In the center of a busy roundabout the stones of the Arc de Triumph reside. I make my way through the underground tunnel to stand below its beauty, the eternal flame burning to my left and the Tomb of the Unknown soldiers resting yards below my feet. It is here, leaning against the body of this aging landmark that I write.
The sun is on my face and the crisp March wind in my hair. Today may be the first full day that I really, truly feel at home in Paris. I do not feel misplaced, scared or lonely. Instead I have a sense of calm that embodies every part of my being. I know that at this very moment, I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The Champs Elysees stretches out before me making it impossible to forget where in fact that is.
I look out at the busy roundabout that circles the Arc and for a moment I don’t know if the winds that blow my hair are from God or the cars speeding past. I could sit here forever watching the tourists in awe of this proud Parisian monument that is a staple of the city. Meanwhile the trained eyes of the locals pass it by as if it doesn’t exist at all.
So, I watch: hoards of people (both coming and going), tour buses, scooters, and cars intermingling on the uncontrolled veins of the circle. It feels so peaceful in all of its chaos.
A Russian family takes a seat near me warming the previously cold stones with their heavy jackets. They take snapshots of each other, the children, the Arc, and the smiles as they make an effort to capture this brief moment in time. I sit alone next to them doing the very same thing, only I do so with my pen.
The children run around on the cobblestones doing cartwheels then spinning round and round in circles with their arms out, heads back completely careless. I wonder. Will they remember this hour in their lives? Will they remember the carefree turns they made or the laughter they shared? Or will, once their feet leave these streets, forget that once they had really been alive here? Will it be the pictures they take now that remind them of the little moments of joy they felt?
I look up behind me to see the carved stones on the side of the arc, 5 warriors frozen in time.
And then I remember, a young woman standing exactly where I sit writing this. I stood with 4 other naive childish girls, joking and giggling. We were trying to recreate the scene of the warriors above our heads for a memory of our own. I do remember being extraordinarily happy forming visions of my future in my head. Do I remember only because of the picture in my scrapbook of the 5 American students with wide-eyed innocence? Just in case, I reach in my bag and pull out my camera.
I take a picture of the now empty step where I sat, where a Russian family took a break from their sightseeing and where once, many, many moons ago I stood as a girl with a dream of one day living in this city.
I take a deep breath of what must be polluted air, but all I can smell is Paris and in it my very own triumph.