My first thought as news broke of the catastrophic fires raging in Notre-Dame Cathedral yesterday was, ‘I need to find the pictures of my trip to France.’
As the 856-year-old church creaked and crumbled, and smoke billowed over the French capital where Parisians had gathered to sing hymns, watching their beloved landmark burn in horror, my attention turned to the true victim of this tragedy: me, an American woman with an Instagram account.
People don’t understand how much pressure there is as an American to hijack global heartbreak and personalize it. As a social media user, it’s imperative that in such dark times for humanity, you let everyone know you have a connection to this particular disaster, no matter how obscure or far removed in the past.
In fact, it was realizing I had no pictures of Paris after the 2015 terror attacks that inspired my European tour. I mean, sure I saw Superficial Self-Promotion open before Eagles of Death Metal three weeks before — but the fact that I couldn’t post any pictures of me sitting in a French café eating a baguette on the gram in solidarité was absolutely mortifying.
Thanks to that trip, I was able to post about how I was in Brussels a mere 95 days before the bombings with a picture of me in line at a waffle truck. I would have been in St. Tropez just one month before the horrific Nice attack (they’re close enough), but the hotel was being rude about me demanding to stay for free, so I ended up in Dubai, (long story).
But this isn’t about me and how I ended up on a private jet to Dubai. This is about my feelings about Notre-Dame.
I was brought to my knees in humility as flames licked the walls of the magnificent building that took nearly two centuries to build by thousands of tradesmen and has stood through great wars, revolutions and crusades, a building filled with irreplaceable, historical artifacts that put one’s puny life in perspective. My heart is literally breaking for the millions of people who won’t be able to get their picture of those ugly flying monkeys.
Humbled by the gravity of what is lost, I am inspired to make this moment about me because in this context, what could be more meaningful than my personal experience?
In the shadow of Notre-Dame, I first kissed the man who would become the dude that suggested I become a travel blogger. This morning, three years later, looking at my latest photo shoot and as my cat slept, I decided to post a #nomakeup selfie on Instagram. Then, Notre-Dame burned.
When the iconic spire collapsed into the cathedral it reminded me of Notre-Dame’s true purpose: to serve as a symbol that I visited France one time.
I typed out and deleted the tweet I wanted to send, knowing how important nailing the mood was. Should I highlight the fact I used to sketch it for my Art History course at the Sorbonne? Which beautiful French phrase is the most poignant to reappropriate? Was it better to say ‘my heart is breaking’, or instead deploy the ‘heartbreak’ emoji? Such decisions kept me up all night.
Hopefully, the most Instagrammable parts of Notre-Dame will survive — the two bell towers and the three rose windows — so that young American women will rise phoenix-like from the ashes to claim the likes and thirsty comments they are so owed.
Paris, je t’aime!