The Burning of Notre Dame
The first photos showed the cathedral’s high spire falling, its skeletal wood frame silhouetted against the engulfing red flames and – seen from the city’s venerable center – a column of smoke rising.
Notre Dame is the heart of Paris. No one builds like that today. By contrast, efforts have been made to replace the World Trade Center – not adequately, in my view, but a building of the same form could be replicated were one so minded. The same cannot be said for this crowning exemplar of twelfth-to- fourteenth-century gothic architecture.
Was it what a New York fireman friend has called “a set fire”? This one might well have been an accident, set off by workmen with torches, though most accidental fires don’t begin as infernos. If there were more to know, one can’t help feeling that, after duly investigating, “they” wouldn’t say. Churches are being mysteriously vandalized all over France – desecrated, not just vandalized – but wars of religion have been safely relegated to earlier times, so the question can hardly be raised.
the Paris that believes nothing
— not even its own erotic spasms –
cannot know why its heart is breaking.
From what I remember, when you stand on the high towers and look down, you can see how the city first unfolded, each expansion circumvallated by a wall, which then overlooked further expansions, to be contained in their turn.
One time long ago, my first love argued that I had never understood him, since the human soul turns up new, unexpected contours, like the cathedral of Notre Dame that we had just encircled, walking alongside its walls.
It was a lovely image, even though I thought it was misleading, since I did know him.
An account of one of the sackings of ancient Rome described the city as well guarded by its sentries, walled defenses and preparations for an anticipated fight.
There was, however, one thing outside their defensive perimeters: the high-towered, well-constructed aqueducts carrying Rome’s water supply into the city. The barbarian invaders — Vandals, Visigoths or whoever they were — simply knocked down the aqueducts. The population had to flee. The city died of thirst.
For Paris, the Cathedral of Notre Dame may have been the spring that watered a spiritual thirst inadmissible in the polite, urbane and ironical tones of its inhabitants.
Of that kind of thirst
cities can also die.