by Melinda Gallo

A Queen of People's Hearts

I watched "The Queen" at the Odeon last night. I had wanted to see it for awhile, and was disappointed that I missed it when it played there last year. I was living in England before coming to Florence in 1997. Before heading down to Italy, I went to Lyon, France for a friend's wedding. I had to then take a train back to Paris before taking the TGV to Florence. I took a taxi through the tunnel where Princess Diana's fatal car accident had occurred only less than 24 hours earlier. And, the next morning when I had to take another taxi to go back to the Gare de Lyon, I was taken yet again past the accident site.

I couldn't help but look at the pillar where the car struck. Both times, it sent shivers up my spine. When I looked back at the tunnel, I saw the "Flamme de la Liberté" (The Flame of Liberty), which is a replica of the flame on the Statue of Liberty, with flowers at its base.

I couldn't bring myself to buy a newspaper to read about the accident because I had so many feelings going through me that it would've just been overwhelming.

When my train left Paris, the sun had just risen. I settled into my seat and set my notebook in front of me with a pen on top of it. I stared at my notebook for a long time before I wrote anything. I wanted to make sense of what I was feeling, but because I had so many feelings going through me, I was confused as to what to write.

I had strange feelings about my future on that train ride to Italy. I realized how Princess Diana left England and died in France, and how she would never return to England alive. I thought about how I had left England a few days earlier, and realized that I would never return either. I hadn't even arrived in Florence, but I had a feeling that I was experiencing a different type of death. That I was at the end of a leg of my journey.

Before a voice came on the loudspeaker in the train and announced that we had just passed the border between France and Italy, I felt as if something had just been lifted off my shoulders. I felt a lightness that I hadn't felt in a long time. It felt like someone was cuddling my heart and filling me with hope.

After arriving in Florence, I was still mourning Princess Diana's death each day. I couldn't really talk to anyone about it, so I just kept writing. In the apartment where I was living, the family put the TV on during dinner, so news presenters discussed her passing every night in depth. I didn't understand much, but just seeing the photos and seeing people's reactions was enough to have an affect on me. I didn't unleash my tears until I was in my room, even though it was hard at times to swallow my food much of the time.

Before Dave and I moved to Italy in 2004, we went to England and visited Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain. I had made a point of going there because I felt a bond with her in my own way. Here I was about to go to Italy again.

In the movie, they showed the BBC interview in which Princess Diana had said, "I don't go by a rule book, because I lead from the heart, not the head, and albeit that's got me into trouble in my work, I understand that. But someone's got to go out there and love people and show it.". She also said, "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts." And, I believe that she has succeeded because each time I struggle on my path to follow my heart, I think of her and am reminded that it's a lifelong goal, and not a one-time competition.

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