Even those who had never heard of Notre-Dame de Paris until last Tuesday are now certain that something horrible and remarkable shocked the world and that the fire –whose pictures spread across the world- was a historic event that will mark generations to come.
The day that Notre-Dame burned, on Monday of Holy Week, will go down in history as a reminder that historic monuments or legends we thought were unbeatable are also vulnerable.
The French themselves never thought that this “epicenter of our life,” – as French President Emmanuel Macron called it – could ever be ravaged by what appears to have been an accident. They thought that Notre-Dame,
which is also the center of Paris since a gold star outside the cathedral marks Point Zero, was a historic, cultural and religious landmark that would stand the test of time
The first thought that came to the millions who were watching the Notre-Dame Cathedral burn live is how fragile not only a building but any other precious place like a natural park, a beach or a system of caves can be. Any gift of nature we know could vanish in the blink of an eye.
Then, it is important to protect our natural resources; our historic archives; arts, music and any other expression of the symbols of our culture that have remained for their depth and for the way they represent the passage of time.
Puerto Rico lost great architectural works not because of fire but because of real estate speculation. Other significant buildings, a testimony of our identity, have also been lost or languish abandoned due to the lack of a historic preservation policy.
Notre-Dame is essential to the French identity. For more than 800 years, its walls witnessed all kinds of events: solemn, sad, festive, of patriotic concerns, like during the Nazi occupation, and it has always been a moral and visual reference point for the French, who do not imagine Paris without the silhouette of its towers and statues.
On April 15, as the flames were consuming the cathedral, millions of people around the world were sharing visits to Notre-Dame or pictures they had seen in magazines and books.
Most young people surely remember the mysterious building where Disney´s Quasimodo –now more than twenty years old- was hidden. Víctor Hugo´s masterpiece, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" will have a new Disney version, which is expected to premiere next year. This new version will likely include a sign of solidarity with the tragedy. Children should also learn about the great tragedies of humanity and about the importance of beauty.
When French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau was asked to say one thing he would take from his house if it were on fire, he replied: "I would take the fire."
Figuratively speaking, French people have also chosen to take the fire.The will to rebuild Notre Dame in five years, as President Macron promised, represents a consensus that goes beyond partisanship and ideological disagreements and that also goes beyond big or small daily battles to consolidate the bond between generations who were fortunately granted another opportunity.