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 but also to discuss energy policy and climate change.
Macron's office said he would meet with political leaders and was scheduled to see New Orleans' historic French Quarter, the heart of the city. 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 was scheduled to visit Jackson Square, where he would be welcomed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He was then expected to head to the Historic New Orleans Collection to discuss climate change impacts with Gov. John Bel Edwards. Macron was also scheduled to meet with energy company representatives.
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.
In addition, Macron and Edwards were to sign 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," according to the governor's office.
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 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 all and therefore give a fresh image of the French in the United States," Macron said in French during a speech Wednesday to the French community in Washington D.C.
Macron's New Orleans visit was set 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, stood Friday on the street beside the Cabildo. In her right hand was a small American flag and in her left was the French flag.
Geisler, who was born in France, moved to Louisiana six years ago and was thrilled to have a chance to see the French president.
"For me, when I moved here, it had a good feeling of French," Geisler said.
Macron and his wife walked down a French Quarter street, stopping to speak and shake hands along the way. He paused next to a brass band playing "When the Saints Go Marching In'" and nodded along to the tune.
The French Quarter is the more than 300-year-old historic heart of New Orleans. First settled in the 1700s, ravaged by fire twice, it is 13 blocks long and roughly 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 blasting live music by cover bands.