France’s consul general for the Southeast U.S., Philippe Ardanaz, received a roaring welcome when he assumed his new post in Atlanta on Aug. 29, 2005, the day that Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast.
Instead of making diplomatic rounds to local business and civic leaders, Mr. Ardanaz was thrown into the work of distributing provisions and services to French and American residents on the coast, who had seen their homes and possessions knocked down and swept away.
“We wanted to help people, not just give them words,” he told GlobalAtlanta during an interview in his Buckhead office on July 9, 54 days before he returns to Paris to assume new responsibilities at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Ardanaz has been counting the days before his return at the end of August to France where he will be director of the ministry’s audit department.
Meanwhile, he has been putting his finishing touches on Franco-Southeast relations. At the time of the interview, for instance, he was making last minute preparations for a rocking July 14 Bastille Day celebration at the Atlanta City Hall featuring the U.S. Beat Band and its lead singer Vanessa Langlais, who would sing both the U.S. and French national anthems flawlessly.
At the City Hall celebration, Mayor Shirley Franklin honored Mr. Ardanaz with the city’s Phoenix Award.
The Bastille Day celebration also marked multiple anniversaries of several French organizations in Atlanta including 20th anniversary of the opening of the consulate general in Atlanta and next year’s 25th anniversary for the founding of the French American Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, the July 14th celebration recognized the 15th anniversary of Atlanta-accueil, which assists newly arrived residents from France, and the Atlanta-Toulouse Sister City relationship, which was founded in 1975.
During his stay, Mr. Ardanaz had seen the relations between the U.S. and France swing from the days of “freedom fries” and the political rift over the war in Iraq to a less controversial period under the administrations of Presidents Sarkozy and Obama.
But even under the improved surface relations, he said that overcoming preconceptions about both France and the Southeast are a continuing challenge.
“We have to keep telling Americans that France is not just about food and the quality of life,” he said. “It also is about high tech, biotech, bullet trains, the Concorde and Airbus.”
He also said that he felt Americans were generally unaware of how intertwined the two economies are and unaware that U.S. jobs were put at risk by calls of boycotting French goods.
The French, he added, had their blind spots about the U.S. and are mostly unaware “of the new reality of Atlanta and the Southeast” despite the presence of organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control or biomedical clusters like the Research Triangle in North Carolina.
Looking back over the past four years, he said that his efforts to bring the different French organizations in Atlanta together in a still to be disclosed location should be a lasting legacy.
He also said that the three-year Louvre Atlanta project, which was responsible for 500 works of art from the Louvre to be displayed at the High Museum of Art, would result in long-lasting ties between the two cultural institutions.
In addition, Mr. Ardanaz said he fully supported initiatives such as that of the consulate to have a facebook page and that of the Coastal Heritage Society of Savannah and the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau to launch a Website in French about Savannah’s 300-year relationship with France.
He is to be replaced by Pascal Le Deunff, who is being transferred from Bangkok, Thailand, to Atlanta. Dr. Le Deunff, who has a doctorate in economics, served in San Francisco from 1988-92 and since then has held posts in Stuttgart, Germany; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Ljubljana, Slovenia as well as Paris.
The consulate general’s Web site may be found at www.consulfrance-atlanta.org