Travel Basics by Karen Fawcett
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The 'Home' Fires That Keep Burning
Thursday, April 18, 2019 -- I watched the television in Washington on Monday feeling the same pit in my stomach as I had during 9/11 when I lived in Paris.
I felt horrible, devastated being away from "home." Then it was America. Now it was Paris. My feelings this time have been even more intense and engaged because the technology is so much more intimate and immediate. My Facebook feed and images and texts from my friends' phones gave me the sense of being there, on the Quai Saint-Michel or in front of the Hôtel de Ville, with thousands of other bewildered and horrified Parisians.
Who do you know who's come to Paris and hasn't set foot in Notre Dame? Thirty thousand tourists come every day to look at the flying buttresses, the gargoyles, the stained glass windows. And you would be hard-pressed to meet anyone anywhere in the world who hasn't seen pictures of this incredible Gothic monument, founded in the 12th century.
Even though I am not Catholic, Notre-Dame de Paris held a special place in my psyche since I was there so frequently, if only for a few minutes and normally on the run. It was a respite from a life with traffic and the other daunting realities of Paris. The City of Light may be everyone's dream destination. But when you live there, you are subjected to day-to-day frustrations that tourists are able to skip.
Notre Dame was a wonderful space to attend concerts. It was a wonderful place to just be--especially during Paris heat waves when I would escape la canicule by sitting in the nave. Notre Dame was also a wonderful place from which to view humanity. People from every nationality would visit. I confess to being guilty of listening to Anglophone tour guides give somewhat conflicting information to different groups, usually dependent on people's ages and whether they were devout Catholics.
Because the Cathedral is located in the middle of the city and it is visible from many angles, rarely did a day go by when I didn't have a glimpse of it. Walking toward the Seine, I'd see it. Taking a bus, I'd see it. When I'd come out of the metro, I'd see it, too. The spires and flying buttresses could not help but affect even the most blasé among us.
But Notre Dame never had more meaning than when I was driving from Roissy--what locals called Charles de Gaulle Airport--on the way back to my Left Bank apartment. The taxi driver would take the quai and, as soon as I saw Notre Dame located on the Île de la Cité, I'd breathe a sigh of relief. I knew I was almost home. After 27 years of living in Paris, it was home even though I was carrying a U.S. passport.
When I turned on the television to the news that Notre Dame was burning, all I could think was what any frequent traveler must have thought: This could be a terrorist attack. For me, that would have signified the end of the world. Or at least the world as I've known it. It's a (sic) relief that it appears to be a work-related fire ignited by chemicals used for a long-overdue restoration.
Notre Dame has been grievously wounded before, even vandalized during the French Revolution. It will rise again, not the least because French President Macron has committed the resources of the entire nation to its restoration. He believes it can be rebuilt within five years and be better than before. Already hundreds of millions of euro have been pledged for the work. I gave my little for the current restoration project. Now I will give what I can for this much larger undertaking. So will many others.
I don't know if the work will be finished in my lifetime, but that doesn't matter. Notre-Dame de Paris will be restored and will go on as it has for 850 years. The grandchildren of the French, like my grandchildren and theirs, will see it. Everyone everywhere will. That's what matters.
ABOUT KAREN FAWCETT
Karen Fawcett is a freelance journalist who lived in Paris for 27 years and was the president of BonjourParis.com. She now lives in Washington but returns to her adopted home as frequently as possible.
This column is Copyright © 2019 by Karen Fawcett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Karen Fawcett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without her express written permission.