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In Paris, the French Move On

By Anne Swardson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 7, 1997

PARIS, Sept. 6—Some people observed a minute of silence today at the site here where Princess Diana died, but it was a noisy minute.

During the entire time her funeral was taking place across the channel in London, cars whizzed in and out of the highway tunnel under the Place de l’Alma along the Seine River. Tourists and residents sipped coffee at the cafes that ring the plaza, and buses, cars and taxis rumbled across the bridge, issuing the occasional horn-honk. A police official said there was no official commemoration of Diana’s funeral in Paris.

A hundred or so people gathered at the site, adding their bouquets, notes and stuffed animals to the dozens already there. Television trucks encircled the grass enclosure above the tunnel. But they were mostly from other nations. As the week following Diana’s death has drawn to a close, there are signs France is moving on.

The news, depending on the day, has focused as much on massacres in Algeria and the national back-to-school ritual as on the investigation into the Sunday-morning car crash in the tunnel that killed Diana, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, the driver. On some days, Diana was not on the front pages, and was not mentioned until the eighth minute of the 10-minute news broadcasts every half-hour on the all-news television channel.

The newspaper Le Parisien this morning published random interviews with five French people who had been asked if they found the accident and the funeral of Diana overcovered in the press. Two thought so. Doctor Rene Faure said he was “shocked” by the way the media had covered her death. “True, she was well-known. But it’s too much. They’ve talked more about it than about the massacres in Algeria.”

Student Amelie Bourdard agreed: “I find that too much has been said about the accident, especially if you think of all the people (several hundred in recent days) who have been killed in Algeria.” And Bourdard reflected a not uncommon feeling here when she said: “They placed French photographers under investigation while the English paparazzi are more aggressive and their scandal sheets more numerous.”

Others also have suggested some national feelings are at work as authorities of one country investigate the death of the most popular person of another. When the first seven photographers were placed under investigation for involuntary homicide and failing to assist the victims, one television news broadcast described as a bone tossed to the British. A lawyer for one of the photographers called it “a Quai d’Orsay decision,” a reference to the location of the foreign ministry.

British institutions here noted the occasion. A minute of silence was observed in some of the British pubs, where people were watching on television, and the Paris branch of the British department store Marks and Spencer dimmed its lights.

Still, Diana was deeply admired by the French for her beauty and style, if nothing else. In the Riviera port city of Antibes, luxury yachts and fishing boats sounded their horns together at 1.p. And in Paris, a fair number of those gathered at the Place de l’Alma were French. Marie-Christine Garnier, a secretary, stood at the site with a cross in her hand for half an hour this morning, appearing to silently pray.

“She was full of joy, of hope. She gave hope to sick people,” Garnier said. “We must continue to work. I think her death was the beginning of something new, maybe more affection and comprehension.” Garnier said. She said her friends also were saddened by Diana’s death, but went on to say: “She was part of the royal family and the royal family is distant from us. We have more republican values.”

Indeed, it was British visitors to the site who seemed the most saddened. Eyes swollen with tears, a black ribbon on her chest, Julie Faux said she, her husband Nigel and daughter Hannah had thought of cancelling their planned day trip from Oxford to London so they could attend the funeral but decided instead they could pay their last respects here. They observed a minute of silence at 11:45, since only those crowding around the television trucks watching the monitors could see that it actually took place a bit later.

New Yorker Susan Baker came dressed in a black pantsuit, and said visiting the scene of the accident helped make the tragedy real for her.

“She was so young. I can’t believe we won’t ever see her stepping out of a car in a new outfit and smiling....I don’t think it’s morbid curiosity” to be here. “It’s bonding with all these people.”

There was a formal observation of the minute of silence in one place: the Hotel Ritz, owned by Dodi Fayed’s father Mohamed and the place where Diana and Fayed ate their last dinner before they departed in the Mercedes. A bouquet of pink-and-white roses, Diana’s favorite colors, reposed discreetly in the lobby, and the funeral was broadcast on a television in one of the salons. At noon, the entire hotel staff, who had been advised beforehand, fell motionless and silent. Guests, seeing what was happening, joined in spontaneously.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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