Notre Dame -- and Paris -- will endure

Notre Dame cathedral, before the fire.
Notre Dame cathedral, before the fire. Photo Credit: Shutterstock photo by Nataliya Sdobnikova
Felicity Long
Felicity Long

Paris has had more than its share of unsettling incidents over the past few years -- most notably the terrorist attacks in 2015 and the ongoing Yellow Vest protests -- to the point that even the great City of Light hasn't been able to withstand a hit to tourism as a result. 

There is every chance that the heartbreaking fire at Notre Dame Cathedral won't be one of them.

Of course, it's too soon to tell what the numbers will show, but this is destruction of a very different kind.

For one thing, it appears that the fire, which broke out April 15, was a tragic accident and not a deliberate act.

For another, as the world watched breathless while firefighters fought to save the main Gothic structure and the two famous towers, it seems to have aroused an international feeling of solidarity with this iconic structure, this magical city and this enduringly alluring destination.

You could even argue that the drama -- the fire and the faces of horrified Parisians as they sang while the flames raged -- reminded many of us of why we love Paris in the first place. It's beautiful, it's historic and it unabashedly pays homage to romance, culture and joie de vivre.

You don't have to be religious, a history buff or know anything about architecture to appreciate Notre Dame. Her story has entered the lexicon of human knowledge. 

Why is this one building so special in a city overflowing with beautiful structures?

It could be because we've been falling in love with Notre Dame since we were children. Ask kids if they've heard of the "Hunchback of Notre Dame," and even little ones might surprise you, thanks to a Disney animated film of the same name that remains a favorite on streaming devices. The church also appears in Ludwig Bemelmans' "Madeline" series of children's books, inspiring children's tours that include the site in their itineraries.

Even tiny terror Eloise, the heroine of a number of perennially popular books by Kay Thompson, takes a break from her home in New York's Plaza Hotel for a vacation in Paris, where she says, "Every French night I ... lean out the window and say bon soir to Notre Dame."

Visit the city on any sunny day, and you'll find hundreds of people lounging in the open space in front of the church -- many of them don't even go inside -- while others see her from a different angle aboard any Seine River cruise.

It's also worth noting that Notre Dame is much older than the other icons of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. Construction started in the 12th century, and she went on to survive the French Revolution -- a time when furious antiroyalists were fond of torching churches and lopping off the heads of holy statues -- two world wars and, most notably, Hitler, who was intent on burning the city to the ground.

The silver lining to the story is that even though the spire fell and the roof was seriously damaged, Notre Dame still stands. It appears that the rose windows, the spindly flying buttresses and those wonderful, scary gargoyles, along with important interior artwork, have been saved.

Thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron's vow to rebuild and his aggressive efforts to solicit international funds for that initiative, I feel confident that, like Eloise, we'll be saying bon soir to Notre Dame for generations to come.

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