What a tragedy! I’m an American, but Paris belongs to everybody. It’s arguably the cultural center of the world, and Notre Dame is its heart.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris six times in my life, never for more than a week at a time. But I feel I know the city a little bit and am comfortable there with my guidebooks and lousy high school French.
I’ve been “down and out in Paris” as a poor college student, staying in cheap hotels and hostels. (On one exceptionally hostile hostel night in Paris, I squashed crawling bugs all over my body and got absolutely zero sleep. It was the last time I slept in a hostel.) And I’ve stayed at nice hotels with room service and views of the Eiffel Tower. Guess which one I preferred.
How much do I love Paris? The Tiny Goddess and I went there on our honeymoon. We stayed at the Crillon on a cheap package, but it was still the Crillon. It rained most of the week – it rains one out of every four days in Paris – but it was still Paris.
Sometimes, I’ll check on Expedia or Kayak or some other travel site that comes my way for the price on a week in Paris, just for the TG and me. Just for the hell of it. And the prices aren’t so bad when you consider that a one-week trip to Paris can give you a lifetime of wonderful memories and mental images. Crepes in the Tuileries … the stained glass in Sainte-Chapelle … Michaelangelo’s slaves … the views from Sacre Coeur and the top of the Eiffel Tower … wandering around the Latin Quarter … “Giselle” at the Opera Garnier … eating madaleines in “Combray” … picnics along the Seine … searching for treasure at the flea market at Clignancourt … criss-crossing the bridges along the Seine … sipping hot chocolate at Angelina’s … walking the Champs-Elysees … wandering around, getting lost in the magic.
Even before this catastrophe at Notre Dame, I was thinking about our next trip to Paris. We’d do a mix of old things and new things. As far as the new, I want to see an opera at the Bastille, walk the Promenade Plantee (made famous in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset”), and take a boat trip up the Seine to Monet’s garden at Giverny. For the old, I’d want to go back to the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. I guess I won’t be going back to Notre Dame.
The image of Notre Dame has always been very strong to me. When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. Laughton’s Quasimodo terrified yet attracted me. It’s one of the cinema’s greatest performances. I must have watched that movie a hundred times on the “Million Dollar Movie” on Channel 9 in New York, when they used to repeat a movie twice nightly for an entire week. “Hunchback” was run many times, but not as many as “King Kong. (At that time, Channel 9 was a subsidiary of RKO General Tire and had essentially free access to the library of RKO Studios which produced this “Hunchback,” as well as “Kong” and the Astaire-Rodgers musicals.)
Paris without Notre Dame is a horrible thing to contemplate. Its location at the dead center of things – on Ile de la Cite – means that everyone will be seeing this giant, burnt, depressing hulk of rubble for a very long time.
One firefighter was injured in the blaze. The spire was destroyed, and 2/3 of the roof is "ravaged." But the towers have been saved. The Crown of Thorns and Tunic of St. Louis have both been rescued but there are fears for much of the other artwork in the cathedral. We’ll see more as the smoke clears.
At least the towers are still standing.
They’ll rebuild Notre Dame. It will take many years, but the Parisians will do it. I’m sure the Americans will step up and contribute, as the Rockefellers did to help restore Notre Dame after World War II. I might not be alive to see its completion, but it will be done.
I can already hear the French starting to argue about how to restore it. But they will do it – gloriously.
Vive la France!
Some French bon-bons:
EDITH PIAF – SINGING “LA VIE EN ROSE” -- LIVE
EDITH PIAF – SINGING “NON JE NE REGRETTE RIEN” -- LIVE
CHARLES TRENET – “LA MER” (original version) – the source of Bobby Darin’s “BEYOND THE SEA”
CHARLES TRENET – “LA MER” (a strange swing version, with English subtitles)
JACQUES BREL – “NE ME QUITTE PAS”
“LA MARSEILLAISE” – with French lyrics – sung by MIREILLE MATHIEU
“LA MARSEILLAISE” scene in ‘CASABLANCA”
The Young Marcel Proust (in a TV movie) in the actual garden at Illiers-Combray
A featurette (in French) on Illiers-Combray, with shots of Tante Leonie’s house, the Pre Catalan, both Swann’s Way and the Guermantes Way, and plates of madeleines
Proust – The Madeleine Scene (on audio book) – Genius at work.