Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Diana on Hydra, August 1997
I also happened to be on Hydra when Princess Diana visited in her yacht, just two weeks before her death. It was early August, 1997, at the height of the tourist season, and from my rented apartment, I barely noticed the noise of a helicopter circling the island. Airborne paparazzi were keeping tabs on her from the sky, and later than day they caught her strolling along the road to Mandraki, the same road I had walked on the day John Lennon died. The photos of Diana on Hydra were sent out over the internet, and appeared in media around the world the following day. I met a store-owner who said she had come into his shop to browse, but he hadn’t recognized her until someone pointed her out. She and Dodi Fayed had sailed away soon afterward, and the excitement of her visit slid into the back pages of Hydra gossip.
Two weeks later, a few hours before she was killed in the Alma Tunnel, I went on one of my aimless walks along the sea wall. I was feeling decidedly strange that night. I’d just mistaken what day it was, thinking it the night I had agreed to gallery-sit for a friend who had a show of paintings at one of the hotels. But when I arrived, the gallery was closed, so I thought I would go have a beer somewhere and watch the sunset. Arriving at a seaside tavern, which was deserted, before I even sat down I felt a sense that things in the world were about to shift. I can’t quite explain what I experienced that evening. I didn’t see haloes or auras, but nature and the objects in it suddenly appeared flooded by some invisible substance. There was a one-ness about everything, as if I were viewing life through the lens of death. Not “death” in the sense of loss and sadness, but death as the dead experience it: a liberation into a world where boundaries dissolve and things – like the little fishing boat that was chugging into the harbour – merge with their surroundings as if we all partook of the same great Mother. I looked around for someone to share this feeling with, but I was completely alone. I drank half my beer – the feeling persisted. It had nothing to do with an alcoholic buzz, or a sense of well-being. It was rather as if the structure of reality had reorganized itself, or my own brain patterns were being altered by a sudden tidal wave of insight into how things really are. I really can’t put words on it, nor could I then, so I stood up and continued walking, thinking I would pass report this experience to the first acquaintance I laid eyes on. Which is what I did.
Seeing Roger Green at his usual table in the Pyrofani, I invited myself over and said “I just want to go on record this evening, as having had a very strange experience while I was looking at the sea.” He listened and said he’d take note of it. Before I left him to finish his dinner in peace, I added, “I just have the feeling, that some major event, or shift, is about to happen, and we need to prepare for it.”
I woke up the next morning at about 5:30, at the first light. Normally I would have turned over and gone back to sleep, but something didn’t feel right. I went to the front door and opened it onto a cloudless morning. Usually, the local cats were waiting nearby, but this morning they failed to show up screaming for scraps. I imagined the worst: that the neighbours had poisoned them, and now they were gone forever. Not just the cats, I suddenly thought, but everything in my life that had ever meant anything, had now come to a sudden, sad end. It was as if I were staring down the length of a long tunnel that led straight into nothingness. Compared with my sense of lightness the previous evening, this was dark and disturbing, like my dreams during the night which had woken me several times.
All day, I stayed indoors, and saw no one till evening when I was due to meet my friend at the gallery. At the hotel, the television was on and they were showing images of Diana. I soon caught on to what had just happened.
A few days before, I’d been at the magazine stand in the port of Hydra, looking at the headlines from all over Europe and the UK. The British papers, in those days, often carried photos of the princess, but that day there was a computer-generated image of her with her mouth zipped up. One headline screamed “Diana has gone too far!” Diana had been speaking about landmines in the House of Lords that week, and the press was up in arms, it seemed. Along with the rest of the British establishment.
It was the second time in two decades that an earth-shaking death had occurred while I was on Hydra – and each time, I had picked up the signal beforehand.
What was it about that island that seemed – to me, at least – to link it to the sudden, violent deaths of people who proposed to change the world? First Lennon, then Diana.