When the first fire alarm at Notre Dame Cathedral went off at 6:20 p.m., April 15, Paris time, French Consul General Louis de Corail was huddled with France’s eight honorary consuls in a meeting shortly after noon at the Atlanta consulate in Buckhead.
The honorary consuls represented cities throughout the Southeast and were in Atlanta for their annual gathering. Their focus was on their common consular affairs, including general concerns related to security precautions, natural disasters and scholarships for the children of French citizens living in the region.
It wasn’t until a little more than 20 minutes later that their cellphones alerted them to the second fire alarm which had gone off at Notre Dame, announcing the epic conflagration taking place 4,370-plus miles away.
Mr. de Corail was at a rare loss of words when he first thought to express his feelings to Global Atlanta upon immediately learning that France’s most cherished monument was engulfed in flames. He spoke of the mutual sense of shock and astonishment that gripped all of them at the meeting.
Mr. Corail recalled his immediate reaction was to call the French embassy in Washington, he told Global Atlanta during an interview at the Millennium Gate Museum at Atlantic Station with the 12-by-18 foot tricolor flag waving overhead Tuesday afternoon.
Once he learned that CNN’s Jake Tapper was scheduled to speak with Ambassador Gérard Araud as the fire devastated the cathedral, there was little else to be done.
The televised images of flames pouring through the roof of the cathedral took him back to his bedroom in his family’s apartment on the Île de Saint Louis where he grew up.
From there he could look across the Saint Louis bridge that crossed over the Seine to the Île de la Cite where the back of Notre Dame had stood for what he thought at the time was probably forever. As a boy he had sung in the Ile de Saint Louis’s boys choir and occasionally they were called upon to sing at the cathedral.
Before his diplomatic career, which has taken him to many corners of the world, Mr. de Corail had been a graduate assistant in the French department at New York University and was familiar with the city.
Despite the difference in the circumstances of the fire at Notre Dame and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, which in each case was marked with billowing smoke and flames, he said both were lodged in his mind as horrific events.
The cathedral spire’s crash through the stone vaulting into the nave was not only devastating to the cathedral but made a direct hit on the hearts of many French citizens and the many millions of people around the world who have visited the cathedral.
For Mr. de Corail one of the unexpected surprises of the fire has been the reaction of people around the world who have expressed their distress as well as their personal connection to the cathedral.
Among them is Rodney Cook Jr. president of the National Monuments Foundation, who is responsible for the Millennium Gate Museum and who had the enormous French flag hung from its arch as a tribute to Notre Dame.
The monument, which opened in 2008 and celebrates peaceful accomplishment with special attention to Georgia’s history and people, is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Arch of Titus in Rome. The French flag, again at Mr. Cook’s direction, was mounted at the monument in 2015 following the terror attacks in Paris.
While the monument’s purpose is to engender peaceful accomplishment, Mr. de Corail declined to discuss whether the destruction to Notre Dame would calm the intense political controversies that have plagued France in recent months.
“This kind of event makes us pause and brings us together. We sense this void inside us,” he said. “But it’s beyond my scope to forecast what its impact will be. All the political parties, however, have suspended their campaigns.”
Global Atlanta encourages readers to send photos of their visits to Notre Dame Cathedral to firstname.lastname@example.org for future publication on a Global Atlanta webpage in support of the restoration.