As the Gargoyles Look On
In our basement, tucked away in a cupboard, is a black and white photo of a gargoyle.
- “Notre Dame de Paris” — Édith Piaf
- “Beeswax” — Mato Wayuhi
- “The Zookeeper’s Boy” — Mew
- “In Case It Gets Lost” — Sioux Falls
- “Killer” — Dan Sultan (w/ Camp Cope)
- “The City of New Orleans” — Arlo Guthrie
- “Minneapolis” — That Dog
- “Missing Link” — Dinosaur Jr. & Del the Funky Homosapien
- “Stick ‘Em” — Fat Boys
- “Very Diff” — Peeping Tom (w/ Ernie Odoom, Gabriel Scotti)
- “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” — Super Furry Animals
- “Snoopies” — De La Soul (w/ David Byrne)
- “Never Been Wrong” — Waxahatchee
- “Stutter” — Elastica
- “I Don’t Want to See You Cry” — The Trojans
- “Earth People” — Dr. Octagon
- “Pipeline” — Anthrax
It was taken with Kerrie’s old college SLR atop Notre-Dame de Paris in the summer of 2000. It was early in the morning — early enough that Notre-Dame had just opened for tourists, or at least that’s how I remember it. Our goal was to hit the cathedral before the crowds could, and we stood in line, the world still a bit damp, the humidity of summer already beginning to creep in. I remember that the stairs were exhausting. I remember thinking we had made a horrible choice, that this level of work was barely necessary, that disappointment was imminent.
And then, we emerged back into the daylight and saw Paris.
While the Eiffel Tower is a more impressive view, I remember standing close to the edges of the top of the Cathedral knowing this was a better view; more human, closer to the real city, blending in with history. This was not a view designed for consumption, but as a way to protect.
The gargoyles are there to protect as well. To take the brunt of whatever fire comes their way.
As I write this, Notre-Dame de Paris burns.
It’s heartbreaking. To see a historical beauty — one that has played even a small part in my life — completely engulfed. The fire is uncontrollable and unyielding. It’s distressing in its slowness, like watching floodwaters rise, knowing there’s nothing that can be done.
Immediately, as Twitter began to mourn, recounting its collective experience within Notre-Dame, I also mourned. I thought about walking up those stairs. The feel of the ticket in my hand – a ticket I still have in a scrapbook somewhere. I think of the summer of 2000. I think of the view from Shakespeare and Co.
I think about it, and I try to be optimistic. After all, Notre-Dame de Paris has been attacked before.
For centuries — almost a millennium’s worth! — Notre-Dame was invaded, attacked, set ablaze. It was desecrated and forgotten, until a book brought it back to life. It oversaw revolution and it oversaw the turn of a century and it continues to oversee whatever it is we’re doing right now. Whatever we call this mess.
For nearly 1,000 years, the building has stood, watching over Paris, renovated and updated and made whole, constantly trying to improve, trying to recapture its former spirit. Those past centuries had disasters, but none of them stuck. None of them kept the building down.
None of them matter, especially now. Within minutes, the Wikipedia entry for Notre-Dame de Paris was updated to include the fire on April 15th, 2019. The past centuries can have their disasters: this one’s now ours.
Gargoyles are weird creatures. They are, first and foremost, architectural features: despite occasionally showing up in Saturday morning cartoons and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, gargoyles are most often modified downspouts, their gaping mouths vomiting away rain water onto the streets below.
The legend of gargoyles is one of fire. St. Romanus fought a fire-breathing monster named Gargouille. Upon capturing the monster, he brought it back to his city with the intention of burning it to death, only to find that the monster’s fire breath had made its head and neck completely resistant to flames. So, instead, St. Romanus mounted the head on side of a church to ward away evil.
I’m not unaware of the significance of those gargoyles right now, circling the top of this landmark as fire spirals out of control. They can no longer protect the roof, or the spire; both have already caved. They can no longer protect the art inside, the pews, the tactical history.
But the foundations are there. The supports are made of stone. And through this, the gargoyles continue to heat up, still growling, still watching over the city. When the fire is put out, the building — and its centuries of history — may rise again. As it has so many times before.
But right now, it burns.