A long time ago, maybe back in the 70’s, Louisville started a sister city program…maybe with Quito, Ecuador, maybe someplace in Belize, I can’t remember for sure. Maybe I was just uninvolved or uninterested, but I don’t remember much about the program. Over the years I believe Louisville added more sister cities, but again I don’t know much about them or how the cities interacted with one another.
Flash forward to the spring of 2005 when we met Jill and Larry. They’re from Seattle, and Seattle is a sister city of Perugia. Because Jill and Larry had been involved in the sister cities project, they had an “in” when it came time to process their paperwork for their year in Italy.
Perugia even sponsored a sister cities fair that summer. Representatives from each of the many cities (Seattle, Ann Arbor MI, Aix-in-Provence in France , and several others) set up booths with typical products. All the cities are listed on signs posted at the entrance to the city. Amazingly enough, the same signs are posted outside of Marsciano, and even San Venanzo has a sister city in France, Le Pin. I guess the concept is still alive and well.
So….flash forward some more to last Saturday night. As usual we ate at our normal American dinner time, around 6:00 p.m. After that we decided to take a walk around town, to enjoy the mild temperatures and the last of the daylight.
As we began walking down the street I noticed a young girl behind us. She had her blue band jacket on, so I asked her “Are you playing?” (“Stai suonando?”) She said yes, the band was playing at the hall just behind the church.
Before we even had time to ask more questions, two of our neighbors walked by and asked us “are you going?” Okay, as usual we’re the last to know, that’s not a surprise. So of course now we have to find out what’s going on. Our neighbors tell us that there’s a celebration for the sister city in France.
We eventually found out that eleven people from our sister city, Le Pin, France, are here! They’ve toured the museum in Marsciano, the one here in San Venanzo and have also visited Ospedaletto.
We were told that the ceremony would start at seven, but in true Italian style it was closer to eight. As we waited, the band members assembled and every woman in town came bearing a dish of some sort. Damn! I didn’t bring anything! If only I’d known!
Our friend Roberta stopped to chat and we asked her where the notices for this event had been posted. After the grand opening of the park we swore we’d stop by the comune more often to check, but we hadn’t been in this past week. Roberta told us that she’d seen a notice in the bakery, but since I bake all our bread we never go there….not unless Art stops in for a quick snack when he’s filling his prescriptions at the farmacia next door.
After the town band played a few numbers everyone headed inside to eat. Because it was after eight all the Italians were ready for dinner. The tables were loaded with every sort of food and dessert, as well as wine and water.
I got a chance to talk to Adamo, who told me that the sister city project had begun eight years ago. He also told me that in the spring a group from San Venanzo would travel to Le Pin for a visit. When I asked where the French people were he led me over to their group, telling me that some of them spoke English. Of course Adamo spoke just enough French to get by.
I called Art over and we had a nice chat with the couple and their teenage daughter. They told us that Le Pin is just outside of Paris, a small town to the east, not far from Disneyland. We had a nice conversation, but it was sooooo difficult to understand them through their strong French accents.
The man worked for Newell, the U.S. company that makes Sharpie pens, and I can only tell you to imagine the worst Inspector Clouseau accent when he said “Newell”….eventually he had to spell it for us, and of course we were very embarrassed. Despite our language difficulties, this friendly couple told us that if we ever wanted to visit Paris we could stay with them, even borrow their car to drive into Paris! We talked about how our governments don’t seem to get along, but decided that what really matters is that individuals like us can be friends.
A little while later I spoke with the mayor who introduced me to the mayor of Le Pin. She told him about us, and although he spoke no English or Italian, he shook my hand and I said probably all the French words I know.
Later I stopped the mayor to tell her how sorry I was because I hadn’t brought any food. Of course she graciously told me not to worry, but both she and the woman who was in charge of organizing the food told me again how much they had enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies I’d made for the park opening. Normally I would think that they were just being polite, but honestly, so many people sought me out that night to compliment me for the cookies that I really think they liked them.
About thirty, maybe forty minutes later I was standing by the door when two men came through the door carrying a huge vat of penne pasta with tomato sauce. Well duh! It’s Italy and it’s dinner time….how could there NOT be pasta????
Everyone ate and talked, then talked and ate, then drank, and eventually the food tables were pretty well emptied. They were moved aside and the music began. The band consisted of one guy and a karaoke machine, but it was good enough for everyone who wanted an excuse to dance.
After a few minutes the two mayors got up to speak. Our mayor presented the mayor of Le Pin with the books and DVD’s telling the story of San Venanzo. Hands were shaken and cheeks were kissed. Now the party could REALLY begin!
We hung around long enough to speak to everyone we knew, but left while the party was in full swing. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I’m sure our guests had an enjoyable time. We were so glad that once again, serendipity had played its part. Even though we hadn't seen the event advertised we'd walked out of the house at just the right time! It's also nice to know that the sister city program is alive and well, flourishing in small towns all over the world, promoting friendship and understanding.