French fries may be back on DC's menu

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The Independent Online
Zut alors! What can this be? Is America finally ready to make up with those cheese-eating surrender monkeys? On one level, at least, that appears to be the case. In a festival starting next week called "Paris on the Potomac", the US capital is celebrating the French influence of its origins. The entente may not be entirely cordiale, but at least it is a start.

"Obviously this is a city of diplomacy," Rebecca Paw-lowski, a spokeswoman for the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corporation, said diplomatically. "The French have always had an important relationship with this country and in the development and layout of this city. We don't have any ill will."

How quickly feelings can change. Just 18 months ago, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, which France had strongly opposed, feelings between the US and France were at their lowest level for probably a generation. Not since President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from Nato's command structure and ordered US troops off French soil in 1966 had there been such animosity.

The French accused the US of warmongering and arrogance; the US accused the French of cowardice and treachery. In one ludicrous episode, a diner in Beaufort, North Carolina, renamed its french fries "freedom fries". The renaming then caught on in restaurants, cafes and bars all over the country. Even the three cafeterias on Capitol Hill followed suit.

The festival will feature French food, art and music, as well as focusing on the role of Pierre l'Enfant, the 19th-century French engineer and architect who designed the layout of the city. Among the artists being featured will be Toulouse-Lautrec at the National Gallery of Art, Berthe Morisot at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and Modigliani - with a focus on the fruits of his 14-year career in Paris - at the Phillips Collection.

In the summer of 2003, the French embassy felt so under attack that ambassador Jean-David Levitte wrote an open letter complaining that a misinformation campaign had been started by elements within the Bush administration. Now the embassy is sponsoring French jazz and cabaret performances at venues throughout the city. It is also backing a French film festival.

At the National Archives, the Americans in Paris exhibit will spotlight Americans whose encounters with France have affected history. The Black Fashion Museum will feature the career of Carol Mongo, the first black American director of the Parsons School of Design in Paris. Eighteen restaurants are taking part in the promotion by highlighting French food.

A spokeswoman for the French embassy said: "As far as French and American relations are concerned, we are all moving forward. We clearly disagreed over whether it was necessary to invade Iraq. It is important to move in that direction."