In 2003, it will be two hundred years since Louisiana is no longer French, and yet, between the most French of the American states and the “sacred French” is a story that still lasts. Small reminder on the occasion of the Lousiana Purchase, which continues until April 2004.
A little history
Take three nations (the United States, France and England), a few Indian tribes, settlers, two great men (Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson), and an imprecise territory stretching from southern America to the Canadian border; shake well, and you get Louisiana, 18th American state since 1812. 2003 will mark the bicentenary of the final cession of this territory by France to the young republic of the United States. Almost everywhere, there and here, the close links forged over the centuries between France and its former province will be celebrated through exhibitions, cultural events and historical reenactments. Some have already started: the Louisiana Purchase party can begin!
Something to make you dizzy: Louisiana had ten different flags between 1541 and 1912! Suffice to say that this land passed from hand to hand ... It all started with a Spanish expedition in 1539. Part of Florida and led by the conquistador Hernando de Soto, it very quickly turned out to be a total fiasco ... De Soto died of fevers in the inhospitable bayous of the Mississippi and Spain gives up planting its flag there.
The more tenacious (or luckier?) French explorer Cavelier de la Salle succeeded in taking possession of this region in 1682 and baptized it Louisiana, in homage to the Sun King, of course. The Houmas Indians, primitive inhabitants of Louisiana, were not really exterminated, but rather forced to abandon the rich lands they exploited and forced to retreat to the swampy regions of the South.
The French colonists will quickly receive a "reinforcement" from the North: Acadia, territory of French Canada since 1604, passed into the hands of the English in 1713. The Acadians, francophones, refused British control and were massively expelled to the South. They swarm throughout the eastern United States, but a large number of them land in Louisiana. Acadians, Cadians, Cajuns: so many words to designate this people thanks to which the French-speaking traditions have been perpetuated until today.
Divided into two provinces, several times ceded by secret treaties, Louisiana only found a remedy for its "stateless" condition in 1803. The Emperor Napoleon decided to get rid of this cumbersome territory, a source of conflicts with the England which still covets her. It was sold in 1803 to the very young republic of the United States, represented by its president Thomas Jefferson, for fifteen million dollars.
The re-enactment of this event will be held in New Orleans on December 20, 2003 and will be the highlight of the Louisiana Purchase festivities. Before that, Franco-Louisiana links will be at the heart of events such as the Paintings in France 1803-2003 exhibition (Peintures de France 1803-2003): the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Pompidou center among others will lend canvases by artists as prestigious as Courbet, Monet, Matisse, Max Ernst or Pierre Soulages at the University of Lafayette. Aim of the maneuver: to highlight the historical links between France and the United States through art. On view from December 20, 2003 to April 1, 2004.
In the meantime, Napoleon, or rather his wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, is already in the spotlight at the Louisiana Center of Arts and Sciences in Bâton-Rouge: since mid-October, objects, jewelry, works of art from Malmaison are on display until mid-June Orléans, an exhibition around the jazz book, illustrated by Henri Matisse, shows, since October 15, photographs of the artist at work.
Lectures and several other exhibitions will focus on the mix of cultures that characterizes Louisiana: Spanish, British and French influences are felt in the Art, language and form of historical documents (letters, official texts) unearthed archives for the occasion.
Finally, the cession of Louisiana to the United States by France, perhaps because it was the occasion for a meeting between two figures as eminent as Napoleon and Jefferson, inspired music lovers. No less than two operatic creations are planned for 2003! One, Corps of Discovery, traces the expedition of two explorers over the Mississippi; the other, called simply Louisiana Purchase, recounts the tragic fate of Baroness Pontalba, member of an aristocratic Creole family, with the redemption of the province as a backdrop. Exclusively reserved for lyrical art lovers!
Since 1968, Louisiana has been the only bilingual French-English state in the United States ... Proof of a deeply rooted tradition. The French of Louisiana, very academic at the beginning, owes a lot to the Acadians who came from Canada. We thus find there the customary “asteur” (nowadays), “char” (car) and “bec” (kiss) of the Quebec lexicon. But also pure creations that make all the salt: if the "cocodril" (crocodile) is one of the best known, the French on a stroll will have difficulty following his interlocutor if he asks him if the "mosquitoes" ( mosquitoes) have not devoured him too much or if he wants to taste the "ouaouarins" (frogs), whose thighs are a classic of Cajun cuisine ...
A 1990 survey estimated the proportion of Francophones in Louisiana at 40%. Not the majority of the population, therefore, but 25% of them were under the age of 19, proof of a real renewed interest in the French language. Traditional music and zydeco, a kind of blues in French invented by the blacks of New Orleans, conquered the airwaves and left the confidentiality.
And in France ?
The France-Louisiane Américanie association, which has been working since 1977 to promote the use of French in Louisiana, will be involved in most of the celebrations planned in France. Historical conferences and the affixing of a plaque on the Hotel Tubeuf, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris, where the cession treaty of 1803 was signed, are already planned. A trip to Louisiana, still on the theme of Purchase, is in the works, as well as a collaboration with the Ministry of Culture in the organization of a more “official” commemoration. The calendar is not yet completely fixed: do not hesitate to visit their website or even to pay them a little visit: charming welcome and information!
Or sleep ?
In New Orleans
- Mazant Guesthouse, 906 Mazant (at the corner of Burgundy). Phone. : (001) 504-944-2662.
Double room at US $ 39, or US $ 44 with bathroom. Creole atmosphere in this old planter's house, quiet. Parquet, 1930s furniture and ceiling fans. Be careful, no breakfast!
- Chez Lejeune, Acadian B&B, 127, Vincent Road. Phone. and fax: (001) 337-856-5260.
Immersion in Cajun culture! Lea and Ray who run this Bed and Breakfast speak good French there. Night for two including lunch. You can also dine there, provided you warn in advance (about US $ 15).
Where to eat ?
In New Orleans
- The Napoleon House, 500 Chartres street, in the "old square", the French quarter. Phone. 524-9752.
Open every day until 22 end). This old house was the home of a convinced Bonapartist who planned to make the Emperor escape from Saint Helena and settle him here! Hence the profusion of souvenirs that decorate the walls ... Sandwiches and salads for less than US $ 10. The place is also a bar and tea room.
- Creole Lunch House, 713 12th street, at the corner of St-Charles. Phone: (001) 337-232-9929.
Open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 14 p.m. Undoubtedly the only authentically Creole restaurant in the region ... Inexpensive and particularly spicy dishes, served by black mamas with tasty talk.
Where to have a drink and listen to music?
In New Orleans
- Tipitina's, 501 Napoleon avenue. Phone. 897-3943
A little out of the way, west of the "old square". Mythical concert hall in the region. Every evening, varied programming: zydeco, jazz, Cajun or blues music. Entrance fee, but reasonable. Watch out for happy hour from 15 p.m. to 21 p.m.: free jambalaya and three cocktails for the price of one!
Photo credit: © Benoît Lucchini
Lousiana Purchase celebrations
From September 2002 until April 2004 throughout the state of Louisiana.
Program of events (in French) available at the Louisiana and New Orleans information offices: 5 bis, rue du Louvre, 75001 Paris. Phone. 44-77-88-05. Internet: www.ecltd.com
No reception of the public, but possibility to have many tourist brochures sent.
Or at the France-Louisiane Américanie association, 17, av. Reille, 75014 45-88-02-10. Internet: flfa.free.fr
Note: you can also purchase La Gazette de la Francophonie Américaine, the association's quarterly newsletter, which will devote a large part in its next edition to the festivities.