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An Outpour of Grief, Love

By Anne Swardson and Charles Trueheart
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 1, 1997; Page A18

PARIS, Aug. 31 — As people the world over mourned Diana, Princess of Wales, from a distance, here in the city where she died early this morning the grief-stricken and the curious flocked to the scenes of her last hours alive.

Along the walls of the underground highway tunnel in which Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Fayed and a chauffeur met their deaths in an automobile accident, hundreds of visitors gawked, meditated, laid flowers and talked through their theories of the night's events. Lines of cars slowed as they went through the four-lane underpass on the right bank of the Seine River.

"This is a symbol of love," said Victor Delgado, master chef at the Chilean Embassy here, as he laid a single violet rose on the pile of bouquets on the grass. "She was a person who did so much for people in the world, for little children. When I heard the news, I cried all night."

"It's as if I lost someone in the family," said Nilou Ghaissary. "I saw and read about her so much, I feel I know her."

Handwritten notes, in French and English, also were laid with the bouquets of flowers. One read: "You will always be in my heart. I love you so much. Sincerely yours, Pascal." Another said: "History teaches us that the world is a passage. . . . Rest in peace."

Thousands also gathered at Pitie Salpetriere hospital, where Diana was taken after the crash and pronounced dead a few hours later. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Bernadette Chirac, wife of President Jacques Chirac, were among those who called at the hospital to pay their last respects to the Princess of Wales before her body was flown to Britain.

"It was so sad that this beautiful young woman, loved by everyone, whose every act and gesture were scrutinized, ended her life tragically in France, in Paris," Jospin said. "Since the French were always seduced by her charm, her humanity, I wanted to make a gesture." He referred to her by the name by which she is universally known in France, Lady Di.

Crowds six to eight rows deep lined the street in front of the hospital, pushing against metal barricades and mingling uneasily with hundreds of journalists and their cables and television trucks.

At the gates of the hospital compound, security guards permitted hundreds of people to lay flowers and other messages of grief and compassion. As she stood in the florist shop across the Boulevard de l'Hopital, purchasing a single rose to contribute to the pile, one woman scribbled: "My condolences to the family and especially the children." Outside, she said, "I still can't believe it. When I heard the news this morning, I had goose bumps up and down my arms."

A woman who identified herself only as Chantal, from the West African country of Mali, was there with her 2-year-old son. "I'm not here for that guy, that's for sure," she said, referring to Fayed. "I'm here for her. She cared about children. About AIDS. About the poor."

Sitting in the jammed cafe facing the hospital entrance, Nathalie Leroy surveyed the pageant of media and onlookers and said, "This is tra-la-la, all this, but she's a mother, after all."

She added, "It's not the paparazzi's fault, you know. She had a tragic life, and this was her hour."

Near the Hotel Ritz, where Diana and Fayed ate their last dinner, crowds stood watching from across the Place Vendome. They were kept from the doors of the city's most exclusive hotel by security guards, but could see a large, gray limousine that was said to belong to Mohamed Fayed, Dodi's father and the owner of the Ritz. It was after eating here that the pair fled out the back into a Mercedes 600 and were driven, French press reported, toward a residence Dodi Fayed owns in the 16th district.

At the tunnel, where scrape marks on the inside walls showed how the Mercedes had careened from one side to the other, many nationalities were present. Londoner Michael Le Poer Trench said as he laid a dozen white roses that "she always was hard done by the family. I feel bad because she finally seemed to be finding happiness. . . . I kept listening to the radio every half-hour just to make sure it was true."

He displayed a card he had written that said: "May the joy, happiness and hope that you brought to the world be reflected to you for eternity."

And Americans Stephen and Sandra Rich, Paris residents, came to ponder what Diana had meant for their country and them. "It's like she'll always be a beautiful princess now," Sandra Rich said. "She'll remain that way forever, if there is justice in all of this. She was a fairy princess."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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