Thoughts … On Notre-Dame

Rose windowThe horrific fire at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on Monday stunned the world.  I think we all shed a few tears as we watched the video coverage of it burning, held our collective breaths hoping that it would not burn to the ground.  And it didn’t.  Much of the building was saved, including, I am told, the Rose windows, a trio of immense round stained-glass windows over the cathedral’s three main portals that date back to the 13th century.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but as of early this morning, it is believed to have been an electrical fault.

Not a religious person, for me the value of the Cathédrale was historical.  Old buildings have so much history, so much beauty.  I have been in the Cathédrale exactly once, during my one and only trip to Paris, and I remember being awestruck by … the size, for one thing, but also the sense of … eons gone by, the sense of who built this, what it meant then and what it means now, and the beauty.  They do not build buildings in this, the 21st century, that can even hold a candle to this one.

And so, naturally I was beaming when I heard that more than $1 billion had already been pledged toward the rebuilding of this magnificent structure.  Within hours after the blaze, French tycoons had already pledged hundreds of millions of euros for restoration, as had some of the country’s best-known companies.

Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame shot to the top of the bestseller’s list, and the publishers of the French language editions pledged to donate all proceeds.  Apple chief Tim Cook pledged an unspecified sum and the Walt Disney Company, which turned Hugo’s Hunchback into a 1996 animated feature, said it would put up $5 million. The University of Notre Dame promised another $100,000.  The Bettencourt-Meyer family, the largest shareholder in the L’Oreal cosmetics empire, offered 200 million euros, while oil and gas producer Total pledged 100 million.

All great news, right?  I was happy … but then … a simple statement by CGT union (Confédération générale du travail) chief Philippe Martinez made me stop in my tracks … and think …

“In one click, 200 million, 100 million. That shows the inequality which we regularly denounce in this country. If they can give tens of millions to rebuild Notre-Dame, then they should stop telling us there is no money to help with the social emergency.”

Stop.  Listen.  Think.

He has a point.  For 22 consecutive Saturdays, the ‘Yellow Vests’ have been protesting in France, largely against the income disparity, the great divide between rich and poor, the same as we see here in the U.S.

For those who may be unaware, as we have had enough news on this side of the pond to claim our attention, the Yellow Vests movement is a populist, grassroots political movement for economic justice.  Even though France has less economic inequality than the United States, Canada and Britain, and has comprehensive health care under a national insurance program, there is still a ferocious and sustained outpouring of social unrest.  The Yellow Vests began their protests last November, and have continued undeterred, with the protest intensifying in recent weeks.

French President Emmanuel Macron was just about to announce a crackdown on the Yellow Vests, when news came of the fire at the Cathédrale, and instead he seized on the fire to try to bring unity to his nation.

The grievances of the protestors were magnified by concerns that France’s wealthiest would be able to benefit from tax breaks for their sizable donations to rebuild the cathedral.  Now, when I considered this, MM Martinez and the protesters have a point … a few of them, actually.  They have been protesting, in part, for a higher minimum wage (sound familiar?) from some of those very companies that have pledged millions to help re-build the Cathédrale.  If they could spare those millions … then why didn’t they use some small bit of them to raise the wages of their workers?  And, while their donations are generous and appreciated, why should they get a tax break for it, when it constitutes a small portion of their wealth?  That tax break will only further deprive people in need.

Something else to consider …

“Many people claim that during the past few years there have been many tragic losses around the world, with many people losing their home and their loved ones, yet nobody has ever donated this much money to any of the causes. Notre-Dame example shows how many of the world’s problems could be solved if the world’s richest people would donate to those in need.”

Historic landmarks have value for us, and it is heartbreaking to see one fall.  Mind you, I think that the Cathédrale Notre-Dame should be re-built.  Originally built in the 12th century, it does have value for us today, and I was among those who shed a tear over its devastation.  However, as I have noted before, billionaires are pretty useless, hoarding their billions to spend on what pleases them, or saving them just to see the digits on their investment portfolio increase.  If they have the money to donate to restoring the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, then why are they not paying their employees fairly – a living wage such that they do not have to struggle and live payday to payday?  Why are they seeking tax shelters, often paying less than those who earn a small fraction of what they do?

Yes, re-build the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, but not at the expense of the average citizen.  Rebuild and dig a little deeper in those pockets to help take care of the French people as well.  A building can be rebuilt … a life cannot be replaced.

Notre-Dame

39 thoughts on “Thoughts … On Notre-Dame

  1. Actually, my heart soared a bit when I learned that a 180,000 bees nesting in Notre Dame had survived the blaze. Lives are more important than structures, no matter how historic.

    Back in the 1970’s I hitch hiked through Paris. I saw, first hand, some of the poverty behind the glitzy facade of this iconic city.

    As rg and others have pointed out, the millions rolling in to rebuild Notre Dame is an irony really. I am not saying that their shouldn’t be efforts to save Notre Dame, but we can throw money at a massive tourist attraction, yet barely scrape pennies in for poverty stricken people, or address climate change.

    The rebuilding of Notre Dame to restore it as closely as possible, means the cutting of 5000 old growth Oak trees. This is not really a good thing. I actually saw an autistic 15 year old naturalist take issue with this on Twitter. One old and highly valued Oak tree growing in UK has just been donated, and he is outraged, so are his many supporters, who value wildlife over materialism.

    I value history and love our iconic buildings, but moral issues are also at play. Buildings such as Notre Dame were built on the backs of the poor. They were egalitarian monuments to God and places for thr rich to buy their way into heaven. The poor (stinking and neglected) were never allowed inside the building when they were first constructed. They were considered contaminants.

    I sound like a rebel socialist, I am not. But I do believe in truth equality and basic rights.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And you have given me other reasons to rethink my initial views, very valid ones. I hadn’t heard about the bees, but that does make me happy, for we are losing our bees at an alarming rate, and without them, we are toast. You are right, my friend, lives ARE more important than structures. Tomorrow is Earth Day … maybe time to think more about that old Oak tree and the bees than a building.

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        • Exactly! And happy (belated) Easter to you, my friend. We celebrate it only as a secular holiday, a good excuse to fix a nice meal and share it with friends. Now, if only spring would decide whether it’s staying or not! One day the windows are open, the next the heat is back on!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Anne, for both your kind words and for sharing this post. I admit to having to do some thinking on this, for at first it seemed clear cut, but upon listening to others’ voices and pondering, I’ve altered my views. That is what we need to be able to do … listen to others, think, and re-form opinions where appropriate. Thanks again!

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      • I agree, listening and trying different ideas against our own is what a rational society should be doing. Unfortunately, especially for politicians, to be able to say “I was wrong” is one of the deadly sins.

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  2. Pingback: Notre Dame – Anne Lawson Art

  3. Your post states exactly how I feel. I too cherish history and these magnificent old buildings that represent a bygone age that honors the men who designed and built them and a building style that is no more. I agree to rebuild.
    But speaking of the wealthy hoarding their money…I read the church has $30 Billion net worth and could rebuild without too much outside help. Also the issues you brought up …wages, abject poverty, climate disasters etc.and of course, the biggest waste…the Wall. Our very world and the mutual care of each other should be the number one priority.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The world, or at least the Western world, seems to be mired in materialism and we have forgotten to put living things first. We are willingly allowing certain species to become extinct, and apart from a few scientists, everybody just shrugs their shoulders. We could re-build Notre-Dame, but if we don’t address climate change in a major way, it won’t matter much 50 years from now. Society as a whole has its priorities screwed up, aided by big business and government. Sigh. This is not the world I remember. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, as if I fell asleep and awoke decades later.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Jill, the building is worth restoring, yet we do tend find money for symbols more readily than people. With that said, we need to mindful of when to use charity and when to help people climb a ladder. Per the book “Toxic Charity,” charity should be reserved for emergencies. While the restoration is needed, it is not an emergency, so how it should be funded, is different. An emergency is if this fire burned people out of their homes.

    This is more true as we help people long term. How do we help them help themselves get back to self-sufficiency? A key is to not do for a person or family what they can do for themselves. We can help, but they need to climb the ladder.

    This book is excellent and is written by someone who lives among the people he helps. He notes a food co-op or clothing consignment store is better for the self-esteem of those in need, rather than donations, eg.

    Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quite so, there is no crucial emergency in rebuilding the Cathedral. I would like to see it re-built, but then … as a few of my readers have noted, the fire is part of its history now … let the ruins tell that story.

      I will check that book out … it sounds interesting, although I am likely a bit more liberal thinking than the author, but still, I’m always willing to listen to the opinions of others … at least I do try to keep an open mind. 😉

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      • Jill, Bob Lupton is the author and he has walked the talk of helping people. He moved his family to an area of town that needed help. His thesis is most charity misses its aim, often being more for the giver than receiver.

        The homeless family agency I served with followed his model before we had read his book. In my twenty years of work, I have seen many benevolent band aids. They don’t solve the problem. The key is to help people solve their own problem. Our agency helped homeless families break the cycle of homelessness, with over 85% remaining housed on their own two years after leaving our program. It is not a liberal or conservative issue – it is one of helping people while letting them keep their self-esteem. The book is profound in this regard. We had Lupton come to NC to speak with other charities as a result. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        • I definitely plan to take a look at his book. And I mostly agree with what you say, but sometimes when a family is living on the streets, or has no food or medical care, even that bandaid is the best idea — short term, that is. But yes, the long-term goal must be to help people learn to help themselves and become self-sufficient. Problem arises when somebody only wants a handout and doesn’t want to work toward their own self-sufficiency. What then? If there are children involved, we cannot just abandon that family.

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  5. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    In total agreement … as I read this post, my perspective changes … this is so very important … I share my blogger friend’s thought: ‘Not a religious person, for me the value of the Cathédrale was historical. ‘ … ‘Yes, re-build the Cathédrale Notre-Dame, but not at the expense of the average citizen. Rebuild and dig a little deeper in those pockets to help take care of the French people as well. A building can be rebuilt … a life cannot be replaced.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks, dear one! As I pondered on this, and read some comments on my previous post about it, my point of view gradually began to shift. I am now thinking that if the Catholic church wants to dig into its own pockets to rebuild it, let them, but otherwise let the ruined portion become a part of the magnificent building’s history and spend the money on the people who really need it. Hugs ‘n love! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very well said, my friend. Once again a glimpse into the hearts of those whose lives are dedicated to the accumulation of wealth. Sad indeed. It shouldn’t have to be either/or — rather both/and. Rebuild the cathedral and help out those in need.

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  7. Of course I’m going to agree with you Jill. You know I love the architecture of the old churches even if I don’t believe in the religion practised within. My praise is for the craftsmen who designed and managed to build such places without the benefit of scaffolding or electricity. They’re beautiful but still not worth a life. The sick, the poor the downtrodden of the world should be the first priority of excessive wealth.Don’t they say, ‘Am I not my brother’s keeper’?
    Cwtch

    Liked by 2 people

    • The more I think about it, the more I think that taking those millions from the millionaires to re-build, while people are suffering in poverty meanwhile, seems somehow wrong. The billionaires will no doubt flaunt their donations and received kudos from all. Rawgod makes an excellent point, that the Catholic church can quite well afford to pay for the re-building. And Tidalscribe makes another, that the fire is part of its history now, and the ruins tell the story of that part of history. And Gary reminds me that the survivors of the fire at Grenfell Towers still struggle and could be helped by some portion of these donations. Much more to consider than I initially thought.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jill, do you remember the extremely narrow staircases in the towers? The very hard stone steps have been polished smooth and darkly discolored from hundreds of years of human footsteps. It captivated me when I visited Notre Dame. I can only imagine the countless people and happenings that have occurred there. And, yes, the architecture is stunning. The plight of the poor? They have been callously abandoned by greed and self-interest.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Indeed I do! I was much younger then, but I still found them taxing even then. You have a point … how many stories that old building could tell if it could talk, eh? And yes, the poor around the globe seem to be considered expendable these days, don’t they. Think it will ever change?

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Good start, Jill, but I think this is only the beginning. All these “taxable” donations are just the tip of the iceberg of the social problems in this world caused by the money-hoarders.
    But I am going to start with a totally different fact–the Roman Catholic Church can afford to rebuild Notre Damn all by themselves. It isn’t enough that they get most of their great wealth from the poor people of the world who cannot afford it, they do not pay any taxes to any government. No religion does, as far as I know.
    In this day and age, when religion is becoming meaningless to many, there is no viable reason that religions should not be taxed. They are businesses like any other, only their product has no cost to produce, and all income is pure profit. The perfect business!

    Liked by 3 people

    • And apropos of absolutely nothing, have you ever tried dill pickles on a salami or pepperoni pizza? We tried it today, coarsely chopped, and it was absolutely fantastic. Mind you, the cheese on top of the pizza does not get as dark, but that did not seem to affect anything. The vinegar in the pickles brings out the sharpness of the spices in the meat, and tickles the tongue. The dill flavour also adds a new sensation to pizza. Exquisite!

      Liked by 2 people

        • I hope you do. We were making a pizza today for lunch, and as I reached into the fridge my eye fell on a bottle of dill pickles that we had not used in a while. Me, being me, said why not? Gail knows not to try to talk me out of ghings when my creative juices are flowing. Some pickles got spread on half the pizza, and then cooked. That half disappeared in a flash. We tried uncooked pickles on the other half, but they weren’t as good. Okay, but, the heat brought out something else.
          Next pizza, mustard! But not Grey Poupon!

          Liked by 1 person

    • You made an excellent point, one which I hadn’t considered, but once you said it, I thought, “BINGO” … why all the fuss, for you are quite right … the church can well afford to rebuild it! Thank you!!! Several people have made good points on both this post and the one before that have caused me to re-think and alter my perspective on the re-building. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. … then why didn’t they use some small bit of them to raise the wages of their workers?

    You answered the question: TAX BREAK! Sure, the could do a lot of things with their money that would help those who struggle, but there’s no return on that. Except perhaps good feelings. But that’s not a commodity.

    Liked by 4 people

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