French president visits Louisiana to strengthen cultural ties

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron arrived Friday in Louisiana, the U.S. state most closely aligned historically with his country, to celebrate their longstanding cultural ties but also to discuss energy policy and climate change.

Macron’s office said he would meet with political leaders and be expected to see the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, the heart of the city. The lawyer said the visit was the first by a French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing visited Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976. The only other French president to visit Louisiana was Charles de Gaulle in 1960 .

Macron was expected to visit Jackson Square, where he was reportedly greeted by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He then had to go to the Historic New Orleans Collection to discuss the impacts of climate change with Governor John Bel Edwards. Macron was also scheduled to meet representatives of energy companies.

Edwards, a Democrat, has been outspoken about the dangers of climate change in a state where tens of thousands of jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry. That makes the New Orleans shutdown “very emblematic” of climate-related efforts, French officials said.

In addition, Macron and Edwards reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding “to further expand and strengthen the strong cultural ties between France and Louisiana in the fields of the economy, clean energy and the environment,” according to the governor’s office.

During Macron’s visit to Washington on Thursday, he and President Joe Biden issued a joint statement expressing “their deep concern about the growing impact of climate change and nature loss” and said they “intend to continue to stimulate national and global action to address it.”

Louisiana is named after Louis XIV, the famous Sun King who ruled France for 72 years starting in 1643. New Orleans is where the Louisiana Purchase was finalized. The agreement transferred the Louisiana Territory, which included much of what is now the central United States, from France to the United States in 1803.

Macron was expected to use his visit to the city to announce plans to expand programming to support French language education in the U.S.

“We want the French language to be a language for everyone and thus give a new image of French in the United States,” Macron said in French during a speech to the French community in Washington DC on Wednesday

Macron’s visit to New Orleans was to include a stop at the Cabildo in the French Quarter, where ceremonies marking the transfer of the Louisiana Territory were held.

Christiane Geisler, 70, was on the street next to the Cabildo on Friday. In her right hand was a small American flag and in her left was the French flag.

French-born Geisler moved to Louisiana six years ago and was thrilled at the chance to see the French president.

“For me, when I moved here, I had a good sense of French,” Geisler said.

Macron and his wife walked down a street in the French Quarter, stopping to talk and shake hands along the way. He stopped next to a brass band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” and nodded to the tune.

The French Quarter is the historic heart of New Orleans over 300 years old. First settled in 1700, devastated by fire twice, it is 13 blocks long and about six blocks wide. It is best known as a tourist spot and commercial district where a reimagined French market, fine restaurants, antique shops and art galleries coexist alongside T-shirt shops, strip joints and bars playing live music by cover bands.

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