It all began when Chuck, my rascal cat, became obsessed with the deformed bell ringer, Quasimodo, and wanted to meet him in person.
He’d seen the movie, and even though I wasn’t sure if he could follow the plot, I knew one thing for sure.
He loved the hunchback scenes. When Charles Laughton, who played the deformed bell ringer “Quasimodo” of the Notre Dame Cathedral, dragged himself across the screen, Chuck sat glued in front of the TV set.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic black and white film, released in December 1939 starring Maureen O’Hara as the gypsy girl Esmeralda who is framed for a murder by an infatuated Chief Justice played by Cedric Hardwicke. She is then saved by “Quasimodo” himself, the Hunchback, because she gives him water when no one else dares to show him the smallest kindness.
How can you forget the scene when he faces her and says, “I am not man. I am not beast. I’m as shapeless as the man in the moon.”
I went to Paris because so many people raved about how beautiful Paris was. Chuck, we later discovered, had a very different agenda. Besides wanting to see the Eiffel Tower, he wanted to meet the HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
As if a fictional character from a book, a film, really existed.
In our hotel room in the Montparnasse, I sat Chuck down and tried to explain. “Quasimodo isn’t real. It’s a made up story. If we go to Paris and visit the cathedral, he won’t be there, I promise.”
Chuck stared at me, and tilted his head slightly to the left.
I know Chuck very well. When he does that, he isn’t buying a word I am saying.
I tried another tact. “Have it your way. We’ll go to the Cathedral. After all, we are in Paris. You can see for yourself. No Quasimodo.”
The next morning, bright and early, Chuck was ready to go.
We were not close to the Cathedral, but we were within walking distance if we crossed through the Luxembourg Gardens. Luckily, it was a nice weather day.
Chuck had watched the Hunchback of Notre Dame movie a lot. He knew exactly what the cathedral looked like. And although modern Paris looked a lot different than the 15th century Paris portrayed in the movie, the cathedral looked almost exactly the same--very medieval--even though it went through extensive renovations in the 19th century.
Of course, it didn’t hit me until we were inside and I stopped to light a candle that Chuck was going to expect to go to the top into the BELL TOWER. After all, if you are looking for Quasimodo, you’ll not see him lounging around near the altar. Oh no, he will be up, up, up in the BELL TOWER.
And, of course, the route to the top, to the South Tower, is not easy.
How could I possibly explain to him that the Notre Dame Cathedral is an historic landmark? One cannot wander around at will.
Plus, the place is very crowded.
If you stop to admire something for longer than a second, someone is bound to bump into you.
I could feel the Chuckster rustling around in my smart bag.
He wanted to peek out and scan the cathedral for Quasimodo.
And any minute he was going to expect to climb the 387 stairs and go up to the South Tower, past the gargoyles and the chimeras, designed by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century.
We squirreled ourselves in a corner, and I let Chuck sniff around. He was content for a moment. I whispered a few relevant facts in his hear - that construction for the the cathedral was begun in 1163, that it took over 200 years to complete . . .
Suddenly, someone tapped my shoulder.
A concerned tourist was trying to warn me that we’d been spotted.
Someone in charge, someone who looked very official with a terrible scowl on his face and a walkie-talkie type instrument in his hand, was making his way toward me and my rascal cat.
I imagine smuggling a cat into the Notre Dame Cathedral was punishable by LIFE IMPRISONMENT and/or DEATH?
And I don’t speak a word of French. Only Italian.
There was only one way out of this dilemma and of this cathedral.
I began to push and shove my way through the massive crowds. Then we disappeared into the sea of faces that swarmed the front entrance like ants.
Some missions--like meeting Quasimodo--the Hunchback of Notre Dame-- are just impossible to achieve.
If Quasimodo was up there in the bell tower, as Chuckie suspected, I imagined he was gazing down as we scampered off. And laughing.