Unforgettable Notre Dame

Paris. The name held a magical feel. Associated with fashion, romance, glitz, glamour and, of late, some unfortunate terror incidents, it was a city I had seen in countless movies and magazines. When I got selected to visit it last year, I was extremely excited. I couldn’t believe my luck and kept my fingers crossed till I boarded the flight.

The airport gave me the first jolt of shock. It was enormous with no English signboards or English-speaking people. The huge metro stations, some with a dungeon-like appearance, did not use English, too. As I stood in the city of dreams, where one can feel easily lost, I was experiencing the pain of asking directions, using sign language, not knowing where to get off or on.

I may probably have enjoyed the trip had I visited when I was young but now, it was hard to navigate. In addition, the futile attempt of two young girls who tried to pick my husband’s pocket while getting into a metro sobered me a lot.

But all these thoughts evaporated once I went sight seeing after completing the conference I had come to attend. The Eiffel tower, the Seine river cruise, the Shakespeare and Company book shop, Louvre, Palace of Versailles… the list was endless. The beauty of the city came alive in all its hues. But what left me the most stunned was the Notre Dame Cathedral.

As it came into view during the cruise, I gasped. Nothing had prepared me for that sight. It rose, majestic and graceful, into the sky. As the boat slowly moved away, everyone stood mesmerised, all eyes fixed on the surreal-looking spiral. There was a hush among travellers as each struggled with the emotions evoked.

Somehow, I was reluctant to visit it the next day. It was like a dream, seen only from far. Did I want to go closer and see the imperfections and sully my imagination? Others were aghast. “Visit Paris and not visit Notre Dame? How can you? People come from all over the world to enjoy its beauty!”

Reluctantly, still confused, I agreed to go. As the famous spiral came into view, a sweet pain arose in my heart. Its frontage was filled with people trying to click pictures from all directions and poses. I soaked in, wondering if any camera could capture the wonder’s essence.

Once inside the place, it was again time for silence. Looking at the prayer halls, altars, tinted windows, sculptures of saints and solemn priests, a calmness descended on me as I realised that it was this we were all seeking in life — a quiet and deep sense of happiness, which comes only from humanitarian thinking.

This wasn’t a religious place, it was just a symbol. A place to reflect on the beauty of life and love and on the futility of hate. It doesn’t really matter what the other person follows in his beliefs, as long as he/she is humane.

I would have missed a lovely experience had I not visited Notre Dame. I know, too, that after the devastating fire, it will be renovated to stand more beautiful and mesmerising than ever.

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