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The Unreal Trip

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, July 2020
Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, July 2020

Who on earth travels in a middle of the pandemic? Aren’t borders closed?

Us. And yes… but no.

Mark just passed out on the TGV a few minutes after the train left Paris Montparnasse—I told him to sleep in the plane but watching the latest Pokemon movie was a priority. I’m sitting next to him and I’m both exhausted and relieved because it’s the last leg of the trip that started the day before. Feng must be sleeping as well but that’s because it’s only 7 a.m. in Canada. He couldn’t come with us, he is busy working on the next deadly virus in the lab-basement… just kidding, don’t call the cops. He isn’t with us because this trip was complicated, that’s all.

Everything is tricky this year, isn’t it?

“I’ve just bought two tickets for a plane that isn’t flying yet but may eventually go to a country which borders are still closed,” I emailed my mom mid-June. “Just a desperate move.”

I called the next day, overwhelmed with bittersweet joy to tell her that maybe, we would be coming to France this summer after all.

It wouldn’t be the perfect careless summer trip I usually look forward too. But again, it’s not exactly the typical year.

“So, what makes you anxious?” my mom asked.

“Air Transat resumes flying on July 23,” I explained. “But Canada strongly discourages international travel and borders are still closed here and in France. Technically, I can probably enter France and re-enter Canada because I have valid French and Canadian passports. Mark is French too, but as you know, he doesn’t have a French passport because applying from Canada is a headache—we would have to go to Toronto for that. As for Feng… well, obviously not a French citizen. There’s a lot of fine print floating around, like if Mark and Feng travel with me they should be let in as my child and spouse. But it’s a non-essential trip, so who knows.”

“The European Union announced it plans to reopen borders to a list of safe countries. I’m hoping Canada will be on it—I mean, it’s a pandemic but Canada is doing okay overall. If we’re not on the list, good luck finding ten or fifteen ‘safer’ countries. And after all, Air Transat is scheduling Canada-to-European Union flights this summer, so the company must be confident enough travelling will be okay by then.”

“Now, on the practical side—there’s no guarantee the plane will actually fly, especially if it’s half empty. Anything could change in either France or Canada. Also, Greyhound didn’t resume operations so Feng has to drive us to Montreal, which is one of the reasons why he isn’t coming. Oh, and we don’t have to quarantine in France but we have to self-isolate in Canada upon return.”

Add some social stigma—“you should stay home!”—, security and health measures, and complete uncertainty and you’ll understand why I was stressed out before the trip.

And then there’s another side of “unreal”—the fact that France is recovering from the lockdown and from being one of the epicentres of the pandemic. On a more personal note, the fact my grandfather is no longer with us—if feels unreal to me.

We’ve heard about COVID in my family. My sister caught it in February—always an early adopter—and recovered about a week later. My papi caught it too and passed away in April.

I’m not stupid or in denial. France is doing much better but the virus is still around. Canada isn’t doing too bad but the virus is still here too.

But it’s a now-or-when moment.

Technically, I could have travelled to France in April, when my papi died. I checked—a few planes were still flying and my French passport would open me the closed French border. But France was still under a draconian lockdown and the situation was dire even though the Western part of France was relatively spared compared to Paris or the eastern region. Besides, I would have been coming after the battle. I’ve already spent weeks feeling helpless during daily phone calls with my mom.

I stayed put. It was safer for all of us.

By the end of May, it was becoming clear that we were in for the long run. The Canadian border would stay closed for a while and since reopening agreements are usually reciprocal, I had little hope France would let us in.

I tried to explain the issue to Mark.

“I have a French passport and you’re technically French but you don’t have a passport and daddy isn’t French at all.”

“We’re not Brazilian and we still went to Brazil several times,” he noted.

“Yeah, well, travelling is usually a lot easier.”

“I want to go to France though. What should I do, take a French test?”

If only…

And then things got a bit better in Europe. Restrictions were lifted, dealing with the virus became more or less a personal responsibility. Canada is being very cautious considering the situation in the US but collectively, “we” did better than expected back in March.

Going to France isn’t a constitutional right, plenty of immigrants don’t see their family every year and plenty of travellers put travel plans on hold. I get it.

But there’s no guarantee the situation is going to be better a month or six from now. I’d rather go when the border is officially open to Canada, when the weather is nice and we can spend time outside. We don’t have a big social circle in Canada—no relatives except my in-laws we barely see, few friends we hang out with regularly.

This trip is unreal and I’m ridiculously stressed out… but it looks like we’re going, anyway.

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