Three recent events rallied around the bleu, blanc and rouge of the French flag to celebrate the French National Day, July 14, or as it is better known in the States, Bastille Day. Then-Consul General of France Jean-Claude Brunet and his wife, Muriel, hosted a reception at the Degas House (Maison Degas) on Esplanade Avenue while, Uptown and concurrently, debutante Isabel Starke Irvine was feted by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Richardson Irvine III, in French-themed fun at the home of Lil and Reese Pinney. On the preceding day, Bastille Day Celebration Inc. held the annual Mass in French at Holy Name of Jesus Church followed by the “Dejeuner” at Commander’s Palace. For each of the three gatherings, Gallic delights abounded, as did the remembrance of the events on July 14, 1789, when France took its first steps toward democracy.
The Consul General’s Fête and Farewell
Addressing the assembly, Consul General Jean-Claude Brunet said, in French, and later in English, that it was a great pleasure for him and his wife and the office of the Consulate General of France to host the reception. He stated the importance of the chosen site, the Degas House, where famous French painter, Edgar Degas, was a visitor in 1873, and expressed thanks to owner David Villarrubia.
Further words from Brunet were addressed to his French kinsmen, the chers compatriots, as well as to the Consular Corps and the many distinguished guests in attendance. He talked about the representation of France in New Orleans and Louisiana, and the country’s many roles in education, exchange programs, trade, history, and culture, concluding with how much he has enjoyed the word “lagniappe.” After a general singing of the national anthems of the U.S. and France, he beckoned the crowd to enjoy the champagne.
The talk took on another dimension because it was the last official one Consul General Brunet would make in this city, which he described as “unique and wonderful” and one that his family had grown to cherish. (As a career diplomat, he moves around every several years, and the Brunets’ next post will be in Munich.) As parting gifts, Consular Corps Dean Constance “Conny” Willems (attending with husband Casey) and French American Chamber of Commerce-Gulf Coast President Eric Belin presented him with gifts and a host of well wishes for the future.
Among the many noted were City Councilwoman Susan Guidry with husband Hervin, University of New Orleans President Peter Fos and spouse Lori Ann, Cajun historian and CODOFIL (Council of Development of French in Louisiana) President Dr. William “Bill” Arceneaux, CODOFIL executive director Joseph Dunn and Mrs. Dunn, World Trade Center of New Orleans CEO Dominik Knoll, Buddy Bolton of the French Heritage Society, and Damien Regnard, who answers to several titles, one of which is a representative of French living abroad.
And, with titles, too, Randy Duran, Marcus Ledoux, Courtney-Anne Sarpy with Walker Ronaldson, Michael Guillot, Melvin Bouboulis, Christian Goudeau, Albinas and Manon Prizgintas, the Scott Sullivans, Howard Hunter, spouses Timothy Todd Simmons and Katherine “Kate” Halm, Bartholomew Wander, Aurelie Champvert with husband Maurice and their baby Gary, Beatrice Germaine, Loretta Krasnow, Serge and Sophie Castagne, Rene Bajeux, Peggy Scott Laborde, Jimmy and Karen Baldwin, Jacqueline Simon, Mark Romig, Brigitte Gomane and husband Gene Scaramuzzo, spouses Howard Margot and Suzanne Stouse, Dan Fuselier, Jeff Hockenheimer, John Desplas, Zara Danforth, Paul Mauffray, Glen and Michelle Pitre, Justine Guschlbauer, and beaucoup more.
Degas House provided the catering and accordionist/vocalist Bart Ramsey, who was accompanied by recent bridegroom Chris Edmunds on guitar, added the musical noteworthiness. American and French flags were placed on the corner of a porch behind the speakers, while the table centerpieces were of the French “three colors” and daisies in vases. Overhead, lights came on as twilight arrived.
Among the parting words to the Brunets (who departed the city two days later) were those of Conny Willems, who wished that there would be an exception in diplomatic posting and that the Brunets would stay. She closed, saying she hoped they would return to the city for a visit during the tricentennial celebration of 2018. Everyone applauded.
Bonjour, Mademoiselle: Debutante Doings
Tricolore bunting with gold tassels, French flags, fleur-de-lis motifs, and massed roses in silver vases were among the decorative touches in the Pinney residence at the party honoring Mademoiselle Isabel Irvine, as were the sectional accents. In the front parlors, the look was decidedly Parisian; in the back of the house, guests visited Provence; and outside, the ambiance was “bal populaire,” thanks to café lights and music of the French Gypsy Jazz duo Raphael Bass and Norbert Slama.
The limelighted threesome, the deb and her parents, garnered their own looks with Isabel in a Sue Wong design, mother Sallye in a French-blue frock, and dad George combining the three signature colors, especially in his cravate.
French libations and food by Patti Constantin Designs in Catering, such as shots of vichyssoise, croque-monsieur sandwiches, steamed mussels, and macarons, added Gallic gustation.
All this was relished by the debutante set, along with close amis of the Irvines in Nina Gensler, Phil Gensler and Beverly Lamb, Lally Brennan and Stephen Parker, Grace and Ken Newburger, Mary Beth Ellis (who taught French to hostess Lil Pinney and deb mother Sallye Irvine at Country Day a couple of decades ago), Katherine and Robbie Saer with sons Matthew and Hayes, Black and Stephanie Chaffe (in from Mobile, Alabama), Margaret Weese Riley and Ken McNeil, Edgar and Ashley Bright, Lois Smitherman and daughter Marylynn, Cindy and Robert Weinmann, Michael Bell and son Bristol, and two sets of threesomes in Debbie, Bobby and Karoline Patrick, as well as George and Trisha Clay with Claire. This Bastille Day fete rated a resounding “oui” for fun.
Bastille Day Celebration
First the prayers, then the prandial pleasures! Traditionally, the Mass in French for the Bastille Day Celebration has taken place at St. Louis Cathedral, but for 2014, the venue was Holy Name of Jesus Church on St. Charles Avenue with pastor the Rev. Eddie Gros, S.J., as the presider and homilist. Assisting were Deacon Ron Guidry, organist Jonathan Szymanski, cantor Megan Rhianne Mitchell, Damien Regnard for the introduction, readers Charles Regnard and Katherine Gracki, and intercessionist Colette Stelly. Special guests at the Mass were Consul General Jean-Claude and Muriel Brunet and their three children, Jean-Alexandre, Bettina and Virgile.
Continuing with tradition was the Commander’s Palace-housed “Dejeuner (or Luncheon),” that focused on gumbo du jour, wild white shrimp remoulade, grillades and cheese grits, and a praline parfait.
Breaking French bread in the restaurant’s Coliseum Room II and savoring the socializing were the five Brunets; David Gooch with fiancée Julia Nuzum and her mother, Janet Russell Abadie; Phillip Mollere with Linda Bizzaro and guest Michel Spichiger; Dr. Roger D. Smith and spouse Georgie; Dr. James “Jim” Reynolds with Marilyn Rusovich; George Cassard with Susan Couvillon; Dr. Ricardo and Dolly Dean Martinez; Louis R. Koerner Jr.; Kim Porter; Dr. Hugh Robertson with Jane Guild; Edwin Fleischmann with Ruby Shrieves; Jeanne Williams; and Dianne Huber. Several were representatives of various French societies, such as Les Causeries du Lundi, France-Amerique, L’Union Française, and the hosting BDC.
Singing added the perfect French fillip. The above Hugh Robertson, a trained singer, led the group in “La Marseillaise,” France’s national anthem. Rousing applause followed. The day also happened to be the birthday of Muriel Brunet and the Commander’s Palace Dixieland Trio performed with all attendees joining in a spirited “Happy Birthday.”