Photographie Marin Driguez

young parisians reflect on the notre-dame fire

"400 million in donations to rebuild it — where’s it coming from?! Are they printing new money? There are people starving — fuck, give them the money!"

by Matthieu Foucher
18 April 2019, 2:42pm

Photographie Marin Driguez

This article originally appeared on i-D FR.

In the late afternoon hours of Monday, April 15, a suspicious white flame began to rise from the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris, attracting the attention of many a tourist and passerby. The fire spread quickly through social media: all over the planet, people began to speculate, mourn and share.

Within just a few hours, all of France was grieving, and, against a backdrop of patriotic and religious high mass, the lofty statements began rolling out. The president quickly vowed Notre-Dame would be rebuilt, while a TV presenter dubbed the cathedral “a close relative of all the French people.” Meanwhile, France’s richest companies, surely smelling a marketing windfall, began trying to outdo each other with promises of donations. “We are a people who build; we have so much to reconstruct,” declared Emmanuel Macron the next day in his “address to the nation,” urging the country to come together and forget the riots of recent months (not to mention other fires). And indeed, at a moment when anger over inequality abounds, when young people are mobilising for the Earth and Catholics are rejecting the Church in the wake of scandals, is this kind of anguish truly shared by all?

We went around the streets of Paris to ask a variety of people how they felt about the Notre-Dame fire — straight up.

Axel, 21, student at Paris’ School of Decorative Arts


What was your reaction when you heard the news about the Notre-Dame fire?
I got the news in a text. I ran to the cathedral to see for myself, but the roof had already burned. This is a weird thing to say, but it was beautiful — people will remember it as an incredible sight. Cathedrals have always been such a big subject in painting; any painter would want to paint Notre-Dame on fire. At least, I would.

Does the loss of this building represent something for you?
I’m sad, but fires are a fact of life. Plenty of buildings have been burned and rebuilt over the course of history. When you think about it, we only have part of the Louvre — and that doesn’t stop anyone from marvelling at it.

What do you think of people's but also the press' reactions?
The grief is a bit much. It’s a material thing, and these days, we need to learn to detach from material things. In the context of mankind, Notre-Dame is significant, but this fire in 2019 is not.

Many companies have announced they’ll donate millions of euros to rebuild Notre-Dame; what are your thoughts on that?
One could question the legitimacy of the 200 million euros from LVMH.

Florine, 23, history student at Paris’ National School of Charters


What was your reaction when you heard the news?
I was kind of dumbstruck. It’s a feeling that grabs you from the guts. You feel powerless — we saw that the cathedral was on fire, and we couldn’t do anything.

Did you find the fire symbolic in any way?
I’m a Catholic and I’m a believer. It’s very tempting to see a metaphor here: plenty of scandals have been rocking the church, particularly the highest levels of the clergy. So to see a church burning from its roof — well, it’s pretty striking, and even though we’re not in the Middle Ages anymore, it’s still easy to look at this as a picture of the Church as a suffering institution.

What do you think of the reactions you’re seeing around you?
I’ve been amazed: since it’s a religious monument, and in France our relationship to religion is fundamentally entwined with secularism, I thought our reaction would be more modest. It’s good to see that people care about our heritage, which so often gets lost in the shuffle.

Do you think young people don’t care enough about history?
I do. Total has announced they’re going to give lots of money to the reconstruction efforts, and our immediate reaction is — well, it would have been great if they’d given money to other causes. But ultimately, culture is what our society is built on. Short-term, we might think we need our money for other things, but long-term, if you want society to endure and prosper, you have to take care of the past to ensure the future.

Adam, 17, high-school student in Paris’ 19th arrondissement


How did you react when you heard the news?
At first I was shocked. It’s been there 700 years, it’s a historic building and it’s sad for everyone who loves Notre-Dame. But personally, I don’t care much about Notre-Dame. It’s not something that’s going to affect my life.

What does the loss of the building represent for you?
I’m a Muslim, and we have to respect other religions. So I respect the Christians who are sad about this. If Mecca were burning I’d really be upset.

What do you think of the reactions you’re seeing around you?
I think some people are overdoing it a bit; I see some hypocrisy. On Snapchat, I’ve seen so many stories go by -- there's no need to so be over-the-top about it. It wasn’t an attack; very few people were hurt, nobody died, everything’s OK.

Dieynabou, 34, artistic director


How did you feel when you heard the news?
I was shocked and sad; for me it was as intense as if it had been an attack.

What does it mean to you, to see Notre-Dame burn?
I’m a practicing Muslim, but I’m French, so for me this is first and foremost about history and heritage. So to see this sort of building burn — it hurts. I remember my first visit there when I was in Year 6, I was awed by mankind’s ability to build something so beautiful. It goes beyond any sort of institutionalised worship.

Some companies have pledged to donate hundreds of millions of Euros to rebuild Notre-Dame. What are your thoughts on that?
I feel some discomfort: if we can spare 100 million Euros for a building, we can spare it for other causes. But making those sorts of comparisons really won’t help anything.

Jonathan, 21, artist from Israel, Germany and Paris


What were your feelings when you heard the news?
I thought it was sad but beautiful. It was an important lesson: Nothing lasts forever –– everything comes to an end. We’re watching the beginning of a new modernity; religion and the Church don’t have the same influence they did before, and it’s always a good thing when white men lose their power.

From a spiritual point of view, does this mean anything to you?
I saw the fire with my own eyes; it was really beautiful, as though Satan was speaking to us humans to say “The end of your world is coming!” I identify as queer or gay; I’m a spiritual person, and I believe in the same light that burned the cathedral. I think we need to burn all churches and get rid of all organised religions. We need to reconnect with spirituality, to understand that all human beings are equal so that we can finally all accept one another.

What do you think of the reactions on social media and the press?
In Muslim countries, when ISIS came into power, they destroyed Egyptian and religious places that were clearly more important, and nobody cared. Now this happens in Paris and the whole world feels invested; that makes me cynical. If you ask me, it’s crazy that in just a few hours, people have given more than 450 million euros for a little fucking church! We have plenty of other problems affecting actual human lives.

Awa, 21, master’s degree student in international politics in Toulon


How did you react when you heard the news?
I was shocked — immediately my mind went to, who did this and why? How does a fire start from the roof? Who smokes a cigarette on the roof of Notre-Dame? Nobody. Also, I’m crazy about culture, heritage and history. The presence of Notre-Dame represents all kinds of things: where we came from, where we’re going. France has so much of that, so many buildings that have this history, and we don’t really even look at them anymore. Does one of them really have to catch fire for us to remember they exist?

From a spiritual point of view, does this mean anything to you?
I believe in God, I’m a deist, but I see religion as an abomination. Something sacred has been put into man’s hands, but we perverted it as soon as we touched it: religion is nothing but misogyny, racism and war. For me, this symbolises that no religion is exempt from attacks. But burning something doesn’t serve any purpose.

What do you think of some of the other reactions you’ve been seeing?
You hear people say “It’s a crime against religion, it’s a crime against us…” It’s just a crime, period. You don't need to talk about whom it was against. Doesn’t matter where you came from, who you are; it’s abominable what happened and that’s all. Nobody gives a shit about your “agenda”.

And billionaires’ donations to rebuild Notre-Dame? What do you think about that?
Now that I can’t get over. Just look at Paris all around us! 400 million all of a sudden — where’s it coming from?! Are they printing new money? There are people starving — fuck, give them the money!


Text: Matthieu Foucher

Photography: Marin Driguez

This article originally appeared on i-D FR.

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