Fluctuât Nec Mergitur

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The fire at Notre-Dame elicited a variety of reactions in the moment.

Shannon noted that Americans on social media were characteristically narcissistic, cluttering Twitter and Instagram with posts tagged with time and location metadata matching the unfolding tragedy, but using images from their past vacations. All to broadcast how meaningful the place was to them since they saw it on that trip they took to Paris years ago.

Europeans mostly watched quietly. Afterwards, I saw several descriptions of how eerie it was to see the crowds of onlookers watching the smoke from all over the city, and how few had their phones out. Around the continent, there was not so much personal chatter but expressions of support for Parisians and esprit de corps for the feared loss of an international cultural treasure.

Two of my five visits to the Île de la Cité are meaningful memories to me (with my father and the first with Shannon). My inner child who wants to be an architect when he grows up has always been fascinated by the building of Notre-Dame and those buttresses are some of the most beautiful man-made structures I’ve ever seen. So I did have some sense of personal loss. This was overshadowed, though, by the answers I found asking myself what was to be done after the damage.

There is of course an opportunity to rebuild and evolve the landmark. It’d be particularly nice to involve and enshrine modern, cosmopolitan Paris with inclusive participation and style.

But this building has stood for eight centuries, so it is natural to frame reconstruction in terms of what it will mean in 2800. I am saddened to observe that it disturbed me to think that far ahead. Partly because it’s no longer obvious we’ll make it even to 2100 without another war in Europe. Mostly, though, because I’m not confident civilization will last that much longer.

Still, though, I hope to see Notre-Dame emerge as a renewed symbol of human resilience soon.