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Postcards From The Pandemic: Frenchman In A Strange (Cleve)Land

Engineer Alex Minot emigrated from his native France to Cleveland in mid-February for a new job.

At the time, he and his wife Wendy Lovinger were aware of the coronavirus, but they weren't much concerned about it affecting their lives.

"Mostly I was just afraid that airport security would be a lot longer, that clearing immigration might take longer, that I'd miss my connecting flights," he said.

None of that happened, though. They flew to the U.S. without incident, settled into an apartment in Ohio City, and began getting acquainted with their new city: checking out restaurants, getting to know co-workers, shopping for kitchen supplies to supplement what they'd brought with them from France (including only four plates).

Then, about a month after they arrived, Ohio's stay-at-home order hit. In some ways, their acclimation to Cleveland has remained frozen in place ever since. 

Minot shared what it's like to be a newcomer in a foreign land just as it's shutting down.

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Very Cleveland

For two, three weeks, we basically lived a very Clevelander life. [laughs]

My colleagues had given us a monthly pass to the Cavs. So that was cool. We got to see two games before they shut down. We also went to Amish country.

A lot of people were inviting us here and there. So it was great.

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Before Ohio's stay-at-home order, Alex Minot and his wife Wendy Lovinger (pictured) explored Ohio's Amish country. [Alex Minot]

After the stay-at-home order, I was still able to go to work, because we support transportation and defense. I would go into the office one to two days a week and work remotely the rest of the week.

Then, a few days ago, I was put on furlough until summer. I feel like there's so much uncertainty, it could be longer.

Afraid to Commit

It's hard to project myself into this being my new home because I'm not sure it's going to stay that way. If neither I nor my wife have a job after this, we might not have any reason to stay. Every once in a while I'm like, 'Well, should we even unpack?' And of course the answer is yes, we should. I mean, we're not going to live out of cardboard boxes for however long because we don't know that we're leaving, and we're really hoping to stay.

But it kind of feels weird to commit to it with everything such in limbo.

So that's kind of what I feel with my relationship with Cleveland: I think Cleveland is a great place and I think I’d love it — and I'm kind of afraid to commit to it a bit.

No One's Panicking

The good news is — honestly, we were talking about it today — it feels like Cleveland is a pretty good place to be in right now, given the circumstances. No one's panicking. There's still plenty of stuff in the supermarkets. So we don't have to worry about that.

I'm talking to my family back in France, where the stay-at-home order is more strict. Like, literally the only thing you can do to go out is go to the grocery store or get like 15 minutes or 30 minutes of exercise outside. Whereas here you're allowed to drive to the park, if that's what you want to do.

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The couple's cat, Babouche, stares up at a window in their Ohio City apartment. [Alex Minot]

I guess the fact that COVID has put our exploration on pause, it helps a bit in the sense that we are now restricted to a small area. We're restricted to whatever we can walk to in Ohio City.

It does make it easier to familiarize ourselves with our neighborhood, since that's the only place we go to.

We're back to an almost fully pedestrian way of life that is more familiar to us from back in France.

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