Column: It is spring in Paris, and there is hope

  • In this image made available on Tuesday April 16, 2019 flames and smoke rise from the blaze at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. An inferno that raged through Notre Dame Cathedral for more than 12 hours destroyed its spire and its roof but spared its twin medieval bell towers, and a frantic rescue effort saved the monument's "most precious treasures," including the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus, officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thierry Mallet)

  • Workers fix a net to cover one of the iconic stained glass windows of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Sunday, April 21, 2019. The fire that engulfed Notre Dame during Holy Week forced worshippers to find other places to attend Easter services, and the Paris diocese invited them to join Sunday's Mass at the grandiose Saint-Eustache Church on the Right Bank of the Seine River. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

  • Mary Otto. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 4/27/2019 11:00:17 PM

On the recent April break here in Vermont, a grandson and his dad went skiing — spring skiing. I get that this is different, with brilliant sun and softer snow, but I myself am over it all. Winter’s joys and its cozy solitude have lost their appeal.

Finally the snow has melted and robins flock to bare fields. I scour the roadside on my walks for the first sight of the crimson trillium I know are there. It won’t be long now. I dream of pansies on the front steps and of morning coffee on the patio.

My yearnings, though, are suddenly interrupted by an urgent message from one of my daughters saying that Paris’s historic Notre Dame Cathedral is on fire. Can it be? Later, the evening news shows the fall of its flaming tower, as Parisians gather nearby, fearful for their icon of stability. That it is likely an accident occurring during renovation and not terrorism is a relief, though hardly a comfort, as the destruction is displayed across the front pages of newspapers. The reality is stark.

Still, there are shreds of hope here. Not only are people uniting outside on the streets to pray and console one another, but around the world, many others join in wishing aloud for reconstruction and resurrection of the UNESCO World Heritage Site we value as well. French billionaires are offering millions of euros to help rebuild, which is heartening; it’s a use of money that says we humans can exert influences for good with our wealth.

The fact that it is spring in Paris must also make a degree of difference as the days after the fire go on. With the weather changing around me, I am reminded of a family trip to France a few years ago at this very season. Paris is intact in my photos, thereby giving me a glimpse of a possible future. The April of our visit was typical: Flowers bloomed wildly in the manicured Luxembourg Gardens and women wearing chic sandals and summery scarves walked with confidence along the boulevards. Their joie de vivre was contagious and my daughters and I purchased our own gorgeous French scarves. I’ve just set mine out to wear the next time I have a chance, in remembrance and solidarity.

In so many ways, Paris, and France in general, held a bit of magic for all of us. We took in history — Chartres, Mont-Saint-Michel, the battlefields of Normandy — and we were drawn into so much beauty. Monet’s Giverny was magnificent on the warm, sunny day we walked in his gardens and saw the water lilies in their pond. We ate bread and cheese for lunch and had a favorite patisserie in Paris just down the street from our apartment.

Today, ever so lightly, the magic lingers. As I’ve looked back over the photos, I find that my favorite is of a 14-year-old granddaughter standing boldly in a pink and white striped shirt on the crowded plaza in front of Notre Dame. Her broad smile says, “I’m here! This place is important and I’ll be back.” She will, probably speaking French by the time she arrives. Behind her, a daughter and her husband with their young son study the elaborate carvings on the cathedral doors.

It’s all a mess now, but not forever. There is hope if we as a world can come together around something that matters, during these early days of spring.

Mary K. Otto lives in Norwich.

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