In my childhood, reading Victor Hugo’s masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, I was struck by the powerful description of the fire in the cathedral. “… there was a great flame which rose between the two steeples with swirls of sparks, a great disorderly, furious flame of which the wind at times carried away a tongue in the smoke“.
Now a father, I share its reading with my children, Laurence, Dominique and François-Henri. During the night of 15 to 16 April, when the writer’s foreboding description became a terrible, cruel reality, it was his disastrous images that we thought about, François-Henri and I. By chance, we found ourselves on the quay on the left bank, not far from Notre-Dame, witnessing helplessly, like millions of men and women around the world, this heartbreaking spectacle. Notre-Dame de Paris, the heart of the Ile de la Cité, the cradle of Paris, the beating heart of France, was about to be reduced to ashes. A very piece of our history was being torn from the French pantheon of glories. Without even thinking about it, we immediately meant to turn those feelings of bewilderment and powerlessness into one more reason not to give up, not to despair, to show that no disaster is beyond remedy, that no tragedy cannot be resisted. That is why, in the middle of the night, when the brave firefighters were still battling the flames; when all that was shown, from one end of the earth to the other, was genuine emotion, we decided we would contribute to the restoration of the building, when the time came.
On 30 September 2019, exceptionally, the bell of Notre-Dame rang for the funeral of Jacques Chirac, of whom I was a friend. Strangely, the solemn tolling of that day seemed to me a sign of hope, that of the rebirth of Notre-Dame that François-Henri and I so strongly hope for.”