Metro, News

Students across globe lament tragedy in Paris

As Notre-Dame burns, French international students at U. mourn fire in heart of Paris

Metro Editor
Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Historic Parisian monument erupted in flames yesterday, destroying the cathedral’s spire and two-thirds of the roof. Students in Paris and on College Hill reacted to the tragic event and reflected on the state of affairs in Paris.

As flames marred the historic and renowned Notre-Dame Cathedral Monday, causing its iconic spire to collapse, University students in Paris and on College Hill watched the destruction unfold with sorrow and disbelief.

Xinyue Qian ’20, who is spending a semester studying in Paris, walked outside of her dorm room around 7:30 p.m. Paris time to a sky choked with smoke.

“It was nearly sunset, and at first you see the smoke, you can see it everywhere in Paris,” Qian said of that moment. “And you see in front of the Notre-Dame — I don’t know how to describe it, but the color (was) very surreal.” She watched the building crumble alongside hordes of distraught onlookers on the riverbanks. “People would exclaim when there was a sudden burst of fire or a sudden part fell off.”

Naomy Pedroza ’20, another student studying abroad in Paris, watched the tragic event on TV with her host family.

“Watching the smoke from afar, I was in utter shock — I was watching history disappear before my very eyes,” she wrote in an email to The Herald. “My host family, third-generation Parisians, couldn’t believe it, tearing up as we watched live news coverage on the TV.”

To many French international students studying at the University, the 856-year-old church located in the heart of Paris represents home.

“The Notre-Dame, it’s a religious building, but it’s symbolism was way beyond religion,” said Dorian Arber Kornowski ’22, a French international student. “It was like the pillar of France, just gone. Well, not gone but severely damaged.”

“This is our treasure,” said Dorian Charpentier ’20, a French international student and president of the French House. “This is not about a religious monument so much it is as our collective history.”

To Eugénie Boury ’20, who is Catholic, the fire ravaged what had been an important part of her childhood.

“It’s kind of the heart of Catholic Paris,” Boury said. “I went to a Catholic middle and high school, and we would have our opening, Christmas and closing masses at Notre-Dame.” France is about two-thirds Christian,  “so culturally speaking, it’s just been a very big part of history,” Boury said.

The fire, which took about five hours and 500 firefighters to extinguish, caused international anguish and spurred leaders from across the globe to voice their support for France, the New York Times reported. By the end of the fight, the church’s main structure and two towers were preserved, but two-thirds of the roof was ruined.

No one was killed in the fire, of which the cause is not currently known, the New York Times reported.

The destruction of the beloved national monument comes in a moment of unrest for the country, with the “Yellow Vest” movement protesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s policies and demanding increased social and economic equality.

“It’s just really a blow when we’re down already,” Boury said, referencing the tension plaguing the city. “It feels like an ominous sign.”

Macron pledged to rebuild the church with fundraising efforts that are set to begin Tuesday, USA Today reported. In an address Monday night, Macron spoke of the cathedral’s gravity and cultural importance: “It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, even those who’ve never come.”

Pedroza has seen the deep connection between Parisians and the monument first-hand. Just last week, she approached a stranger as part of a photo project and asked about her favorite spot in Paris. After pausing to think, the woman chose the back of the Notre-Dame. She told Pedroza that it was “one of the world’s most beautiful and revered structures,” and sitting in the garden in the back, when the tourists visit the front, is like a little secret.

“I can’t help but thinking about this woman right now,” Pedroza wrote. “Her favorite spot in Paris is gone.”

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