It took me 5 days of looking at the work of what seemed like every street artist in Paris before I finally settled on a black and white print of Notre Dame on canvas, with a splash of red for the trees that run alongside it. It wasn’t realistic, the trees that run alongside the ancient Cathedral are bright pink cherry blossom, but still that print was my first real souvenir from a trip that is worth keeping.
What had initially been intended as a visit to tour Notre Dame, before hopping back on the boat to the Eiffel Tower, turned into a whole day spent in the area. After wandering around the Cathedral, stopping to light a candle for my late Grandad Ralph, we walked by the river in the sun, munched on croissants at Cafe Med, and picked out Paris fashion books at the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop.
We admired the champagne fuelled picnics people were enjoying, strolled among the cherry blossom by Square Jean XXII, snapped photos of vintage French cars, and admired the artwork on display in the pop up street stalls.
Notre Dame Cathedral was the backdrop of the entire day spent here, always in sight, with the bell towers, or gothic spire or menacing gargoyles looming overhead keeping a watchful eye on the city below, as they have for over 800 years.
It was one of the most beautiful settings for a perfect day in Paris, and one I replicated time and time again, a couple of years later with Kieran at Christmas time, and again last year with my mum when Paris was covered in snow.
The Ile de la Cite, or island that Notre Dame sits magnificently on is the oldest, most historic part of Paris, and the whole area completely fascinates me. I remember seeing the map of the city around Esmerelda’s neck in the Hunchback of Notre Dame as a child, and loving the tale of Quasimodo and what historical Paris might have been like.
Compared to the rest of Paris, Ile de la Cite is a lot more confined, and the streets just a stones throw from the Cathedral itself are some of the prettiest in Paris, take a look here. They’re cobbled, medieval and date as far back as Notre Dame herself. A wander through them and you’ll find that charm only found in Paris, especially if the little guitar player is serenading you with some tunes.
Sadly, the glimpses of the Notre Dame spire overhead that have been seen by people who have walked these streets over centuries are no longer there, after the devastating fire that destroyed it and most of the roof earlier this week.
Since that awful night I’ve seen so many share their experiences and their stories of what Notre Dame means to them, or their experience of that night.
Locals who pass it every day, people who visit for occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, people who had it on their bucket list but never got to see it as it was, and people like me who just had a special place in their heart for their favourite bit of the world and would never tire of seeing it.
The brave firefighters trying to preserve as much history and art as possible, the people of Paris and France witnessing the devastation of what was unfolding in front of them to something so special in their culture, and the people who hold such value in travelling to new places and seeing the world.
To touch briefly on it, and believe me I’ve taken out a very large chunk on this, there has been a level of backlash to all the donations. What I do believe is that everyone has emotive responses to different things, different factors that prompt a response, and different ways of thinking.
To me that should be allowed without requiring justification. Especially when companies actively participate in the restoration of iconic structures symbolic to a national identity, providing funds that local governments can’t, and helping to preserve history.
Negativity, or saying people should care more about other things completely lacks any sort of insight or acknowledgement that they may be different to you, or recognition that you may have no idea why they care so much in that moment in the first place. It also doesn’t mean they don’t care about anyone or anything else.
The outpouring of emotion and stories and personal perspectives filling our feeds, like the one I’ve just given you of my own, shows we are human. It shows the importance that landmarks and buildings can hold, even if it’s not for religious purposes, as is the case for me.
So why do people want to see the world? Why do we take pictures? Why do people care? I saw a tweet that suggested sharing stories about Notre Dame is just a bragfest about your holidays to Paris, and truthfully I nearly didn’t share this in case that’s how it comes across.
I obviously hope it doesn’t, but isn’t it sad that I’m questioning if I can share something that genuinely matters to me, on my own space?
Come back to me when you are perfect.
It’s so often assumed that these ancient structures and incredible natural and architectural wonders will always be there when we finally get round to visiting. As we’ve seen this week they might not be and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.
So be tourists, book the trip, take the pictures, capture the memories (all respectfully of course), share the stories, share experiences with those close to you in unique places of the world, but don’t just simply snap and move on.
See things properly, take the time to enjoy it for more than just the idea of being there for an instagram photo. Take your kids to experience history and art, and don’t rush on too quickly to the next thing.
I very much look forward to experiencing a new Notre Dame one day in the future, once it has been rebuilt from the ashes, and this week will become another twist in the 800+ year old tale of a Cathedral that has survived so much, and provided so much to so many people.
Photos taken across many happy visits.
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