Un Nouveau Son de Cloche

When I moved from Normandy to Paris to pursue my studies at La Sorbonne, it took me a few months to get used to the incessant car and pedestrian traffic that zooms across the French capital.  I didn’t sleep well, often woken up by the screeching of tires and the honking of impatient drivers.
But if the noise was overwhelming to the provincial girl I was, there was one sound I missed.  The church bells that chimed every hour in the village that was my home until I graduated from high school, and then the bells of Saint Pierre Church in Caen where I attended the university.
Bells defined my school days as a little girl, and gave a sense of time to the adolescent who stopped wearing a watch.
In Paris, I lived too far from a church to be woken up at the sound of the bells.
During my first year in the capital, I got lost many times, either by mistake or on purpose. I learned to map Paris in my head with the help of important landmarks.
Notre-Dame was one of them.  For someone who grew up reading Victor Hugo, the cathedral was more than a religious symbol.  It carried the past of a country that was mine and of a city I was trying to make mine.
I sat along the Seine very often then, browsed through the books sold on the quay, and watched life goes on.  In fact, I was waiting for the bells to chime.  
Although different from the bells from my village church, their sound was still familiar and reassuring.
Years and years later, I took my own children born in the USA to Notre-Dame. My son was only four and searched for Quasimodo. his sister read Victor Hugo’s words at the top of the cathedral, and I waited for the bells to ring.
Time, it seems, affect bells as much as people, although much slower, and the bells of Notre-Dame have aged.
In 2013 some of them will have to be replaced and a few French people express their concern as they worry about the new bells that won’t reproduce the exact same chime.
Le Monde and the New York Times both celebrate today the bells of Notre-Dame and the change to come.
As for me, the bells of one of the most celebrated cathedral in the world remain in my heart as the sound that anchored me in Paris for the ten years I lived there.

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