Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Aujourd'hui, nous sommes tous français

Twice in my life, Notre Dame has brought tears to my eyes. The second time, of course, was yesterday, when I saw this photo online. The first was sixty-four years earlier, when I spent a few days in Paris before setting out on the road to Lyon, a story I tell at some length in Poland's Daughter: How I Met Basia, Hitchhiked to Italy, and Learned About Love, War, and Exile. Altogether, that was an enchanted time. April in Paris! Yet I remember the cathedral in black and white, perhaps because the only people at Mass that morning were widows in black, kneeling on the stone floor while a distant priest murmured in Latin. I'd been brought up in an Irish Catholic family, and I was with a Polish Catholic girl, but I think it had been some time since either of us had been inside a church. Still, Notre Dame brought tears to my eyes -- and me to my knees, as I remember, though that may only be a pretty story I told my mother afterward.

A year later, I was a draftee in the US Army and stationed at Orleans, sixty miles south of Notre Dame, so I often had occasion to visit the city for an overnight. I never again went inside the cathedral, but it was always there on the horizon, a great ship taking souls to heaven. I cannot imagine what Paris looks like this morning.


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