Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know that Princess Diana died in a horrendous auto accident entering a tunnel near the Pont de l’Alma? It happened 21 years ago this past August. Emerging from the Alma-Marceau metro and walking towards the bridge (Pont de l’Alma), you have to pass a large flame that to this day is always covered with flowers and photos of Princess Di.
Several times a week, I cross Pont de l’Alma coming from the American Library headed to the metro and home. I’m often with someone else and I always ask, pointing at the site, “Do you know what that is?” Usually I get back “A memorial to Princess Diana?” or “I’m not sure, what?” Having come to Paris many times over the last 50 years, I knew that that monument had been there before Princess Di died. But I didn’t know what it was. So I asked someone.
It is the flame that our Lady of Liberty, given to the US by the French, holds for all peoples, immigrants and others, to see as they enter the Port of New York. “Erected in 1986, the 12 foot metal fire is a made of copper covered in actual gold leaf. Donated to the city by the International Herald Tribune, the flame officially commemorates not only the paper’s hundredth year of business as well as acting as a token of thanks to France itself for some restorative metalwork which the country had provided to the actual Statue of Liberty. Even with the air of global familiarity emanating from the sculpture like heat from a flame, the site has taken on a grimmer association in recent years.” AtlasObscura.com
Princess Dianna had her tragic accident just under the monument and not knowing where to express grief, people began putting flowers, photos and expressions of love at the base of the flame. The younger generations have no idea why it was originally constructed. Almost every day and, certainly on the anniversary of her death, something new is added. I’ve passed the flame when flowers were six inches deep. There is always a crowd around the Flame, always there for Diana and not Lady Liberty. Today, many people think the Flame was built for Diana.
Thirty-two years after the Flame was built, relations between France and the US are not very good. President Trump has refused to meet with President Macron when he arrives in France Sunday to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI. Vigils are being planned for Saturday night and all day Sunday protesting Trump’s behaviour and the lack of liberty in the US at the moment.
The Flame now seems to represent tragedy. On a smaller scale–that a Princess died underneath on the roads of Paris and on a much grander scale–Liberty being exchanged for Autocratic rule and Dictatorship. Trite as it sounds, one can only hope that the flame of liberty never goes out and there is always hope.
3 thoughts on “Princess Diana”
My twins were 8 months old. We were on our first vacation in Wildwood, Labor Day weekend. When I went to sleep the outcome was unknown. When I awoke, Diana was gone. My mom was with us and walked out of the bedroom and told us. It was so sad. We cried and my 8 month daughter cried because we were. Thank you for sharing the memory and the meaning of the ‘Flame’….
The International Herald Tribune had a benefit event to bring an exact replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty to Paris. I went with my my daughter who was then 4 years old in 1984. Soon after The IHT published all our names in one of the papers on the back page. I can understand why people give hommage to Diana there…but the flame is a gift of the USA to France for the Statue of Liberty
I recently took a writing class on art in Portland, Oregon. For one of our classes we focused on outdoor sculpture. There is a main transit way through downtown where sculptures line the street, about one per block. We discussed the many layers of meaning and experience each person experienced, the unique interaction between the art and the public. You have written about the history of the flame, it’s original purpose and how the public interacts with it in a new way. Maybe the connection is not by chance. Maybe the flame also stands for the flame we keep alive for Diana? Thanks for you, Sara