REPORTAGE. In Edinburgh, in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s hearse, flowers, tears and memories

REPORTAGE.  In Edinburgh, in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's hearse, flowers, tears and memories

It was an atmosphere like Queen Elizabeth II must have seen hundreds of in her lifetime: thousands of people squeezed against the barriers set up along Edinburgh’s main road, which crosses the old town from west to east, from St. Giles Cathedral to the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse. People were chatting peacefully, waiting for their sovereign to pass as timid rays of sunlight pierced the Scottish clouds. Many of them had their arms laden with flowers. Some had taken out their best outfit while others proudly displayed the flag of Scotland or that of the United Kingdom.

The air seemed to thicken a bit as the police motorbike sped through town, seconds before the hearse carrying the body of the late royal. A silence settled, then timid applause sounded, before strengthening after the passage of the coffin and the car of Princess Anne. Eyes misty, Janet, Lesley and Alapha hugged, just after seeing the motorcade. “We are very sad, we do not fully realize that she is gone”, says Lesley. All three welcome the world present in Edinburgh. “It’s good, it shows that she was loved by all”believe these three women, of three generations.

Everyone, it also pleased Naomi and Helen. “It brought us together, it makes it easier to grievesay these two inhabitants of Ayrshire, a region in the south-west of Scotland. We will need time to adjust, and accept not to see it on tickets, stamps.”

Everyone, along the barriers, goes there with their memory of the queen, or for the luckiest, with the queen. There’s Valery, who remembers Elizabeth II’s coronation tour. She was 4 years old and with her class, they applauded the queen, who passed just in front of them, who had greeted them. There’s Naomi, whose son works as a gardener at Balmoral and has met the Queen many times. There’s Fiona, who remembers the annual key-handover ceremonies in Edinburgh, and later Janet, who recounts how the Queen bent over the cradle of her seven-day-old daughter Lesley, during its silver jubilee. This patchwork of memories gradually reconstructs who Queen Elizabeth II was: a queen who guided several generations, and who knew how to give everyone the impression of closeness, when none had really met her. “It almost feels like losing a grandmother”summarizes a passerby.

Theresa, Charles and Fiona came as a family to see Elizabeth II's coffin.  (THÉO UHART / RADIO FRANCE)

Proximity, longevity, and a special affection for Scotland too. “She loved Scotland so much, and Scotland loved her too”, summarizes in one sentence Helen. She is also the first British sovereign to die on Scottish soil. At a time when separatist desires are waking up in the kingdom, Teresa, who came with her two children Fiona and Charles, cannot believe in chance. “She will have worked until the last moment of her life. I don’t know if it’s accidental or not, but to die at Balmoral, to do this whole procession all the way to Edinburgh before returning to London… It’s very political, without really being so”she smiles.

On Edinburgh, the rain begins to fall. “We are sad, and at the same time, we are happy. She did the job, now she can rest”, summarize Taicia and Margaret. The royal coffin will be in the throne room of the Palace of Holyroodhouse tonight. Tomorrow, King Charles III will escort his mother to St. Giles Cathedral, where a mass will be held in her honor before Edinburghers can pay their last respects to her in the cathedral throughout the night. Then she will fly to London for other ceremonies and tributes. Even in death, Queen Elizabeth II still has a few trials before true rest.

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