Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Throwing the First Stone

Notre Dame de Paris burned yesterday.

Notre Dame was 865 years old. She withstood countless wars, invasions, the French Revolution, looting, desecration and severe neglect, Napoleon's ego trip, the Franco-Prussian War, World War One, and the Nazis.

And still, she stood at the heart of Paris and the heart of France (in a very literal sense - the "Point Zéro" marker, from which all distances in France are measured, is right outside the cathedral).

Yesterday, during some overdue restoration work, she caught fire.

I'm used to fires, but I live in Southern California. We have a very dry climate, we have frequent droughts, and we don't have controlled burns (which, done properly, deter wildfires). Paris has a good-sized river flowing through the city (the LA River has become a pathetic trickle) and gets more rain than London (yes, really). It's not normal for Paris to have ashes falling like black snow.

As depressing as this may sound, I'm used to the strong possibility of anything going up in flames at any time (although I always hope it won't happen). Case in point: besides burning over 400 homes, the Woolsey Fire burned the Sepulveda Adobe - still undergoing restoration from the 1994 earthquake - to the ground. It also destroyed the Paramount Ranch - strangely leaving only the church - but the ranch can be rebuilt. The Sepulveda family's 19th-century adobe isn't replaceable.

But things like this tend not to happen in France. No one ever expects a devastating fire to break out in a stone cathedral that has stood for almost nine centuries.

I know it could have been even worse. The bronze statues from the roof were removed mere days ago for restoration, the relics were saved, the stone structure didn't collapse, no one died, and only one firefighter was hurt.

But did it really have to be as bad as it was?

France's notoriously bureaucratic government allegedly hampered the process of getting funding for some badly needed repairs. Notre Dame is one of Paris' most popular destinations for tourists; you'd think the French government would WANT the cathedral to be well-maintained. Red tape is no one's friend! (Just ask any Angeleno who worked on the campaign to get Angels Flight up and running...)

The Catholic Church has money (visit the Vatican if you don't believe me); yet the Archdiocese of Paris has had to ask for donations to pay for the cathedral's upkeep. That makes no sense.

Somewhere in the great beyond, Victor Hugo is crying. And every drop of my French blood is boiling.

If the cathedral had just been properly maintained in the first place, the fire might not ever have broken out at all.

I know other historic sites have been rebuilt after devastating fires. But there shouldn't have been a fire in the first place.

Want to prevent more disasters like this?

Get mad. Speak up and demand respect for historic sites. When the local authorities aren't doing their jobs, take them to task (name, shame, recall if necessary). Declare war on negligence. It was bad enough when the Pickle Works burned down - the damage to Notre Dame is a much greater loss.

Although I am a daughter of Los Angeles, I am also a granddaughter of France. And there are no words that can adequately describe how furious I am tonight.

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