Notre Dame Is the Burning Heart of Paris

Posted Monday, 15 April 2019 ‐ The New York Times

PARIS — I learned that Notre Dame was burning on Monday night when a stranger — an older man — stopped me on the street. A shrieking ambulance had just sped past us. He pointed to a plume of smoke in the distance, and said: “It’s going to Notre Dame. Notre Dame is on fire.”
The French don’t spend much time in churches. Though most of the population is nominally Catholic, France is one of the least religious countries in Europe. Urbane, intellectual Parisians often dismiss religion as archaic and unenlightened. A Parisian writer once assured me that God died in the late 1960s.
And yet, the fire at Notre Dame feels as if it has struck everyone here. Drone footage of the fire showed the cross-shaped building entirely in flames. When President Emmanuel Macron came on national TV around 11:30 p.m., with the still-burning structure behind him, he called it “the cathedral of all the French, even those who were never here.”
It’s partly that, at 856 years old, Notre Dame has witnessed much of French history. It’s where Henry VI was crowned, and Napoleon became emperor. A few hours into the fire, French TV news was running everything from clips of François Mitterrand’s funeral to scenes from a movie version of Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Though most Parisians don’t visit often — and some never do — Notre Dame is more than just a tourist attraction or a historic monument. It sits in the middle of the city, walking distance from practically everywhere, on the bank of the river that divides the city. Residents might not have fully realized it until Monday, but I think it reassured them to know that at the heart of their highly planned city was someplace entirely non-rational and non-Cartesian. Notre Dame’s hulking, Gothic presence has long suggested that there is something mysterious and unknowable at the center of it all.
The fire comes not long after other great shocks to Paris, including the flooding of the Seine last year and the 2015 terrorist attacks.
In his address to the nation, Mr. Macron described what Parisians are feeling as a “tremblement intérieur” — an internal trembling. That’s an accurate description of our sense of emptiness and loss. There’s also a shared sadness and disappointment that, with the extensive damage, we’ve failed, as a civilization, to be the caretakers of something priceless. A hundred years from now, people will still be talking about the fire of 2019.
Mr. Macron vowed that France will rebuild Notre Dame. First, we’ll have to put out the fire and see what remains.
Pamela Druckerman is a contributing opinion writer and the author of “There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story.”
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Tag: #NotreDameCathedral(paris,France) #Macron,Emmanuel(1977-) #Paris(france)

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