Paris, August 31st, 1997

476986_85255bf2845e4fbc94f3c8b4a5c2ae8eI was in Paris with my family and our Colombian babysitter, Tatiana, when tragedy struck so near us…

We had just arrived back in Paris after a two-weeks vacation in the South of France, where we had rented a house in Mougins, near Cannes.

On the way there we had stayed at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, but returning to the French capital to get our flight back to New York the next day, we were told the hotel was fully booked so we made reservations somewhere else. It would be for one night only, so anything would do, really.

In the hotel someone mentioned restaurant Ma Bourgogne, on Place des Vosges, and we decided to have dinner there. I remember the date very well: August 31st, 1997, a day not to be forgotten.

Dinner was nice, the Bourgogne typically Parisian, but by 11:00 PM the kids were tired and we got a cab back to the hotel, driving through the tunnel of Pont d’Alma. About one hour later, a car carrying Princess Diana would crash in that same tunnel.

We learned about the accident the next morning. Tatiana had been out before us, and came back almost in tears: “Princess Diana died not far from here last night”, she said. I remember the silence that fell upon us all. Same strange silence later in the hotel lobby, when we checked out, no one speaking. People were mourning.

That heavy silence stayed with us all the way to the airport. Paris was quiet, a weird stillness in the air, even the driver said nothing. My ten year old daughter commented on how quiet things were, and on Princess Diana’s death. I replied with something like “she was a beautiful person and she died in the most beautiful city”. But no one really talked much.

We got to a Charles de Gaulle airport heavy with security guards, at the same moment Prince Charles’ Royal Air Force jet was landing. He had come to Paris to claim Diana’s body, we heard. Unreal. And if we had gotten a reservation at the Ritz, as we had wished, we would have been right where she departed from on that fatal night. I am glad we didn’t.

A long time after that date, I learned that the young French woman who, with her doctor boyfriend, got to Diana’s car crash site before anybody else, was the daughter of someone I knew well. The girl herself had been my guest in New York, years before. Small world!

I will never forget the days that followed, the display of emotions worldwide, the feeling that Diana left too early. Some people capture our imagination more than others, and she was one like that. Diana had something different, something hard to describe – she was real.

I never met her, but each time I return to the Marais, each time I drive through tunnel d’Alma or see beautiful Place des Vosges, I remember the night Diana died, in Paris.

And I feel that we all lost something that night.

 

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