Crashing Into Greatness

She didn’t get right properly into Princess Diana until around 2013, after seeing, for the first time, Amélie. She was thirteen when the impression was made. And had she been able to (a.k.a. if she were coherent enough as a one-year-old), she would have gotten to the theater immediately upon Amélie’s initial release in 2001. When a select many people started to remember her death all over again as a result of this “little movie” coming out and Jean-Pierre Jeunet deciding to set it in the year 1997. Thereby making the death of Princess Diana a.k.a. “Lady Di” a “central” part of the film in that Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) hears the news report of the (ex-)princess’ death as the narrator describes, “Finally, on August 30th, 1997…” To interrupt, yes, he says August 30th, not 31st. As in: Diana’s actual death day. Then he continues, “…comes the event that changes her life forever.” And while, sure, Amélie was quite shocked to see that Princess Diana had met her end in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, she was more affected by unearthing a stashed-away box of ephemera hidden by a little boy in the wall of her bathroom some forty years ago. 

So yes, Lady Di did change and touch her life (as she did for so many), in effect, by dying. For, had Amélie not been so surprised by the news, she would not have dropped the stopper to her perfume bottle, noticed the odd crack in the tile of her bathroom wall (after said stopper crashed into it like Diana into a pillar) and subsequently decided to essentially carry on Diana’s legacy by choosing to so generously help others without expecting anything in return. 

Of course, anyone who is “helpful” and tells you they expect nothing in return is a goddamn liar. All of them are secretly expecting that “the universe” will repay them for their “selfless” kindness via a karmic balance that brings them nothing but “good things.” After watching the movie, Camilla (mais oui, she understood perfectly well the irony of having that name) was not foolish enough to believe in any such “debt” required to be repaid by the universe. But she was perhaps foolish enough to suddenly become as enraptured by and rather obsessed with Diana as everyone else. And it intrigued her endlessly that she should die in, of all places, Paris. There was something endlessly tragi-romantic about it to Camilla, who was quick to book a flight to the so-called “City of Light” as soon as she turned eighteen, shaking down whatever graduation gift cash she could from any and everyone that would feel obliged to give it to her. Even second cousins, once removed. 

She never let on that she had absolutely no intention of using said money for her college fund, let alone going to college at all. Camilla simply smiled, took the envelopes and said, “Merci.” But the truth behind her “big trip” entailed that she wasn’t actually planning on returning to America once she landed on French soil. Because, for whatever reason, she just knew she was meant for greater things. Sort of like Diana being aware she was more than just another royal designed to do, well, not much of anything at all except sit and look pretty. No, somehow, Diana was meant to become a symbol of freedom and independence, which is perhaps how the Flame of Liberty became an unofficial memorial site to her in the wake of her death. That, or it was just the most convenient “structure” to visit that was in close enough proximity to where the crash occurred. Because even someone as blasé and unaffected by difficulties as Camilla had to admit that accessing the best tribute to Diana, a graffito of her smiling face on the very pillar that her car crashed into, was all but impossible to get to as a pedestrian. 

Granted, the perch overlooking the tunnel where it all went down wasn’t without its own captivating graffiti—including such gems as, “Murdered by the Establishment! Gone but not forgotten!” or a heart with the names “Diana and Dodi” etched into it. But they weren’t as good as being near the very pillar itself, with Diana’s image freshly emblazoned on it. That’s what Camilla really wanted to see more than anything. And she was starting to become a little bit crazed by it. So much so that she was blowing the majority of her “graduation money” on taxis that would take her through the tunnel. Each time, she would tell them to drive as slowly as possible past the pillar, as though they hadn’t been given the very same instructions a thousand times before by the same sort of fanatical ilk. 

In the month or so since the tribute had gone up (it was at the end of July) on the thirteenth pillar of the tunnel, taxi drivers had been plagued with requests to take fans and casual tourists alike to the spot where Diana met her end, not seeming to understand that there was absolutely no potential to stop in rushing traffic to get out and snap a viable photo. But how could the artist who created the image, 7Nuit, not know what they would wreak in so doing? It’s not as though they had spray-painted it in the age before social media, when no one could have predicted just how much people were quite literally willing to die so as to be able to take the perfect photo. No, they had put it up in 2018, twenty-one years after her demise. And, funnily enough, 7Nuit’s own recollection of being in Paris during her death sounded like something Amélie might have described (if she weren’t so introverted): “I remember the day she died very clearly, it was at the end of summer and I saw the news on TV.”

That said, 7Nuit was aware that many others felt (and feel) just the same about Diana, prompting the artist to wait until the small hours of the morning (circa four a.m., which also happened to be Diana’s approximate time of death), when traffic is nonexistent, to go into the tunnel and execute the tribute. One that 7Nuit insisted they wanted to be “unforgettable.” Unfortunately, it was easy to forget something that you could barely see at all as you were given no choice but to whiz past it (hence, the graffito’s nickname of “the white blur”). Well, Camilla was growing sick and tired of merely driving past it, having expended far too much of her budget on cabs in the hope of snapping enough photos to cull from the barrage at least one good, clear image. But there was no such luck. It was time, as she always knew it would be, to take a drastic measure. And no, that certainly did not mean actually waking up at some ungodly hour so as to get there when there was less chance of any cars rushing by. Camilla simply was not a morning person and it could not be done. 

So it was that she went on with the charade of asking yet another driver to go to the Pont de l’Alma tunnel as though she weren’t going to then bribe him with a thousand dollars about five minutes away from the site so that he couldn’t possibly refuse her request to “pull over” in an area where it was literally impossible to do so. And yet, money makes everything possible, doesn’t it? And while anyone observing her reckless spending over the past week would have told her she was undoubtedly fucking her scholastic future by squandering all that cash, Camilla knew that she really had no intention of living too much longer once she achieved her “close to Diana” goal. 

Some would obviously argue it was absurd to essentially orchestrate such a senseless death in order to feel closer to their “idol.” Those people had clearly never heard of the lore surrounding Rudolph Valentino’s death, when a number of women (and men) committed suicide upon learning of their hero’s expiration. Even back then, the parasocial nature of celebrity was horrifying. A fact rather lost on Camilla in her “too far gone” state. She had descended into the rabbit hole (or, in this case, the tunnel hole) and was committed to the cause of truly feeling “Diana’s essence.”

Would that the driver had been aware of just how psychotic and determined (a lethal combination) his passenger was. For, although he agreed to stop long enough for her to take a clear picture, he hadn’t bargained on her ushering him urgently out of the car to click one of her in front of the stencil as well. Panicked and not really thinking because of how shocked he was by her madness, he rotely opened the door in a state of obedient abeyance, assuming that no one behind him blocked by his abrupt parking job was going to suddenly decide to burn rubber and race right at him just as he was getting out of the vehicle, knocking the door off its hinges as the driver also mowed him down. 

Camilla looked on in complete shock. But, like Amélie, it was not really for the reason one would think, so much as the fact that she couldn’t help but marvel at how, when she had finally been at the finish line of achieving her ambition, her sole photographer had been killed. It was almost like Diana’s revenge or something, to keep any and all forms of press from pursuing her in this tunnel. Camilla sighed, said, “Fuck it” and took a selfie. It would have to suffice. Along with, apparently, surviving the ordeal to end up as somebody with no college degree. Luckily, one didn’t really need such a thing to be an undocumented restaurant worker in Diana’s city of death. 

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