Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Princess Diana Has Died In Paris

It's August 29, 1997 and I'm preparing for my first trip to London. Two friends and I plan to spend 10 days there over the third and fourth weeks of September. Heck, I've even dyed my hair platinum blond and got a brush cut to make sure I am sufficiently trendy for an extended tour in SOHO. (London's SOHO is supposedly named from a hunting cry and dates back to the 16th century; New York's SOHO stands for SOuth of HOuston street.)

It is now the evening of Saturday August 30 and I'm working on the computer, with CNN tuned on the television. In the background I hear the announcement. It doesn't make sense. It's Princess Diana. She's in critical condition after a car accident in Paris. It was in a tunnel. There were paparazzi chasing her on motorcycles. Was she with Dodi? Dodi is dead according to some reports. There is a swirl of information bits, as the newscasters are trying to put it all together as am I. She wasn't wearing her seat belt. Her body guard is alive. I watch "the crawl" along the bottom of the screen. Her condition changes from critical to grave. The only rating worse is dead. I'm sick to my stomach. I have to escape.

I take off out of my apartment and my eyes are welling with tears. My mind is working feverishly. If I take a walk around the lake, a 20-30 minute outing depending on my pace, I'll come home and everything will be better. It's a walk that I make nearly every day for exercise and always make an extra lap when I'm under stress and need to clear my head. It's so like me...check out for a bit and rely on the universe to make things right. If there were a chinese astrology sign for an ostrich surely I would be it. As it is, I'm a rabbit and running away in the face of danger seems to be in my cosmic makeup if not my DNA. Alas, it seems the universe never comes to my rescue. Some would call me crazy for doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. If nothing else, the fresh air, tranquility, and manicured landscaping that only the City of Irvine provides will manage to calm me. When I return I'm sure the news will be more complete. They'll know the whole story. I know she's fine. How can she be anything else? She's Diana.

On my return I'm greeted by my cat, my little buddy that always meets me at the door. We have a routine, he and I. When he hears my foot falls on the stairs and landing outside he races to the door. I know he's there because he cries. He's an abyssinian so he's a talker. I ask him repeatedly, "Is there a little boy in this house?" He dutifully answers, "Meow!" He is so darn cute. I open the door, so glad to see him. He stands squarely in front of me and looks up which is his signal to pick him up. I oblige, give him a kiss, and head to the television. I left it on in my haste to leave. I ask my kitty if Diana is okay. He doesn't answer. But the crawl has changed.

"PRINCESS DIANA HAS DIED IN PARIS"

I'm sick. My stomach is in a knot. I want to cry. At the same time, I don't want to cry. I'm a man. I didn't even know her. What the hell was I thinking? More news. Cameramen being held by Paris police in a van. My head is swimming. I hold the cat tight. I think about my trip. What does this mean? I'm drawn back to the television. It's like watching a train wreck. Only worse. I know her...

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The flight on Virgin to Heathrow is surprisingly quick. Only 11 hours from LAX. Our navigator has chosen a flight path that takes us up over Canada on an arcing trajectory. We take off at 9 p.m. and I sleep practically the whole time as I always do on planes. Any time of day or night, with no sleep aides, I'm zonked from the time I hit my seat and vaguely wake up for take off. I always try to get a window so I can lean against it to keep me upright as I snooze. Being on the inside, with the bladder of a camel, means I don't have to disturb anyone and they won't be disturbing me as they act like jackrabbits jumping up and down to hit the head, stretch their legs, or some other thing that requires them to climb over their fellow passengers.

During the night we are served dinner and it's breakfast in the morn. I flirt with one of the pretty flight attendants, all of whom are wearing bright Virgin-red uniforms with their hair pulled up off their shoulders in some form of bun or another. She says I'm "cheeky" and I blush. I smile as I think how they all look like they should be stomping on a plunger-type device to make lemonade for Hot Dog On A Stick at the mall.

I wake up on our approach at 11 a.m. the next day. My ears are killing me and I wiggle my jaw to release the pressure. We hop on the Picadilly Line after customs and it takes nearly an hour on the train to get to our stop in Picadilly Circus. After walking several blocks we arrive at our friend's flat just off Carnaby Street. London is still reeling from the funeral of Diana. Still a somewhat somber place. It has been about two weeks and people's lives are slowly getting back to normal. The shock is wearing off. The truth sinking in.

What had been a vacation to see all the landmarks witnesses a shift in our itinerary. Places important in the life of Diana are moved to the top of the list and deemed must sees. The amount of flowers around the city is amazing. I take pictures along the way. This is historic. I will remember almost every step.

Kensington Palace

Buckingham Palace

Iron Fence, Kensington Palace
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2 comments:

UBERMOUTH said...

Very moving story about how the death of Diana affected you personally.

Kim said...

Isn't it strange how we can have such strong feelings for people we don't even know? Although she was a very public figure and the more we learned about her the more we felt as if she was part of the family.
Those pictures do tell a story of their own. I bet that was one of the most memorable trips you've taken.