From Bal Masques to Masked Balls
Festivity in the Era of Social Distancing
Keywords:pandemic, social distancing, proxemics, festivity
The lifting of COVID-19-related-lockdown was greeted cautiously in Paris on May 11, 2020. There was some tentative singing, drinks with friends at a nearby café, a few cameras to immortalize the moment… Yet, barely an hour after the beginning of this first phase of France’s “deconfinement” plan, a small crowd of people gathered on the Champs Elysées to celebrate the ability to get out without a self-authorized written certification of their purpose. Nothing too exuberant, but still, seeing these residents gather in a public place that has welcomed so many Parisian festive gatherings said a lot about the general mood of the city. Like the “apéro Skype” trend to which French people had reluctantly given in, the event was flaunted as a powerful emblem of the confinement period. Indeed, this text argues that social distancing has paradoxically revealed the role that festive sociability plays in our lives. In the era of protective and control measures (“gestes-barrières” in French), festivity has become all the more precious as it has been made almost impossible.
 [Translator’s note] “Apéro” is short for aperitif (pre-dinner drinks). As this French tradition moved online during lockdown, a new ritual was born, that of the “apéro Skype” or “Skypéro” (a portmanteau word with the same meaning).