An Icon Burns Along the Seine

Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

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37 Responses

  1. Avatar George Turner says:

    It’ll probably be fine. The art was removed, the stained glass can be replaced, and the spire was itself an 1860 replacement. Their $6.8 million renovation budget will probably have to be increased, though.Report

    • After I heard the news, I went and looked at a couple of pieces about the renovation. The cathedral is apparently in sorry shape once you get past the facade — crumbling limestone, corroded metal supports, etc. Complicated job — most of the major elements depend on the other pieces being there for the whole thing to be stable. Estimates of the total work needed were about $160M. $6.8M is what they have in hand.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    A strangely comforting thread:


  3. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I find myself wondering, though, if these were less dystopian-feeling times, if this wouldn’t seem quite so shocking.

    I dunno. I think I would feel worse if, I don’t know, the world were at war and who ever was fighting against France dropped a bomb on it, but.

    The “ghost wife” comment about “Oh, France will either put some monstrous steel-and-glass modern dome on it, or meticulously rebuild a period-appropriate one over the course of 100 years” doesn’t help as much as you might think.

    I could see calls to just leave the smoking ruin, for various symbolic reasons.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    While it is generally true, that many old buildings like Notre Dame were restored at various times and various ways, it is important to note that the damage here appears to be extensive. From what I’ve read, at least half the roof has collapsed and the wood structures in the stone walls might be destroyed too. Assuming that everything can be restored, this is still going to take a long time.

    Our dumb President made a tweet about water tankers helping quench the fire. My art historian friends inform me that this will put too much force on of water on the building and cause the structure to collapse.Report

    • I tweeted about the ignorance of that comment, as most folks have no idea the violence involved in air attack, which squelches a fire as much from the violence and smothering than the water and the retardant used. On a compromised structure in a dense urban environment it is idiotic.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I had a house burn down on me once. The fire dept. came and did not give a shit about anything except making sure the next house over didn’t catch.

        We just had the small town of Paradise go up completely in flames, taking a water tanker or several to keep the flames tamped down to keep lose of life to a minimum. Paris is a very compact, populous city, especially the Île de la Cité. I am not sure the comment was that ignorant.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Aaron David says:

          This is exactly why you don’t dump fire. There are too many close by buildings and the force could knock down the stone walls.

          Donald Trump’s tweets should be the least concerning part about him but they ended up being some of the worst things about him. They confirm he is an ignorant kibitzer and blowhard that doesn’t know how to make a general statement of compassion. This is one of the few times when a thoughts and prayers statement is exactly what is called for and he screws it up. He screws it up and tens of millions of blowhards hardy har with him.

          To be somewhat fair, I did not think of the pressure thing from flying water tankers either but it makes sense once pointed out. But I wouldn’t go around suggesting it while a nation is dealing with a horrific loss.

          Trump is a narcissistic blowhard who doesn’t know how to do anything except make it about himself. Tens of millions of people cheer this on because it “owns the libs.”Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Again, as someone who has had a house burn down, I don’t think it is an ignorant question, but, yes having someone relate why it is bad is a net positive.

            Here is what the tweet says: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”

            “Horrible.” “Perhaps.” “Must act quickly”. How you got “Trump is a narcissistic blowhard who doesn’t know how to do anything except make it about himself” or “owns the libs” from that I can only guess.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Aaron David says:

              As it turns out, the French were considering using aerial platforms but by the time they could’ve brought them into play, they didn’t think they had enough payload capacity to do any good.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        It seems to work fine on Beverly Hills mansions. In fact, it’s routine, and quite a few development projects are underway to build better aerial platforms to fight urban fires in everything from skyscrapers to giant burning cathedrals.

        Currently the Sikorsky S-70i Firehawk (A Blackhawk derivative) is one of the best platforms, and LA County swears by it. San Diego and Ventura have them on order.

        In Greece they were using venerable Sikorsky Skycrane derivative Helitankers, which carry 16,000 lbs of water, to fight urban fires. The pilots would bash a hole in a person’s roof and flood the interior, with people still inside the house. They were knocking off porches, going through front windows, and flattening some houses that were too far gone and just acting as ignition sources for neighboring homes.

        My chat buddy sets controlled burns for a living, and then has to put them out. He’s shut down I-75 more than once. I trust his knowledge of firefighting more than an art historian.Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:

    Damn, I was at Notre Dame just recently at the tail end of january.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

      You got to see it! (I did too, on my one trip to Paris.) Be grateful for that much, at least.

      This is more than I can say about the World Trade Center on any of my trips to New York City or countless other iconic and famous places, so far.

      One wonders what Notre Dame Nouveau will be like.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Somewhere on my shelves is a book showing photos of things destroyed by WWII. Quite moving really.

        I have never seen Notre Dame, but I did make the pilgrimage to CBGB’s.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:


  7. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    In 1987 I visited Notre Dame and at that time tourists were allowed to go up the southern tower and out onto its roof, which is a shallow hip covered in large lead sheets.

    I climbed up and sat on the peak and enjoyed the view. But quickly realized how slippery lead is, when I started sliding down towards the narrow walkway at the edge. I was stopped by the stone railing at the edge, and had a terrifying vision of breaking through and falling to my doom.

    I imagined that forever tourist handbooks about the building would note “The stone railing is not original- it was broken in 1987 by some damn fool American…”Report

  8. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    A number of my friends have asked whether there was any sort of fire suppression system, given a structure of immense historical value with a huge number of wooden support members.Report

  9. Avatar George Turner says:

    Much of the interior looks untouched. They could still hold services in it without much of a problem.

    Twitter post with pics.

    The part that burned was the roof structure that was built over the vaulted ceiling.Report

  10. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I would like to register my disgust at some of the reactions I’ve seen on the Twitter — some all too predictable — taking swipes at various far-left-from-center hobbyhorses. It’s all well and good to decry imperialism and the theocratically-buttressed ancien regime, to condemn the inequalities in the distribution of wealth, and to point out that humanitarian and social welfare needs are pressing.

    And we can readily agree that there are a lot of things about the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the historical version of the Church that was involved in the building of this cathedral, which are not easily congruent with modern moral sensibilities, particularly in a society that is as secular and progressive as that of contemporary Paris.

    But it’s also good and appropriate to keep certain reminders of the past, important cultural legacies. That’s particularly the case when that cultural legacy is part of the living, active culture of the place — in my visit to Notre Dame, I saw many people engaged in worship. Not to mention that this particular cultural legacy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is itself a significant tourism draw and therefore a vital part of France’s economy. France can, should, and will rebuild Notre Dame de Paris as part of its national and cultural heritage. France is a wealthy, industrialized nation and can afford to take care of its people and its culture.

    The interesting question I have, as much for myself as for others, relates to statuary in the United States of Confederate war “heroes” and their removal. These, too, are claimed by their proponents and defenders as cultural and historical markers that deserve preservation. What’s the difference between a statue of Robert E. Lee in a town square and an ancient religious cathedral? Why is it appropriate and desirable to take one of those down and store it in a museum with interpretative guides, and appropriate and desirable to restore the other notwithstanding the moral baggage associated with it? Is it as simple as pure aesthetic preference?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      (Yeah, a day has passed. Plenty of time. Might as well.)

      It’s a pity that so many right-wingers are cynically pouncing on bad left wing takes. It’s good that we’re able to slap these cynics down when we see them come up.


      Why are we discussing rebuilding a church when France still hasn’t legalized marijuana?Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Burt Likko says:

      That is a very, very interesting and well thought out question Burt. In my estimation, and I readily admit that I could be very wrong on this, is that the importance of something, a statue or cathedral or mission, whathaveyou, is entirely dependant on the viewer. In other words, a Confederate statue might mean racism to one person, while to another it is a symbol of southern pride. And a similar vibe may constitute any feelings around a Catholic church. I know that there is a very high level of pride in the Mission in my hometown, indeed that much of California feels this way. Others see it as a monument to the destruction of indigenous peoples.

      This is why, quite frankly, we have so many levels of government. It gives us a very healthy way to deal with issues such as this. And we risk quite a lot by overriding these levels to deal with what we consider unpleasant things in an untimely manner.

      I don’t think either is an acceptable target for vandalism. The right and proper way to remove these objects are by the democratic process at the appropriate level of government.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I’ll take the challenge.

      There is not a single mansion, palace, monument, castle, temple or church anywhere in the world without some moral baggage.

      Because all of them are by definition an intense concentration of wealth and power which were extracted in various degrees of injustice and cruelty.

      However- most regimes also had redeeming qualities and positive accomplishments. For example, the White House was built by slaves. We can note the injustice of slavery but also note the positive aspirations of the American founders.

      Preservation of monuments isn’t about remembering what happened.
      A monument is a narrative, sometimes literally like the Column of Trajan which depicts his heroic victory over the Dacians, or sometimes metaphorically.

      Sometimes the historical importance of a monument transcends its original meaning. The latter day Dacians don’t clamor for the column to be pulled down because they don’t feel threatened by the narrative.

      Confederate monuments haven’t transcended their narrative yet. The Confederate narrative is still very much alive and well, and eagerly promulgated. The white supremacy that formed its foundation is very much alive and powerful and taking victims.

      The Confederate monuments aren’t that old- most of them were put up in the 20th century. So their historical importance as artifacts aren’t really much of an issue.

      But the narrative is still very threatening, as demonstrated by the ferocity with which they are defended.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        “The Confederate monuments aren’t that old- most of them were put up in the 20th century. So their historical importance as artifacts isn’t really much of an issue.”

        To paraphrase, Most HBCU’s are only from the 20th century, so whateves.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Imagine, if you will, the Statue of Liberty burning down. (Yes, I know, there are engineering problems with this hypothetical but bear with me for the sake of the mental exercise.)

      Does this reframe it differently in your head than the statue of Robert E. Lee?

      At that point, I suppose, the question comes up of whether Notre Dame is more like Robert E. Lee or more like The Statue Of Liberty.

      “We shouldn’t rebuild The Statue Of Liberty. Our country hasn’t ever believed in that fairytale and now we finally are rid of the hypocritical eyesore.”Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

        “We shouldn’t rebuild The Statue Of Liberty!
        Too Much welcoming of MS-13! Sad!
        Our country hasn’t ever believed in that fairytale and now we need Wall!
        No Collusion!”

        English translation:
        The Statue of Liberty still has a powerful narrative which forms the centerpiece of current politics. It is much less like Notre Dame and much more like a latter day statue of David giving the middle finger to Robert E. Lee.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I don’t think society should ever take the option of taking significant monuments down. Opinions change, and over the sweep of history one radical notion is replaced by another. If we leave everything intact, then future generations can have their own views on what’s been left to them, because they can gaze upon it and find their own interpretations.

      But if we decide to censor the past, for whatever reason, we’re depriving those future generations from beholding what their ancestors once considered important. Each relic is born by the hand and intellect of man, and has the potential to last for countless millennia unless it is destroyed or discarded by only one of the hundreds of subsequent generations to come.

      The “morally superior” generation, if remembered at all, will mostly be remembered for destroying the priceless relics. Historians will trace the documented history of all the artifacts that no longer exist, and will note that countless relics made it all the way to that one narrow-minded intolerant generation of people, a generation who took it upon themselves to be a mass-extinction event for ancient monuments and relics.

      There are always passing fads and transient passions, and there are always people who self-righteously insist that it falls to them to censor the past. They always have reasons, and those reasons are, in hindsight, almost always wrong.

      Is the world a better place because the Spanish burned Mayan books? Is it better because the Library of Alexandria burned? Is the world better because the Maoists worked so diligently to erase Chinese history, deriding it as backwards, primitive, and non-communist?

      Would it be better if Medieval English Christians had smashed Stonehenge, an evil pagan monument that was an offense to the Lord and Savior, to make building stones for a redundant abbey that later got turned into a pub? Would it be better if Renaissance bishops had decided to destroy any Greek or Roman statues that flaunted nudity? Will it be better when some secular purist or ISIS wannabe in France decides that the old cathedrals are offensive and have to be leveled?

      If you view the culture of the past and the culture of the future as different cultures, which they are, then how is advocating the destruction of a monument in the present any different from a European Christian demanding the destruction of the Hagia Sofia, the Taj Mahal, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha? Destroying a monument built in the past, which was a different culture, to deprive a culture in the future from inheriting the monument is the most flagrantly imperialist thing I can imagine.

      Monuments, like other real estate, are eternal, while generations come and go, a list of unimportant names scrawled on a deed. It’s not up to us to decide to censor objects because we think the ideas they represent are bad, because in the long sweep of history, all ideas were bad and all humans were flawed. If we rip down all the statues of conquerors, because they were conquerors, all we’ll do is sit around wondering why nobody back then built statues to the conquered. Then our kids will wonder why nobody back then built statues.


      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to George Turner says:

        Overall, I agree. However, I cheer inwardly at old news reels of the big swastika over Zeppelin field being blown up and other the 3rd Reich monuments being taken down. I also recall nearly all of us cheering when the big statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down after US forces entered Baghdad.

        Some monuments deserve to be preserved. Others, not so much. I wouldn’t want to be the arbiter for that, but I don’t think that taking something down is always a crime against posterity. And for statues, even when the subject isn’t especially objectionable, it’s not necessarily true that the space they sit on must be theirs forever. Sometimes it makes sense to rotate them into a museum and cede pride of place to a new figure that means more to the current times.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      What’s the difference between a statue of Robert E. Lee in a town square and an ancient religious cathedral? Why is it appropriate and desirable to take one of those down and store it in a museum with interpretative guides, and appropriate and desirable to restore the other notwithstanding the moral baggage associated with it? Is it as simple as pure aesthetic preference?


      Imagine, for whatever reason, that the Confederate statues remain for another thousand years, and in that time the current political order of the United States (and for that matter every other country on Earth) radically changes, and perhaps even vanishes. The original reasons for erecting those statues, which are still painfully relevant in our political and cultural life, have faded into the past, in much the same way that the people slaughtered by Genghis Khan are mostly abstractions to us now. There’s no recent pain or even original valence at all.

      Maybe they’ve come to signify something else. Maybe they’re just ancient relics and fascinating for that reason alone.

      I would argue, if I were to somehow be in that time and place, that the statues should be kept. Maybe shipped off to museums, restored, whatever, and the context would have to be given for purely educational reasons.

      That’s not where we are now. Where we are now is that they were erected as monuments to the evil of a bygone regime, to glorify its evil and denigrate its victims and their descendants, and justify further mistreatment of those descendants.

      The purpose was foul, and it is recent, and while it has faded a great deal in its influence, there are still too many people who hold sympathy for that foul purpose, even in positions of cultural and political influence. That shadow has lingered over our country for far too long, and while this would by a symbolic gesture, leaving no few material remnants and iniquities of the old, unjust order in place, symbols are important.

      And there are far too many of these to possibly fit all of them in museums, or put them all in context, and frankly huge numbers of them are just junk, hastily erected as a display of power. But I agree that we should take a few of the more significant and well-crafted ones, and carry them off to some museum where we can show that they are the remnants of a vanquished enemy of the United States.

      The Romans used to do that sort of thing. They called it a “triumph”.

      It would be a triumph for us, too.Report