I studied photography in Paris a couple decades past, and at one point decided to take long-exposure night-time shots along the Seine. After living in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, I already knew Paris was nowhere near as threatening an environment. And I’d been out at night there on my own, at concerts, plays, talks by photographers, always traveling on foot and by Metro. Still, I was wary about shooting after dark in a less populated spot.
The first time I set up my tripod on the Left Bank, near the Pont de Archêveché, my immediate surroundings were quiet and calm. Light rippled off the water. I sighted and framed potential shots and, with all my other senses, read the atmosphere for signs of trouble.
People strolled past, talking quietly, the flood lights of a bateau mouche spread their streak of daylight across both banks, music bounced down to the river from cars passing by.
There were no red flags, just peace and calm. And its epicenter, I finally realized, seemed to be Notre Dame, buttresses like wings spread out behind her, the spire with its watchful figures, her towers looking west.
My eyes to the viewfinder, vulnerable on all sides, that sense of a guarding presence calmed me down and let me work.
There are claims that buildings are simply enclosed air, objects built from inanimate materials, but I don’t believe it. Buildings are memory boxes, repositories of the voices, footfalls, and lives that have sounded within them.
During my time in Paris I passed Notre Dame on foot, on buses, ate my lunch in the square at her feet. Within her walls and in her deep quiet, I lit candles for my parents. She stands at the center of Paris like a guardian spirit keeping watch over her city and people. Her roots are centuries deep and she misses nothing, because the world comes to her with its news, sorrows, and triumphs.
And now the world is coming to her again, with aid and prayers for her restoration.