The news out of Paris is beyond imagining — fire is ravaging Notre Dame Cathedral. As I write this, Parisian officials fear catastrophic damage and perhaps total loss of this world treasure — with late word that its towers and façade may be saved. French President Macron has vowed to rebuild.
For the millions who have visited and loved and worshipped in this magnifient edifice — with so much historic, artistic, and architectural glory — as well as for residents of Paris who have been privileged to view it on an almost daily basis, the news is heartbreaking. And for those who have not had the good fortune to see it and now perhaps never will, words cannot express.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to Paris — from my first visit in 1966 until my latest visit three years ago and at least a dozen trips in-between — without walking through this magnificent 13th century cathedral and also admiring it from nearby streets and cafes and from the boats that cruise the Seine along the Ile de la Cite.
My most memorable visit was in 1989, when my son, Grael, sang a solo there at age 10 with the touring San Francisco Boys Chorus. Because I was an unofficial chaperone for the group, I was able to access some parts of the cathedral, both inside and out, that were normally off limits to visitors as the boys waited to go on. I was awestruck by the entire experience.
A decade later, when he was studying French in Paris, Grael and I climbed high up into the cathedral to commune with the decorative gargoyles and statuary saints on its gothic façade.
If Notre Dame can’t be saved, Paris will never be the same without it. And part of me deep in my travelers’ soul will never be the same as well. My thoughts go out to the French people and everyone around the world who loves this world icon.