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Diana - a Fairy Tale Ends

In Memoriam. Credit: Courtesy of Grafx-Specs DesignAs I wrote this, on the desk beside me was the local newspaper. In it was an Associated Press article with this headline: "Hotel in Paris organizes van tour that retraces Diana’s last moments." We’ll return to that item. But let’s start at the beginning of the story.

Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince. He was heir to the throne of a monarchy over a thousand years old, a glorious one, rich with culture, heroism, propriety, and a language destined to become foremost on Earth. The prince was healthy, strong and happy, and vital to the future of his land. But one thing was missing.

"You must marry," said an advisor. "For just as you are heir to this kingdom, you must produce heirs. The line must go on."

The prince knew this to be true, and set out to find a wife. He discovered a beautiful, noble young woman. They fell in love and were betrothed. It was magic, a match made in heaven. They were wed in the grandest ceremony the kingdom had ever known, the world had ever seen. Dignitaries and delegations converged from far and wide to witness it -- an event, a celebration never to be forgotten. Through their wedlock was born a son, as everyone had hoped, and then another, and everyone was pleased. The infants grew into strong and handsome lads. Everything seemed right with the royal family. And they lived happily ever…


The once-happy royal couple. Credit: Courtesy of Grafx-Specs DesignWait a minute. No, they didn’t. They did not live happily. Something went horribly wrong. Things went from bad to worse -- and finally to catastrophic. The prince and princess drifted apart, and the princess traveled to a foreign land seeking a new existence.

But that was not to be. Away from family and the nation of her birth, she met with an unspeakable fate. Trying to create a new life, she met with an untimely death, as violent as any of her countrymen had suffered in any war they had fought. Two sons were bereft of their loving mother, and a nation -- a world -- of its beautiful princess in the saddest ending to a fairy tale ever written.

When my wife and I visited Paris, we arrived coincidentally two days after the deaths of Princess Diana, friend Dodi Fayed, and driver Henri Paul in a tragic automobile accident in that city. August 31, 1999, is the second anniversary of that event.

The tour, as described in the newspaper article mentioned above, conveyed individuals from the Place Vendome restaurant at the Ritz Hotel, where Diana last dined, along the River Seine, to the site where the collision occurred. It stopped at Place de l’Alma, above the tunnel where the accident happened, and proceeded to the Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital, where Diana was pronounced dead.

Evidence of the tragedy was present when we arrived in the City of Light. We didn’t take a tour, but while riding the bus we got off at Place de l’Alma. Flowers and memorials were rampant at the base of a statue near the entrance to the tunnel. Vehicles, satellite dishes, and cameras of the worldwide media were in a vast open area nearby.

 Near the Pont de LAlma, mementos are strewn in remembrance of the Princess Credit: 1999, James D. PriestOn another bus ride, we stopped at Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital. Unlike hospitals in the United States, it is a sprawling complex more like a small town than a medical facility, with quiet roads, low buildings, and colorful gardens. It was eerie and sad to think what had happened here a few days earlier. We watched Diana’s funeral in our Paris apartment on CNN, in a transmission that riveted the world, as her wedding had those many years before.

The tours tracing her last moments were instituted by a hotel to boost business during the normally slow month of August. It was a business decision. For $25, one could take the van tour -- free for guests of the hotel. But to experience it to the ultimate, for $67 one could be driven in a dark Mercedes, the kind the party was riding in when the tragic crash occurred.

So our fairy tale came to this. The match made in heaven was terminated. Prince Charming and his princess will forever be apart. And she, esteemed the world over, has departed this Earth.

But life didn’t stop for a second. Why should it? The restaurant was bustling, the tour vans were crowded, and business was booming.

After all, other princes and princesses like them will come along. But will they? Their fairy-tale romance was epic, transfixing, magical. Or we made it seem that way. And that’s just how we’d like to remember it.

©1999, James D. Priest

Travel Information:

Hotel Odeon - room rates, as reported by the on-line France Hotel Guide, run from 720 FF for a single room to 1400 FF for a family room.

Contact information:

Hôtel Odéon Saint Sulpice
13, rue Saint Sulpice
75006 PARIS
Téléphone: 01 43 25 70 11
Fax: 01 43 29 97 34
International Telephone: +331 43 25 70 11
International Fax: +331 43 29 97 34
E-mail: hotelodeon@wanadoo.fr

Novelist James D. Priest is also a Contributing Editor at AOL’s Bonjour Paris site. He can be reached by email at Speckarin@aol.com.

Photos of Prince & Princess courtesy of Grafx-Specs Design www.grafx-specs.com