Notre Dame burns
The text message flashed on my phone: “Have you seen Notre Dame?”
“Why?” I responded.
“It’s on fire,” my wife wrote.
I immediately hit all the cable and online sources and, like the rest of the world, I watched in horror as one of the monuments to world civilization went up in flames.
The privilege of European travel came to me a bit later in life. There were music tours during my college years, but I didn’t have the resources for such a trip. For music students the iconic images of European culture loom large. As the armchair philosophers say, “It ain’t the same as those pictures in your books.”
Paris is a city that occupies a place d’honneur (place of honor) in my family. My wife and I have strolled hand in hand by a moonlit River Seine. The beautifully lit Notre Dame guided our walk.
I wept outside the original Shakespeare and Company as I imagined the great Sylvia Beach welcoming James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway into her storied bookshop.
Feet aching, I cried out for just one more room of exhibitions in The Louvre. Oh my, is the “Mona Lisa” really that small? But oh, that smile.
We laughed out loud at the contemptuous sneer from our waiter at a Montparnasse restaurant when I dared to ask for our check. How could I do such a thing?
My favorite memory of Notre Dame remains crystal clear. On a warm July afternoon, the bride and I sit on one of the benches surrounding the courtyard outside the main entrance of the cathedral. With childhood innocence intact, our two children playfully chase world-weary pigeons with no idea of the monument behind them.
Yet there Our Lady stood. Wars, novels, political movements and more have all stood before her and inside her noble gates, and yet she remained.
Music has been at her heart for centuries. Forgive me if I get a little academic here, but stay with me.
Centuries ago music was a lot different from the modern sounds one hears today. In fact, music consisted of one line of music. It was called monody. One line of music was the law of the land, and one particular musical interval was so naughty, the priests gave it the title “Diavolo in Musica” (the devil in music). This was serious stuff, as music was a central factor in worship.
Around the middle to late 12th century, two Parisian scholar/musicians, Leonin and Perotin (I am using the French spellings of their name), led a world-changing musical order, and it was called organum. Basically, these two revolutionaries wrote music in which, wait for it, more than one voice could sing different notes at the same time. Without this music, now called polyphony, there would be no jazz, no “Messiah” and definitely no rock and roll.
Today, of course, we take this completely for granted, but back then, it was pretty radical stuff.
Oh, and where did Leonin and Perotin work? You guessed it, Notre Dame.
That beautiful stone, glass and wooden Lady is more than just fodder for a great photo on Instagram. Notre Dame is the source of sacred words, soul enhancing music and intellectual thought.
Notre Dame is the soul of Paris, I dare say, perhaps even more than the Eiffel Tower. Already people of worth are lining up to provide the means for a restoration of this now charred structure.
Let us hope in our lifetime we will see the great Lady of Paris rise from ashes and reclaim her place of pride in the City of Lights. Perhaps my future grandchildren will chase pigeons under her watchful eye. Peace.