Myleigh Kilbon 6/4/21
Two years ago flames threatened to completely destroy the internationally renowned Notre Dame Cathedral, nestled in the heart of Paris. While Notre Dame wasn’t completely burned down, scars remain not only on the cathedral, but in the hearts of French citizens. The flames that tore Notre Dame down also reached the hearts of many United States citizens who watched the travesty from across the sea. Champlain Valley’s own Magali Simon-Martin, a French teacher at CVU, who was born and raised in Paris, France, was deeply affected by the fire.
Earlier this year President Emmanuel Macron visited the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral with a team of ministers and architects to check on the progress of the restoration of the cathedral, also marking the two year anniversary of the fire. Restoring the cathedral to its former glory has been deemed a symbol of French resilience, a symbol needed now more than ever amidst this global pandemic.
April 16th, 2019, at approximately 6:20 p.m., billows of smoke were spotted rising from the roof of the famous cathedral before neon orange flames were seen ripping through the sky. The fire lasted for close to 15 hours, clouding the city of Paris with smoke and despair. After the fire, the Chicago Tribune reported “The spire of the cathedral collapsed in flames, but the church’s structure was saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry. No deaths were reported but one firefighter was injured.”
After an investigation, the Tribune asked Parisian police about the cause of the fire, who reported that, “the cause of the massive fire isn’t yet known. The peak of the 12th century cathedral was undergoing a $6.8 million renovation project on the church’s spire and its 250 tons of lead. Officials said the fire is ‘potentially linked’ to the renovation work. The Paris prosecutors’ office ruled out arson and possible terror-related motives, and said it was treating it as an accident.”
Madame Magali Simon-Martin, french teacher at CVU and Vermont’s Foreign Language Teacher of the year, born and raised in Paris, reported that she clearly remembers the fire. “I have these vivid memories of seeing videos of people in Paris and their reactions to the fire. I could see the tears, and I could see the fear in their eyes. Afraid of what this meant for Paris,” Simon-Martin described. When asked about how the fire affected French citizens, Simon-Martin said, “A reminder that Notre Dame is for the French people, its history. Seeing that it could burn, reminding people that it was this real thing that couldn’t last forever was scary.”
The reason that the burning of Notre Dame was so fear-inducing for the world over is because of what Notre Dame means and what Notre Dame represents. Simon-Martin described Notre Dame and the meaning of Notre Dame in France. “ It is part of the culture, it is part of the landscape, part of the ancestry, something that will always be there. You can see it from everywhere in Paris, like a statement in the Parisian sky; the bells, the visuals and the sound of France.” Simon-Martin reported that the importance of Notre Dame lies in the unity it brings, “Whether or not you are a practicing Catholic, Notre Dame brings this sense of spirituality and when you enter, there is a sense of calm and unity, but also you are surrounded by beauty and it is stunning. It is the spirit of what makes us human when we believe in something higher than ourselves, whether that is God, or simply unworldly beauty.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit hard for the entire world, and Simon-Martin reported that the most difficult part of the pandemic for most Parisians is simply “Joi de vivire” or the joy of life. Living and enjoying life is a large part of French culture, and not being able to enjoy a coffee or just taking your time getting from one place to another has been a struggle. Simon-Martin stated, “The most difficult part of the pandemic is how it has impacted the resilience of people; it’s a struggle, and now when you see France opening outdoors, people are eager to socialize and talk and just sit and be surrounded by people and beauty and excitement.” The importance of the restoration of Notre Dame has only increased as the joy of life for many Parisians has decreased. Simon-Martin said, “Notre Dame is at the center of Paris, the center of the French people’s history. There is this amazing building that also represents the entire history of the country. You visualize Notre Dame as France. It holds the values. It is connected to places that are statements representing education, peace, and equality, all surrounding Notre Dame. Life surrounds Notre Dame, and you have a mix of people representing the world surrounding Notre Dame.” For many, Notre Dame represents the idea of joy of life.
Notre Dame is a symbol for life and beauty. Simon-Martin stated that Notre Dame is this symbol of unity that illustrates how people can be so creative and so strong. That building shows the strength of human beings and the ability to reflect on history. Simon-Martin reccounted the experience of Notre Dame specifically speaking about the incredible music coming from the famous organ of Notre Dame. “Notre Dame shines all over the world, it is the most visited monument in the world by tourists, and French people, and even Parisians who get to see it every day. The organist of Notre Dame, on a very personal level, played the organ when I got married in Paris. The music and the organ was saved, saving the music of Notre Dame. The organ is visually stunning, and when the organ is played there is a special sound that resonates, in Notre Dame the sound is specific. Even if you aren’t religious, you can be religious at Notre Dame. It is at its core.”
The restoration of Notre Dame has greatly impacted mainly the lives of local Parisians, specifically those living in the neighborhood. “All around Notre Dame is closed right now too, so you can’t cross to the park the way you used to. But there is hope. At the same time, with the pandemic, people are not traveling much, it has affected mostly the Parisians that live in the neighborhood, because that neighborhood is dead. After the fire people were unhappy because they found some led; people were concerned for their children’s health, because the fire caused those led fumes to get into the air and there was some controversy around that,” Simon-Martin said. But the importance of Notre Dame outweighed any controversy or concerns. Simon-Martin reported that, “Everybody said it has to be rebuilt. Right away rich people gave a lot of money, so it’s going to be funded by the French government, but also with private funds. And it was immediate; the day after the fire, money started to arrive. Rich people started pledging their money to Notre Dame, to save the cathedral, and the culture it brings to France.”
Notre Dame is more than a cathedral, it acts as the heart of a city, the heart of a country. “Every person that knows Notre Dame has a memory, whether it is a feeling, or an impression, the building itself is almost a person,” said Simon-Martin. And the most important piece of it is how one building could bring the world together. “It’s like what we call the French heritage. It goes across social status and classes, genders, ages.” The restoration of Notre Dame will help to restore the hearts of French people, and global citizens because, as said by Simon-Martin, “Notre Dame is part of the culture, it is part of the landscape, a statement in the Parisian sky.”