THE WASHINGTON POST

Happy Birthday, COVID: The Moments Missed We’ll Never Get Back

A family wishing happy birthday to their grandfather through video call.
A family wishing happy birthday to their grandfather through video call.
Anne Sophie Goninet

When I blew the candles on my 29th birthday cake, on March 27th 2020, it was only 10 days after the first lockdown had begun in France. Still, I felt lucky. I remember telling myself that, even though the day included no friends, at least in 2021 for the much more momentous passage into la trentaine, I could celebrate properly. Alas...

Besides a fleeting opening up over the summer, France, like much of the world, has largely remained in lockdown mode for what in fact has now been more than one full year. Three weeks ago, when I turned 30, I was able to invite some family members to share a slice of delicious chocolate cake and a champagne flute, but my parents and my brother, who live in another region, couldn't make it because of the curfew restrictions. A big party with friends was of course out of the question.

A big party with friends was of course out of the question.

A second birthday in lockdown puts a point on the disappointment and frustration so many — of all ages — are experiencing. It's as if we were in the same position as when the pandemic started — despite the vaccination campaign and the hope that it would bring back some sense of normalcy. Still, I do believe this troubling moment in history is harder on some ages than others — and I'm not talking about my fellow millennials.

Earlier this month, I received a message in my family's WhatsApp group, asking if everyone could send a postcard to my niece, who turned six years old on April 14th. For the second year in a row, she wasn't able to celebrate her birthday with friends her age or even with her whole family. Reading the message, I thought about all the birthday parties I had as a child and a teenager, how important they were to me, how sad it was that my niece has now missed a proper celebration two years in a row.

happy_quarantine_cake_candles

Happy Quarantine. A young girl celebrating her birthday. — Photo: pixpoetry

Such concerns of course pale in comparison to the health, economic, social and psychological crises the pandemic has caused. Still, this too is something lost. Experiences (and, later, memories) of games, cakes and candies when you're young, dancing, flirting and maybe the first hangovers a few years later… Many of the group photographs that I have as a child were taken at birthday parties and I will never forget my 18th fête d'anniversaire.

For 18-year-olds, it's not just birthdays that had to be canceled, but also celebrating their graduation, driving license, first summer job,… My brother turned 18 last February and he is going to pass his baccalauréat in just a few months, and so far, I don't think he has any unforgettable memories to take with him. Another 18-year-old, who had to cancel her birthday party, told Le Monde: "It was a way to assert myself (...) There will be no before, no after."

For 18-year-olds, it's not just birthdays that had to be canceled, but also celebrating their graduation, driving license, first summer job,…

To counter that feeling, I can only look at my calendar, hoping that I'll be able to organize a party later this summer, not just for me, but also for my partner and all my friends who are turning 30 as well in 2021.

We might draw some inspiration from Heather Brooks, who'd had a big birthday — 50 — soon after the first lockdown in the U.S., and now just turned 51. She told The Washington Post: "The pandemic makes you understand how fragile and precious life is, to a degree we didn't have to look at before. So, I think I will give my birthdays a little more honor than I used to." Brooks joked that until she can properly celebrate, she still considers herself 49. Well then, count me in too as 29!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat


CAUCHARI
— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ