For those who dreamed of one day seeing one of the great architectural sights of Paris, the fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral is both a tragedy and a lesson.
Back in the day, I heard repeatedly about this great little jazz spot on Rampart Street in downtown New Orleans, right across from the historic park that locals know as Congo Square.
It was called “The Funky Butt.” And for years, I told myself the next time I got back to the NOLA, I was going to check that place out.
Hurricane Katrina would make sure I never got there. The Funky Butt was one of many special places lost in New Orleans to what folks there call “the storm.”
I found myself thinking back to that as I watched televised images of Notre Dame Cathedral burning into the night.
What I saw was gut-wrenching. Shooting flames reducing sections of the roof to a charred skeleton. The central spire folding and collapsing into the fire. Handfuls of firefighters, Paris’ silver-helmeted pompiers, standing atop the structure, struggling to save what remained.
Late in the day, reports that the majority of the structure had been saved were dimmed by word that its entire inner woodworking had been lost.
Notre Dame is one of the most seen, visited, photographed and videoed buildings on Earth. Before today, it drew about 13 million visitors a year from all over the world.
Some wanted to worship there. Others came to check out the French Gothic building style, or the marker denoting the island on which it sits as Mile Zero, the point from which all distances in France are measured.
Still others came to Notre Dame just…because. You do that when a single building represents more than 800 years of Parisian and French history.
We have nothing that old in this country. The country itself is not that old. Not even by half.
It’s not unusual for cities with a lot of ancient structures, most of them built entirely or partially of wood, to suffer terrible losses from fire. And Paris has had its share.
Folks marvel at the sheer size and scale of the Louvre, but before it became a museum, it was half a royal palace. It was twinned with an even larger palace across the way in the Tuileries Garden. That one was destroyed by fire, burned to the ground by revolutionaries of the Paris Commune, and never rebuilt.
The gorgeous, expansive garden is all that’s left.
You can expect to hear a lot of fierce, brave talk from the French government and others about immediately rebuilding Notre Dame. Reality suggests that’s not a done deal.
Two things do more to destroy a building than anything else — fire and the water used to put it out. Restoring an 800-year-old structure subjected to hours and hours of both will be neither simple nor cheap — and it took almost 200 years to build it the first time around.
NOTHING IS GUARANTEED
The coming days and weeks will determine what it will take to save Notre Dame — if it even can be saved. Certainly, it will not be the Notre Dame seen by hundreds of millions of people over the years.
There’s a lesson in all this, especially for those of us who tend to put things off.
I would bet the rent that right now, someone somewhere is reading this blog after having watched Notre Dame burning all day long and thinking “Damn, I wanted to see that place one day!”
If that’s you, I’m sorry to say that you won’t be seeing it now. You surely won’t be seeing it for many years. And if the fire and water damage proves to be severe enough, you may not be seeing it ever.
The lesson: If there are things you want to do and see, places you want to go, you need to go at your earliest opportunity. Don’t wait until later. Because “later” is not guaranteed. Anywhere. To anyone.
Greg Gross is the owner of Trips by Greg travel agency and senior editor of “I’m Black & I Travel.”