A Moment in Time

A Moment in Time

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The winter of 1945-46 was a bad one for all of
Europe, and the people of Paris were no exception to the hardships of
that period. There were food shortages, fuel shortages, power cuts,
and, most of all, a shortage of warm clothing. Transportation was
fairly good on trains and the Metro, but trucks, buses and many of the
very limited number of automobiles were still using ugly
charcoal-burning generators to produce gas for propulsion. One could
station oneself at any major traffic intersection, and in a short time
see a vehicle collapse as it turned a corner, all four wheels splayed
out like some old horse falling down in a comical movie. Since civilian
vehicle production was very restricted during the war years, this was
the natural outcome of age and overuse.

As
a member of a US Army unit stationed in the suburb of Chatou, I had a
full-time pass for the entire Paris metro region and took full
advantage of the opportunities this provided to explore the area. We
had a shuttle service from Chatou to the Rue de Berri, just off the
Champs-Elysees in front of the offices of the Paris Herald Tribune.
From there it was a pleasant walk to the Arc de Triomphe, to several
metro stations, or to any of the most interesting areas within a mile
or so from our drop off point.

One
evening after a full day of exploring parts of the left bank, while
waiting until 11 pm for the last shuttle to come take me home, I
decided to walk out to view the eternal flame burning at the foot of
the Arc. So far I had only seen it during the day. As mentioned, it was
a bad winter and, this being a late November night, it was cold and the
snow had started to fall. It was not deep, perhaps an inch, but the
wind was very biting. As the center of the Etoile sits at the apex of
the rise where 12 major boulevards come together, there if no escape
from the elements at that point.

It
was not a heavy snow and only added to the aura of the massive
structure sitting in the center of that vast circle of silence. It is
impossible to imagine today, but as I sat on the stone bench which is
part of each of the four massive columns supporting the arch, there was
no sound but that of the wind whipping the gas flame at the tomb of
France’s unknown soldier; this flame had been re-ignited after the
liberation of Paris. Very infrequently there would be the intrusive
sound of a vehicle approaching the Arc and swishing through the soft
snow as it slowly circled this magnificent monument.

During
the 35 or 40 minutes I sat there I saw not one single pedestrian in any
direction I looked. The gently falling snow, which now began to thicken
on the ground, the quiet, the dull reflection of a few lights as I
looked down the Champs Elysees, and just the thought of being alone in
this place were overwhelming. Such an experience would today be
impossible. The sounds of traffic are constant day and night; solitude
here is impossible at any time.

I
have a memory of a point in time, at a place in time that I feel will
never again exist. A memory, an experience, unique to me.

James
T. Walsh holds degrees in both business and law and has traveled the
world as an executive of several international companies. He fought in
the 86th Infantry division and spent a year in Paris with the USO.
After the war, he married his high school sweetheart and together
they’ve raised five children. The couple now make their home in
Arizona.

Copyright (c) Paris New Media L.L.C.

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