on the street-facing terraces. Now, that ambiance had all but vanished.

Though this area had no passersby in sight, the roads were a traffic controller’s worst nightmare. There were so many cars stuck in neutral, pedestrian crossings had been made redundant.

William Sidnam

New Zealand creative based in Paris. Advertising copywriter, photography lover & occasional Top Writer. Eternally grateful at https://ko-fi.com/williamsidnam