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KEITH SPICER: Notre-Dame, the heart of Paris, will regain her glory


For three years two decades ago, I used to cycle to the garden at the back of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, which is where most of the flames burned this week.

I was alone on a bench with only a stray cat or two. Often I looked up at the magnificent church, sometimes circling out to the front that most tourists see. Idly, I would dream of past centuries, of the hopes and joys and tragedies of this small patch of Paris, back to Roman times – when it was a sanctuary from the dreaded Vikings.

Sometimes, later in the day, I would wander through the labyrinth of small streets, some so narrow I had to squeeze through. I often stopped for a glass or two of wine right beside the huge church. I almost bought an apartment just 20 metres from the towers, but backed off because of noisy tourists (I now miss them). Much later, I would meander through the medieval hospital, the Hôtel-Dieu, next door to the cathedral. It harboured an emergency eye clinic that I visited when my eyes starting going foggy with glaucoma.

Idly, I would dream of past centuries, of the hopes and joys and tragedies of this small patch of Paris.

And of course, I haunted Notre-Dame for its sublime organ concerts. Several great organists I venerated (Dupré, Schweitzer) played there. Thank God the five-keyboard organ seems to have escaped the fire.

Now, as our tears run dry and the cinders cool on the firestorm at Notre-Dame, our minds turn to the whys and whens.

Answers to the whys seem to lead to the bitter irony of renovating an ancient monument with modern tools. The church’s guts were a forest of wood just waiting for a flame. Within this jumble of dry dead trees, workers couldn’t renovate using 850-year-old tools; they had to use power tools that throw off sparks and blow-torches meant to reshape metal trusses.

But only the investigation will assess exact responsibilities, including why it took so long to sound an alarm.

And the whens? In physical terms, rebuilding will begin almost immediately. First, as French President Emmanuel Macron said at the fire site Monday night, ‘’because the French want it.’’ Already, funds for this are pouring in from both French people and foreigners, rich and poor. For these are gifts from the heart.

The feared death of the Old Lady of Paris, which moved the whole world, is already turning to hope and resurrection – timed as even France’s hard-nosed non-believers note ­– with Easter.

Since Notre-Dame draws more than 13 million visitors a year, the delay in reopening sat least some part of the cathedral will be fairly short. And those infamous ‘’yellow vests?’’ Soon they will skulk back to their fantasies of revolution as they see the French of all parties and credos uniting. The Old Lady’s ruins will become an inspiring rebirth.

You will one day walk again in Notre-Dame, and hear again that glorious organ, still safe.

Former Citizen editor in chief Keith Spicer lived in Paris for 23 years. He will soon publish a book in French on Amazon about an explosion at the Cathedral of Reims.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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