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How balcony stars all over France spread joy during coronavirus lockdown

In cities all over France, musicians treat their neighbours to nightly balcony performances, to bring moments of comfort and solidarity to those isolated during the coronavirus lockdown.

How balcony stars all over France spread joy during coronavirus lockdown
French opera tenor singer Stephane Senechal performs the song O sole mio from his window in Paris. Photo: AFP

Every evening at 7pm, tenor Stephane Senechal throws open the window of his apartment in Paris's 9th arrondissement and lets fly with an aria.

“When I see the smile that I bring each evening with my song, that gives me great pleasure,” he told AFP.

“All day long, we are told of tragic things, of the dead. When I see smiles, I see hope. It's a little moment of freedom, of escape,” he said.

Senechal said he lives in a neighbourhood where “there are a lot of elderly people” and that it was an 80-year-old neighbour's moment of reflection at the beginning of the lockdown that pushed him to sing at his window.

Stephane Senechal's “moment of escape” from all the tragedies the coronavirus brings is joy to his neighbours. Photo: AFP

Celebrate life

“She told me 'we will feel even more isolated'. I was rehearsing the role of Don Jose in “Carmen” at the time and after this remark I decided to sing at the window,” he said.

Senechal starts by singing the “Marseillaise”. Then he links each nightly recital with arias as varied as “I gave you my heart” from Franz Lehar's operetta “The Land of Smiles”, the 1935 Mexican song “Piensa en mi” – sung by Luz Casal in Pedro Almodovar's High Heels – as well as the song “Caruso”, Edith Piaf's “The Hymn to Love” and an “Ave Maria” dedicated “to all the suffering”.

Senechal also likes to let go with “E Lucevan le stelle” from Puccini's opera Tosca. He considers this especially apt because of its last sentence: “'E non ho amato mai tanto la vita! (I have never loved life so much)' We understand the importance of life. And we can't give up now,” he says.

His balcony recitals appear to have drifted far across the rooftops of the 9th. “A patient with COVID-19 and hospitalised in Bichat (a hospital in the north of Paris) saw one of my videos and said 'keep going'. For me, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Since the start of self-isolation in France, as in Italy and Spain, initiatives like this have flourished. Montreuil, in the eastern suburbs of the capital, has been particularly active, regularly sharing videos of a violinist, a guitarist or a singer on their balconies.

The “BachDesBalcons” online initiative, launched by Classical Revolution France, a movement imported from the United States, encourages musicians to play Bach at their windows.

READ ALSO: How to have a virtual night out in France during lockdown 

 

Symphonic Orchestra violinist Jessy Koch performs on her balcony every day day to support health workers in Mulhouse, one of the towns that the coronavirus struck earliest and hardest. Photo: AFP

Across the nation

“There are dozens of us playing every week from Montpellier to Paris, via Nantes, Strasbourg or Lille,” Sarah Niblack, director of Classical Revolution France, told AFP. “Bach is the greatest of companions, you are never alone with your music.”

An American who has lived in France for several years, Niblack has been based in Prades, in the south-west, since the beginning of confinement, and says she is happy to bring “comfort and a little moment when people come together” in these times of isolation.

“People recognise me now, even when I do my shopping with mask and gloves, I am told in the street 'you are the girl who plays Bach',” said Niblack, a violinist who has played in several national orchestras.

Like many freelance workers she has suffered professionally from the lockdown, having seen six contracts cancelled since the outbreak, but she remains upbeat about the power of music.

“We are not useful in a hospital but we can make a little difference in people's lives. They appreciate that we are thinking of them.”

READ ALSO: Apéro Skype – France's evening lockdown drinks ritual

French cellist Camilo Peralta playing on his balcony in Paris. Photo: AFP

Also in Paris, from his balcony overlooking Boulevard Saint-Michel, in the heart of the bohemian Latin quarter, Camilo Peralta, a cellist with the Ile-de-France National Orchestra, plays Bach suites at noon, much to the pleasure of neighbours and the occasional passer-by.

“We are inevitably caught up in the situation because every time I play, an ambulance drives by,” he said.

In Mulhouse, in the east of the country, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic, the violinist Jessy Koch plays every day at 6.30pm on her balcony.

“It is not easy to work alone, without a purpose in mind. And now, I started to have a little audience waiting for the little concert. Life goes on,” she said.

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ANIMAL WELFARE

How to adopt a pet from a French animal shelter

Around 300,000 pets are abandoned every year in France, many of them during the summer months. So if you're looking for a pet there are many lovely cats and dogs in shelters looking for a good home - here's how to go about it.

How to adopt a pet from a French animal shelter

Where to look

French animal welfare charity the Société Protectrice des Animaux (SPA) is an excellent place to start – it currently lists nearly 4,500 animals available for adoption. 

But there are lots of other smaller, local organisations – it may be worthwhile dropping in to see a local vet as they will generally know of local groups seeking homes for abandoned pets.

There will be paperwork

First-time buyers of cats or dogs have to sign a ‘certificate of commitment and understanding’ before they will be allowed to buy an animal, and the same applies to those looking to adopt. 

After the signed document is delivered to the authorities, future owners have seven days to change their mind – the idea is to prevent people from ‘impulsively’ buying or adopting pets only to abandon them later. 

The SPA, certainly, demands that would-be adopters are of legal age and are willing to take part in a “responsible adoption process”.

These things take time – as you should expect for a commitment that can last more than a decade. As the SPA website says, it seeks to ensure “that each decision is carefully considered and that the adopted animal matches its new family and way of life”.

The process may include home visits, interviews and discussions to help adopters find the animal to which they are best suited – older people may not cope well with an energetic puppy, for example.

READ ALSO What you need to know about owning a dog in France

Shelter animals

Some welfare organisations ensure their animals spend some time with ‘foster families’ until they are adopted. This means that the organisation has a pretty good idea how that animal is likely to behave when it gets to its new adopted home.

It is more difficult to judge an animal’s character if it has been kept in a pen in a shelter.

It will cost money

A financial contribution will most likely be requested by the organisation from which you are adopting. The sum will depend on the age and type of animal being adopted. 

The SPA, for example, asks for a donation to cover vets’ fees of between €250 and €300 for a dog, depending on its age, and €150 for a cat or a kitten.

Another well-known animal welfare organisation in France, Les Amis des Animaux, has a slightly different scale of fees covering the cost of chipping, vaccinations – including rabies/passport in mature animals, sterilisation, worming, et cetera. 

READ ALSO What you need to know about microchipping your pet in France

What else you need to know

Under French law, pet dogs – and cats and ferrets – over a certain age must be identified and registered on a national database. 

The animal must be identifiable by a tattoo or microchip – the latter is the most common method these days – that is registered on the Identification des carnivores domestiques (I-CAD) database

The procedure to insert the microchip, or ink the tattoo, must be carried out by an approved professional. The procedure should be done by a vet and costs between €40 and €70, the shelter will tell you whether your new pet already has a microchip or not.

You might not believe it if you have walked along certain streets in Paris, but you can be fined if you fail to pick up after your pet. 

The standard fine is €68, but the mayors of some towns have imposed stricter rules in the street, in parks, gardens and other public spaces. 

The French government’s Service Public website lists other rules regarding the health and wellbeing of pets. Read it here.

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