Whenever I find out that people are heading to Paris on a vacation, I always tell them to let themselves get lost in it. I encourage them to walk, walk, walk because eventually, you’ll find your way back home. My landmark when I was living in Paris: the spire and bell towers of the Notre Dame de Paris.
It was only ten minutes from my apartment and so it made sense that this beautiful, awe-inspiring structure would be the thing I’d need to spot along the beautiful blue rooftops that would lead me to where I wanted to be. And they say that all roads lead to the Notre Dame de Paris as it sits right in the centre on the Ile de la Cite: it is truly the heart of the city.
There are two things I would do every time I visited Paris: my first stop would be running to the rooftop of Galleries Lafeyette to take in my favourite view of the city, while my second would be to get off at the St. Michel metro stop, nod “Hello,” to my homeboy Archangel Michael on my way up the metro stairs, and turn around that cafe corner to take in my lady, Notre Dame de Paris.
Her island and the 4th arrondissement in its entirety is one of my favourite parts of the city. While it’s a tourist hot-spot, it still holds the secrets and charms of the quieter parts of Paris. And don’t underestimate the area during the winter when fewer tourists are around, especially at night… while the rats do come out in endless swarms (it’s insane), she glows with serene beauty. She is perfect.
Her bricks have been laid in Paris for almost 900 years. Napoleon had his coronation in her walls. She has withstood wars, revolutions. And so to see her catch and burn in moments, pieces of her collapsing and being engulfed, all while I sat on the other side of a television screen when, had I still been in my apartment, I could have run down the street and wailed with my heartbroken Parisians, I was overcome with unbearable pain.
There are many Notre Dame churches in Paris, but this one is the Notre Dame DE PARIS. She belongs to this city. She is the most visited monument in all of Europe. She brings in believers and non-believers alike because her beauty unites all people with a sense of wonderment, awe, and hope. They say 13-14 million people visit her in a year. To watch this cultural centerpiece – this important symbol for the history of the nation, this spectacular masterpiece that has glass older than any living human being and far more history than a brain can comprehend – to see all that fall apart in hours was devastating. My heart was breaking. I was speechless and angry and sad all at the same time.
She was such a key component to my Paris. Not only did I sit in her gardens and read, listen to her organs play in solace within her, walk by and smile at people being wowed by her beauty, but she literally led me home. My home within the heart of Paris. My apartment in the place I always dreamed of living in. Her spire and towers were the mark on the most beautiful skyline in the world which reminded me, endlessly, how absolutely blessed I was to be living my dream.
But the odd thing is that despite being completely engulfed by flames, despite having her spire collapse through her roof, despite looking and sounding as if there was nothing left of her, she still stands. And she stands in an absolutely miraculous condition. Only the top roof is damaged while the bottom remained untouched. The only hole that has been pierced in the domes is where the spire once stood. Statues remain standing. Wood remains quite pristine. And the cross shines brightly on the altar.
It’s all rather eerie. It’s even a little bit hard to believe! But leave it to the heart of Paris to keep beating. That is what I love about this city: its resilience is unmatched. And while the Notre Dame de Paris was a symbol of hope prior to this incident, the downright magic of how she continues to stand despite watching her completely licked by flames just reinforces the feeling.
Notre Dame de Paris is even more so a symbol of hope for Parisian – and non-Parisian – people than ever before. And that is the absolute beauty of historical and cultural buildings like this. They continue to write their own impactful, powerful, and wonderful histories that continue to emphasize to the people of the city within which it stands how important their presence is.
Notre Dame de Paris was loved before, but I think she has reached a new level of adoration. I am sure this heart of Paris truly beats in unison with everyone, today.