Fire by Janine Love – Years ago I travelled to Paris twice a year for business meetings. The task to meet with an investor who demanded face to face updates on her account. Business trips have no relation to exploration and sightseeing. We flew into CDG airport, travel to a luxury hotel in a large saloon car. The following two days involved detailed explanations of the previous six months business. Our client is a woman of immense wealth, and she resented us nothing on the expense sheet. It is the way of real wealth, contra to the myth: they do not pinch on pennies. 

She has addictive  personality. And she was (no doubt still is) liked by everyone who had dealings with her: Once we made a poor decision and the value of a specific share in her portfolio fell by a six-figure sum. “What is your feeling Janine?”- “I would stay with them” “Then buy more, let us see if we can turn this around” My colleagues believed insider knowledge explained purchasing a failing companies stock. Shares rallied and she a king’s ransom return. 

Some time ago I visited Paris for a seven-day tourist break. This time travelling by Eurostar and staying at a small hotel near the Gare du Nord station. As usual travelling light: one bag packed with my Rohan’s. I do not take pictures, my choice is to write about the sights, and my feelings of people met.

My belief is if you wish to connect to a place, town or city the way walk it alone. Take your time to see every nuance and reality. When travelling with a friend the truth is: the happiness of friendship or love masks the reality of the views. And I accept there will be many who disagree: this is thought: your opinion is respected and understood.

Rereading my notes reminds me I did not enjoy the tour It was lack respect from many people which sullied the visit. I suspect if I’d worn Rolex and Chanel and stayed five stars the opinion would be different. And yes! I know this is not uncommon and women experience the same feeling when treading the solo path. In some way, I expected more from Paris.

It is easy to see two of the City’s ‘sights’ each day. I will not bore you with appraisals. Some stand out: Sacre Coeur: “calm and relaxing atmosphere, perfect for meditation” Montmartre: “walked the area all day (overpriced)” – Louvre Museum: “returned the following day”  – Eiffel Tower: “a tourist ‘must’ surprised to find the structure so imposing”.

Here are the notes on Notre Dame:

“Sitting in the square, watching a flow of visitors. My imagination takes me back to centuries past. Impossible to list names of millions of people who have entered this building of faith and hope. The sense of smell is aroused: incense, wood, and polish, the scent of Catholic worship. Stalagmite candles burn tokens or acknowledgements of remembrance, prayer and anticipation of a miracle.

Climbing the stairs to the roof: there is a feeling of privilege. I discover an ‘attic’ of amazing beauty, a weave of wooden spars holding the unknown weight of tiles. Will the bells chime? We are assured not. A man offered concern about the strength of the old and worn walkways. When we returned to ground level, he said ‘I think an angel listened to my fear I cannot think of a time I felt so safe!’ I watch an old woman pray, rosary beads in hand, an hour passed, how could a lady of such age kneel for so long?

This week the fire destroyed Notre Dame. I watched the flames and thought about my visit. I wonder if the man is still without fear and did God answer the old woman’s prayers? Did centuries of prayers and thoughts and hopes rise to heaven in the blaze?

I’m at a loss to understand why people offer a spiritual explanation for the destruction. And why would Jesus be seen in the flames? The French President vows to rebuild the monument. He need not concern himself: Many benefactors will provide funds to build a new monument of hope and peace. I cannot be the only person who sees people acting and speaking in self-interest when referring to the fire.

Why not learn lessons of strength and unity from the tragedy? I am not a religious person. I do take solace and learn lessons from scriptures. In this instance, surely there is a lesson from the resurrection of Christ? After all associations with Jesus are bound in every atom of Notre Dame.

In time the cathedral will be rebuilt, or another will stand in its place. Before the doors reopen to the public: members of state will possess a day of pomp and self-righteousness. We will see rejoicing of the devout balanced by media celebration. Soon life will be as it was before the fire. 

After the shares recovered, I asked the investor why she decided to buy more shares in what seemed to be a failing company. “One day each week I attend Mass in Notre Dame. After the service, I sit for an hour or more with my spirit and seek peace. During this time my reflection is on the fleeting moment between birth to death. Everything has an element of chance. Nothing is fixed: rich or poor – healthy or dying – happy or not all is part of life. I am wealthy, and this makes life easier. During my silence, all who are part of my wealth are thanked.”

She continued:

“The most important thing is to have faith: faith in yourself, friends, family. When I take part in the Mass, it is not because of a belief. The Mass allows us to stand before the cross in a mystical connection to the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Self-sacrifice and faith is not only a moral or spiritual lesson. It is one which could be part of many choices.”

Of course, the words are not verbatim: they are how I remembered her answer. It was not what I expected and left me silent and without reply.

Could we introduce an element of sacrifice and faith in our daily actions? And if we learn to connect spiritual lessons into everyday life, do we become more enlightened? Do not expect to understand this essay in one instant. It is best to read and interpret the different messages and see if there is a ‘wholesome’ lesson to consider.

Janine Love


  1. A lovely piece Janine.

    There has been much discussion amongst my friends about this. Many are critical of a RC Church worth $33bn seeking anything from the general public. They see a preoccupation on possessions rather than people. They see philanthropic donations, both corporate and personal, as being self serving when the money could be put to better use elsewhere.

    I have visited Notre Dame on several occasions. I also believe in Animism – that buildings and landscapes can hold memories. Notre Dame has been present since it was started in 1160. It has seen dozens of Kings and Queens, wars, peace, cultural and scientific achievement. It is part of what made us. It has value far beyond those who worship in it.

    The British connection is strong. The French have owned what is now English soil, and vice versa. King Henry 6th was crowned there, Mary Queen of Scots was married there. If all the French living in London were counted it would be the sixth largest French city. The British learn French, it is still the most visited foreign city and favoured destination for school trips. In an era of Brexit division it is a symbol of what unites us.

    Mankind is capable of greatness, and great folly. Sometimes excellence and beauty are worth pursuing in their own right. Notre Dame epitomises that. Just because we cannot do everything does not mean we cannot do something.

    I believe the test comes in the renovation. It took a hundred years to finish Notre Dame. During that time building techniques changed, craftsmen changed and improved, favoured materials will have changed. It was a building that evolved. The 18th and 19th Centuries saw major alterations.

    Do we look back now? (They did not before) Or look forwards to put a 21st Century statement to the building? I do hope that Note Dame is not “Disneyfied” by creating a facsimile of the past, but instead offers the very best of what we have to offer today.

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