Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 26, 2019

Notre Dame - Our Lady

My heart hurt when I heard the news of the fire burning in Notre Dame Cathedral last week. My thoughts immediately returned to June of 2003 - the first time I had seen the old Gothic church. Husband Art had visited in 1985, but this time the whole family was there.

Daughters Mariya and Katie’s first introduction to the cathedral was several years earlier in Disney’s animated movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” They played the movie over and over, and liked the song, “The Bells of Notre Dame,” singing along at the top of their lungs every time it played.

We had visited other cathedrals before our stop at Notre Dame, and Katie, then 10, was not particularly impressed as there were others we had seen that were every bit as pretty. But Mariya wanted to go up into the bell towers. While she and I stood in the slowly-moving line bathed in a warm Paris sun, Art and Katie wandered the nearby neighborhoods and looked at the wares of the art peddlers on the banks of the Seine River.

After nearly an hour, Mariya and I began the climb of the north tower steps. We took pictures from the top and then walked down the south tower steps. The belfry was closed for security reasons, but we still were able to get face-to-face with some of the gargoyles.

When we returned to the main part of the cathedral, I marveled at the rose windows and other stained glass, the wooden sculptures and the vaulted stone ceiling. While I took pictures, Mariya bought a souvenir medallion of the cathedral. Later, she bought a gargoyle in a tourist shop. On the news that evening, we heard there had been an explosion in downtown Paris and that was why the belfry was closed. Police thought it was probably a gas explosion and not terrorists, but they didn’t want to take any chances.

My second visit to Notre Dame was five years ago, when Katie and future-husband Matt were members of the Kansas State University concert choir. Their last concert was scheduled during evening mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Before the performance, the choir members were free to explore the city until late afternoon. Paris - known as the City of Light - was a perfect backdrop for the two young lovers. Art and I had lunch with them near Notre Dame and then they did a bit more sightseeing.

There are two islands in the Seine River near the heart of Paris. The larger is the Île de la Cité - Island of the City. It is considered the center of the capital. The huge cathedral rests near the eastern end. The smaller island is Île Saint-Louis - St. Louis Island - and lies downstream to the east about 250 feet. A small bridge joins the two.

After lunch, Art and I meandered nearby streets, checking out vendors and taking pictures at the back of the cathedral. When we were tired, we stopped and rested in the small garden area behind the church. Refreshed, I walked around taking photos of the stained-glass windows and sculptures. I was as awestruck as I had been 11 years earlier.

As the time to go inside approached, a light rain began to fall. But in our anticipation of hearing the choir perform, we didn’t mind getting a little wet while we stood in the entrance line.

Once inside, we couldn’t see them very well because they were in the choir stalls on the left side of the sanctuary in the “heart” of the church. But we could certainly hear them. I felt my heart in my throat several times. To just visit one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world would be an exceptional experience. To that was added the opportunity to hear the choir perform. What a privilege for the students to sing there - and for us to hear them.

After the mass, the rector thanked the students in French and English and asked that they join the procession with him and the other officiants down the middle aisle of the cathedral. He told them they could return whenever they wanted.

The sky had cleared by the time the service was over. The singers deposited their music and other materials in the waiting bus and then we all crossed the bridge to our Île Saint-Louis restaurant for supper. After everyone had finished, the youngsters scattered to enjoy their last few hours in Paris.

At one point during the day, Art and I had stopped across the St. Louis bridge behind the cathedral to listen to a man playing “La Vie en Rose” on an accordion. Perhaps no song is more associated with Paris. It was made famous by Edith Piaf, a singer considered a national treasure by the French. In the United States during the late 1940s and 1950s, recordings of it not just by Piaf, but from ballad-singers like Bing Crosby to jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong were popular. Recently, Lady Gaga sang it in the movie “A Star is Born.”

It is a love song - a love song that reminds us of how the world somehow seems a bit brighter and nicer when we are under the influence of love. Notre Dame - Our Lady - was damaged by the fire, but our affection for her is not diminished. What happened is sad, yet somehow seeing her on television, telling stories in which she plays a central part and thinking about all she has seen causes us, as the song's title suggests, to see life through eyes tinted a bit to the rosy side.

She’ll be back.

Clockwise from top-left: Mariya standing by the light pole in front of Notre Dame; Art "mugs" for the camera while Matt and Katie put on their best smiles during lunch near the cathedral; The back or east face of Notre Dame and the adjacent garden area; the man with the accordion playing “La Vie en Rose”; a segment of a cathedral window; one of the church's gargoyles showing the effects of time.

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