Monday, February 10, 2014

President Obama & President Hollande Begin State Visit With Tour Of Jefferson's Monticello

The Presidents walk the west front of Monticello with their guide
The "wonderful visit" represents "the incredible history between the United States and France, says President Obama...
Charlottesville, VirginiaPresident Barack Obama and President François Hollande on Monday afternoon paid tribute to the centuries-old alliance between the US and France with a visit to Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson's historic plantation estate that was the canvas for his multi-faceted genius for four decades.

The Presidents with guide Leslie Bowman
The idyll on a very cold afternoon at the mountaintop home with sweeping views of the Piedmont kicked off Hollande's two-day State Visit.  President Obama dubbed the rare field trip "a wonderful visit," saying it represented the "incredible history between the United States and France."  

The two leaders were making more history: It was the first time a sitting president has escorted a foreign head of state to Monticello.  Hollande arrived in the US on Monday shortly before joining Mr. Obama at Andrews Air Force Base for the flight to Charlottesville.

The architect for the Declaration of Independence and  the domed Neo-Classical/Colonial Revival brick mansion that is the heart of the plantation, Jefferson served as US Minister to France from 1785-1789, and witnessed the French Revolution.  He returned to the US permanently changed, and permanently in love with French culture.

Standing with Hollande in the green-walled Grand Foyer after their tour, President Obama said the visit also represented "the incredible bond and the incredible gifts that France gave us."  

President Hollande admires the mountaintop view
The  2,500 acre plantation now owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., includes restored slave quarters, where visitors learn many details about the enslaved people's daily life.  Jefferson had a contradictory relationship with the institution; he owned nearly 200 slaves, though he believed enslaved people should be free.  He also fathered six children with Sally Hemings, one of his own slaves whom he never married.  

Monticello, said President Obama, represents the "complicated history of the United States," as well as the "complex relations" between Jefferson and the institution of slavery. 

For both France and the United States, Monticello is "a reminder for both of us that we are going to continue to fight on behalf of the rights of all peoples, something I know France has always been committed to and we are committed to as well," President Obama said.

The alliance between the US and France has transitioned into one of global magnitude, the two Presidents wrote in an Op-Ed published on Monday, and should serve as "a model for international cooperation" for other nations that dealing with "transnational challenges" that include "advancing freedom and human rights."

The Presidents make remarks in the Grand Foyer
Hollande after the tour also paid tribute to the US-French alliance, noting that Jefferson had been in France during the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.

"We were allies in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette.  We are still allies today," Hollande said.  "We were friends in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette, and we will remain friends forever."

Hollande also quipped that "Jefferson purchased Louisiana from Napoleon.  And today we are not demanding anything."

"It was a good bargain, though," President Obama said, laughing.  

The Presidents were led on their tour by Leslie Greene Bowman, President of the Foundation.  She showed them through the undergound kitchen Jefferson had constructed to indulge his many culinary experiments with the bounty of his vast kitchen garden, which is honored in First Lady Michelle Obama's own White House Kitchen Garden, where there is a bed dedicated to the most famous presidential gardener.  

There's also a Marseilles fig tree gifted to Mrs. Obama by Monticello, cultivated from one of the trees in Jefferson's vast orchards.  He inherited the land from his father at 26, and the first improvement he made was planting an orchard of fruit trees.

Jefferson's kitchen featured a clock for precise cooking, an innovation for the time period.  The two leaders also viewed Jefferson's study, where he would write from a special bed he invented for the purpose. 

A snack aboard the "mini" Air Force One
The Presidents arrived together at Monticello shortly before 5:00 PM after flying from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to Charlottesville aboard Air Force One.  Thanks to a an airport runway too short for the 747 that is typically used as Air Force One, they traveled aboard a special 757 aircraft, a Boeing C-32 aircraft.  "The plane is spanking new inside and features leather chairs all around," pool reported.

"The aircraft offers upgraded communication capabilities from the previous generation of C-32 aircraft.  The 89th Air Wing at Andrews Air Force Base now has three such modified C-32 aircraft to support their worldwide mission, a process which started back in 2005," the White House said.

Boarding the "mini" Air Force One
The Presidents took off from Charlottesville at 6:15 PM, and arrived back at Andrews Air Force Base at 6:49.   They climbed aboard Marine One, and flew to the Washington Monument landing zone, arriving at 7:15 PM.  There could be no landing at the White House, thanks to the vast pavilion that has been constructed on the South Lawn for Tuesday night's State Dinner.  

The separate French and American motorcades left the landing zone at 7:20 PM and President Obama was back at the White House at 7:24 PM.  


On Tuesday morning, President Obama will welcome Hollande to the White House with an elaborate formal Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn.  The two leaders will have bilateral meetings, and a joint press conference.  Hollande will then be feted at a State Department lunch co-hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.  

On Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM, President and Mrs. Obama will honor Hollande as they host their seventh State Dinner.  Singer Mary J. Blige will perform for the 348 guests invited, aides announced today.  The menu will feature bounty sourced from across America, focusing on small and local growers and food artisans.

*CLICK HERE for links to all posts about the State Visit.

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*Top photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House; second and third by Pete Souza/White House; others from l'Elysee