As Australian visitors living in Paris, we are enamoured by France and Paris. Watching the news last night we discovered that Notre Dame was on fire. Not quite believing the reports, we reluctantly decided to walk to the Pont de Sully to witness the fiery destruction of the roof and spire.
The other “spectators” were incredibly silent, speaking in low voices to each other. We heard only one person, loudly speaking on his cell phone, a tourist, who appeared to not really empathise with the city and the people of what was happening before him. We were saddened at his blasé comments and lack of sympathy for the situation.
The photographs that were taken, were taken, with a reluctance to be recording such a tragic event, however, to be part of the audience was a moving experience. One we hope to never be involved in again.
French poet Jacques Prévert wrote: I recognized happiness by the noise it made when it left. Here, at DS, we have railed countless times against postcard photography, and destinations that are so overrun with tourists that enjoying them is no longer possible.
But now that one of them is gone, I appreciate how appropriate Prevert’s words were and are. Plus, there are iconic pictures from the top of one of Notre-Dame’s towers that I always told myself I would try my hand at, but I never got around to it. Too much wait in line, there would be another day, the usual cr*p (no, it is not crop). And now the chance may be gone for my lifetime.
It is not for nothing that this Gothic cathedral, very probably the world’s most famous, was/is called Notre-Dame. “Notre” means “ours”. Now that it has been rent and savaged by flames, we know, it belonged to all of us, parisians or not, catholics or not.
And, while the building may survive and even be restored to its former glory, countless treasures are irreparably lost. Statues, paintings, stain glass, the glorious organ by Cavaillé-Coll.
It feels like Quasimodo and Esmeralda were somehow alive as long as Notre-Dame was there to protect them. And now, they are dead for good. Fromer PM Fillon said it: Notre-Dame is in flames, and parisians are in tears. And I add, the river of our tears was not enough to put out the flames.
Maybe I should have loved Notre-Dame more while I could. I know it is important to be up to date with my “I love you”s to my loved ones. I hadn’t until today included “things”, and now I shall. Be prepared to see some photographic “I love you”s coming from me. Hey, Pascal, shouldn’t that be the next DS challenge?
Soo many feelings. Where is the truth?
This morning, listening to the radio felt like peace had finally fallen on earth. On the news : a piece about conversation as an art form (yes, honestly), some new tennis prodigy and the fire in Notre Dame. Apparently, humanity had suddenly cured cancer, stopped wars and famine and politicians were no longer splitting continents as a pastime. I felt bad thinking that, but the self-centered news just reminded me of those maps of the world not drawn to geographic scale but relative to some other variable such as wine consumption or number of prostitutes per square mile. Today, the island at the center of Paris occupies 98% of our globe.
Yesterday was a different story. I came home from my sport session to a distraught daughter watching the video of a burning treasure with tears in her eyes. And the shock of seeing such horrific images made my heart sink. The sense of loss was terrible. I wondered why. In my hundreds of trips to Paris, I don’t remember ever visiting it. Heck, looking for photographs to illustrate this post is actually a struggle and the only one in my possession was made a few years ago, as a test chart for a client selling a lossless image compression algorithm. Not even a shot made for myself. I love churches but, as for many other things, am far more drawn to the smaller, more intimate ones than to the grand. To me, those famous landmarks all lose their essence and become destinations, targets for Corinne Vionnet’s fabulous work on mass tourism or Thomas Struth’s interrogations. And yet, the sight of so much human inspiration, talent and work being destroyed in a few minutes punched me in the stomach much harder than I thought possible. It’s as if witnessing its destruction gave the building back its true nature.
And there are so many questions. Starting with the childish ones.
How could such a fire even be possible? Human mistake, probably. In 1972, the Nantes cathedral was seriously damaged as well when a worker forgot to turn off a blowpipe on the roof. If investigations reveal a similar incident here, it will mean that we, as a society have learned nothing from the first accident, making it far worse.
Experts on the radio are saying rebuilding the roof could take 30 years. How is that even possible? It took men with ropes 200 years to build the whole edifice. Have we evolved so little that 700 years later, we can’t do it faster ?
The Arnault family pledged 100 million euros to help finance the build. But that’s apparently not enough. How? I mean, how is 100 million euros not enough for a roof? Or is that just France? Turkey is building a new football stadium in Bursa for 75 million euros, France’s similar project for rugby is estimated 600 (million) and will probably cost double that. Whatever the reason, 100 million could do so much to forward art in France that it pains me to see it all spent on one roof. Prodigy sure meets prodigal. But how could we leave Notre Dame without a roof?
And then, less prosaic and more important, our whole approach to heritage is fascinating. I remember my surprise in Japan when kids were allowed to run around precious wooden temples and that destruction was a part of the life of everything. When a temple or castle got destroyed by fire or earthquakes or tourist wear and tear, it just got rebuilt or was abandoned. This actually keeps a whole industry alive and craftsmen perpetuating old building traditions seem more numerous and active than elsewhere. In the Institut du Monde Arabe, a fascinating exhibition recreated in virtual reality the main monuments destroyed by war in ancient cities such as Mosul and Aleppo. In most cases, reconstruction is impossible. But more interesting is the fact that local archeologist actually don’t want to rebuild. To them, destruction is part of the life of a building. And, inspecting the ruins, they found far more ancient treasures that had been buried beneath the more recent, now defunct, churches and mosques. What can we learn from that?
So, what’s next? So far, the shock has aligned politicians of the world. It’s ironic to think that millions of rapes and killings can’t do what a burning roof can, but I can only hope the trend continues and that this fire will lead to an exemplary rebuild. One which brings together the talent of people throughout the world, using donations from around the world. I also hope it will make the (far more permanent) destruction of sooo many other monuments abroad less abstract to the French and that it will make them donate to help others in need, throughout the world. A subscription is being raised to call upon the great generosity of the French people. It ain’t generosity when you give to rebuild your heritage. Wouldn’t it be much better if Notre Dame got rebuilt thanks to foreign donations and if French gifts were sent abroad?
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