France’s Notre Dame Cathedral to be rebuilt without modern touches

French Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot earlier said that a ‘broad consensus’ existed to reconstruct ‘identically’ the spire of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, above. (AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

France’s Notre Dame Cathedral to be rebuilt without modern touches

  • Plan includes recreating the 19th century spire designed by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc

PARIS: Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt just the way it stood before last year’s devastating fire.
No swimming pool or organic garden on the roof of the medieval Paris monument, or contemporary glass spire, or other modern twists. And to stay historically accurate, it will again be built with potentially toxic lead.
That’s the verdict reached by French President Emmanuel Macron, the cathedral’s present-day architects and the general in charge of the colossal reconstruction project for one of the world’s most treasured landmarks.
Macron, who wants Notre Dame reopened in time for the 2024 Olympics, had initially pushed for a contemporary touch atop the cathedral, prompting eye-catching proposals from architects around the world.
But Macron came around to the traditionalists’ argument, and approved reconstruction plans for the 12th century monument that were presented Thursday, according to a statement from the state agency overseeing the project.
The plan includes recreating the 19th century spire designed by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc that collapsed in the fire and “favors fidelity to the monument’s form and a restoration of the cathedral in its latest state,” the statement said.
That means how Notre Dame was on the afternoon of April 15, 2019, before the fire broke out, consumed the roof and threatened the rose-windowed twin towers that keep the cathedral upright.
More than a year later, the structure remains unstable. It took nearly a year to clear out dangerous lead residue released in the fire and to get to the point where workers could start removing scaffolding that had been in place for a previous renovation effort. Actual reconstruction won’t start until next year.
The reconstruction plan presented Thursday says the project will replicate original materials “to guarantee the authenticity, harmony and coherence of this masterpiece of Gothic art.”
Those materials included tons of lead, which is raising concerns among health and environmental groups. Lead particles released during the fire forced schools in the area to close and prompted a lengthy, painstaking cleanup effort of the cathedral’s historic neighborhood on an island in the center of Paris.


Wuhan film captures horror and humanity at coronavirus ground zero

Updated 15 September 2020

Wuhan film captures horror and humanity at coronavirus ground zero

  • “76 Days” is premiering at the Toronto film festival
  • It is the first major documentary from the disease’s original epicenter to hit theaters

LOS ANGELES: Back in February, when few Americans were aware of a distant and oddly named phenomenon called coronavirus, two Chinese filmmakers strapped on hazmat suits and embedded themselves in Wuhan’s overrun hospitals.
There, they captured harrowing footage of terrified citizens hammering on hospital doors, medics collapsing from exhaustion, and relatives begging in vain to say goodbye to infected loved ones.
Now, those images have been edited together by New York-based director Hao Wu (“People’s Republic of Desire“).
Premiering at the Toronto film festival Monday, “76 Days” — named for the duration of the central Chinese city’s draconian lockdown — is the first major documentary from the disease’s original epicenter to hit theaters.
Shot in a claustrophobic, cinema verite style — without voice-over or direct-to-camera interviews — the film relies on the intimacy of the footage of doctors and patients grappling with a terrifying new reality.
Wu first contacted the two filmmakers, one of whom is anonymous for his own safety, after witnessing China’s early lockdown first-hand during a family visit for Chinese New Year.
The footage they sent him revealed how, in the chaos of the disease’s early weeks, they were able to get remarkable access — but at considerable personal risk and suffering.
“It was a horrible, horrible shooting experience for them,” Wu told AFP. “They were fainting, it was really warm. A few times [filmmaker Weixi Chen] wanted to throw up inside [his] goggles, but he couldn’t because once you throw up, once you remove your PPE, you have to get out, you could not come back again.”
“It was like shooting in a war zone,” he added.
Wu also had a personal motivation for pursuing the project.
His grandfather died from cancer soon after the outbreak, unable to find a hospital bed as resources strained under the weight of Covid-19.
“In the beginning I was angry with the Chinese government — I really wanted to find out who’s at fault, what caused this,” said Wu.
But once the pandemic spread — with exponentially greater tragedy — to other countries like the US, the desire to place blame was replaced by a desire to document how “as human beings live through this, how we can share this experience.”


Ironically, despite Beijing’s tight controls on information, access was in some ways easier in China. Privacy and litigation concerns proved far more of a barrier to filming in New York hospitals, Wu found.
Wuhan hospitals desperately lacking personal protective equipment initially welcomed coverage that could boost donations and volunteers, he added.
The film eschews politics and blame to focus on personal stories of tragedy and bravery, hope and despair, which repeated around the world after emerging in China.
Medics tenderly hold the hands of patients locked away from their families, and are distinguishable to viewers only by the colorful doodles they scrawl upon each other’s head-to-toe hazmat suits.
But it remains unclear whether the movie will ever be seen in China, where news about the pandemic has been tightly controlled since day one — leading to many in the West, including US President Donald Trump, accusing Beijing of a vast cover-up.
“I would love to show it in China, because I feel that for the entire country with Covid, it has been such a scar on the nation’s psyche,” said Wu, who hopes it could help his ancestral home to mourn its losses.
“Obviously right now most Chinese feel proud the country has been able to control it. But it is a trauma.”