It would be a mistake to see this defiance as mere carelessness or summer insouciance. It is a symptom of various ills, including distrust in politics and social and economic division. Both have been exacerbated by the virus.
Last week, Maxime Nicolle, a leader of the anti-establishment Yellow Jackets movement, declared in a video that masks were useless — and made his point by puffing on a cigarette before donning a mask and showing that smoke still came through.
In the midst of Facebook posts suggesting masks are equipped with chips to control our movements, anti-mask activists discuss gathering in Paris in September.
Beyond those fringe protesters, a greater proportion of Parisians simply doesn’t trust a government that said for months that masks were of little use in fighting the pandemic.
Others — such as people living in small, airless apartments and densely populated poor neighborhoods — feel they have little choice but to put their immediate comfort before their long-term health. Social distancing is a luxury they can’t easily afford.
Also among the corona rebels are kids pulling stunts on their bikes, taking over Place de la République and enjoying some maskless fun. It feels harsh to condemn them for letting off steam after months of lockdown and a chaotic school year.
And it’s easy to sympathize with those who argued angrily that the rules hit some much harder than others.
When city authorities announced last week that mask-wearing would be compulsory in some outdoor areas, maps showed the measures would mainly affect the lower-income east and north of Paris. Officials said there was no intention to target the poor — the zones just reflected densely populated areas. But the fact remains that the richest arrondissements have more room for maneuver, literally.
Paris has not fully recovered from the pain of lockdown, when police controls were reinforced in the northern suburbs to such an extent that the Defender of Rights — an official but independent watchdog — warned of “social and territorial inequalities” increased by confinement. The anger has not gone away; it seems to be simmering in the heat.
From my fifth-floor apartment in the hipsterish 11th arrondissement, this unique Parisian summer is reflected in the cityscape.