“I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.”
—song lyrics by Cole Porter
Recognizing places I’ve visited watching a movie or a news story always evokes a memory—that is to say places at least four counties removed from Center, Texas. News reports of the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral a couple of weeks ago, while disturbing, reminded me of Paris: the city I came to love some years ago.
By the way, Cole, I was there in the fall.
History damaged or destroyed is always saddening. Seeing severely damaged Antebellum homes after the Mississippi and Louisiana hurricanes a few years ago was heartbreaking. Worse were the sites where little more than brick piers or a few timbers were the only reminders of magnificent homes that had stood since Civil War days.
I’m glad Notre Dame survived and will be restored.
Documented in hundreds of Kodachrome slides stored somewhere are Paris memories from 30-plus years ago. Things like spectacular skylines at night surrounding the Eiffel Tower, renown restaurants, music, and entertainment. And recollections of strolls along the Seine that were as romantic as I had envisioned them. But seeing Notre Dame sitting on a small island in the middle of the Seine was especially moving, particularly for an East Texas country boy who considered Paris, Texas, a pretty impressive sight.
Notre Dame was impressive, but my small-town East Texas upbringing was again exposed when I confessed that the historic structure reminded me of scenes from the movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the 1939 version with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. Maybe it was the fact that as a kid, I was addicted to the old monster movies. Granted, the story is more romanticism than horror. However, to an 8-year-old, the black-and-white Hunchback character, Quasimodo, closely enough resembled the mummy and Frankenstein that it too kept me awake at night making sure there was nothing under my bed to go bump in the night.
Walking through Notre Dame where Charles Laughton’s character had once shuffled during the filming of the classic movie was breathtaking for its history as well. Realization that construction was started more than 850 years ago puts the relatively short time of our own life span into a new perspective. With luck and a few blessings, we get short of 100 years here. And for most like me, little will be recorded other than a few memories and pictures relatives keep in a cedar chest.
But the massive cathedrals representing centuries of labor displaying furniture, paintings, sculptures, and documents represent more generations than a family-tree website can fathom. Who visited or worshipped here in the centuries it has been standing? What world events transpired during eons of time long before Columbus discovered the New World?
Placed in terms of centuries, time spent walking where figures of ancient history walked becomes a sobering experience.
Also sobering was visiting the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum established in 1793, in awe of masterpieces such as Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and Winged Victory. Also remembered is meeting the only remaining authority at that time on the works of French artist Edward Cortez in hopes of verifying a Cortez painting I owned. Looking back, it’s more than sobering to think that I found her house with just a street map by walking from the hotel and riding the subway in one of the largest cities in the world.
The adventurous trek, however, afforded me a view of Paris not many tourists see.
Speaking of seeing, where are those slides? I need them digitized … while I can still see the pictures and tell stories about how I loved Paris in the fall.
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