A friend sent me a message: “Go to news. Notre Dame is on fire.” I leapt up from the computer and for the next two hours or so I was riveted to the T.V screen as I watched the Cathedral, the heart of Paris burning. I was saddened.
My Bert and I have had the privilege of visiting famous monuments and landmarks around the world. They remain in my memory, in my psyche, and yes in my heart.
On separate occasions I have cried, laughed, cried and laughed at the Berlin Wall. I even own a small piece of it from when it was torn down. My Bert and I raced from Amsterdam to Berlin to witness the ‘unzipping’ of the refurbished Brandenburg Gate by President Bill Clinton.
I got goose bumps the first time I saw Westminster Abbey, The Blue Mosque, The Great Pyramid of Giza, Notre Dame de Paris, The Taj Mahal and so many more. There are entire cities that I consider to be monuments. Jerusalem, London, Paris, Athens, Rome, The Vatican, Amsterdam all come to mind.
Whenever I think of Denmark the small sculpture of The Little Mermaid brings a smile as do the Manneken Pis in Brussels which dates from 1388. They are beloved symbols that give a unique identity to a particular place. They are more than interesting sculptures.
The Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado means we are in Rio de Janeiro. Going to the opera at the Sydney Opera house is one bragging right I hold dear. And you know you are in Australia.
As I looked at Notre Dame I was grateful that we had toured it as a couple, as a family, and with travel companions. I wondered if we would live to see the ‘after’ even if only virtually.
As the fire burned my thoughts were turbulent. I was filled with dismay and sadness. I am not Roman Catholic. That did not matter. I am neither a Parisian nor French. That did not matter. I was looking at an iconic symbol. That is what a monument is. A symbol that is universal that can appeal to anyone.
Great literature, art, music, dance, drama, architecture are ways in which we showcase our creativity, share our talents and demonstrate the human need for beauty that transcends the mundane. They speak to the soul. Monumental works like Notre Dame validate that need and give credence to Keats’: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
When we toured Notre Dame the fact that it was the keeper of the Crown of Thorns was awe inspiring. I enjoyed seeing the art, the craftsmanship that went into the building but uppermost in my mind was the history. The same words I said then came back to me as I uttered them again: “If only these walls and stones could talk.” Notre Dame burned at the beginning of Holy Week. Ironic, isn’t it?
I wondered if the egotistical Napoleon was turning in his grave recalling his glory when he crowned himself Emperor of France in Notre Dame. He had no great love for either the Pontiff or religiosity so he may have some ambivalence about this destruction. As the spire fell I wondered if all those nobles who travelled past its doors in tumbrels to be guillotined found some macabre similarity to their own fate. They lost their heads and now Notre Dame was losing its own.
As I mourned the passing I wondered if some were cheering that this was a symbol belonging to ‘the other’ not to them. History, literature, religious fervour, art, music, wars, and love are all part of Notre Dame and they were fighting for space in my thoughts as I watched. That is a monument. It means everything to some and something to everyone else. You may be indifferent to it but it cannot be ignored.
The Meander: Over one billion Euros were donated within forty eight hours for the restoration of Notre Dame. Extraordinary! I cannot remember any human disaster that raised so much in so short a time. Hmm…
Experts estimate that it will take up to fifteen years to rebuild Notre Dame. With utter conceit I looked over at my monument, my Bert, and wonder if it will take up to fifteen years for his spire to topple.
Howsoever long it takes, if I am still alive, I will rejoice for one and mourn the other. The Light and dark together as ever.