“What is civilization? I don’t know, I can’t define it in abstract terms, but I think I can recognize it when I see it, and I am looking at it now,” said Kenneth Clark in 1969. He then turns back and the camera focuses on Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in all its splendor.
Notre Dame de Paris is on fire as I write this from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. Smoke is rising over the city in the distance. It is a sad day for Paris and the World, for history and the present, for the architect and the tourist, and it is moments like these that remind us of how fragile this all is. It is a reminder that when you want to see something and do something and you can swing it, GO… Travel to see it! Because our human relics around us might not be there tomorrow. We think of these historic symbols as indestructible and everlasting, but we cannot take these beautiful places for granted! I’m thankful for the times I have seen it, but saddened that millions will never see it the same. Built in the 13th Century and drawing 13 million visitors a year.
I was freshly 22 years old the first time I visited Paris and the Cathedral with my brothers Michael and Nicholas (I just spent this past weekend with them, after a long time away in Japan, celebrating Michael’s marriage to his wonderful partner Chelsea). We walked the entirety of central Paris, from our hotel to Eiffel, to the Arc, down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the Louvre, across the Bridge of Locked Love, and to Notre Dame, and even further after that. Michael, Nicholas, and I took a tour of the internal beauty, and climbed to the top of the tower to look over all of Paris, with the summer haze causing an orange glow behind the Eiffel Tower. We even ran into an old friend that I knew through friends attending college at Michigan, a place bringing all different walks of life together. Afterward, we enjoyed a couple of crepes across the street from the currently engulfed section of the structure. It was a day I will never forget, and while I think about that trip often, today has brought it all back and I’m sure the same for the millions of others who have visited it.
The second time I went back was just this past November with Jhay! We also met up with Alexa and Rhonda. It was a wonderful time to be in Paris, as the holidays were right around the corner and I got to experience the romance of it all. When we arrived at Orly Airport, we took the train direct to the City Center and decided to walk the length to our hotel instead of transferring, and I am more thankful than ever for that. We exited the train with Notre Dame right in front of us, on this surprising, unplanned trip to Paris. While we didn’t go in this time, it was more memories made for us, and more reason for us to be sad watching this building burn up in flames. This short trip leaves us wanting more from Paris in the future.
The flames that were engulfing the iconic steeple tower have now caused a collapse and the steeple is gone, and it looks as if the central section of the roof has caved in. The beauty of that ceiling, the beauty of the interior of that building likely lost. The six-part rib vaults of the nave collapsing, the double-supporting arches and buttresses in flames. The mood in the Air France lounge has turned somber.. what started out as a loud room as mid-afternoon snacks turned to dinner service has become quiet, with a lot of heads shaking in disgust and sadness. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be a Parisian right now. A cathedral that survived the French Revolution and World War II might be lost to April 15th, 2019, another day in our history that will live in infamy.
We have no idea why this happened yet, and it will probably take some time to know, but rest assured that Paris and France will rebuild this Gothic masterpiece once again, to keep its long history shining. And no matter what religion or faith you are, we must continue to protect the magnificent structures and buildings of our past to remind ourselves of where we come from, and to never forget both the things we have done wrong and the things we have done right.
“A Paris without the Cathedral is not Paris anymore..”