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Notre Dame on fire

A couple of hours ago I was in a bus that crossed over the Seine – and there she was to the west, glorious Notre Dame cathedral – the same distant view I posted here yesterday of one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in the world. One of the most visited tourist attractions in Europe, yet also a spiritual centre. Lynn and I discussed going to see a concert of Gregorian chant there tomorrow.

And now, we’ve just learned that she’s burning. A friend texted from Toronto, Bruce just wrote from Italy, and so we found it over the international news, pictures of flames shooting up from her roof. It makes me weep. We could go out and stand on the bridge and look right now, but it would seem ghoulish. This loveliest and dearest of buildings has been badly hurt. I feel it as an actual pain in my own heart and body.

I brought my kids to France when Anna was 14 and Sam 11, and we of course visited Notre Dame. They were not into cathedrals, I can tell you; they were into skateboarding and The Simpsons. But Anna gazed at the magical rose window and said, “Now I understand why people believe in god.” She fell in love with that building. We all did. Everyone did. Every time I arrive in Paris, I have to see Notre Dame to believe I’m really here. It happened this time; when I saw those towers, that spire, I said, “I guess I’m in Paris.”

They will fix her. But it’s terrible to think that a building so important, so perfect and graceful and wise, is as vulnerable as anything, anyone else – that she can burn, just like that. May she rise again, more magnificent than ever. It is sure that she will.

I had a quiet day before this tragic story unfolded; I went to the Jardins du Luxembourg, a favourite place, to meet old friends Michele and Daniel for lunch. They took me to the nearby rue Monsieur le Prince, to the Polidor, a restaurant founded in the mid-1800’s, so authentic that the toilet is still Turkish – dinosaur feet, as we used to say, with a hole. Michele was a scientist who worked with Dad; I first met her in 1964 when I was 14, the year we lived in Paris. Now she’s 82, though she looks much younger, with thick dark hair that’s barely grey. Daniel went off after lunch, and she and I walked to the park and sat for hours in the sun and wind, talking. The gardeners were busy; a man kept going by in a small tractor loaded with trees in pretty decorative wooden boxes, which he was placing carefully around the crowded park.

Then home on the bus, saying hello to Notre Dame in the distance, as always, as I went by over the bridge. I shopped for dinner like a real Parisienne, had a simple meal ready for my friend when she got home from work. And then I got a text – my basement flooded again, an inch or two all over the floor, the plumber was on his way. A new sump pump ordered. Despite that, we sat dining, feeling safe and happy.

Then another text – Notre Dame is burning. And everything else stopped.

From the New York Times:

In his landmark television series “Civilization,” standing before Notre-Dame, the art historian Kenneth Clark asked: “What is civilization? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms — yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it.”
He turned toward the cathedral: “And I am looking at it now.”

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2 Responses to “Notre Dame on fire”

  1. theresa says:

    As lovely as it's been to follow your travels, this is the post I wish I hadn't read. To think of the spire falling from its steadfastness, the smoke, the rumour of the rose windows exploding…

  2. beth says:

    So far, they say the north window has been saved but not sure about the others. The scale of the destruction is unimaginable. Heartbreaking.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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