The Night Notre Dame Burned

How it felt in Paris as we watched the flames

This evening, it is a piece of our collective soul that has gone up in smoke, the backdrop of some of our most-treasured memories. And it is heartbreaking.

It was one of those moments in life when you remember exactly where you were when it happened. Moments so emotionally charged that they remain engraved in our memories forever.

We were sitting on the terrace of Le Nemours, close to Palais Royal, enjoying an afterwork drink in the late afternoon spring sun. From our table on the corner, I caught a glimpse of thick, yellow curls of smoke rolling from over the Louvre. It felt surreal, uncanny, and then threatening, like a vision drawn from an Enki Bilal nightmare.

Rumors spread among the flocks of people snapping photos of the curious phenomenon, quickly confirmed by the news notifications buzzing on our smartphones. Notre Dame was burning.

We didn’t quite realize what was happening at first. It wasn’t until later that we began to understand: when we saw the furious blaze rising up between the towers, the tip of the flames climbing higher until the spire collapsed in a monstrous ball of fire, and the hours of video footage broadcast on TV showing undaunted firemen relentlessly fighting the flames.

And when we saw the faces of the thousands of Parisians and tourists standing on the bridges and the streets around. Awestruck in horror, amazed and helpless, watching the flames in shock and disbelief, their silent faces reflected their deep sadness and sorrow. In those moments, we all shared in one another’s grief and loss.

Because Notre Dame is much more than the 850-year-old cathedral that witnessed Kings’ coronations, burials and celebrations. It’s more than the most-visited monument in Europe and priceless jewel of gothic architecture. Notre Dame is a part of the world’s cultural heritage, a central fixture of our common history, and a confidant for our personal stories.

Every one of us has a relationship with her, remembering a happy moment strolling in her gardens with a friend, admiring the view of Paris from her towers, contemplating the beauty of her stained glass rose windows, praying on her wooden benches, or dreaming of her from afar.

This evening, it is a piece of our collective soul that has gone up in smoke, the backdrop of some of our most treasured memories. And it is heartbreaking.

© Amy Yvonne Yu

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