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France reaches out to Katrina victims

Museums, companies and towns have made donations and offers to house, rent-free, New Orleans musicians.

November 26, 2005|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — France has offered to fly over some of the city's musicians and provide them with rent-free residences and monthly stipends for up to three months, in hopes of compensating for concerts canceled after Hurricane Katrina.

Major French museums, including the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Centre Pompidou, also intend to help the New Orleans Museum of Art put on an exhibit of major French artists, probably in 2007.

It's all part of a French effort to help residents of Louisiana, which has retained strong cultural ties to France since Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in 1803.

"It's like a family story," said Pierre Lebovics, the French consul general in New Orleans. "You love a person, and this person goes to the hospital and you discover that you really love that person. Such tragedy happens and you discover the reality and the depth of your feelings."

French companies have donated more than $18.5 million in aid to Louisiana, and the national and local governments are sending money and planning programs aimed at helping Louisiana cash in on its cultural heritage.

A recent concert in Paris with celebrity French performers and some Louisiana musicians -- including Zachary Richard, who often sings in French -- also raised $100,000 for relief efforts.

France also has set up 15 rent-free residences in hopes that New Orleans musicians can focus on their music until they can make a living again at home, Lebovics said.

The French city of Nantes gave $40,000 to St. Martinville, a small south Louisiana town that was among the first settlements of Acadians, also known as Cajuns, expelled from the maritime provinces of Canada in 1755. Another French city, Clermont-Ferrand, donated nearly $60,000 for New Orleans schools.

Fewer than 200,000 of Louisiana's 4.47 million residents speak French regularly today, and most of those still speaking the language are elderly. Still, the state's continued ties to France have remained apparent in other ways.

The official symbol of the Louisiana Recovery Authority -- the state body created to direct post-hurricane rebuilding -- is a fleur-de-lis, which was the symbol of the French monarchy when France established colonial Louisiana.

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