By CHRISTINA ANDRONESCU
Luckily for the tourism industry, sightseeing will never lose its allure. The instant you first catch sight of the Notre Dame Cathedral, glimpse the Great Pyramid of Giza, see the sprawling New York City skyline, meet the gaze of the Mona Lisa or look up to the Northern Lights, there is always a single arresting moment of clarity when there is simply you, it, and everything you imagined it to be. Surely disappointment is inevitable and not all legendary landmarks live up to grand expectations, but such pillars of world heritage possess a timeless quality that when the facade is shattered, it tears at our own deep fear of impermanence, of being washed away by the tide of time.
On April 15th, the facade of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris shattered when a sweeping blaze devastated the 850-year-old church, collapsing its iconic spire and consuming its wooden roof. But before the smoke even cleared, donations for the “heart of Paris” poured in from around the world. Nearly $1 billion was raised through the spectacle of international corporations, altruistic billionaires, and France’s wealthiest families attempting to outdo one another in their exorbitant pledges, igniting resentment and protest from the France’s populist Yellow Vest movement.
Spreading like spark in a wooden attic, the national debate surrounding the Yellow Vest movement has consumed Paris as the riots of last autumn over rising gas prices have morphed into the larger collective outcry of ordinary French citizens over declining living standards. April 20th marked the movement’s twenty-third demonstration, wherein hundreds were arrested and dozens were injured as over 9,000 protesters rallied in the French capital, according to the French Ministry of the Interior. Among the dissenters, Ingrid Levavasseur, an informal leader of the Yellow Vests, posits that the “growing anger” is fueled by “the inertia of big corporations over social misery while they are proving able to mobilize a crazy amount of dough overnight for Notre-Dame.” Philippe Martinez, head of France’s CGT workers union, similarly argues that “if they are able to give tens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, then they should stop telling us that there is no money to counter social inequality.” Evidently, in the aftermath of the tragic Notre Dame fire, another firestorm has been born—though this one reaches far beyond the cathedral’s stone walls.
France’s destructive blaze has cast the world’s fleeting interest or outright ignorance towards similar disasters in sharp, unflattering relief. Where Notre Dame received nearly $1 billion in donations from the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Chanel, and Apple, the irretrievably incinerated National Museum of Brazil has received mere crumbs in comparison. Early last September, a catastrophic fire tore through the 200-year-old building and its 20 million artifact collection; the Rio de Janeiro institute lost up to 90 percent of its priceless collections, though President Michel Temer has described the losses as “incalculable to Brazil.” As of April, approximately $280,000 has been raised for the reconstruction of the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. The director of the national museum, Alexander Kellner, commented the following in the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire: “We are very happy for the extremely positive reaction of French society and we hope that following this example Brazilian businesses and millionaires will start to send us their donations…With a million reais ($255,000) more, we can solve a lot of problems, it would help us breathe, because for now it is artificial respiration.” This desperate plea for just a fraction of aid directed towards France reveals the startling disparity in which the world’s rich and powerful extend their generosity. When an icon of Western civilization burns down, the million dollar checks write themselves; but when tragedy strikes elsewhere—where tourists do not flocks by the millions each year—the checks and promises of aid strangely vanish.
On the subject of promises of aid, the Notre Dame fire elicited an immediate response from President Trump, who offered “assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization” and even rung the Vatican hotline to the Pope himself to discuss such arrangements. However, this quick call-to-action has inspired indignation towards the “America First” president and his administration—especially in consideration of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, continuous lack of clean water in Flint, and recent arson of three African-American churches in Louisiana.
Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that killed nearly 3,000 people and left all 3.4 million residents powerless and thousands homeless, made landfall on September 20th of 2017. Over a year later, tens of thousands Puerto Ricans still live under tarps designed as temporary housing as a result of the current administration dragging its feet in providing comprehensive disaster relief.
Flint, Michigan, characterized by a largely African American community, has been stricken by lead-laden drinking water for the past five years, despite continued efforts to seek relief and comprehensive aid from an aloof administration.
In Louisiana, three Baptist churches serving predominantly African American congregations burned down in a heinous case of arson and hate crimes. While President Trump and Vice President Pence eagerly offered their thoughts and prayers to Notre Dame, neither man addressed the three maliciously incinerated American churches despite both tragedies unfolding concurrently. It was the efforts of social media that raised $1 million for the three devastated churches by directing the public towards the GoFundMe page set up for the cause.
But what does all this mean in the end? Logically, it makes sense that a fixture as highly-visited and world-renowned as the Notre Dame Cathedral would draw more attention should disaster strike—but this does not excuse apathy or negligence towards the “lesser” tragedies that spend less time in the news cycle or on the conscience of the worldwide audience. Once the smokes clears and the tears dry, it is the duty of not only those in power, but of those ordinary individuals endowed with the power of a voice, to beat back the devouring flame of indifference and injustice.
Lee este artículo en español aquí: https://laplaza.press/2019/06/01/nuestra-mujer-en-llamas-tragedias-esparcidas-por-todo-el-mundo/