In August 2003, my family returned to Europe after having lived for 3 years in the US. We didn’t return to Germany but continued our expat adventure in France. Never before had I been in Paris or in France. We were living in the suburbs and Paris quickly became our weekend destination. I think it was during our first weeks that we first visited Notre-Dame.
In my family, there is a running joke that my dad and his siblings always had to visit churches. Something my parents did with us too. So visiting one of Europe’s finest Gothic cathedrals was a must, a long time before the Eifel Tower.
My memory is hazy, at times this memory was not at all present, but with what happened on Monday, it did come more to the surface. It was a nice sunny day when we climbed the steps up into one of those towers. Somewhere I have photos of some gargoyles. I had arrived in Europe, in France, in Paris!
Since that day, I don’t think that I went back inside Notre-Dame. But I have orbited around it many times. The little parc just behind it is a green oasis within the city, not overrun by tourists. The ice-cream on Ile de la Cité is mythical (especially in its price). My French teacher, Monsieur E. took us to roam the Island and told us stories of his time as a student living there, or was it about Ile-Saint-Louis? It is an anecdote for sure!
How often have I looked at Notre-Dame? How often have I said to myself, that’s a great building? How often have I been next to it? How often have I shaken my head at the long lines of people waiting? How many pictures have I taken with Notre-Dame in sight?
Notre-Dame is the centre of Paris. Just look at some old painting when there was nothing in Paris, there was always Notre-Dame. The whole city was built around Our Lady of Paris.
It is the centre of France, most French roads have their point 0 there.
When on Monday, the cathedral went up in flames. The world was shaken. Notre-Dame is a symbol of Paris, of France, of Europe, of Catholicism, of modern civilisation. A church turned into something resembling our collective imagination of hell in the holy week was just unbelievable.
On Monday, on my way home, I had to let two gigantic fire trucks pass. One was the type where many firefighters can find a place the other was for equipment. I thought to myself that there was a big fire or that something important was going up in flames, well it was both.
I haven’t been down to see the extent of the destruction.
Have you had the chance to visit Notre-Dame? What are your memories of it?