The Rose Window at Notre Dame
Fifty-three years ago this month my eldest son Max was about to turn five. His mother and I were students in London. We decided to celebrate by taking our little family to Paris. Using Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day, we found a little hotel on the Ile St. Louis, right in the middle of the Seine. A foot bridge connected our little island with the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame Cathedral. We set out to explore Paris.
Paris was supposed to be a cold-hearted, brittle city – but not for a couple with three little kids. The Parisians loved it that we had come with children, and they were unfailingly kind and generous. In the Luxembourg Gardens we bought a ticket on a carousel for Max, explaining that “c’est son anniversaire,” and the carousel went round and round and round and round. I said to the operator, “C’est tres longue, n’est-ce pas?” He looked at me and winked. “Anniversaire,” he said. “Anniversaire.”
Our baby daughter, not yet one, wore a white bunting bag with a hood and travelled in a stroller. Her tiny face was full of joy, her little eyes sparkled. One Parisienne caught sight of her, stopped cold on the sidewalk, and actually started to tremble. “C’est adorable, ca!” she said. “C’est adorable, ca!”
At one point I was carrying the baby in my arms. She was facing backward, looking over my shoulder, and I heard “Cu-cu! Cu-cu! Cu-cu-cu-cu!” I turned and found myself looking into the face of a petite Parisienne, an elderly woman dressed all in black, with a black shawl, carrying a wicker panier, and beaming at my daughter.
“Quelle age a-t-elle, m’sieu?” she asked
“Dix ans,” I said. Ten years.
“Non, non, dix mois!” she laughed. “Vous etes anglais, m’sieu?”
“Non, Canadien,” I replied.
“Canadian!” she cried. “Where in Canada? I’m from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.”
Ah, Paris! This glorious, magical city simply opened its arms to “la petite famille,” as they called us. But what I am crying about tonight was a moment in Notre Dame Cathedral, when I heard the baby cooing and cooing. I looked down, and saw her little arms fanning the air, her face rapturous, transfixed by the beauty of what she was looking at. I followed her gaze and saw the great rose window of Notre Dame exploding with light and colour as the sun streamed through it. A nun standing nearby looked at the baby, looked at the rose window, looked at me and put her hands together in a fleeting prayer.
When I saw that window tonight on television, picked out against the flames, it simply broke my heart.