L-A eyes sister city in rural France

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LEWISTON – A group of villages in rural France – near the wine-making Bordeaux region – may soon serve as Lewiston-Auburn’s sister city.

By this fall, local teenagers may be encouraged to e-mail their counterparts. Visits may soon follow.

Already, the initiative has the backing of both local mayors, officials in the French towns and France’s Consul General in Boston, Francois Gauthier.

Gauthier, a regular visitor to the Franco-American Heritage Center, came up with the idea more than a year ago, going so far as talking to the leadership of the French towns, known collectively as “La Communaute de Communes de Pays Foyen.”

Officials there liked the idea. Gauthier also talked with former Lewiston and Auburn Mayors Lionel and Normand Guay about the suggestion.

Now, Lewiston and Auburn’s current mayors are moving forward.

Lewiston’s Laurent Gilbert plans to present the sister city initiative to a joint meeting of both city councils.

“The more we learn about our similarities, rather than our differences, the better off we’ll be,” Gilbert said Tuesday.

The aim is to start small, he said. It may be nothing more than e-mails between language classes at first.

“They can talk about whatever teenagers care about: movies, songs, whatever,” said Gilbert, himself a French speaker.

Eventually, the aim would be for the education to spread beyond the schools, perhaps to business or government.

After all, the French leaders may have something to teach Lewiston and Auburn about working together, said Auburn Mayor John Jenkins, who said Tuesday he backs the idea “100 percent.”

“Maybe they have found a way of collaborating closely without losing the identity of their own communities,” Jenkins said.

The French towns, called communes, work together under a single mayor. It’s a collaboration that is relatively new, created in October 2002.

This week, Gauthier was scheduled to vacation in France, and during his time there, planned to visit with region officials and obtain additional materials that describe the 15 small towns.

With information pulled from the Internet, Gilbert showed aerial photos of quaint-looking villages surrounded by farms and vineyards.

In all, the region has just 14,000 people.

Gilbert hopes to visit there one day, he said.

Already, as the Franco center’s president, Gilbert has worked with the institution’s sister city: Sainte-Come-De Liniere in Quebec, Canada.

In its second year, the arrangement has taken local kids to Quebec and brought Canadian kids here for two-week stays.

The immersion in a foreign language helped both groups, he said. Another exchange can only be helpful.

Deeper understanding of another culture – whether it’s French, Korean or Somali – makes better people, Gilbert said.

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