Home of the Gargoyles
This recent tragedy has given us all an unfortunate pause in what we perceived as normal and true: Notre Dame will always be there. It has risen our consciousness to drone-level surveillance, and it has left us gob-struck to witness the end of so much history. It’s not the end of the world Nostradamus, no, but indeed a lot of things are now lost forever. There has been very little information so far about what has been lost, a lot about what hasn’t been. Some things we’ll never know, I dare say most. Papers and documents, objects and materials, we can’t even imagine the importance of those items which inevitably helped swirl the fire ablaze. Those poor documents, so tender with age, had no chance. I don’t know all that was up there in that attic, but just think about it, what’s in your attic or storage room after ten years, twenty at the most? Think about an attic that housed some 800 years of “I don’t know what to do with this.” All the files, all the things, the miscellany, the stuff with no categorical allocation, but attic! It’s unconceivable!
The real witnesses to this shock of shocks are the gargoyles. They are the inhabitants of Notre Dame and they are the ones who have watched over Paris since those dark Middle Ages. It’s their home we screwed with. They have seen first hand Napoleon’s coronation, Haussmann’s urban renovation, Hitler’s Vichy reign, and now, Monday’s fire. They have seen this level of catastrophe in their backyard, they have seen this level of hysteria in their front, but this was a first for all of them to have seen this level of indiscretion barrel through their doors. They did not worry for themselves at first, or even later on, for they are cloaked in stone sheaths, but they did worry for they dear friend Quasimodo who indefinitely would be left without a home, and they mourned the lost relics of time irreproachable some of which they helped file away.
The gargoyles (or gryllos, or chimeras, if you wanna be more correct about it) are a curious bunch. They are full of wicked wisdom and guiltless guile. They possess a rare quality akin to a fool with a sixth sense, and they, quite obviously, know what we don’t. They goat us with their smile and they shift meaning like Marvel shape-shifters. They might be the hippest crew in town. They blow with the wind, and they adapt to the times. They are Madness redeemed, temptation recovered. They represent what we could turn into if we give into our desires, they represent how our worst nightmares can fashion our bodies and minds unrecognizable, and they represent what how madness shapes reason.
Somewhere between Madness, Reason, and Beauty, bobs Notre Dame, comfortably treading water within its secular triumvirate. Its meditative middle got swept asunder as its spire became a pyre this week, and part of Notre Dame will never be again. We can restore it, and in a couple generations, nobody will know the difference (some will), but it is that difference that makes all the difference. We cannot pretend like it didn’t happen, and if restored, we cannot bury its injury. This is not an event to be forgotten. It is a significant marker in time. It practically marks a new epoch in and of itself. This will go in textbooks. 2019 was a big year in Notre Dame’s history not for a good reason. I will keep Notre Dame in my thoughts, thankful I saw it before this fire, and thankful the gargoyles are there to keep watch.