“We’re in black tie and festive dress and not surrendering… We and France must go on!” said Robert Wilmers Chairman of the Board of FIAF [French Institute Alliance Francaise] to the glamorous crowd at its November 19 Trophee Des Arts Gala at the Plaza. Following a somber emotional singing of “La Marseillaise” by the guests — with many wearing black & silver “Je Suit Paris” lapel ribbon pins given upon arrival —Wilmers declared: “We are here to celebrate France with its vast humanistic culture… France needs your love and support.”
Reflecting on the evening’s honoree — artist Francoise Gilot recipient of FIAF’s Trophee Des Arts Award, New York City’s immediate past mayor Michael Bloomberg — in a videotaped message — said: “I was in Paris last week during the horrific attack… Americans, especially New Yorkers — will never forget the generous outpouring support the French showed us during the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. We will always strive to repay a debt… the bonds between our two countries are forged with deeply shared values. France was with us in the American Revolution and those bonds wouldn’t be broken by  World Wars and they certainly won’t be broken now. By honoring a great artist — whose works span some of the most important movements of the last century — a resident of both France and America—you honor that history.”
In a taped interview with Gilot, journalist Charlie Rose asks ‘Why did Picasso like you as did [Jonas] Salk, your husband?” “Because usually lions do not mate with mice,” was Gilot’s snappy riposte.
On stage— in person, Rose, award-presenter to Gilot, said: “Remembering what the great newspaper Le Monde said after 9/11—‘We are Americans’ —this time we are Parisians. Let me say a few things about Francoise—because I fell in love with her when I did that [filmed] interview—She was hot when she was 20, she was hot when she was 30, she was hot when she was 40, she was hot when she was 50, she was hot when she was 60— [the audience was cheering!]— she was hot when she was 70, she was hot when she was 80, and she is hot [at] 90. She is still a prolific painter…known for looking ahead and she is [but] 93!”
In her interview with Jean-Christian Agid in the evening’s journal, Gilot recalls that as a teenager she looked at her body in a mirror and realized she was pretty. “‘I had weapons for seduction… As an artist I am international. As a person — I am French’”. She met Jonas Salk — son of Russian Jewish immigrants — developer of the first successful Polio vaccine — in Paris in 1969 and stayed with him until his death in 1995.
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, presented the “Pillier d’Or” award to Alexandre de Juniac, Chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM who valiantly touted the airline. FIAF president Marie-Monique Steckel declared: ”At FIAF we believe in celebrating culture a la francaise and in/as a way of resisting intolerance and hate… French culture in all its colors in New York.”
Among the dignitaries: Gerard Araud, France’s Ambassador to the U.S.; Ambassador Francois Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, and Bertrand Lortholary, Consul General of France in New York City.