Last night I watched Notre Dame go up in flames. I watched the towering steeple fall. Could Notre Dame really burn! Could a steeple fall and be gone forever! I had so much wanted to go back there one day. I will never keep my promise.
It was the year 1990 and we were in Paris. How I had dreamed of Paris! And now I was here with Khalid and our two sons. Saqib had just graduated from high school, and Asim was in tenth grade. As I stood admiring the gorgeous painting of David’s Coronation of Napoleon at the Louvre, a tour group assembled around us and we were able to eavesdrop on the guide’s description of the history of this life-size painting. Listening to him, while pretending not to listen, I was struck by the delicious misrepresentation of history. Napoleon’s mom sits beaming at her son, when in fact she never attended the coronation—Napoleon insisted that David paint her in; or the history not told in the painting—the shocking moment when Napoleon took the crown from Pope Pius VII’s hand and crowned himself. “Notre Dame tomorrow!” the tour-guide said to his legit tour group and they headed wherever.
“We must take a guided tour of Notre Dame tomorrow,” I said. “See how much more you can get out of it!” We headed down to the gift shop and bought a print of David’s painting. It decked the wall in our living room on Staten Island for twenty plus years.
So this is where Napoleon was crowned. Wow!
This is where the Hunchback of Notre Dame rang the bells and fell to his death. Fiction, but still a Wow!
We walked up the aisle, up to the altar, taking in the gorgeous stained glass windows.
“We need to take a guided tour. I want to someone to explain the architecture, the history; I want to know what I am looking at,” I said.
“Lets find a tour,” said Khalid, and we headed out.
TOUR said the sign.
Here we go. We lined up at the window that said ‘Tickets’.
“Four tickets for the Tour,” Khalid said to the lady at the window.
She handed the tickets.
“Where do we get the tour from?” Khalid asked.
The lady pointed to a sign by the stairs that said TOUR.
So off we headed to the sign. But there was no tour guide there, and no group waiting to be toured. The lady pointed to the stairs next to the sign. We went to the stairs—no tour guide.
“Maybe we have to go up the stairs and meet our tour.”
So we started heading up the narrow staircase. But here was no landing. The staircase kept going up and winding and each time we turned the bend, hoping to meet our tour, the staircase kept taking us further up.
“Maybe we were not supposed to take the stairs. Lets go back.”
“Mom, we can’t. There are people behind us.”
So keep climbing.
The staircase ended, and we found ourselves on a rooftop.
No guide. No tour group.
“Where is the tour?” We looked around, and all we saw were tourists hanging out, taking photographs.
“Well I guess while we are here, lets enjoy the sight. Maybe the tour group will join us.”
From the rooftop, you could see all of Paris—the Eiffel Tower, the curved bridges over the rivers, and Paris in all its glory. We took a few pictures from our then-new but now out-of-date Olympus camera with 35 mm Kodak film. But we didn’t take the time to relish the sight, so anxious were we to not miss our tour.
“Lets go back down. We gotta find the tour.”
Down the winding staircase, and we ended up on a flat concrete surface with no tour in sight.
“Oh my God! I don’t believe it!” Asim called out from behind me.
“Oh my God!”
He was holding open his mini yellow colored French language book.
“In French, Tour means ‘Tower’.” He said.
Oh No! Oh My God! (OMG would follow decades later).
Ever felt stupid?
We had gotten tickets to the Tower and hadn’t even taken the time to enjoy it.
We will come back one day.
Notre Dame will always be here.