Dear Frenchly Readers,
At the start of the new French Netflix 6 part mini-series, Notre Dame, about the fire that engulfed the almost-900-year-old cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019, we see a young firefighter, played by Megan Northam, running through Paris streets not as much for exercise, it appears, but to exorcise something. She looks visibly distressed and we can hear David Bowie singing, “We can be heroes, just for one day.” Then we see her talking with Max, the proprietor of a falafel restaurant, who tells her that everyone will always remember where they were when Michael Jackson died. He then confesses, “Between you and me, I don’t give a damn about Michael Jackson. What interests me is that his death froze a moment in peoples’ lives, even an insignificant moment…I’ll tell you one thing: They’re not remembering Michael Jackson’s death. They’re remembering their lives at that moment in time.”
This is storytelling at its best—a narrative voice setting down what will happen: the events that are about to unfold will be about a moment that froze time.
I can’t tell you that I remember Michael Jackson dying (I don’t.) But I do remember when Notre Dame caught fire. We had just driven three hours north with our two boys to see my elderly grandmother in assisted living. It was just before Easter and we were about to do a little early Easter with her during the kids’ spring break. I remember walking into her apartment and the TV was on, and both boys, then 10 and 4, saw the flames and she was trying to tell us what it was. And I said something like, “Let’s turn it off.” And she was trying to do just that, to turn it off, but her hands were awkward and frail and she couldn’t get the buttons to turn it off. I was afraid it was a terrorist attack because I was living in New York City when 9/11 happened. In September of 2001, I was working downtown near the Trade Towers, at WNYC, producing radio stories. Anyone who lived in New York at that time can tell you about the lasting trauma, the shock. By the time we got the TV off with the images of Notre Dame burning, they had been seared into my older kid’s head.
Years later, he will still tell you about seeing that iconic cathedral on fire on TV. This past spring, he made a tiny replica of the cathedral, flying buttresses and all, out of miniscule bits of metal from a kit called, Metal Earth. It’s beautiful and sits on his bookshelf. As the character of Max says in the show, Notre Dame, my son will always remember his life “at that moment in time.”
Though no one died in the Notre Dame fire (it was not a terrorist act, but a mistake, and eventually it was brought under control by smart and fast-moving fire fighters) the country of France and the world, too, mourned the loss. That year was the first time since 1803 that the cathedral did not host Christmas Mass. Toxic dust and lead, borne aloft by wind, contaminated the Seine and areas around the cathedral. Honey from beehives in the area sampled after the fire had nine times as much lead as previously and have continued to contain higher levels of lead ever since.
The cathedral is on target now to be rebuilt with both modern and timeless touches by 2024 in time for the Olympics, which will take place in Paris. You can help the effort by donating here. Or just follow it by subscribing to receive photos and updates—it’s a pretty cool project.
Here’s an article from Le Monde today about the show, too.
Cook, watch & read ce weekend (Cuisiner, regarder et lire):
We have a new Bouffe today from Kate Christensen! A hearty French mushroom stew that looks to die for. Check it out. I am aiming for this on Sunday night.
And to read, we have this terrific piece by Catherine Rickman about the reopening of The National Library of France. She tells you about all of the things you can see there, including an original manuscript of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and edits made by Proust on In Search of Lost Time.
You may have read about young climate activists in Paris who are switching off lights and billboards all over the city in an effort to protest “useless consumption.” Here’s an inspiring video about their work.
And, for the season, this is a cool piece from Atlas Obscura about the artist, Edward Gorey, who lived in an old house in Yarmouth, Massachusetts.
I am listening to this terrific podcast, “We Were Three,” from the New York Times and This American Life producer, Nancy Updike, about a family that was torn apart by Covid. It’s an American story, a family story and also a bit of a mystery….Listen here.
I’ll be watching the Bake Off this weekend, how about you?
And since we went apple picking last weekend, this weekend will be all about apple pies and tarts and I am into this apple carpaccio idea with a little dollop of whipped cream.
Have a good weekend!
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