‘Jumelage’ for two cities

Mercer Island, Thonon les Bains celebrate seven years of friendship

By Jane Meyer Brahm
Special to the Reporter

It wasn’t just the French cuisine — a sumptuous buffet along the beach, elegant hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs, dinners of duck, filet of perch, oeufs en meurette.

It wasn’t just the tours of Thonon les Bains, a beautiful, flower-filled city on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) or the gatherings in the homes of its residents and our friends.

It wasn’t just the boat trip to the medieval village of Yvoire, the visits to world-class gallery exhibits or the exclusive entry into the city’s archaeology center to view finds from recent digs.

Mercer Island’s second-ever official delegation trip to our Sister City, Thonon les Bains, organized by the Mercer Island Sister City Association, was all of that and much more.

For some, it was a chance to renew a friendship begun seven years ago when the two cities signed an agreement to form and support a “jumelage,” a sister city relationship.

For all of us, our visit to Thonon was an unforgettable week of warm hospitality and Franco-American friendship.

The delegation was “official” because Mayor Bryan Cairns, City Manager Rich Conrad and Deputy City Manager Londi Lindell were on the trip. Their presence was important for discussions with Thonon officials concerning future cultural, civic and student exchanges and other Sister City endeavors.

Others on the delegation who paid their own way and made their own travel arrangements were: Orm and Sue Sherwood; Denise and Bob Schramke; Sherry Weinberg; Barrett Hansen and her grandmother, Casey Lindell; Joy and Doug Maskart; Sigrid Hokanson; and Bob and Jane Brahm.

At a formal reception in the Hotel de Ville (city hall), Mayor Cairns presented Thonon Mayor Jean Denais with a watercolor painting of a Pacific Northwest lighthouse — a gift he painted himself. Afterward, a medallion reading “Sister Cities — Mercer Island — Thonon les Bains,” identical to the one at Mercer Island’s gateway at 77th Avenue and Sunset Highway, was unveiled on the exterior wall of the 19th century Hotel de Ville.

Later in the week, a reception occurred at Thonon’s Rowing Center, where a new four-place rowing shell named “Mercer Island” was unveiled. A new boat named “Linda” was unveiled as well, dedicated to Linda Todd, rowing enthusiast, Sister City supporter and wife of former mayor Alan Merkle.

Thonon residents who came on the December 2005 delegation to Mercer Island for the opening of the Community Center at Mercer View joined the group for various events. It was a week of visiting friends.

SUPERLATIVES fill the delegates’ descriptions of the trip: “fantastic,” “extraordinary,” “the best ever,” “overwhelmed by the hospitality,” “a notable chapter in our memory book,” “on a scale of 1 to10, it was 11.”

For Mayor Cairns and his wife, Sue, the highlights were the friendship and enthusiasm of everyone, exemplified by the plaque on City Hall and the welcome into people’s homes.

It was a trip of a lifetime for Casey Lindell. “Most important was being able to share the experience with my daughter Londi and granddaughter Barrett. How often does that happen for three generations?” she asked. “I absolutely love the city of Thonon for its beautiful gardens and flowers, but especially for the people. They were so gracious, warm and welcoming, and couldn’t seem to do enough for us all.”

While student exchanges have been very important to the Sister City relationship, this trip gave adult Sister City members the opportunity to be ambassadors and diplomats in their own way, pointed out April Conrad.

Members of the delegation met with leaders of Lyc/e St. Joseph to discuss the future of student exchanges with Mercer Island High School. Some members toured a hospital and gained insight into the French healthcare system. The group visited Thonon’s city nursery, which has a budget of $5 million (U.S.) per year and produces the flowers for its incredible public floral displays that have earned it the “four-flower” designation, the highest rating in Europe.

“Thonon’s flowers and fountains in rights of way, traffic circles and other public spaces have made it a premiere vacation spot in France,” said Londi Lindell. “The combination of lake access and beautiful floral exhibitions make Thonon an enchanting place that pictures cannot capture.”

Though some of the Thonon hosts don’t speak English and many of the Islanders on the trip don’t speak French, communication was not a big problem, and there was a real sense of bonding, said Joy Maskart.

“On the boat ride to Yvoire, we were singing and enjoying each other’s company,” she said. “It was great being with the people. You can really communicate without words.”

The two cities share strong ties to their lakes and their mountains, pointed out Rich Conrad. “Thonon is a gathering place for great homes and families, businesses and shopping recreation and self-renewal,” he said. “It is safe and bountiful and healthy. It all can be traced to the people of Thonon and their lake and mountains. Coincidentally, all of that is also true of Mercer Island.”

About Thonon as a town, Conrad had this to say: “They have demonstrated that a town can be what the people and their leaders want it to be. They have invested in their natural beauty (flowers), their historical and cultural heritage (museums, churches, castles, performance halls, archeology), their businesses (underground public parking, sidewalks, traffic circles, tourism office), their sense of fun (swimming pool, rowing club, street fairs, skiing, sailing, boating facilities) and their people (schools, streets, public services). It is a town that has a vision and the courage to pursue it. They have very much to be proud of. We can learn much from our Sister City.”

Denise and Bob Schramke said they appreciated experiencing what a Sister City relationship means: “enhancing the understanding of the people of the respective cities for a fuller appreciation of our cultural differences and the sameness of our values, hopes and dreams. It was a special week for making new friends and getting an insight into the culture, art and activities of Thonon les Bain.”

For more information about the Mercer Island Sister City Association, contact Jane Meyer Brahm at 232-0701.

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