At the Place de l'Alma

flowers and flame at Alma
Parisians chose to place flowers at the base of the flame.

Paris Mourns the Death of a Princess

Paris:- Wednesday, 3. September 1997:- After the death of Princess Diana on Sunday here, television news has been showing scenes of people in London placing flowers by the ton near places related to her.

The Princess was a visitor in Paris, and I suppose it will be remembered for a long time that she had her fatal mishap under the place de l'Alma, beside the Seine, in the 8th arrondissement. She was in transit at the time and therefore only the tragic circumstances relate her to this particular spot.

Parisians feel pretty bad about it; the place of death will be here forever. There is not much to be done about it. To a Metropole reader who asked if there would be any physical memorial to mark the event, I replied that I don't know.

Summer was evidently short in Paris and the radio is already saying that it is more or less fall; but today there is a lot of sun and high, fair and white clouds. Sometimes it is called an Ile-de-France sky. It is warm but not hot.

Without quite knowing what I've come to do, I've come down from the Champs-Elysées by way of the avenue George V to the place de l'Alma.

Along the way, the limousines are loitering around the entrances to the hotels George V and Prince de Galles and I look them over for model numbers. I quit keeping up with cars some time ago and the numbers do place de l'Alma not mean anything to me. I see though that a Mercedes S300 looks huge compared to France's largest car, a Peugeot 604, which is not so tiny.

The place de l'Alma, as it looks on an ordinary day.

Passing the hotels, I no doubt see some famous or merely slightly rich people. I do not know who they are so I take no photos and do not think there is much future in photos of the obvious doormen, porters, chauffeurs and bodyguards. The light is bright and it looks like a normal day.

At the place de l'Alma, the café terraces are open and about half-full with well-dressed people having lunch; shaded by the many large plane trees.

From the point between the avenue George V and the avenue Montaigne, facing the pont de l'Alma, the entry to the fatal tunnel is to the left and the exit to the right.

By the entry, on the Cours Albert 1er, near the place, there is an area full of television trucks with satellite equipment. Further left, towards the tunnel entrance there are crowd-control barriers and people have been placing bouquets of flowers there. There are not many people though, and further on down the Cours Albert 1er there is a lone policeman who is talking to some teenagers, probably discussing the incident.

The grass is well-trampled and the crowd barriers seem like left-overs for a larger group. Somebody has hung what looks like a hand-made Union Jack above the entrance to the tunnel.

I look at the concrete wall which separates the two directions of traffic and it does not look as high and formidable as it seemed in the TV news report, which showed an ex-racing driver going through the tunnel in fairly heavy traffic. He said this wall limited forward vision because it curves to the left.

From other photos I've seen that the inside of the tunnel does not curve, and the wall could act as a guide to get a driver well-placed for a fast entry to the tunnel itself. I do not know how fast it could be taken by an experienced driverview Cours Albert 1er but I think 190 kph would be excessive. Otherwise, the wall blocks off the headlights of oncoming cars.

The Cours Albert 1er used to be part of Paris' most fashionable promenade.

Coming off the Cours Albert 1er, there is also fair dip into the tunnel. Combined with the left curve going in, any vehicule following too closely would definitely have trouble with anything stopped in it; especially motorcycles which are not particularly stable or have good brakes.

On the other side - leading to the avenue de New York - above the exit of the tunnel there is a statue of a sculptured flame in gold on a short column base. There is a larger crowd here and there are many bouquets of flowers around the base of the statue.

While a German photographer talks on a porti-phone, a TV crew is shooting an interview, but I cannot see who is the subject. A Moroccan man asks me if one can go into the tunnel and I think not because it is full of normal traffic.

Meanwhile the Tour Eiffel overlooks the scene and the sun is producing sparkles on the Seine's little waves. Traffic coming across the pont de l'Alma is about as usual and the traffic in the place is in its usual midday confusion, at this intersection of five fairly major roads by the bridge.

I drift east along the river side. Here it is called Quai de la Conférence and is named after a city gate built here in 1633. The name comes from a pow-wow to end the civil war; held between Henri IV's representatives and those of the League, at Suresnes on 29. April 1593.

Beside the quai, on the centre grass, there is a monument to Polish martyrs, done by Bourdelle in 1928. On this same strip of grass, between the place du Canada and the pont Alexandre III, there is a memorial to Lafayette, paid for by American school children. Just after the pont Alexandre III there is a memorial statue honoring Simon Bolivar; sponsored by several Central and South American countries.

The Cours Albert 1er, runs from the place du Canada to the place de l'Alma, and before 1918 it was part of the Cours la Reine, which was part of the old road to Chaillot, Saint-Cloud and Versailles. From the place de la Concorde to the place de l'Alma the two parts total 1,120 metres.

Catherine de Médicis had a canal built along here to bring spring water to her gardens in the Tuileries from Saint-Cloud. In 1616 Marie de Médicis transformed part of it into a fancy promenade, 1,500 metres long, with four ranks of trees and long ponds on each side. It was closed at both ends by grilled gates. As Marie was sort of Italian, it was called a 'corso' at first and it was very popular for 150 years.

Maréchal de Bassompierre attempted to think up some civic reason to extend the 'corso' as far as Chaillot where he had a weekend palace, named Beauregard, which had originally been built by Catherine. As Marie once sort of called it a 'bottlehouse,' the 'corso' was not extended and Bassompierre himself got into a little trouble with Cardinal Richelieu which cost him 12 years in the Bastille.

After it flooded several times, the Quai de la Conférence was built for protection. Lanterns, suspended from forged poles, were added.

The 'Grand-Cours' - today's Champs-Elysées - gained popularity around 1776 and this older 'Petit-Cours' went into decline. Still, traffic on it was reserved for the rich and famous and ordinary travellers had to use the quai route.

The place de la Concorde ends the 'Petit-Cours' on the east and when I look back I see some of the chestnut trees are already quite brown and some - more than half - are perfectly green. Here is a grand statue, on a high pedestal; a memorial to Albert 1st, King of the Belgians. The dates are 1914 - 1918 and 1939.

The place de la Concorde which usually looks so confusing UK Embassy, rue Fg St Honore looks very civilized today. I skirt the place and pass the US Embassy to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Outside the entrance to the British Embassy there are a few embassy employees and three Paris policemen and women.

At the British Embassy in Paris, the flag is at half-mast, in the still air.

Inside the courtyard - where photos are not permitted - there is a short line, waiting to enter a building to sign the condolence book. In a newspaper photo taken yesterday, the line stretched almost to the street. The condolence book will remain accessible until 11:00 on Saturday, until the time of the funeral in London. There are bouquets of wrapped flowers placed on either side of the stairs by the entry.

Across the street, in a side-street beside the Versace boutique, there is a dark-blue Bentley Turbo-S with civilian UK plates. It has a parking ticket beneath a windshield wiper.

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