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Tears, tributes at Paris market named after Queen

While Britain’s longest-reigning monarch “held a special place in the hearts of the French,” as President Emmanuel Macron put it, one place in the French capital was especially important to the Queen. FRANCE 24 spoke to shopkeepers and grieving visitors at a flower market in central Paris, recently renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.

The late queen, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 96visited France more than any other foreign country and met all 10 French presidents who took turns at the Élysée Palace during her 70 years on the throne.

“Elizabeth II mastered our language, loved our culture and touched our hearts,” Macron said in a video message on Friday. “We are grateful for her deep affection for France.”

The Queen paid the last of her five state visits to France in 2014, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. At the end of the trip, she stopped in Paris and unveiled a plaque at a flower market named in her honor.

The ceremony was a “appropriate tribute” to the Queen, said Mélissandre Somenzi, owner of the Cité des flowersa flower stall run by three generations of her family.

“British people have a soft spot for flowers and the Queen in particular,” she said, holding up a photo of the Queen visiting her booth, accompanied by former French President François Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

“People from the UK are always happy to see this picture when they tour the market,” she said. “The Queen loved France and France loved her.”

Melisandre Somenzi holds a photo of the Queen's visit to the flower market in 2014.
Melisandre Somenzi holds a photo of the Queen’s visit to the flower market in 2014. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Elizabeth was a 22-year-old princess when she first saw the marche aux fleurs in central Paris in 1948, a year after her marriage. She would keep fond memories of the quaint little market? the île de la Citéa stone’s throw from Notre-Dame Cathedral.

“I can still see her as she looked that day – as if she were standing right in front of me,” says Françoise, a regular at the flower market, recalling her chance meeting with the young Elizabeth in 1948.

Françoise, then a teenager, had made an appointment with her school friends on the banks of the Seine, unaware that the future Queen of England would sail up the river in the heart of Paris, pregnant with her first son Charles.

“There were so many people along the Seine, I never found my friends,” she recalls. “But I saw the queen instead!”

Princess Elizabeth, dressed in an evening dress and a tiara, arrives at the Elysée on 14 May 1948 with her husband Philip.
Princess Elizabeth, dressed in an evening dress and a tiara, arrives at the Elysée on 14 May 1948 with her husband Philip. © AFP file photo

Looking back on Elizabeth’s long reign, Françoise emphasized her grace, tact and diplomacy. “I feel a lot of sadness today,” she said. “Actually, I think the whole world is grieving.”

Among grieving visitors was American couple Michael and Deanna Garringer, from New Mexico, who paused for the photo of the Queen outside the Cité des flowers.

“We were very sad to hear the news, she was much loved and respected in America,” said Deanna Garringer, for whom the Queen’s long reign has brought the US and its former colonial power closer together.

“We never knew Britain without the Queen,” her husband said, adding that he was “a little concerned about the future of the monarchy” without Elizabeth.

The Marché aux fleurs Elizabeth II, on the île de la Cité in central Paris.
The Marché aux fleurs Elizabeth II, on the île de la Cité in central Paris. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

A few steps away, the British Anne and her daughter Mary Jane searched in vain for the plaque the Queen unveiled in 2014, which local shopkeepers say has since been stolen. They settled for another, more discreet sign overlooking the Seine, which also bears Elizabeth’s name.

“Love this little market, it’s very sweet, like an English garden in the heart of Paris,” said Anne, who traveled with her daughter from their home in the suburbs of Paris so they could pay their respects to the Queen . “We thought we should come here,” she says.

“We’d come to think she was invincible,” Mary Jane added, holding a bunch of flowers that they planned to take to the British Embassy later in the day.

“I grew up in a family that loved the Queen,” said the young, dual citizen, switching between French and English, tears welling up in her eyes. “I never met my English grandmother and the Queen was like a ‘grandmother at heart’ to me.”

Mary Jane and her mother Anne bought flowers for the late Queen at the market that bears her name.
Mary Jane and her mother Anne bought flowers for the late Queen at the market that bears her name. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Though less affected by the Queen’s death, local flower seller Michel Hugot said her passing marked the end of an era – leaving behind a strange sense of “emptiness”, as Macron said in his post.

“There are plenty of queens all over the world, but when someone said ‘the queen,’ you immediately thought of her,” he explained.

When asked why Elizabeth II was so popular in France, he suggested it was “maybe because she was both Francophone and Francophile, because of her longevity, or because she wasn’t our own queen — after all, we put Marie Antoinette on the guillotine.” “!

When the Queen visited the market in 2014, Hugot decorated his shop with the most beautiful plants and flowers, which he had refused to give away the days before. “I would tell people, ‘You can buy them, but you can’t have them until the Queen has seen them,'” he recalled.

Hugot especially remembered the frenzy and excitement of the moment, and the contrasting serenity that Elizabeth radiated: “She remained calm and smiling the whole time — it’s that look that will stay with us long after her death.”

A photo of the Queen's visit to the flower market in 2014.
A photo of the Queen’s visit to the flower market in 2014. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

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