Our First Ladies
OUR LADY ON FIRE
Fire scares me. A few years ago, my own building caught fire in the machine shop on the ground level. I had no idea the fire had broken out until a neighbor phoned and said, “There is smoke in your stairwell. Leave now.”
We did, without taking anything but our phones and coats, held our noses as we walked carefully down the stairwell in total darkness, filled with the lethal fumes. My friend slipped and hurt herself slightly, but we just kept going. When we landed out on the street, we could see the flames were coming from the windows and the smoke was going up past my windows. Nothing has ever frightened me as much. I saw my entire life going up in smoke with the flames, not just the physical apartment and my possessions…but my life along with it.
Watching Notre Dame go up in smoke wasn’t quite as personal as watching my own home go up in flames, but the centuries-old cathedral located at ground zero…literally considered the center of all of France…is also the heart of Paris and therefore the heart of all Parisians. It’s not just a church, but a beacon for all religions…a place we could all go to satisfy our spiritual selves.
Like most everyone I know who has spent any time in Paris, I have a zillion photos of Her. You can [could] see her spire from just about anywhere in the city. In one of our House Hunters International episodes, the spire that fell so dramatically in the fire Monday was practically in our faces from the apartment window.
Once, many years ago, I and a thousand others watched the 1956 movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (with Gina Lollobrigida and Anthony Quinn) on an inflatable screen literally on the “parvis” (courtyard) with “Our Lady” looming in the background — a spectacular and memorable occasion, offered up as a series of movies by moonlight by the Forum des Images that takes place every August. On another such occasion in 2017, in honor of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Cathedral was illuminated, in a breathtaking light show they titled “Dame de Coeur” (Queen of Hearts). (Read more about that event)
The heartfelt wishes have poured in from all over the world. Our Facebook pages were overwhelmed with condolences, as were our inboxes, with messages from many of you readers. With the pain of watching the iconic spire topple down over and over again on TV, it irks me in the midst of the woes that our U.S. President couldn’t wait to Tweet to tell the firefighters how to put it out, as if he’s the expert on firefighting! CNBC (and a host of other media) ran an article touting its inappropriateness along with a video of his speech:
Donald J. Trump…
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
In retort, the article quoted Wayne McPartland, a retired New York City Fire Department battalion chief: “If you hit that with tons of water from above, that’s going to collapse the entire structure and make the situation worse. If you miss, you might hit civilians in the street.”
Guess it’s a good thing no one puts much credence into his “sage” advice.
Margo Lestz posted in her blog yesterday, “The Curious Rambler,” some fascinating historical tidbits — that the author, Victor Hugo, wrote of a fire in his novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” — (translated into English) the following words:
“All eyes were raised to the top of the church. They beheld there an extraordinary sight. On the crest of the highest gallery, higher than the central rose window, there was a great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks, a vast, disordered, and furious flame, a tongue of which was borne into the smoke by the wind, from time to time…
Above the flame, the enormous towers, two sides of each of which were visible in sharp outline, the one wholly black, the other wholly red, seemed still more vast with all the immensity of the shadow which they cast even to the sky.
Their innumerable sculptures of demons and dragons assumed a lugubrious aspect. The restless light of the flame made them move to the eye. There were griffins which had the air of laughing, gargoyles which one fancied one heard yelping, salamanders which puffed at the fire, tarasques* which sneezed in the smoke…”
* The Tarasque is a fearsome legendary dragon-like mythological hybrid from Provence, in southern France, tamed in a story about Saint Martha. (Wikipedia.org)
President Emmanuel Macron vows to start an aggressive reconstruction campaign taking no more than five years. In an address yesterday to the nation, he said that Notre Dame will be rebuilt “more beautiful than ever. We can do it and we will come together.”
For those who wish to make a donation for its rebuild, The Fondation du Patrimoine, a French heritage organization, has already launched a “national fundraising campaign” for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame (as have many others). No fees will be charged and all donations will be issued with a tax receipt.
I donated. You should, too.
BECOMING (An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama)
In complete contrast to the devastating destruction of Notre Dame, came the enlightening words of another lady of ours — former First Lady, Michelle Obama. She spoke last night at the AccorHotels Arena, filling the stadium to capacity — all 20,300 seats! We had gotten our tickets months ago; minutes after they went on sale. My excitement to see and hear her in person, even if in a venue as large as that, was overwhelming. The crowd was just as enthusiastic, filing into the stadium with the sense that something very special was going to happen.
The spectators were mostly women with a good percentage being people of color…not surprising. Before the illustrious woman (who we have sorely missed no longer being in the White House) came on stage, photos and videos played on the big screens to warm us up with images from her life, getting us even more excited for the final moment when she would grace us with her presence. Then, the lights went down and a few select individuals came into a spotlight on the stage, one by one. Each introduced himself/herself as “I am so and so. This is what I do in life and I am becoming…whatever”…in so many words, making us all feel that even though these people where “ordinary,” from different walks of life, were still special in their own way, and to be respected.
When Michelle Obama was introduced by the moderator, Isha Sesay, the crowd went nuts. My eyes welled up with tears. There she was, the most inspiring woman in the world, on the stage in Paris, ready to have “an intimate conversation” with all of us. Isha Sesay, the interviewer, is a British journalist who anchored for CNN, but left the network in 2018 to support a girls education project called “Women Everywhere Can Lead.” She seemed like the perfect candidate to get up-front and up-close with the Past First Lady.
Michelle did not disappoint. Never have I ever been so inspired by anyone as I was last night listening to this brilliant woman’s words of wisdom and encouragement. For almost two hours she talked about her personal life, her experiences growing up, her family and friends, attending a special high-school, the challenges of getting into Princeton and Harvard and then meeting Barack, plus what it was like to raise a family in the White House. It’s all in the book, which I am reading now, hanging on to every word, but it’s not the same as hearing it out of her mouth, in her voice.
Her messages were loud and clear:
“When women and girls rise, their communities and their countries rise with them.”
“There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices, and persistence.”
“We’ve got a responsibility to live up to the legacy of those who came before us by doing all that we can to help those who come after us.”
“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
“When they go low, we go high.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of poignant messages she had to offer. In just two hours she taught us how to work hard to achieve our goals and to do that with confidence and determination. She taught us how to have more respect for ourselves and not let others put us down. She taught us to appreciate our families and love for one another. She taught us that none of it comes easy and we can’t let naysayers stand in our way. She taught us that we cannot build walls, but bridges, by sharing our stories with one another.
In turn, we learned that Michelle is human, just like us. We learned that her marriage with Barack is loving, but has strengthened with an element of hard work. We learned that she is the messenger for women around the world to rise to the occasion and take what is due to them. We learned that she has a heart bigger than the stadium and it’s to that heart we responded.
Tonight Ms. Obama is talking in Amsterdam at the Ziggo Dome. Friday night, May 3rd, she’ll be in Montreal; the next day…in Toronto. The weekend after that, she’ll be in Fort Lauderdale and then, Atlanta, ending the tour on May 12th in Nashville. I urge all of you to do whatever you can to get tickets to see and hear her. I promise, she will not disappoint.
On December 12th, 2018, the Washington Post reported that “Becoming” had hit the three million mark in sales, “one of the fastest-selling nonfiction titles ever and promises to become one of the best-selling political memoirs of all time.” At that time, it had been published in 33 languages and was in its sixth printing. Funny fact: “Becoming” sold more copies in its first week than Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” did in 32 years! My guess it’s going to out-perform just about any book on the market today.
If you can’t get a ticket to see Michelle Obama live, then by all means, read “Becoming.” You will be enlightened, inspired and encouraged, just as we were.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Erica to see Michelle Obama)
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