BL16 - Page 21

same is true of Notre-Dame. Victor
Hugo’s novel of 1831, The
Hunchback of Notre-Dame,
lodged the cathedral in French
hearts from that moment onwards.
The 1939 film version with
Charles Laughton has locked it in
hearts across the world ever since.
But, as people said at the time
of the fire, Notre-Dame was also
where you went when you were
young – with your parents or your
first girlfriend.
I did both: Once as a shy
15-year-old with my parents;
again as a hungover, exhausted
43-year-old with a girlfriend. In
neither case was I in particularly
receptive mode. But both visits
are forged on my mind for ever
because I’ve seen Notre-Dame
“in the flesh”. Even if I didn’t
realise it at the time, those two
visits stamped themselves
somewhere deep in my heart.
Buildings, once lost, can’t have
the same effect on those born after
their destruction. Few people
under 60 mourn the great tragedy
of the dozens of Christopher Wren
churches in the City of London
destroyed by the Blitz and the
1960s planning thugs.
The 1961 demolition of Euston
Arch – the splendid Doric entry to
Euston Station – was the last great
loss of a crucial national building.
There’s a suggestion it might be
rebuilt alongside the new HS2
station at Euston.
That would be a good thing,
but it will never be the same as
retaining the original. Buildings
do have a soul; once demolished,
they can never recapture it fully,
however well they are rebuilt.
Some come close, though, as long
as enough of the original stones
survive – like the great 18thcentury church in Dresden, the
Frauenkirche, destroyed by Allied
bombing in 1945. Today, it looks
immaculate, its power increased
by the blackened original stones,
studded, as dark reminders of the
bombing, among the creamy,
golden, new stones.
Notre-Dame lingers in the mind
and the soul, not just because so
many of us have been there, but
because there is some indefinable
immanence to the building.
Perhaps what you might call a
religious feeling. I’m an agnostic
Anglican, but, still, I felt
something stir deeply within me
at the torching of an ancient
Catholic cathedral. One can feel
religious without being religious,
as I was once persuaded by a
trainee monk.
“Do you feel different in
religious buildings than secular
buildings?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said, “I adore great
country houses but I feel different
inside a church.”
“Then you’re religious.”
“No. I’m an agnostic.”
“How would you describe that
feeling you feel inside a church?”
“Sombre. Quiet. Respectful.
“Religious, then,” he said.
It was a “Gotcha!” moment. He
was right. And when that peculiar
religious feeling for a building
is attacked by its destruction, one
experiences a terrible heartbreak
at the sacrilege.
Philip Larkin, an atheist, best
captured the essence of church
in his sublime poem from 1955,
“Church Going”:
A serious house on serious
earth it is
In whose blent air all our
compulsions meet
Are recognised and robed
as destinies
And that much never can
be obsolete
Since someone will forever
be surprising
A hunger in himself to be
more serious.
In our increasingly frivolous,
atheist, world, Notre-Dame was
a symbol of the serious religion
that dominated our ancestors’
lives. Some distant, muffled bell
echoes within us, chiming faintly,
whispering that our ancestors’
faith might not have been entirely
misguided, not least when they
channelled it into one of the most
sublime buildings on the planet.
Enjoy making a meal of it by
indulging your palate and peace of
mind with a delightful solo meal,
says Karen Krizanovich
ining alone can seem wrong. Unless you
have a lot on your mind, as a species
we’re supposed to eat together. It is
where we find love, family, society,
seduction, business deals and a larger selection of
food. Dining alone can bring up thoughts of Johnny
No Mates, the date who never showed or He Who
Chews With Mouth Open.
However, dîner seul needn’t be frowned on. The
French have it down to a fine art, according to the
author Roger Clarke, a former correspondent for
the Zagat Guides, who has noticed it in London
too. “There’s a long French tradition of dining
alone, which I think persists to some extent in
Soho, but it really depends on the restaurant,” he
says. “Having a steak frites and reading a novel is
usually how it’s done…”
As a teen, I forced myself to dine alone as a kind
of idiotic character-building exercise. I took a book,
but in my nervousness I held it upside down. Trying
to chew, I bit the inside of my cheek quite badly.
After that, dining with myself got better. It made
me realise that I’m actually great company. Since
I’ve got over worrying whether people are staring
at me, eating solo has become heavenly. It means I
can order what I want. Perhaps I don’t get to
sample another meal, but sometimes companions
don’t like to share. (I don’t like those people.) I
also don’t have to chit-chat, except with the staff,
which I enjoy; can get a seat almost anywhere; and
can eat and leave – or linger, contemplating the
restaurant “art”. I don’t have the chaos of group
bookings, and – best of all – I feel really grown up.
Eating on my own doesn’t mean I don’t have
friends. It means I have self-confidence, focus and
choice. Bring a book, sure, but don’t be that guy,
don’t be that girl – you know, the ones in The New
Yorker cartoons. Above all, “Stay away from your
mobile phone when dining alone,” says Markus
Hippi, host of Monocle Radio’s “The Menu”, a
programme on the global restaurant scene. “If you’re
constantly on your emails or social media, you won’t
enjoy the food as much as you should.” Hippi
reckons dining alone is a growing trend, and to be
encouraged. “People should feel less awkward about
it, and restaurants will definitely have to think of
ways of making it feel more natural in the future.”
So, come dine with me sometime? I’ll sit at this
table, and you sit over there…

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