Notre-Dame des larmes

Our Lady of tears

They gathered by Ile de la Cité in shock, hundreds and thousands of the faithful, the curious, tourists and locals. For believers and non-believers alike, the gut punch of seeing nearly 900 years of history going up in flames was too painful to bear.


The words in French expressed deep grief and shock. “On est meurtri,” said Stéphane Bern, France’s Monsieur Culture, moved to tears during an interview. Bruised, injured, struck down. That this monument, Notre-Dame de Paris, the most-visited site in France, possibly in the world, should be so ravaged by flames when it had survived eight centuries of history, come through bombings and world wars.

When its proud spire fell, the gasp was audible. Hands flew up to cover faces, the emotion beyond words. It was a knife to our collective heart.

The timber roof structure was called ‘la forêt’ as it was a virtual forest of hardwood beams, each representing a single tree. Work was underway to renovate this structure, known in French as la charpente. Although it had stood strong for hundreds of years, it wasn’t in that good shape and any work on it represented a certain risk. That is why last year, a dry run was held of simulated crisis with a plan in place to save its priceless treasures.

Dieu soit loué, thanks be to god, they were able to get most of the icons and paintings out in time.

So many tears fell around the world as this beautiful building was saved by the brave Paris firefighters through the night. This morning, they are saying that the cathedral’s structure is still sound. It will take decades to rebuild but I have faith in this country and its passion for history that it will be restored to its former glory.

Thanks to all who said a prayer or shed a tear for this grand old lady.

Do you have a memory, recent or far off, of Notre-Dame de Paris?

Au boulot!

Monday morning oblige, it’s time to get to work.

Déjà? After running around on Saturday and enjoying a well-earned day of rest on Sunday, getting back to work on Monday can come as a bit of a shock.

In France, as in countries all over the world, the beginning of each new week means we’re up with the birds and back to work.

It’s been a few years since I had to badge in and out of the workplace. In France, official time management systems are a legal obligation. To ensure that the employer gets a fair share of working time or to count up all the extra hours le salarié puts in?  It works both ways.

When I worked full time for a French pharmaceutical company, the ritual of badging in and out each day ensured that any extra time was added to the ‘compte epargne temps’, a sort of savings account that employees could use to add extra time for special circumstances like maternity leave, a sabbatical or even early retirement. Anyone who put in more than a 35-hour week on a regular basis had to watch out though — HR was on the case and cracked down on the workaholics who simply could not leave the office.

I knew a few. It should come as no surprise that I was not one of them.

Now that I work freelance, mostly from home, my commute to the office takes only seconds (although I can easily get sidetracked by other, more pressing tasks…). I no longer have to ‘pointer’ or badge in and out. But the numbers on the invoices at the end of the month will show me up if I slack off.

I figure it’s all about pacing. Slow and steady wins the race, like this 84-year-old florist who was featured on a France TV report last week.

Monsieur Château, however bent over, seems to be a firm believer in the French saying, ‘le travail, c’est la santé’ (work is health).

I tend to agree with him. It’s important to keep doing something worthwhile, to have a purpose in life that gets us out of bed each morning. There’s nothing wrong with retirement and leisure pursuits for those who’ve reached the appropriate age and feel they’ve had enough of the grind. But we all need a ‘raison d’être’ to keep going.

In that spirit, happy Monday to all. Now, au boulot!

Bon dimanche

Dimanche après-midi sur l’île de la Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat

Sundays are sacrosanct in France. Despite the fact that an ever-diminishing number of people attend church, the tradition of Sunday as a day of rest is still going strong.

Shops are closed, although some supermarkets and food shops are open on Sunday mornings until noon. Open-air markets do a booming trade until midday, after which everybody goes for lunch and all business activity ceases. Everyone wishes each other “Bon dimanche!”

Un dimanche – Paul Signac

In France, Sundays are for leisure pursuits and family. Aside from essential services like transport, police and hospitals, nobody works.

Sunday lunch can be an all-afternoon affair. It often ends in a long, post-prandial walk to aid digestion. Then it’s a light supper and early to bed in anticipation of the new week. Monday, not Sunday, is considered the first day of the week.

La promenade du dimanche – Carl Spitzweg

I love Sundays because they are different from the rest of the week. My North American, consumer self used to rail against the French refusal to authorize Sunday openings of stores (other than in the pre-Christmas period, when exceptions are allowed). But I’ve finally come around to the French way of thinking. The fact that the tradition is kept up means we get a true day of rest. Even if you spend it working around the house, gardening or going for a long hike, it is a needed break from the regular routine.

Un dimanche campagnard – Gabriel Dauchot

This morning the sun is shining, a small plane is droning somewhere overhead and my to-do list is on hold. I will take the time to catch up on my reading, sit outside and have a coffee while the birds chirp. I will enjoy what we call the ‘pause dominical’, the Sunday break.

What does Sunday mean to you?

En rouge et noir

Here is my song for a Saturday. Voici ma chanson pour un samedi.

The year was 1986. Haircuts were punk and shoulders were wide when I first landed in Paris. The music on the radio that year included this hit from the lovely Jeanne Mas.

How I admired her elfin look! She had something edgy but very feminine that was probably born of her Spanish and Italian origins.

Jeanne Mas wasn’t exactly a one-hit wonder but her fame faded out in the 90s. Still, this song from 1986 will always be associated with my first year in France.

What’s your favourite 80’s song?