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Paris’s Our Lady in Pain

Veteran journalist Mort Rosenblum divides much of his time these days between a home in Tucson, Arizona, and a home in Paris. Like many around the world, he watched in horror as the unthinkable happened … Notre-Dame Cathedral — a place of faith, beauty, majesty, history, and human expression — caught fire and burned.  Expressing his personal sorrow, Mort penned this essay.

TUCSON, Arizona – I’m an ocean and a continent away, in a sunny place with cactus blooms beginning to color a hopeful new spring, and I can barely see my keyboard. Like everyone who has felt the power and glory of Nôtre-Dame de Paris, I am eviscerated with grief.

Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA/EPA-EFE/REX (10205198w)
The flames burning the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, 15 April 2019.

We have no reliable facts yet on what and why. But we already know what it means. The world has lost a vital underpinning, for eight centuries a symbol of humanity’s best urges on a planet hardly short of the other kind.

Much of the damage will be repaired. Perhaps Quasimodo the hunchback is still up there in one of those stone towers where Victor Hugo imagined him. But this is not about a building. Even if the cause was a tragic accident, this is a sign of terrifying times.

I happened to catch the first CNN newsflash. As all reporters do, I ran through possibilities. It is Holy Week now in a world smoldering with religious hatreds and political opportunists in Washington fanning the embers. Could it be evil-inspired arson?

Chances are the fault lies with construction crews at work among tinder-dry timbers. Yet instant reaction across anti-social media shows the extremes across today’s boobosphere, which allows anyone to weigh in with blame and condemnation.

Donald Trump quickly made it about him, tweeting that the French should use aircraft to douse the flames, as if French authorities who have preserved their splendid 2,000-year-old city remarkably well need any uninformed kibitzing.

The Securité Civile in Paris offered a more useful tweet: “The release of water by aircraft could, in fact, cause the collapse of the entire structure.”

Journalist Mort Rosenblum
(photo by John de Dios)

During 52 years in Paris, I’ve developed a deep respect for its firemen. When flames once flared in my Ile-Saint-Louis apartment, wailing sirens were at the door almost before I put down the phone. Now I live on the Seine and see Nôtre-Dame from the bow of my boat. The river brigade responds at blinding speed, but its water cannons could not reach flames high atop an imposing cathedral set back on a broad esplanade.

Firetrucks were delayed by traffic, in near-paralysis at rush hour because the mayor has shut down main thoroughfares, narrowed lanes and changed one-way streets in a campaign to make way for pedestrians and bikes.

Those are details. What matters now is Our Lady in pain.