By SARA CLINE and SYLVIE CORBET
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron arrived Friday in Louisiana, the American state most closely aligned historically with his country, to celebrate their longstanding cultural ties and also discuss energy policy and climate change.
Macron met with political leaders and strolled with first lady Brigitte Macron through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, the heart of the city, stopping to talk and shake hands with bystanders. He paused next to a street brass band and nodded and clapped as they played “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The Advocate reported that the visit is the first by a French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976. The only other French president to visit Louisiana was Charles de Gaulle in 1960.
Macron’s itinerary started at Jackson Square. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell walked him to the Historic New Orleans Collection where Macron discussed climate change impacts with Gov. John Bel Edwards. The French president also met with energy company representatives.
Macron told Edwards he was overcome by the reception in the city.
“What I think this signifies is a special relationship we have with France. It is historical and cultural,” Edwards said.
Edwards, a Democrat, has been outspoken about the perils of climate change in a state where tens of thousands of jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry. This makes the stop to New Orleans “very emblematic” of climate-related efforts, French officials said.
“This state visit enables us to put France, and with France Europe, at the heart of the American agenda. That’s a good thing,” Macron told journalists in French, according to a translation from pool reporters.
During a brief meeting, the governor and Macron signed a memorandum of understanding “to further expand and enhance the strong cultural connections between France and Louisiana in the areas of the economy, clean energy and the environment,” Edwards’ office said.
“Like me, President Macron believes that climate change is real,” Edwards said.
During Macron’s visit to Washington on Thursday, he and President Joe Biden released a joint statement expressing “their deep concern regarding the growing impact of climate change and nature loss” and said they “intend to continue to galvanize domestic and global action to address it.”
Louisiana is named for 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 deal transferred the Louisiana Territory, which encompassed much of what is today the central United States, from France to the U.S. in 1803.
Macron’s New Orleans visit included a stop at the Cabildo, where ceremonies marking the land transfer were held.
Christiane Geisler, 70, stood Friday on the street beside the building, clutching the U.S. and the French flags.
Born in France, she moved to Louisiana six years ago and was thrilled to have a chance to see the Macron.
“For me, when I moved here, it had a good feeling of French,” Geisler said.
The French Quarter, 13 blocks long and roughly six wide, was first settled in the 1700s and was later ravaged twice by fire. It 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 blasting live music by cover bands.
Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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