Notre Dame

No one likes a grief tourist. Though in this case, events warrant documentation.

This is known as a blog about classical music. It often features on opera, sometimes the wider arts. From time to time it reflects on culture as well.

The fire of Notre Dame cathedral would be one of those times when something needs documenting under the culture category, though not perhaps for the most obvious reason.

I haven’t been able to look at the imagery from Paris since around 5.15pm BST last night. A live feed across the Paris skyline was just enough to make out the two towers of the cathedral; a reddy-yellow glowing ball; a cloud of thick grey smoke. That was enough for me.

Later, I happened to catch a looping video on Twitter capturing and replaying the moment the cathedral spire collapsed.

I cannot now get that image out of my head. A harrowing sight to replay in your mind’s eye. I cannot begin to think what it feels like to be a Parisian looking at the same sight, or indeed anyone living in France this morning.

It is as though we’ve been rather clumsy. Perhaps even inept. While our attention is diverted and consumed by politics, one of the world’s greatest treasures burns before our eyes.

We cannot make sense of it, nor truly appreciate the value of what has been lost. All we can agree on is that it is within a few short hours pretty much all gone.

I woke up this morning with a weight in my stomach. I haven’t felt like that for a few years now. Images replayed over and over again in my mind. A Sky News alert took me to a new story at the top of which was that footage of the spire collapsing. I closed my phone and resolved to get on with the day.

When I was nine-years old my father had serious accident. He smashed his hip and was hurried transported across our garden into a waiting ambulance and off to hospital. There he underwent hours of emergency surgery. I sang in a school concert that night. I hadn’t seen him since breakfast. Now all I could see in my imagination was him laying on an operating table.

At the time and for many years after I used to critcise myself for being so very morbid. If I didn’t want to imagine him on the operating table with his leg cut open, why on earth was I doing so? There was obviously something wrong with me – I must have wanted to languish in self-pity. I was weak and self-indulgent.

I have no real connection with France. I have no formative experiences in Paris to draw on. I have no desire to demonstrate my knowledge of music, musicians, art or musical instruments inside Notre Dame cathedral. There is no meaningful reason to justify writing about someone else’s trauma. No one likes a grief tourist.

But the sense of loss is palpable. There are images I do not want to see again (though not doubt we will). The destruction, even imagined, is too much to handle. We replay it in a bid to make sense of it. To be accustomed to it.

Yet to do really do that takes time.

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