French premier finds a ‘small France’ in CebuBy Jaime Picornell
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Republic of France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault visited Cebu with his wife, Brigitte Ayrault, on Oct. 21. Main purpose of the visit was the noontime inauguration of the new location of Alliance Française de Cebu at the ancestral mansion of Jose and Juanita Velez along Gorordo Avenue.
Called the Pink House for its color, it houses the Consulate of France, the Alliance Française facilities for teaching the French language, and La Maison Rose, a restaurant that offers excellent French cuisine. Some of the dishes have a Cebuano twist.
Michel and Amparito Lhuillier were at the forefront to welcome Prime Minister and Ms Ayrault. Michel is the Honorary Consul of France in the Visayas as well as president of Alliance Française de Cebu.
Assisting the Prime Minister in the ribbon cutting were Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Alliance Française de Cebu director Louis Thevenin and French Ambassador Gilles Garachon, who came with his wife Isabelle.
Prime Minister Ayrault unveiled a plaque to commemorate the historic event, and was given a tour of the place. On hand was Delphine de Lorme who did the interior décor, drawing inspiration from French Indochina in the 1930s, which is when the house was built.
Outside, with a good view of the structure, the Prime Minister had photo-ops with its owners Asuncion “Sony” Velez, Sister Marietta Velez of the Good Shepherd Convent, and Polly Velez Garilao with her husband Ernesto Garilao.
The AF faculty was in full force: Astrid Monfort, Charlene Virlouvet, Matthias Bohne, Chloe Laboisne, Stephanie Larrandabure, Ludwig Kapfer, Quentin Secleppe, Gaelle Simonin, Sophie Dumain and Alice Pasquier.
La Maison Rose’s operations manager Virginie Senftle and guest relations manager Honeylet Thevenin made sure the service was tip-top. Not to worry, it was impeccable. It was a bit humid but strategically placed electric fans made the air circulate.
There had been a slight drizzle earlier as guests arrived, as indicated in the invitations, one hour before the ceremonies. The comfortable interiors of La Maison Rose proved to be a haven for some of the early birds.
Glimpsed about were Johnny and Anna Marie Dizon, former French honorary consul Richard Forteau, Victoria Hermosisima, Valerie Cui, Toti and Dorla Villalon, Hans and Bo Hauri, Rosebud Sala, Carmen Campbell, Iris Arcenas, June Alegrado and Vivina Yrastorza.
We are sure Prime Minister and Ms Ayrault left Cebu with many good memories of an all too short stay. Aside from the inaugural of Alliance Française’s new headquarters, he came for a briefing on the Bus Rapid Transit system project soon to be implemented in Cebu.
Numerous guests, most of them representing the large French community in Cebu, gathered in the garden where a marquee had been set up. Swaths of the French tricolor—red, white and blue—were draped all over, with beautiful flower arrangements on tall crystal vases.
Prime Minister Ayrault delivered an eloquent speech wherein he praised the efforts of Alliance Française de Cebu, and called the place a “small France.” Michel gave the response in perfectly enunciated French for which he was much applauded, and presented the Prime Minister with a miniature replica of the Pink House.
Crystal flutes filled with Mum French champagne clinked all over the place. Pretty girls passed around trays filled with assorted canapes, exquisitely prepared by La Maison Rose chefs Adrian Guerrey and Antoine Rollin.
Michel and Amparito were telling friends all about the memorable experience the Prime Minister had at the Basilica del Santo Niño. Children lined his path waving French flags and cheering, “Vive la France, Vive la France.”
In the Prime Minister’s entourage were Helene Conway, Minister Delegate of Foreign Affairs, and Dov Zerah, director general of the French Development Agency.
Aside from director Louis Thevenin, Alliance Française de Cebu was well represented by deputy director Elise Robillart, project manager Mary Anne Farrugia, her assistant Angelica Valera, creative director Mark Sy, secretaries Sandy Masecampo and Kim Manzo, and utility man Nigel Ramirez.