Tragedy has a vast array of consequences. At best it unites people and gives the opportunity to rebuild and improve what has been destroyed. At worst it can cause the demise of lives, homes, cultures and even civilisations.
In any case, tragedy gives a chance to reflect and analyse, to wonder which aspects of loss really matter in the long run and how a society can learn from its grief.
On Monday a fire broke out and partially destroyed the northern tower and roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. At one point firefighters weren’t sure if the fire could be put out at all, however the rescue was successful in the end. The main structure of the cathedral remains unharmed, and all artefacts were recovered from the building.
The Notre-Dame is supposedly valuable in many ways: a fine example of gothic architecture, a historical landmark and witness to many important events in French history. It will remain immortalized in grand novels by Balzac, Stendhal or Hugo. The three richest French families have already pledged 600 million Euro towards the restauration of the cathedral, so Europe will not be missing it’s top churches for long.
Rebuilding will obviously take time since the materials are not modern and the structure thus unstable. The main frame has to be assessed as to it’s remaining strength and stability after the fire, et cetera. On the whole, however, Notre-Dame will survive this tragedy.
Other than giving the French a scare, this fire has only shown the critical eye that all aspects of a western capitalist society are more than intact in Europe and progress on a broad scale is far from being made.
For one, we see how much money the 1% have at their disposal, and yet how other tragedies are financially ignored. Brits are angering while comparing the close to none international media coverage Grenfell. U.S. citizens are outraged about giving aid to France while natural disasters keep rummaging around the nation. Looking at the big picture, France is doing more than fine.
Another cringeworthy aspect of the aftermath is how the vast majority of the herd that is public opinion is exclaiming how Notre-Drame is a symbol of France, a personification of the absolute value of France as a unit, and how a part of them has gone up in flames.
How is it possible so many are failing to deduce the things Notre-Dame actually stands for, while the fire itself and its aftermath show it so clearly?
As a cultural landmark and historical site, Notre-Dame is one of many. The Pére Lachaise cemetery or Montmartre are much more valuable as storytellers, and on Pére Lachaise rest the remains of some of the most important writers, musicians, philosophers and politicians in European history.
As a symbol of Paris as a city or France as a nation, again, there are many more – starting with the Eiffel Tower, going on to the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, and so on. Every and any cultural or historical event or person linked to Notre-Dame can be linked to another location as well.
Moreover, the recent events concerning Notre-Dame rather serve as a litmus paper to show how far backwards and self-absorbed this society has grown, or rather remained. Those in charge of billions are now choosing to link their name to a piece of relevant stone to show their charitable nature, whilst being sure to call on favors within the government as well as the vatican.
Surely those in ridiculously high positions of power have no need for such games? Well, bloodlines run deep and long, as is proven by example of Hungary. Apparently not only a Lannister pays his debts, so who knows how far this one will go:
In 1879, the Hungarian city of Szeged was almost completely destroyed by a devastating flood. France was most generous in its reconstruction and Hungarians want to repeat the generosity. (Forbes)
Moving onto the bigger topic of religion, Notre-Dame supposedly stands for shelter and a roof for those less fortunate as it was built in the name of the Virgin Mary. Nothing virginal is to be said about French court in the 13th, 14th, 15th or following centuries, and the fact that the outrage about ludicrous amounts of money being thrown at this cathedral while other areas of crisis are being ignored completely:
„…Donate to help Puerto Rico recover. Donate to get the people of Flint clean water. Donate to get kids out of cages. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass. He cared about humans.“ (s.o.)
For the critical eye, Notre-Dame now stands for nepotism, a boys club, protecting the wealth of the wealthy few, ignoring the plight for social equality, et cetera, so basically all aspects that can be critizised about the catholic faith or the vatican. Now more than ever Notre-Dame will symbolize these aspects of social failing.
I haven’t even yet mentioned the fact that a 21st century adult would rather fall to their knees and start praying toward the cathedral, all the while ignoring rescuers pleas to clear the area and facilitate passage for them.
Following the herd should still enable a sheep to follow orders.
In conclusion, a tragedy at best gives a society the chance to improve broken pieces and by doing that, strenghten the larger structures that support it. In this case, no room for improvement was given. While several deep-rooted flaws of our society were revealed in a very harsh light due to the Notre-Dame fire, they remain ignored. Those on top may continue to flourish while the less fortunate suffer. No progress towards European or human unity or social improvement has been made. Rather have old structures been reinforced.
Therein lies the real tragedy of Paris.