Wednesday, February 05, 2014

State Visit: Pres. Obama Will Escort France's Hollande On A Tour Of Jefferson's Monticello

President Obama and President Hollande in the Oval Office, May '12
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness:  The French President will be stag during his two days at the White House...
Update, Feb. 9:  The Presidents' Schedules Update, Feb. 7: WH builds an outdoor pavilion for the State Dinner
Washington, DC - As a kick-off to President François Hollande's State Visit, President Barack Obama will treat the French leader to a tour of Monticello, the historic Charlottesville, Virginia plantation home where President Thomas Jefferson lived for four decades, the White House has announced.  Update, Feb. 9:  The Presidents' Schedules

The visit to the the third President's beloved estate located about 120 miles from the White House on Monday, Feb. 10th will pay homage to the "historic partnership" between the two nations, the White House said:  "Since the time of our founding fathers, the United States and France have been allies and friends." 

"As the residence of Thomas Jefferson, one of the United States’ earliest envoys to France, Monticello reflects Jefferson’s affection for the people of France, the long-standing relations between our two democracies, and the shared values we hold dear:  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," the White House said.

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and before becoming president (1801-09) he was Minister to France, serving between 1785 and 1793.  Born in Albemarle County, VA, Jefferson inherited the mountain-top land where Monticello is located from his father.  He started building on the 2,500 acre estate at age 26.

The west front of Monticello
Hollande will see Jefferson's full genius on display when he tours Monticello with President Obama. Inspired by his years living in France, during his forty years of residence at Monticello Jefferson designed and redesigned his red brick Colonial Revival/Neo-Classical mansion.  Now maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., the grounds include the family cemetery where Jefferson rests, slave quarters, stables, a pond, and his lush, historically recreated gardens, including his vast vegetable garden, a botanic showcase for edible crops from around the globe.

"President Obama looks forward to sharing this piece of our shared history with President Hollande," the White House said.

There's a little bit of that shared history at the White House:  First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn has a "Jefferson" bed that pays homage to America's most famous presidential gardener, which includes an array of Jefferson's favorite crops from Monticello (Tennis Ball lettuce, Sea Kale, and Scarlet Runner Beans, among other crops).  Jefferson adored French cuisine, and wine.  He had his own vineyard at Monticello, and bottled his own wine.  There were also orchards.

In 2009, as she started her garden, Monticello gifted Mrs. Obama with a young Marseilles fig tree cultivated from one of Jefferson's trees.  It has grown tall in the Kitchen Garden, where it has been fruiting since 2011.  Peter Hatch, Monticello's longtime master gardener who restored Jefferson's gardens, offered plenty of gardening advice to Mrs. Obama for her White House plot.  Hatch has since retired.

Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden typically provides bounty for State Dinners, but given the polar weather conditions in DC for the last two months, it's unclear how much produce can be used by the White House chefs.   But the garden is still growing winter greens under four hoop houses, protective coverings that are installed during the cold season.

President Obama has previously visited Charlottesville for fundraisers, as has Mrs. Obama, but his visit to Monticello is his first as president.  Mrs. Obama privately toured Monticello with the First Daughters in 2009, during the President's first term. 

The excursion with Hollande will be President Obama's second field trip when he's bestowing the highest social/political honor possible on a fellow world leader.  He innovated off-campus outings with the Official Visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron in March of 2012.   

On the eve of their formal visit, the First Fan treated Cameron to a trip to the University of Dayton in Ohio to catch an NCAA mens' basketball game, part of March Madness.  The two sat courtside and munched on hot dogs as they watched the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defeat the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils.  

Before that outing, on the eve of their formal visits, President Obama typically dined at home at the White House--or at a DC restaurant--with his guests of honor. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Hollande's State Visit will commence at the White House with a dramatic morning Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn, where hundreds of specially invited guests will watch as the two Presidents review the troops (weather permitting), and declaim their special relationship.  

After, there will be bilateral meetings, and Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry will co-host a luncheon for Hollande at the State Department.

The day will culminate with the lavish State Dinner, the seventh President and Mrs. Obama have hosted, and their first since Cameron's visit.  The evening will include a formal arrival ceremony for Hollande under the North Portico.  Evening gown and tuxedo-clad VIP guests will arrive through the East Wing, to a scrum of media.  

The Obamas will announce their carefully chosen musical performers for the evening next Tuesday, as well as the top-secret menu.  Update, Feb. 7:  For the Monticello tour, The President will travel with Hollande to and from Charlottesville aboard Air Force One, the White House announced.

Hollande will be stag for his visit; private domestic drama will have no impact, White House says....
Elected in 2012, Hollande, 59, will be solo as he is honored by President Obama.  He announced his split from his longtime domestic partner Ms. Valérie Trierweiler on January 25th, on the heels of allegations in the glossy French tabloid Closer that he was having an affair with Julie Gayet, a French actress almost two decades his junior.  

Though she never married Hollande, Trierweiler, 48, assumed the role of First Lady of France at official functions, and she was specifically invited by President Obama for Hollande's State Visit. 

"Michelle and I look forward to  welcoming President Hollande and Valérie Trierweiler on a state visit to the United States, to include a state dinner at the White House on February 11, 2014," President Obama said when announcing the visit.

Trierweiler has been a guest of the Obamas before:  She accompanied Hollande on his first visit to the White House in May of 2012.  She lunched with Mrs. Obama at the White House as Hollande huddled with the President at the Camp David G8.  The next day, Trierweiler joined Mrs. Obama again as she hosted a luncheon in Chicago.

Hollande has not publicly confirmed his relationship with Gayet, and the White House has steadfastly refused comment on the domestic uproar.  "There are no changes" for the State Visit plans, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters after the news of Hollande's alleged affair became public.

President Obama "looks forward to seeing President Hollande as planned," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told AFP, without further comment, after the French President telephoned the news outlet in January to announce his split from Trierweiler.  

Hollande never married Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children, and separated from her in 2007 to publicly pursue his romance with Trierweiler, according to French media. 

In that, the tour of Monticello with President Obama will have something beyond historic meaning for Hollande:  Jefferson never married Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore him six children during their decades-long relationship.  "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" has an acute meaning in this instance.  

Hollande, as a side note, has polled as the most unpopular president in modern French history. 

Just one other leader has arrived stag for a State Visit with President Obama:  China's then-President Hu Jintao, honored in January of 2011.    

Mrs. Obama's schedule...
As for Hollande's romantic life having no impact on the State Visit schedule:  That's not entirely true.  Mrs. Obama has typically escorted the spouses of visiting leaders to special activities during their State and Official visits.  

For instance, during Cameron's visit, Mrs. Obama escorted Mrs. Samantha Cameron to an Olympic-themed event at American University in DC.  When President Obama honored South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in October of 2011, Mrs. Obama escorted First Lady Kim Yoon-ok to a high school in Northern Virginia for an afternoon of art performances.

The White House has not yet announced Mrs. Obama's schedule for the day of Hollande's State Visit.  

Hollande's State Visit and State Dinner is the first the President and Mrs. Obama will host in his second term.  The only State Dinner planned for 2013, for Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff, was "postponed" after she became outraged over allegations that the NSA had spied on her, including tapping her personal cell phone.  

The White House has yet to announce a new date for Rousseff's visit.

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*Photo by Pete Souza/White House; Monticello image courtesy of Monticello.org