President Emmanuel Macron arrived on Friday in New Orleans, a city emblematic of historic Franco-American ties, to promote the French language and conclude his three-day state visit to the US.
The day after a lavish reception at the White House that sealed the “friendship” of the French President with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, he landed in the Louisiana city for a brief stop.
After being welcomed by a traditional Mardi Gras Indian and a member of the Crescent City All Stars Second Line band on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, Mr Macron and his wife, Brigitte, walked through the streets of the city's lively French Quarter.
Removing his jacket, Mr Macron strolled beside New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, clasping the hands of well-wishers and beaming widely.
He spoke briefly with women holding signs in support of protests in Iran.
During an impromptu press briefing, he praised “a land of creolisation” where “French is loved”, and prepared later to announce a programme to broaden access to French language training.
He had said in Washington that he wanted to renovate the image of French in the US, where it is “sometimes seen as elitist”.
Before taking off from Washington on Friday morning, Mr Macron attended a breakfast with representatives of digital companies during which he, according to the Elysee, recalled “all the efforts” made since his first term to “make France the leading European country in tech”.
Once a French colonial city, New Orleans was sold to the US by Napoleon Bonaparte as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and Mr Macron has called it “the quintessential francophone land”.
Besides celebrating French-American ties, Mr Macron will pay tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in and around New Orleans and caused billions of dollars in damage in 2005.
Accompanied by French film director Claude Lelouch and dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Mr Macron is scheduled to meet local artists and prominent cultural figures of New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz.
Shortly after his arrival, Mr Macron and European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna met Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. As Mr Macron looked on, Ms Colonna and Mr Edwards signed an accord to promote and carry out joint clean energy initiatives.
The visit came on the heels of a lavish dinner at the White House, headlined by master jazzman Jon Batiste, who comes from a family of New Orleans musicians.
Mr Macron's state visit — the first such formal occasion since Mr Biden took office in January 2021 — symbolised how Washington and Paris have buried last year's bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favour of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.
The visit featured a full military honour guard for Mr Macron, including servicemembers from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb.