On New Year’s Day, I began construction on the rose window of Notre Dame. No one had asked me, no one had sought out my expertise, and still I sat on my kitchen floor with circles of various sizes, oatmeal silo, vanilla bottle, lid from a jar of dirt that came from Kurt Vonnegut’s yard. I cut some twine– what a great material– and tied loops to make a compass, which I wasn’t able to operate well. I got ahead of myself, didn’t keep the twine tight.
I worked from the rose window I painted at our family reunion in small town Nebraska. A copy of a copy. Well, I’d already simplified it. And stuck out like a sore thumb weirdo by painting a medieval religious treasure, rather than “Welcome” and a jaunty succulent.
With my x-acto knife, I spent quality time cutting each section where glass should go. Then piece by piece, cutting and setting and gluing cellophane in each panel.
If I say that the cardboard Notre Dame will be in the Mardi Gras parade this year, perhaps I seem less scary.
Friends came over a few days later, and they built the side towers, painted them gray with tempera, did all the structural calculating I’m incapable of, so the thing will stand up. Advised me how to build the spire, which we will include, as ours is a sort of City of God Notre Dame, not a historical representation.
I cut up a foam boulder that used to say 98.9 The Rock, and made gargoyles, which are stone snowmen, basically.
I fell in love with them.
Once I had the frontage of Notre Dame sitting in front of my hearth, covering it up to the mantle line, I went to sleep.
I dreamt that I had been to Paris, to Notre Dame, with my family, but I couldn’t remember it. I was upset that I had been “in a fugue state.” (My precision of language in dreams intrigues me… when I remember Shakespeare quotes, are they real?)
And water. I dreamt of water that night, and again last night. Water, water, water.Waves, floods, lakes. “Overwhelmed, emotional state,” says dream interpreters.
Our Notre Dame will be as flame-resistant as cardboard.
Nothing is stone, apparently, not even stone.
While I was moved by the Notre Dame fire to recreate it, I annually, at least once, build and burn a paper Bastille. You want to use newsprint. Cut your towers. Use scotch tape. You won’t need much. I’m sure it’s not great to burn, but you’ll live. Then cut your outer wall. Cut all your crenulations (a word I learned from my sister when we went down this road). The “castle” jig-jag. Tape outer wall to hold towers together. You can paint it, but bear in mind you’re just going to burn the thing.
There are objects created just to be burned, more than my Bastilles. Maybe more in eastern cultures, where they burn the dead, too? A whole industry of “joss paper,” which is made into money or objects for the dead. To get them to the dead, you burn them. I get it. I don’t have a particularly better method for getting things to the dead.
The idea that dead people would want or need money strikes me as tragic, though. Perhaps the only good thing I can imagine about death is not wanting or needing money anymore.
“Hell money” has been used since the late 1800s. Okay, we call it “hell money” because it sounds fun, but it’s really for “underworld court” or “underworld prison.” It’s a common belief in world religions that “there will be hell to pay” after you die.
You can get hell money featuring JFK, Einstein, or Marilyn Monroe.
I’m just going to leave that right there.
In 2006, the Chinese government banned the burning of paper mistresses and viagra.
I’d also like to leave you this sentence from the Wikipedia article on joss paper: “Another common feature is the signatures of both the Jade Emperor and the lord of the Underworld, both of whom apparently also serve as the Hell bank’s governor and deputy governor….”
The only regularly burned-until-gone Christian item are our palm fronds from Palm Sunday. They become the ashes for Ash Wednesday.
But I have ceremonially burned my sophomore year geometry notes, and slips of paper listing regrets or sadnesses.
Burning or burial? Once I took my sadnesses on slips of paper and dug a hole and buried them. Different. I wondered if anyone ever found them. It was out in the country. Probably not.
Maybe there was enough rain, and the covering dirt was washed away, and someone saw blurred strips of paper with black ink inscriptions, illegible.
Note: all my research on joss paper is just as lazy as it sounds. So accept or fact check at your own risk.
Image: one of my Bastille burnings. Only a newsprint Bastille was harmed.