Macron, Trump to dine at Mt Vernon, cradle of French-US amity

Mount Vernon, the colonial mansion of America's first president and founding father George Washington, is the setting for a private dinner on April 23, 2018 for US President Donald Trump, visiting French leader Emmanuel Macron and their wives

Mount Vernon (United States) (AFP) – The Trumps, it seems, have not forgotten their intimate meal with the Macrons on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower last July. They return the favor Monday, this time at an American landmark.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania have invited French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte for a private dinner at Mount Vernon, the lavish Virginia mansion of first president and founding father George Washington.

It is also a symbol of the “special relationship” between France and the United States.

Few details have emerged about the rendezvous. The site — a majestic 18th century colonial estate and one of America’s most visited homes — will close four hours early for a “private event.”

In 1961, the Kennedys and their guests arrived at Mount Vernon by presidential yacht. The state dinner in honor of Pakistan’s president was held on the east lawn, which offers an incomparable view of the Potomac River.

The iconic former plantation, just 15 miles (21 kilometers) from the capital Washington, welcomes more than a million visitors each year.

“It’s a really special place where you can actually feel like you are walking in the footsteps of Washington (and) the leaders of the revolution,” Mount Vernon curator Susan Schoelwer told AFP.

George Washington gradually expanded the property and the mansion over the 40 years he lived there. By the end of his life, his land exceeded 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares), and the house had grown to 21 rooms.

As a working plantation, Mount Vernon had more than 300 slaves in 1799. In his will, Washington mandated that his slaves be freed upon his wife’s death.

– An ‘adopted’ French son –

George and Martha Washington in their day were consummate hosts, and Mount Vernon proved the ideal escape for visiting dignitaries.

“The Washingtons were famous for their hospitality and many of the visitors that they entertained during those years were visitors from France, the most famous of which was the marquis de Lafayette,” Schoelwer said.

The French hero of the American war of independence “became so close to Washington that he was like an adopted son,” she added.

Imprisoned during the French revolution, Lafayette even sent his son, George Washington Lafayette, to take refuge in Mount Vernon.

A prime symbol of friendship between the two allies hangs in the mansion’s central hall: the key to the Bastille prison in Paris. 

The heavy wrought iron key was a gift from Lafayette to Washington shortly after the start of the French revolution, “on behalf of the people of France.”

“Even though Washington never traveled to France, it was clearly an important part of his personal history, as well as the nation’s history,” the curator said.

Carole Elbaz, a Frenchwoman living in the United States who came to enjoy a sunny outing at Mount Vernon, said: “We’ve heard about Lafayette. That’s what connects us to our history.” said .

Macron may walk Monday in the footsteps of Lafayette, but he is far from the first.

President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing attended a formal ceremony here with president Gerald Ford in 1976 to mark America’s bicentennial, while President Nicolas Sarkozy was hosted by George W. Bush in 2007.

Former prime ministers Georges Clemenceau and Aristide Briand, as well as general-turned-president Charles de Gaulle, have also visited, while French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau marked his 75th birthday at Mount Vernon in 1985 with a party featuring 2,000 guests.