View from Rue Saint-Georges

A Loss to Paris and the World

The fire at Notre Dame should remind us to see the world’s wonders while we can

By Thomas Chatterton Williams | April 17, 2019
David Merrett/Flickr
David Merrett/Flickr

In August 2001, shortly before I was to leave for college, my friend Mike suggested to me and my brother that the three of us go to the top of the World Trade Center to check out the view—something we had never done. We were three kids in suburban New Jersey, about 45 minutes west of Manhattan on the commuter train, but it was as if we lived in another country—I think I had only been to “the city” five times. And so, our lazy response was something to the effect of, “We’ll go another time, it ain’t going nowhere.”

I was reminded of this on Monday evening in Paris, when soon after I arrived home, my wife looked out the window and saw smoke in the sky. A quick glance at Twitter revealed that Notre Dame, just two miles away, was burning. Though I’ve passed that glorious structure countless times over the near decade I’ve lived in this city, and have lingered in the rear gardens on summer days when the riversides thrum with an infectious joie de vivre no tourist horde can dampen, I’m ashamed to say that I had never set foot inside the cathedral. Once again, I assumed it would always be there. My wife, who has lived here for nearly four decades, had never been inside either. She had always cherished the sublime silhouette of that iconic monument, but mostly associated its interior with foreigners.

Thankfully, unlike the Twin Towers, Notre Dame’s main structure is still standing. When the church is restored, as it will be, we will be among the first in line to visit. And if there’s a lesson here, maybe it’s that sometimes, to get the most out of your city, you have to learn to see it through the eyes of a tourist.

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