Preserving the French connection to New Orleans

3rd October 2005, Comments 0 comments

CAMERON PARISH, Louisiana, Oct 1 (AFP) - France's ambassador to the US toured the storm-ravaged Louisiana coast on Saturday and promised help for France's "brothers and sisters" in the battered region.

CAMERON PARISH, Louisiana, Oct 1 (AFP) - France's ambassador to the US toured the storm-ravaged Louisiana coast on Saturday and promised help for France's "brothers and sisters" in the battered region.

"It's like matchsticks," Jean-David Levitte said after peering from a US Army helicopter hovering above what was left of the hard-hit town of Cameron. "I underestimated how much water there was. It's an absolute disaster."

Arrangements are being made to fly out-of-work musicians from the US "jazz capitol" to Paris for a November concert to raise money to help Louisiana rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Levitte said.

Millions of dollars in donations from companies in France have already been gathered and earmarked for New Orleans and environs, Levitte said.

Money will be spent on resurrecting French immersion and bilingual schools in the portions of Louisiana devastated by hurricanes Rita and Katrina, according to the ambassador.

"All the French have Louisiana in their heads and want to help make New Orleans better and more beautiful than ever," Levitte said. "Louisiana is, in a way, part of the history of France."

"One of the great mistakes of Napoleon was the Louisiana Purchase," Levitte said, commenting on the bargain basement price for which the vast territory was sold. "But, that is past."

French colonists founded New Orleans in 1718. French trappers and traders already lived in the area, and the city soon became the capital of French-owned Louisiana, a vast territory that roughly encompassed the Mississippi river basin.

Napoléon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803, doubling the size of the young country overnight.

Today, a portion of the population still speaks Cajun, a dialect of French. Cajun music and cuisine contribute to the distinctive Louisiana culture that draws tourists to the region.

French consul Pierre Lebovics and his staff worked to help members of the area's 3,000-strong French national community in the wakes of the storms.

Levitte, who was ambassador to the United Nations and watched from his office there when jets were flown into the World Trade Center in 2001, acknowledge a falling out over Iraq, but said the allies' bond remains strong.

"We are all the same democratic family," Levitte said. "It is like the United States and France are in marriage counseling, but I think the marriage is strong."

Levitte's visit was to check on French citizens and see what more France could do to help. The French airlifted supplies and sent a contingent of "frog men" to do search and rescue in the flood waters, Levitte said.

Levitte's helicopter stopped in a field in the town of Erath, where an Acadian museum was damaged along with 90 percent of the homes in the community of about one million people.

"His visit is a very important symbol," said Warren Perrin, who heads the state Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. "It will give hope to the people here."

Perrin, who greeted Levitte on the ground, said saving the area's once-thriving French culture is imperative to the multi-billion dollar tourism industry here.

"We don't want to be a Disneyland," Perrin said. "We've got to keep it real with the French language."

Lebovics ushered Levitte away at the tours end. They were to meet with French families at a convent in New Orleans.

"I've never seen so much devastation," Lebovics said as he left the airfield. "It shows us how fragile the coast really is and how much we must protect it."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news


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