chapter  7
THE MEMORY OF KINGS
Pages 34

When I fi rst visited Paris I took the metro and emerged above the surface of the sixteenth arrondissement into a spider’s web of radiating avenues. I was disorientated and found navigation in this landscape, which was unfamiliar to me, curiously confusing. Haussmann’s nineteenth-century avenues were very different from the medieval warrens I was more familiar with in old English towns. I took a wrong turn, found myself facing the Arc de Triomphe and wondered at this familiar icon of Paris. Three memories were evoked as I explored the monument. First, I was drawn to the fl ame by the grave of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War, similar to tombs I had seen elsewhere, in Moscow and London. I briefl y wondered why we did not have such a fl ame on the British memorial. Our unknown warrior lies cold near the draughty entrance of Westminster Abbey. I thought of the ghastliness of the war in the trenches. This evoked my second memory, also relating to a time before I was born. I remembered fi lm footage of the German occupation of Paris in 1940, with the line of troops of the Third Reich processing in victory down the Champs Elysées. When I climbed into the Arc I discovered there was a small museum with drawings and photographs of the monument throughout its history, including some of the alternative designs that thankfully were not constructed. Every stage in the arch’s life was represented – but not that image. I wondered how deliberately memory was being exorcised here. My third instinctive association as I surveyed Paris from its top was to wonder which of the surrounding buildings had been used by the Jackal, when he tried to assassinate Charles de Gaulle during the Algerian crisis. It took me a fraction of a second to recall that this had never happened, that this was fi ction; indeed it had not even taken place here in the book or the fi lm, and my memory was playing tricks on me (Forsyth 1971). Had any of these evocations been anticipated by the monument’s creator? Were these responses the ones of other visitors to the Arc? None of my thoughts related to the original reason for building the monument, which was to celebrate Napoleon’s victories, though by the time it was completed in 1836 that reason was slightly anachronistic from a British perspective. My conception was framed by my own experience and by making a hundred and

one conscious and unconscious comparisons to cityscapes I knew, to try and make personal sense of the place I was now in. Monuments and memory framed this cityscape; and to a degree that I had never realised before, they were fundamental to the development of many of the Roman towns of southeast Britain.