The Reign of Spain
Sus Majestades! Your Majesties! In the Leventhal Blue Room of the newly renovated Gallier Hall, the anticipation was almost palpable as a select crowd awaited the King and Queen of Spain, Felipe VI and Letizia. They were in New Orleans to celebrate the city’s tricentennial and the strong Spanish roots, as well as to tour the impressive exhibition at The Cabildo titled, “Recovered Memories: Spain, New Orleans and the Support for the American Revolution.” Fifty-five years ago, His Majesty’s grandparents, King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece, visited the Crescent City, the first sitting king and queen to do so. “That royal family must like us in New Orleans,” commented a guest.
Attendees at Gallier Hall were to be in place by 11 a.m., awaiting the arrival of Their Majesties at 11:30 a.m. They appeared right on time. Gov. John Bel Edwards, accompanied by the Louisiana first lady Donna Edwards, was the first to speak in the welcome ceremony. The next to address the assembly was Mayor LaToya Cantrell. She and her husband, first gentleman Jason Cantrell, and the 2018 NOLA Foundation, the supporting organization for the tricentennial, were the official hosts. His Majesty, Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbon y de Grecia, then strode forward. At 50 years of age and 6 feet, 6 inches tall, he commanded due attention. Four years and two days ago, he ascended to the Spanish throne upon the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos I. He and the queen have been married since 2004 and have two daughters, Leonor, the heir presumptive, and Sofia. He holds a law degree from the Autonomous University of Madrid and a master of science from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His roommate was his cousin, exiled Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, who met his future wife, duty-free-shopping heiress Marie-Chantal Miller, years ago in New Orleans. Yes, the family must like this city!
Felipe VI spoke in English, then switched to Spanish, to the delight of many attendees, who got to hear “the King’s Spanish.” From the welcome venue, guests passed through the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Hall to the IberiaBank Ballroom for lunch. Stunning arrangements in the red and yellow colors of Spain bedecked the tables covered in white linens. An amuse-bouche started the gala meal by chef Emeril Lagasse with special guest chef Nina Compton and was followed by summer squash salad, bronzed Gulf red snapper and a bananas Foster doberge cake. Appropriate Spanish wines accompanied each course. Her Majesty sipped Palais des Thés, Paris, jasmine tea. During the repast, King Felipe spoke, expressing his deepest sympathy for the city, as it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and lauded the strong recovery.
Among those seated at Their Majesties’ table were Gov. and Mrs. Edwards, Mayor and Mr. Cantrell, Ambassador of the U.S. to the Kingdom of Spain Richard Duke Buchan III, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain to the U.S. Pedro Morenes Eulate and spouse Goretti Escauriaza Barreiro, and the Chief of the Royal Household of H.M. the King of Spain Jaime Alfonsin Alfonso. Noted nearby were Fernando Clavijo Batlle, president of the Canary Islands, and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.
Local luminaries included Archbishop Gregory Aymond, members of the New Orleans City Council, area elected and appointed officials, university and college presidents, business and arts leaders (such as Susan Taylor of the New Orleans Museum of Art), Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, Rodolfo J. “Rudy” Revuelta (Pan American Life), Michael J. Sawaya (New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center), members of the diplomatic corps (such as Consul General of France Vincent Sciama), former Ambassador to Brunei Donald Ensenat, honorary Consul of Spain Luis Banos Jr. and spouse Anne (of NOMA), and representatives of the 13 major sponsors. At table No. 3 were Mark Romig (New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.), Tony Simmons, David Darragh, David Kerstein, Richard Cortizas, Timothy Francis, Calvin Fayard Jr., Dr. Stephen Hales and Norma Jane Sabiston. Cheryl Q. Landrieu, the city’s outgoing first lady and wife of recent Mayor Mitchell "Mitch" Landrieu, was cited by Mayor Cantrell for her role in spearheading the Gallier Hall renovation. Luncheon guests were requested to remain in their seats until the royal couple and their entourage departed.
Hours later, at the appointed hour of 5:30 p.m., Their Majesties descended their car at the corner of Chartres and St. Peter streets to begin the guided visit to the exhibition “Recovered Memories” and St. Louis Cathedral. They were accompanied by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, United Europe and Cooperation, Josep Borrell, and the above ambassadors to the U.S. and Spain. Waiting for them were Lt. Gov. Nungesser, Mayor Cantrell (who changed her dress from lunch, as did the queen), and Ignacio S. Galan, chairman of Iberdrola and Avangrid, exhibition sponsor. Assembled, they posed for a group picture as the crowd hailed them, calling out to the majesties “El Rey” and “La Reina,” pronouncing her name “Leh-tee-thee-ah”.
At the Cabildo’s main entrance, they were received by Louisiana State Museum Board of Directors Chairwoman Anne F. Redd, Louisiana Museum Foundation Executive Director Susan Maclay, Louisiana State Museum Director Steven Maklansky and James P. Torgerson, CEO of Avangrid, Iberdrola Group’s U.S. company. The exhibition curator, Jose Manuel Guerrero Acosta, and museum director Maklansky guided them through the exhibition, known, too, as “Memorias Recobradas.”
The crowd behind the police-controlled barricade awaited their exit for yet another view of the handsome, accomplished couple, calling out “Bienvenidos” and “Viva Espana.” Awaiting them paces away were Archbishop Aymond and St. Louis Cathedral Rector the Very Rev. Philip G. Landry to welcome them. Within, Brandon Briscoe gave them a history of the cathedral.
The following day, Mayor Cantrell, joined by daughter RayAnn and the 2018 NOLA Foundation, held the Tricentennial Cultural Reception in honor of Their Majesties at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In the Great Hall, embellished with red and yellow flowers, two single rows of chairs faced each other, reserved for the dignitaries. Special invited guests stood behind, while others were upstairs and looked over, balcony-style. Again, and promptly at 11:30, Mark Romig announced “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the King and Queen of Spain.” They were accompanied by Mayor Cantrell and Susan Taylor, museum director. Gathered were former Mayor Mitch and Cheryl Landrieu, the senior Spaniard in attendance Maria (Mrs. John) Daly, city CAO Gilbert Montano with children Landon and Brooke, members of the City Council and the diplomatic corps (such as Luis Banos Jr., Philip Claverie, Bret Clesi, Gary Mannina), NOMA President Mike Siegel and museum brass, and New Orleans royalty, such as reigning Rex Poco Sloss with Liz (and former Rexes Stephen Hales and Jack Laborde). Also, Priscilla Lawrence (The Historic New Orleans Collection), Sociedad Espanola President Vivian Coutin and guests with a Spanish or Hispanic background.
Talent came from Dr. Michael White and his combo with an original composition “Andalusian Strut”; Dr. Brice Miller; and four costumed Mardi Gras Indians, followed by a tambourine-shaking twosome for “Hey Pocky Way.” The royals were then escorted into the museum’s collection, emerging later to enthusiastic greeting from the crowd that tried to press close to take photos and to meet them. “Encantada,” said the beautiful queen, a former news anchor, as fans approached her.
Earlier, and with special significance, Dr. Michael White and his music makers played a rousing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” singing a good bit of it in Spanish, to the delight of Gayle Benson and everyone present. All, including the king and queen, clapped away to the lively beat.