So You Wanna Visit the White House…? Part Deux ~ the Arrival Ceremony Edition

Two years ago, I wrote this blog post with some tips for people wanting to visit the White House. Even with Trump in office, the post is mostly still relevant. If you reside in the United States, you can still request a tour from your congressional office (congressman or senator.) Melania Trump has also continued the tradition of opening the grounds of the White House for Garden Tours twice a year (the last one was a few weeks ago on April 14-15, 2018) so that option is still available to at least visit the South lawn. Since writing that post, I have had the opportunity to visit the White House on two new occasions. Last December, I toured the East Wing during one of the holiday tours. That was neat, if only to see the portrait of Hilary in there that you know Trump must just hate. And this just in, on Tuesday April 24th,  I *finally* got the chance to attend an arrival ceremony. Oh, and it was a good one! 

You may recall (though probably not) back in 2014, the White House social media team had invited me to attend Francois Hollande’s arrival ceremony BUT I had a previously scheduled work trip to New York that I simply couldn’t get out of. I’m no Hollande fan but I was super bummed nonetheless. My friend Kaylé, who was in attendance, wrote a lovely guest post recap for me but I had basically been hoping for another opportunity since then. And yesterday, I got it and it was truly an honour and once-in-a-lifetime experience for me to stand among some of my fellow countrymen/women and expats as we timidly sang La Marseillaise steps away from the American president, the first lady and, of course, my own president and his wife Brigitte. A president I had actually voted for this time around too! The cherry on top of the gâteau was also going to French Embassy that afternoon for a more intimate event celebrating our president being here in D.C. Here’s a not-so-quick recap of my amazing super-French day:

In a nutshell, I spent all day standing in line to go through security, then standing around waiting for Macron, then standing around while Macron spoke. It was a lot of standing around and waiting, but it was absolutely worth it! The arrival ceremony was scheduled to start at 9AM, and since the gates opened as early as 6:30AM I decided to get there at 7AM in case the line at security was long. It wasn’t. Actually, it was kind of a breeze. I was assigned to the Blue Gate, which was a smaller entrance and even though I had to give my name to 5 different interns before getting to the metal detectors, it all went very quickly and very smoothly.

After being given both a French and an American flag, as well as a program, I entered from the same spot as I had back in December except this time I was shown the door to the South Lawn.  I had been given a red pin when I checked it and that was meant to notify the staff of which section I was supposed to stand in. With my back to the White House, that section was basically immediately to the right of the podium, which I could see perfectly, if slightly from the back. I also could perfectly see the door from which Donald and Melania would be walking out, and then walking back in with Brigitte and Emmanuel and I was surrounded by Frenchies so I was pretty happy with my situation as I waited an hour for things to start happening.

I should have known this view was too good to be true 😉

Officials like Betsy DeVos or Jared Kushner began to trickle in. Their section was on the other side of the podium from me. And then two black mini-buses dropped off the French delegation. Luck would have it, said French delegation’s “assigned viewing spot” happened to be on the other side of the rope from my section. And while it was kinda cool to have Christine Lagarde basically right in front of me, I no longer could see anything.

First world problems: Christine Lagarde blocks your view of the presidential podium.

As we got closer to 9AM, secret service agents also started popping up all over the place and they all tend to be pretty tall . More officials arrived (hello Mike Pence!) and my previously beautiful view of the door and the podium was also a thing of the past.

Turns out Christine was the least of my problems 😉  Can you spy Stephen Miller and John Bolton’s mustache on this picture? The white hair next to Stephen Miller is the Veep too!

Slightly behind schedule, the programming finally begun with music and lots of flags — it was beautiful seeing French flags everywhere!

Donald and Melania Trump stepped out of the White House, a black car dropped off Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, everyone was trying to take pictures and videos with their phones and since I’m barely 1m55 I didn’t catch any of that. Well, occasionally I could spot Melania’s hat. I guess it was pretty useful that way.

Big secret service head, small Donald and Melania Trump

Can you spy Emmanuel Macron in there? Also, Stephen Miller’s balding head.                     I told you I couldn’t escape it 😉

They reviewed the troops together, which I also couldn’t see, and before I knew it, they were playing the French national anthem and firing the traditional 21 gun salute. The French are never shy about singing La Marseillaise. Unlike the Star Spangled Banner, it is very easy to belt out even if you are the worse singer in the world but my entire section of Frenchies was pretty timid this time around, whispering the lyrics as if unsure whether it was an appropriate thing to do at the White House. And maybe it isn’t… because I didn’t hear the Americans sign along their anthems either. After the anthems, there were speeches from each of the leaders, starting with Trump in English then Macron in French. Before heading inside the house for their tête-à-tête, the two leaders and their wives spent some time on the balcony waving at us. At least I definitely got to see that!!

Getting out of the White House was a breeze as well. It was pretty early and we wanted to sit down for a bit, grab a bite to eat (and some warm coffee! It was a bit damp and cold, though luckily it didn’t rain!) and charge our phones before heading to the Embassy. I had spotted Eric Kayser, who was part of the official delegation, fan-girling over the event a few people away from me in the Frenchie section and figured his Metro Center restaurant would be our best bet since it was only 10:00AM. Turns out everyone had the same idea and everyone was there, including Eric himself. We still had a lovely lunch and then it was time to get into another line, this time for the embassy event. I don’t know how well you know the French but we are *incapable* of queue-ing up like polite, respectful people. The line was a hot mess and it didn’t help that we had to wait longer because Macron was running behind schedule (the French are also bad about being on time!) Even after we gotten in we still had to wait and wait and wait.

Just a bunch of Frenchies waiting for Emmanuel Macron at the French Embassy

Around 5PM, Brigitte came by to say hi to us, which I thought was pretty amazing since she had a big dinner to get ready for. I got to shake her hand and thank her for coming before she hopped on stage and joked about having to leave to attend to her chignon but ensuring us that her husband was worth the wait.

Brigitte Macron: “Il faut que j’aille m’occuper de mon chignon.”

And he was. There wasn’t much of an announcement that he was coming but all of the sudden we heard his voice on the speakers, awarding the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest order of merit for military and civil merits, to three World War Two veterans: Robert Ewald who participated in D-Day at Omaha Beach, Stanley Rzucidlo who landed on Gold Beach on June 7, 2044 and William Barr who was in Air Force and dropped some bombs on German forces in Normandy and North of France. Once Macron jumped on stage, they wheeled Mr. Barr over to a corner of the stage so that he could watch the intervention as well. I’m not sure whether he understood everything but I could see him from where I was standing and I had the honor of being able to talk to him afterwards.  That was probably one of the most special moment of the whole for me. But back to Macron.

William Barr soaks in Macron’s speech, proudly wearing his brand new Legion d’Honneur (and yes, that IS Eric Kayser right behind him…)

Since he was so behind schedule, he spoke only for only maybe 15 minutes, praising the many French teachers in the room and the representatives of the many Alliances Francaises in the United States who do so much to promote our language here. Of course, we’ve all heard it before from other presidents but the truth is it’s really hard to afford a French education for your children. Bottom line: Rochambeau is not cheap!

Channeling his inner John F. Kennedy, he prompted us to ask ourselves what we can do for our country, because our country needs us before leading us in a much more enthusiastic Marseillaise than the one we had sang that morning. He shook a few hands on his way out and then everyone basically threw themselves on the wine and cheese waiting for us in the next room. And I mean “threw” rather literally 😉

The wine was from Jean-Luc Colombo, who  was part of the French delegation that came with Macron on the trip, and most of the catering was done by Kayser with some assistance from the Embassy kitchen. There were trays of mimolette and pâté en croûte and cheese and financiers and macarons and French people who seemed to starving the way they behave at the buffet tables (just like we can’t behave in a queue, we’re also not disciplined enough for buffets….) I always love going to these special events at the embassy because you get to catch up with people you don’t see very often since *everyone* is there. And make new French acquaintances of course. I love our little community here. But just like that, the day was over. I’ve been on such a Macron high since Monday, following all his appearances and speeches either on the news, via his facebook lives or, on Tuesday in particular, in real life… France was first and foremost in the news, and not in a bad or sad way like after a terror attack. There were French flags all over downtown D.C. And now it’s all over like it was just a dream… 

 

So You Wanna Visit the White House…?

I’ll always remember the first time I toured the East Wing… it was the morning after I met my now husband. I told him I had to make it an early night because I was supposed to be at the White House at 8AM. You know, a typical D.C. excuse 😉 I’d only been in the U.S. and in Washington for 6 months and it was all very exciting for me.

I’ve been fortunate to go inside the White House a few more times since then. And while bowling at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley at 1600 Penn* is still on my DC-to-list with slim to no chance ever getting crossed off, I did get to go to the West Wing once and tour the building once during the holiday season. Here what you need to know if you want to visit the White House too. 

THE WEST WING & BOWLING ALLEY

Unless you’re invited by the White House or know someone who works there (and has West Wing access, which isn’t everyone), the personal residence and the West Wing are pretty much off limit. Because they are led by staff, West Wing tours visits typically happen in the evening or on weekends, outside of office hours. If you’re lucky enough (like I was) to visit when the president is out of town, you’ll get to peak into the Oval Office. Not go into it, but peak into it. Photographs, of course, are strictly off limits except in the press room, which is why SO many people have pictures of themselves at the press secretary’s podium. Well, at least so many people in DC… If you do have the opportunity to tour the West Wing, clear your schedule and go! Ahead of time, you’ll be asked to provide your full name, birth date, social security number, and possibly other personal data so that the secret service can run a quick background check on you. Obviously, I passed the test and I wasn’t even a permanent resident back then so being foreign won’t prevent you from being able to do a West Wing tour. Bowling at the White House requires the same kind of “friends with benefits” which I clearly do not have anymore 😉 They only get to book the lanes once a quarter so again if you’re ever invited to the most exclusive bowling alley in the country, clear your schedule and make it happen! Also, don’t forget to bring your own snacks and booze… I already have my sparkly all picked out… I just need an invite now. 

THE EAST WING

white house tours are self guided

So I toured the East Wing the first time right when I met my husband, on a traditional tour that had been arranged by my graduate program at the George Washington University. I toured it a second time during the holiday season in 2011 when the White House hosted one of its first tweet up ever. Most of our time at the tweet up was spent in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where, interestingly enough for a tweet up, we couldn’t get a signal and where there was no wifi. The White House has learned a lot since then and frequently hosts tweet ups like the one recently for the arrival ceremony for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The highlight of that tweet-free tweet up for me was meeting with and getting to ask questions of White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and White House florist Laura Dowling about what it’s like to plan and prepare for Christmas at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (planning typically starts in March.) Getting to see the end result from all of their hard work during a tour of the building afterwards was really amazing. SO many Christmas trees and gingerbread houses!

Gingerbread White House

white house 4 white house 5

Christmas season at the White House White house 6white house 1

There currently are no tweet up or instameet planned but you should check the White House Social website periodically and follow them on twitter and instagram to get alerts for the next one. Here as well, you also have to go through a quick background check, which non-Americans like myself can pass. The other way to get to tour the East Wing is, of course, through your congressional representatives, though that process is currently being revamped.  I will update this post as soon as the new information is official on April 18. 

THE WHITE HOUSE GARDENS

The easiest way to get inside those gates is the bi-annual White House Garden tour. No, you don’t get to go inside the residence, but you get to see Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden and take a really cool picture like this from the South Lawn: 

Laetitia Brock at the White House

White House Garden Tours happen in the fall and in the spring, and mark you calendars right now because the next ones are next week, on Saturday April 16 and Sunday April 17 2016. On either of those days, show up at the Ellipse Visitor Center (kitty corner from Pinea at the W at 15th and E NW) to get a free, timed ticket. Those are distributed on a first come first serve basis and the visit is obviously really popular so I recommend getting there at 8:30AM since tours begin at 9AM.
White house 10

The grounds will be less crowded earlier in the day. Bring as little with you as you can and selfie sticks are strictly prohibited, as are bags (small purses might be fine but play it safe. Diaper bags are not allowed), food, weapons (duh!) and animals other than service dogs. You’ll go through metal detectors but no background check or advance planning is required for those… White House Fall Garden Tour

You can read a little all about my 2010 White House Garden Tour right here and if it doesn’t make you want to get up early on Saturday or Sunday, remember that it’s one of your best shot at getting in before Obama’s term end. Another alternative for the gardens, if you have kids, is to enter the lottery for tickets to the White House Easter Eggs Roll. 

* Wondering what is it like to bowl at the White House? Check out this lucky Deutsch Art Director’s account on the agency’s blog! Wondering what it’s like to visit the White House for a special event hosted by the First Lady? My friend Olga did just that a few weeks ago.

Guest Post ~ Welcoming Francois Hollande to the White House by Kaylé

Yesterday was an excellent day to be a Francophile or Francophone in D.C.!

1010985_10151850469946315_1382577592_n

Being born in Louisiana (in Lafayette, the coeur of Acadiana at that), French culture has been a constant love in my life. I studied French in middle school, high school, and university and found my way to Bordeaux for my studies. There, I fell deeper in love with the country, flaws and all. When I graduated, I applied for the French Ministry of Education’s Teaching Assistantship Program and found myself living in the petite town of Les Sables-d’Olonne. When I got back stateside, I never thought that my hobbies of tweeting and such would enable me to see an official Arrival Ceremony at the White House, let alone one for the French President.

unnamed-1

I have to thank Laetitia for tweeting the link to tell me about the #WHSocial opportunity. What’s #WHSocial you ask? It’s a chance for those who engage with the White House in the social media realm to meet up and interact in real life (like the #zoomeet Laetitia just attended… except with presidents instead of pandas…). When I saw that President Hollande’s official welcome for this historic State Visit was open to, I was ecstatic! I applied, was selected, and got even more excited for the big day.

When I arrived at the White House’s visitor entrance at 6:50AM, there was a much longer line than I expected (I was naïve), but people were in good spirits and excited for the event. Ellie Schafer of the White House Visitors Office estimated that about 6,000 guests showed up on the South Lawn to fête president Hollande. We were given French and American flags as well as a program and explanation of some of the rituals and protocols we were about to take a part of. After about an hour and a half waiting, the official ceremony started.

BgNbYA0IIAAHOEq

It was worth the wait. Hearing President Obama attempt French and laud the historic friendship our two nations share dating back to the Revolutionary War, solidified on the beaches of Normandy, and continue to today was beautiful and nearly brought me to tears. It was either that or the cold wind 😉 It was also wonderful to be able to listen to President Hollande, even when he switched to French. All these years of French paid off… I was able to understand most of what he said! If you’re interested in their full remarks, read them here.

1497211_10152158921290020_1002442121_n
1902906_10152158921955020_1894322634_n

After the pomp and circumstance, we were invited to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to hear from various White House staff who were involved with planning the big bienvenue. The opportunity to listen to members of the State Department and White House speak about the logistics and logic behind hosting an official State Visit was insightful. Meanwhile, Hollande and Obama were having a little tête a tête… too bad we were invited to witness that 😉

I’m toujours proud to be an American but today made me even prouder to be a Francophile. As President Hollande said to end his remarks, Vive Les Etats-Unis! Vive La France! Vive l’amitié franco-américaine. Long live the United States. Long live France. Long live the Franco-American friendship.

ps: wanna find out more about #WHSocial? Read the storify recap too.

unnamedAbout the author: born in Lafayette, LA, Kaylé has lived in seven different states, two cities in France, and one district, but considers herself a Texan and a Bordelaise.  She currently works in development for an education reform advocacy group. We made each other’s acquaintance through Twitter, naturellement. She tweets often about macarons, Olivier Giroud, and other random things. Find her on Twitter under the handle @petitekaybee.

French State Dinner: 1996 versus 2014 menu

So the last time a French president was honoured with a State Dinner was back in 1996 at the invitation of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Here is what the menu looked like 18 years ago:

Lemon Thyme Lobster with Roasted Eggplant Soup

Rack of Lamb with Winter Fruit and Pecans

Sweet potato puree, root vegetables

Tarragon Huckleberry Sauce

Layered Artichoke, Leek and Herbed Cheese with Green and Endives, Balsamic Dressing

Apple and Cherry Sherbet Pyramid with Apple Brandy Sauce

Peanut Butter Truffles, White Almond Bark Chocolate Fudge

The wines paired with the dinner were all from California:

Beringer Viognier 1994 (CA)

Zaca Mesa Syrah 1993 (CA)

Roderer Estates, l’Hermitage 1990 (CA)

The highlight of that dinner was the towering pyramid concocted by (French) White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, built of balls of apple and cherry sherbet with apple brandy sauce and circled with small pastry swans swimming on a bed of dark red raspberries. We’ll see if current (perfectly French-speaking) pastry chef Bill Yosses can outdo him 😉

Guest at the 1996 dinner included designer Oscar de la Renta (who also dressed the first lady), Michael Douglas (who had sort of hosted a French president to a State Dinner of his own in The American President), Mr. and Mrs Eisner (Disneyland Resort Paris had just opened a few years earlier), the United States Ambassador to France, Mr and Mrs Shapiro (of the MoMa), the President of the Gugghenheim museum (the French like art…), John Grisham (we like to read too!), pretty much the entire Louisiana delegation in Congress and the mayor of New Orleans, Mr. and Mrs I.M. Pei (who has designed the East Wing of the National Gallery here in DC, as well, bien sur, as the Pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris) the president of the AFL-CIO, and actor Gregory Peck and his (French) wife.

Let’s compare with tomorrow’s State Dinner shall we?

The menu:

American Osetra Caviar

Fingerling Potato Veloute, Quail Eggs, Crisp Chive Potatoes

“The Winter Garden Salad” ~ Petite Mixed Radish, Baby Carrots, Merlot Lettuce, Red Wine Vinaigrette

The White House teased a pictured of the Winter Garden Salad that will be served during the State Dinner honouring French President Hollande on its Instagram page.

The White House teased a pictured of the Winter Garden Salad that will be served at the State Dinner for French President Hollande on Instagram.

Dry-aged Rib Eye Beef, Jasper Hill Farm Blue Cheese, Charred Shallots, Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Chard

Hawaiian Chocolate Malted Ganache, Vanilla Ice Cream and Tangerines.

The wines:

Morlet la Proportion Doree 2011 (Napa Valley, CA)

Chester-Kidder Red Blend 2009 (Columbia Valley, WA)

Thibaut-Jannison Blanc de Chardonnay (Monticello, VA)

I wonder if they picked up that last wine during their visit to Charlottesville today 😉 So far, we don’t know the full guest-list. We know the current US Ambassador to France will not be there… because, there isn’t one right now… We know Bradley Cooper will be dazzling the French ladies with his sexy French accent and that Mary J. Blidge will perform. I guess we’ll have to wait a little to see who shows up at the White House tomorrow. Until then, we can speculate… Hubert Joly CEO of Best Buy perhaps? California boys Emmanuel Saez (professor at Berkeley), Renaud Laplanche (CEO of Lending Club) and Stéphane Le Viet (CEO of Work4Labs)? Xavier Mosquet, formerly of Obama’s task force to save General Motors & Chrysler? New Yorker Yannick-I’m-Happy-To-Pay-a75%-Tax  Noah? We’ll see…

Which menu would you rather eat? The one served in 1996 for Monsieur et Madame Chirac or the one that will be served tomorrow for Monsieur Hollande?

Fall 2010 White House Garden Tour

Working a few blocks away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I often take the sight of the White House for granted. It is nonetheless, one of the world’s most famous buildings and is visited each years by hundreds of thousands of Americans.  On occasions they even let foreigners in and a few years back, I not only got to go on the regular East Wing tour I also had the opportunity to visit the West Wing and see the Oval Office. Now that was pretty cool but until today I still had some unfinished business with the White House. I had never actually been in the White House garden. 

Tours of the garden are organized for the general public twice a year and I was so confident I would be able to go on one of them that I added “Going on one of the White House Garden Tours” to my DC-to-do-list-for-twenty-ten. I missed the spring tour because I was out of town. Luckily, the husband and I and twenty five thousand other people made it to the fall tour today. 

The husband and I on the South Lawn. Cool backdrop… 

Apparently, one of the qualification demanded of American presidents is having a green thumb. Nearly every tree we saw on the White House grounds had a plaque detailing when it was planted and by which president. George H. W. Bush, in particular, seemed to have been quite the planter! Besides the trees, highlights of the tour include the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the White House Putting Green, the Rose Garden, the spot of Obama’s much talked about beer summit underneath magnolia trees planted by President Andrew Jackson, the Children’s Garden and of course the South Lawn of the White House. 

Eisenhower  installed the putting green in 1954, Clinton moved it in 1995

What I was really looking forward to on today’s tour (other than some pretty cool photo ops with the White House in the background) was finally getting a close look at the First Lady’s vegetable garden. Since I am not a student, Biggest Loser contestant or a celebrity chef invitations to the kitchen garden aren’t exactly flocking my way. The Garden Tour was my chance to get a sneak peak and I loved it.
 
The White House Kitchen Garden was planted back in April 2009

 

I especially loved spotting one of my favourite symbol of fall growing in the garden. Looks like Sasha and Malia won’t have far to go to get a pumpkin to carve for Halloween!

 
And speaking of carving pumpkins, I wonder if this cucurbitaceae is going to end up with a cut out presidential seal on the North Portico of the White House on October 31st…