French teacher and exchange students reflect on Notre Dame


Abby Givens, Print Editor

Notre-Dame, a world renowned gothic cathedral in Paris, France, was engulfed in flames on April 15. The disaster has been attributed to lack of upkeep and restoration efforts, due to lack of funding from the French government. In less than a week after the fire, nearly $1 billion was raised for its restoration. Inkwell talked with Upper School for Girls French teacher Olivier Soustelle from Lyon and the French exchange students Hermance Convert and Alixe Duchemin from Guerand about the fire and the international community’s reaction.


Inkwell: What was your initial reaction?

Soustelle: I was horrified, much like everyone, and hoped the fire would quickly get under control – which it did.

Duchemin and Convert: First we were very surprised and we didn’t realize what happened. And we were really sad because it is a very important monument for French people.


Inkwell: How do you feel about how quickly such a large sum of money was raised for the rehabilitation of Notre Dame?

Soustelle: I am not surprised given the symbol and the fact everyone is attached to this place. There is no other choice but to restore it to its former glory and, everyone with all the money in the world wants to be associated with its reconstruction, hence the large sums. The ego factor looms large and it can shock, especially given the current social malaise in France. A positive, however, is the fact a lot of people have also contributed money within their means, and that is a beautiful thing.

Duchemin and Convert: We don’t understand why people give a lot of money for a monument while there are much more important causes in the world. This proves that people would be able to give for vital needs but unfortunately they don’t do it. We think that it’s unfair but they do what they want.


Inkwell: How much do you feel like the destruction of Notre Dame affects you?

Soustelle: I am shocked and upset we could let this happen. When you live in Paris you take it for granted and yet, when a disaster of this magnitude strikes, you are suddenly reminded of how important this familiar place is to your neighborhood, your city and fellow countrymen. They will restore it, and in the process, there is likely going to be an intense debate around the state of many more beautiful churches and historical monuments in France that are also in dire need of restoration and need funding.

Duchemin and Convert: We are sad but hopefully nobody is dead in the accident. We share the sentiment of the other French people who are so disappointed by this accident because it’s a part of French culture and it’s a symbol of our country.


Inkwell: What are your opinions on the international community’s reaction to the fire?

Soustelle: The destruction at Notre Dame has shaken the French and also many more people around the world. The international reaction is not surprising because it is a true cultural icon. Notre Dame evokes Paris and is a symbol of France. Americans were moved because they have travelled to Paris and seen it, or if they have not, they have seen it in paintings or have become familiar with its silhouette popularized by Hollywood in films. Finally, others remember reading in their college years the 19th century writer Victor Hugo’s novel Notre-Dame de Paris, otherwise known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which he wrote in 1831. Hugo wrote the novel to highlight the dire straits of the cathedral that was in horrible disrepair and as a result, single-handedly helped spearhead a restoration campaign to save it almost two centuries ago.

Duchemin and Convert: We are grateful to the compassionate countries who shared messages of support. We were touched to see that the world was troubled by this fire as much as France.