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In Paris, 'pilgrims of the flame' remember Diana - International Herald Tribune

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In Paris, 'pilgrims of the flame' remember Diana

By Katrin Bennhold Published: August 31, 2007   Translate   Share Article      Text Size

PARIS: If you squint, the gilded flame appears to flicker in the breeze above the entrance to the tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car accident 10 years ago. Loyal pilgrims depositing flowers, photos and written messages on its marble base refer to it affectionately as the "Candle in the Wind," the title of a song Elton John dedicated to Diana at her funeral.

It would seem that this is the perfect memorial for the People's Princess.

Except that it is not.

The 3.5-meter, or 11-foot, monument, known as the Flame of Liberty, is in fact an exact reproduction of the flame on the torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York and symbolizes French-American friendship. It was given to the city of Paris by the International Herald Tribune on behalf of donors as part of the newspaper's centennial celebrations in 1987. It was dedicated at its current location two years later.

Mounted on a small traffic island on the right bank at the Alma bridge, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower, the monument was barely noticed for eight years. But in the hours after Diana's death on Aug. 31, 1997, the flame abruptly became a shrine to the princess - and the tourist attraction it never was before.

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"Just like the people turned Diana into a saint, they turned the flame into her memorial," said Guy Lesoeurs, an anthropologist and author of "Diana of the Alma Bridge - The Pilgrims of the Flame," published in 2005. "Most people who come here think this was built for her."

On Friday, the small monument was surrounded by a colorful mix of casual onlookers, tourists on guided tours and dedicated Diana pilgrims who spared no expense or effort to honor her memory. One young Italian woman, wearing a Diana T-shirt, wept as she prayed. An elderly British couple lighted a candle next to a faded photograph of the princess with her two sons.

Pawel Nowak, a 37-year-old car mechanic from the Polish city of Lublin, dressed entirely in black, said he came to the site every year.

"The flame is a beautiful symbol," Nowak said, after placing his own paper message for the princess on the marble - "I love you" in Polish. "It's eternal."

But some loyal Diana followers, who have seen the city authorities clear away the tokens of their love and scrub the graffiti messages off the wall over the tunnel entrance, are demanding a proper Diana statue - or suggest that at the very least the Place de l'Alma be renamed after her.

Whatever the outcome of the campaign, most fans are not worried about Diana's drifting into oblivion. "She is still alive," Nowak said, "just like Elvis."

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