I don’t think I need to introduce the issue here. I’m devastated, as are millions of people around the world. And as we reel from these events, there are a couple things that weigh on our minds, as travelers, as art lovers, and as people in general.
For us travelers, it puts into perspective how much landmarks actually mean to people. It’s easy to go to Philadelphia and just say “oh, there’s Independence Hall.” without actually taking in its importance. But these structures carry a much deeper meaning to those people. We see how devastated the Parisians are, and goes to show that landmarks are more than just buildings; they define places, and by extension their people. Notre Dame is more than a tourist favorite; it’s an irreplaceable part of the soul of the most beautiful city in the world. Landmarks are symbols of cultures, and things that makes our favorite places instantly recognizable. They’re part of what makes the world beautiful. And a world without history, art, culture, or beauty is not a world worth visiting, let alone living in. With that being said, what we create is much more than just art, architecture, music, clothing, dance, etc. The fact that we as human beings can create such beautiful works of art and form all the cultures you see around the world attests to just how powerful we are. The way we build, the way we create is what defines us as humans, it’s what sets us apart from all other creatures. And all of us have a duty to preserve that.
As an enthusiast of Gothic art and architecture, I’m in a weird place emotionally. On one hand, I’m still absolutely devastated. Notre Dame has always been topping my Paris itinerary, and yesterday’s events left me practically incapacitated. The images of the burning Cathedral are absolutely horrifying, and will be weighing on our minds indefinitely. On the other hand, I’m beyond relieved that the fire was not as bad as initially anticipated, as well as the seemingly miraculous survival of much of the Cathedral, especially the rose windows. I’ve always wanted to see those. The image going around of the cross shining in the darkness is especially powerful. We know from history that the Cathedrals are much more fire-resistant than other structures (see St. Paul’s in the Great Fire of London), but there’s still that fear that the whole thing will collapse. Hearing that it’s structurally sound was also a massive relief. And, of course, the global support for repair efforts is uplifting, with billionaires alone accounting for $700 million. Their enthusiasm, shared by President Macron, shows how much people care about our histories and cultures. The French people and their friends across the world were given the monumental task of restoring the cathedral. They answered with a resounding yes.
There is a final point to make. Go. Travel. Do it now. Don’t hold it off. The fire at Notre Dame serves as a reminder of an unfortunate reality; the things humans build won’t last forever. There’s always a lot of talk going around about places that are under threat, like Machu Picchu and Venice. While we can’t know the future, we can know the present. As cliche as it is to say, there’s no time like the present. Go out there are see what you want to. You won’t regret it. If Venice sinks and you never got to see it, you’ll regret it forever. Don’t let anything stop you from taking that dream trip of yours.
I don’t normally talk about myself on this site, but now I will. My dream trip is a tour of all the art and architecture of Paris, maybe with a stop at Chartres or somewhere like that. Having Notre Dame burn like that almost seemed like that dream had been vanquished, and that I would be regretting not going forever. And my poor Aunt who’s never been to Paris is going this fall. But at least I’m young. I’m 20. If all goes well, I will see a restored Notre Dame in my lifetime. I’ll be there as soon as it reopens. Now, where should I go in the meantime…
If you’re interesting in contributing to the restoration effort, consider donating to the Friends of Notre Dame de Paris. The website is in French. Do not confuse it with the University of Notre Dame, which has a website of the same name.