I’ve lived in Paris for a year, and chose my apartment for its view of Notre Dame. I live two “blocks” away.
My journey here was prompted by my love of art, and my horror at how quickly we are losing our cultural heritage (eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites bombed to rubble in Syria, The National Gallery in Brazil burnt to the ground, the threat of floods to the masterpieces of the Louvre) and so I moved to Paris in part, to found an arts non-profit that, inspired by the caves at Lascaux, seeks to create a New Cave to help the art of our time survive into the distant future. It’s called The 10,000 Year Art Project.
Like everyone who visits Notre Dame, I am awed by the evidence of human endeavors toward transcendence. This edifice represents the highest strivings of the human spirit and moves the souls of people of all faiths. As an artist, I knew instantly that the precious art inside the cathedral was in peril, and I wept. But when I saw that the smoke from the fire was brilliantly, unnaturally multicolored, it occurred to me that those plumes of smoke hues may have gotten their hues from the paintings or stained glass.
I found myself doubled over, wracked with tears, sobbing uncontrollably. My phone was being blown up by my Parisian friends; all expressing their condolences to me! I realized that in their subtle, typical French way, they were consoling me because they also needed consolation.
The river boats were stopped, for the first time since I’ve lived here. Only police boats sped by.
The smell, I am sad to say, was beautiful. Old wood, aged over centuries, redolent of ancient forests. It was a pure, clean smell. Perfume, not toxic. That Our Mother would give off perfume as she burned was poetic. Red embers floated by my window. I wondered if they were bits of the paintings. The clouds of smoke billowed bright colors, horrible and beautiful to watch.
My neighbor came over, hugged me, offered to have me sleep in her place “if I feel too scared or sad!”
The street was closed and the sirens became more and more frequent. Traffic was replaced by throngs of people, in shock. Hundreds, then thousands of people silently stood and watched in helpless horror.
There were tears, despair.
Today, I don’t see the happy tourists walking down the Seine, just a somber few stragglers. The bouquinistes have not begun to open their stalls, but it’s early yet. Maybe they will. I see a subdued Paris, a shocked Paris.
I go to the monument this morning to pay my respects. For 850 years Notre Dame has supported the human spirit, and now she needs all the support we can give her.