Seeing the Notre Dame cathedral on my newsfeed is not abnormal; in fact, just on Sunday April 14th, Paris Living Instragram posted a shot of the spring cherry blossoms against the intricate architecture of the church. It almost felt like a cliche but it was a crowd-pleasing shot. Much like the Eiffel Tour, Sacre Coeur or Invalides, Parisians know these places exist and will admire them from time to time. Millions of people have visited or at least walked past the Notre Dame at some point during a trip to Paris that it has almost become a background object. It’s a place we may not have paid much attention to or knew many details about; I just happen to live amongst the greatest example of Gothic architecture of all time, casually. It’s a place I look at in awe when passing by and is on my list of places to go or take family and friends when they visit. I’m guilty of taking this historic landmark for granted only to be strangely melancholic at its potential demise.
On Monday night, my phone was almost at 10% without much service and I really only wanted to eat and then get back home to Paris. I had just sat down in an unassuming Kebab place in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris infamously known as ‘The 9-3’. While taking off my coat to sit down, I glanced in the mirror to see the reflection of the television and an array of colors: fire red, pink, orange, purple and black. The chef must have seen the confusion and shock on my face as he turned on the volume so that I could hear what was happening and catch up with the breaking news. Notre-Dame had already been burning for forty minutes and it seemed like it would go on all night. My first thoughts were: was it an attack? An act of protest gone wrong? Was everyone safe? What was going to happen next? Even after the volume had been turned off and food served, I couldn’t peel my eyes from the television. A piece of history was burning down in front of the world and it was unsettling to see.
Maybe what brought me back to reality a bit was seeing Trump’s tweet:
“it is so horrible to watch the massive fire… perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
As if Trump would know any better than the first responders here in Paris. I could not help but wonder if the fire would be contained or if we would witness live, the falling of an 850 year old cathedral. The later response from the Sécurité Civile, notably written in English, gave more clarity:
“Helicopter or aeroplane, the weight of the water and the intensity of the drop at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre Dame and result in collateral damage to the buildings in the vicinity.”
When I got home last night can could charge my phone, I was able to reach out to concerned friends and family. The first thing my Grandma asked was: is the cathedral nearby me. It’s almost comical to think of my day spent in outlet malls in Saint Denis and my tiny apartment on the border of the 11th and 19th districts, two diverse, young and eclectic areas of Paris, being associated in any way with the World Heritage site, Notre Dame cathedral. I assured her, I live nowhere near anywhere that would attract tweets from the likes of Trump, the Pope or the Queen of England, no worries, Nana.
Waking up today to see the cross still standing, facade still intact, to see the international coverage and donors pledging to rebuild is a relief. I’m happy people are safe. I’m relieved to know important relics and art works were saved by hard working firemen. But I still feel uneasy for some reason. It almost feels like, if that could happen to the Notre Dame then what’s stopping my old building from burning down or any building from burning down? There was an explosion in a boulangerie just three months ago and an explosion in a residential building 20 minutes from my apartment a few weeks ago. So much of Paris is loved for it’s old-time and romantic charm but in times like these I begin to wonder: are we safe? Does Paris have the resources to prevent or at least, end emergencies like these? Having lived in Paris for two years now as an American there are times when I feel particularly frustrated by the outdated and slow systems used here. Sometimes it feels as though we are living in a constant state of tradition rather than an ever-changing metropolis. But if there is one thing I learned living in Paris, France, is that change is slow and history is just as important as the future. With President Macron vowing to rebuild, the bell tower still remaining and important artifacts saved from the blaze, Paris will recover quickly from this incident, there is history to rebuild.