One thing I’ve always liked about the French is their discretion vis-à-vis their (Catholic) faith. I appreciate this because religion is a deeply personal matter and should, in my opinion, remain private and unobtrusive in the public sphere.
But this morning at the office you could feel the raw emotion and désarroi in the air. Many of my French Catholic colleagues were visibly very upset. Clusters of them gathered in corners and around espresso machines to speak of last night’s tragedy, quietly at first and then louder. Being neither Catholic nor French, I respectfully stayed at my desk and did not encroach on their space. But I listened (the office is open plan.) Here’s what I heard (translated):
But I was there, just the day before at the same hour! I had gone to evening Mass with my mother to celebrate Palm Sunday.
Were you shaken? Mais, évidemment, c’est une catastrophe !
I watched the spire fall, and it was as if an arrow had pierced my heart.
I was coming out of the boulangerie at around 6:50 pm and I saw smoke at the end of the street. I stood paralyzed with shock. Notre Dame is in my parish, you know.
Well, I don’t believe for a second it was accidental. During the week of Easter? No, it’s too coincidental. Notre Dame? It’s a symbol of France and of Christianity. One minute it’s there, and then – pof ! – tout en flammes (up in flames.)
What are you saying, that it was a conspiracy? Yes, I think it was the Freemasons.
Have you read Naomi Klein’s book, La Stratégie du Choc? (The Shock Doctrine). She writes about conspiracies.
Who’s Naomi Klein? She’s an American author. (“No she isn’t, she’s Canadian!” I wanted to shout. But I kept my mouth shut.)
Mais c’est Victor Hugo qui l’a sauvé avec son roman! (But it was Victor Hugo who saved the cathedral with his novel!)
Later, over coffee, I asked Jean-Philippe what he meant about Victor Hugo’s novel saving Notre Dame. He explained that when Haussmann was busy transforming Paris from the mid to late 1800s, he wanted to raze Notre Dame to make room for his famous boulevards. In protestation, Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Haven’t you read the book?” J-P asked me. I replied that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you’ve seen the musical somewhere?” he insisted. “No, I hate musicals.” I replied.
And then another of my colleagues, originally from Lebanon and of Christian faith, came in wearing his habitual suit and tie. He’s a jokester by nature, and usually keeps us laughing all day. But this morning something was different. His tie was entirely black.
‘Je suis en deuil.’ (I’m in mourning), he said solemnly, and no one laughed.
As for me, I was sitting in a pizzeria last night while sirens wailed across the city. “I wonder what’s going on?” I said to my two friends. We were completely unaware of the catastrophe unfolding a mere mile away. We had earlier gone to an exhibition at the Grand Palais called La Lune (The Moon.) A disappointment.
IF YOU WISH TO MAKE A DONATION TO REBUILD NOTRE-DAME, the website is below. It is a government site from the Ministry of Culture as well as the Center of National Monuments. In the space of 24 hours, France has already received 750 million Euros in donations.
Notre-Dame stained glass intact after the fire