Our trip was fast paced, and felt fleeting, but we were also exhausted. I wasn’t sure how to spend our only full day in Paris, but I had a friend with a plan. Our first stop was the Notre-Dame de Paris, and she knew more about it than I did. We’d already seen so many cathedrals on our trip. So many that I had a cathedral numbness and then a cathedral guilt. I mean that after a while their awe started to dull, and I couldn’t see them in the shiny light I once had. But Notre-Dame was different, and we stood before it for a long time. There were, as always, crowds of people around, but the moment seemed still. Notre-Dame represented so much history, held so many words and images and days within its walls.
We took a tour of Notre-Dame, and we lent it more time than we’d expected. We took slow steps, long gazes, quiet moments. I didn’t feel a numbness, or a tiredness. A lot of what I know of Notre-Dame came after that day, and I’m disappointed I didn’t know it all in the moment. But there’s a reason that was the chain of events. I felt such an urge to understand it better, to know better why it’s there, and why we visit. I wrote a research paper on Notre-Dame, or more specifically, Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Hugo wrote the novel to make people care about the cathedral, in a time before historical preservation was a priority. Hugo’s goal was to save Notre-Dame and ultimately, it was saved. In new adaptations, the story served to start different conversations, because the original goal had been achieved. 188 years later, nobody needs to be convinced to care for the cathedral, but care doesn’t clear away the smoke, or soothe the flames.
Today, Notre-Dame de Paris is burning. It took 182 years to build, and has stood for 674 years since. That measure of time spans into the abyss. So much has changed in 20 years, or 100. The 856 years since the groundbreaking feels incomprehensible. So many people have shared a moment with the Notre-Dame cathedral.
After the Notre-Dame, we went to Shakespeare and Co., the Louvre, ate snails and macarons, walked along the Seine, had champagne at the Moulin Rouge. It was the quintessential one-day-in-Paris event.
In three months, I’ll be in Paris again. I’ve planned my trip around seeing the Notre-Dame again, and spending my time there thoughtfully. I didn’t want to squeeze too much into one day, but move slowly. It can’t happen now. I’ll see the Musee D’Orsay and Jardin du Luxembourg, and hopefully spy a sight of construction and restoration.
One day, I hope I can see a healed structure, holding a new chapter of history.