I’ve been saying all day I would write a Coachella post, but… Notre-Dame is burning, and suddenly the idea of calling all those looks “eye-searing” isn’t appealing.

It’s an iconic landmark, obviously, that’s been a constant in times of war and peace and upheaval and calm. It holds relics precious to Catholics the world over, and may be destroyed fully during Holy Week. It’s footprint is indelible, and feels like it should be indestructible. That this could happen seems so unfathomable. It reminds me of when Windsor Castle burned. Windsor is hugely significant to my family’s life; we lived near there, we shopped there routinely, we took visitors there, we’ve walked the high street and Peascod and the bridge to Eton more times than I can count. After we moved, my mom went back to visit, and happened to be in Windsor with a friend the day the castle caught fire. They ran toward it almost blindly, crying. It is my mother’s favorite place in the world, and to this day when she recalls seeing the flames lick that ancient facade, her eyes well up. The inconceivable was happening, and it felt personal.

I’ve seen people talking about their own memories of seeing Notre-Dame for the first time, or sharing old photos, and wondered if this would be a place Fug Nation would want to talk about it or any other place they treasure. My memory of the Cathedral is brief, but definite and clear and meaningful to me. When I was 26, newly single and feeling very much like I was — to borrow from the poet Britney Spears — caught in between versions of myself, I went backpacking by myself for two weeks in Europe. (The one advantage to being a contract worker, as reality TV employees are, is that when post-production ends you go on a hiatus that’s as long or as short as you can afford for it to be, although in this case I knew I had a job a month away.) Paris was my first stop. I had some crazy throat infection that developed the morning I left and made for a miserable flight to London, and I nearly missed my connection to Paris. I was jet-lagged and my tonsils were huge, and I didn’t speak French. But as I stared up at Notre-Dame, this weird surge of triumph washed over me. I’d traveled alone plenty of times, but always to a destination where friends or family or something of my life awaited me. This was the first time I’d planned a trip all my own, on my own, with money I’d earned, just because I wanted to or even needed to do it. I’d made it. I was going to be fine. More than that, I was providing for myself, taking care of myself, and giving myself the gift of the world. I came into a big part of myself at the Notre Dame that lives in America; in Paris, gazing up in awe at the Mothership, I will never forget feeling like I had taken another huge step in the journey toward becoming the person I wanted to be, molded from my own clay.

What are the places that are stamped on your souls?

[Photo: Rex/Shutterstock]