While in Lafayette for a long-scheduled visit to meet with the Horse Farm park planners and deliver a lecture, the chief gardener for France’s Palace of Versailles on Tuesday said Americans have long showed solidarity with France in its darkest hours.
Alain Baraton, 58, who’s overseen Versailles’ gardens since 1982, arrived in Lafayette two days after a multisite terrorist attack left 129 dead and scores injured in Paris, about 13 miles northeast of the palace.
“Terrible events have plunged France into chaos, but my coming (to Lafayette) was never in doubt, because to have allowed these dastardly deeds to interfere with my free travel would have been an insult to liberty,” Baraton said through translator Christian Goudeau, honorary consul of France for Acadiana.
To a crowd of more than 200 attending an Alliance Française de Lafayette luncheon, Baraton expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support since the attacks, which he said is “a true testament to our country’s mutual commitment to freedom and democracy.”
“We are truly daughters of the same mother,” Baraton said.
He said discussions of Versailles always chronicle the monarchs who led the palace’s construction, “but throughout the history of Versailles, there has always been an American present” — an aspect of the French-American relationship he holds near to his heart, he said.
Such instances include when oil tycoon and philanthropist John Rockefeller helped restore the grounds after World War I and when U.S. citizens and municipalities lent support following disastrous 1999 storms that destroyed 48,000 trees on the grounds.
Baraton met with Lafayette Central Park planners on Tuesday morning and reviewed the 100-acre property’s master plan, also offering professional expertise he’s cultivated in more than three decades overseeing the palace’s almost 2,000-acre grounds.
Lafayette Central Park Executive Director E.B. Brooks said Baraton was very impressed with the park plans and he expressed appreciation for the community-driven approach that guided its design — a stark contrast to Versailles, where kings constructed the palace as an expression of the supreme reign of the French monarchy.
“It is an interesting juxtaposition,” Brooks said.
But much like the first Acadian settlers of south Louisiana, French monarchs built the Palace of Versailles upon swamplands.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.