Travel abroad creates lasting friendships

Travel abroad creates lasting friendships
Vincent and Catherine Vitoux, left, hosted Susan and Paul Astleford on their week-long immersion trip in Nantes, France.

For artist Susan Astleford, a week-long immersion program in France was the perfect way to kick off summer.

“As an artist, I consider France to be my favorite country to visit – and to combine art with a French immersion class was perfection for me!” said Astleford, of Epping Forest.

Marilyn Mastin, of Riverside, had three motivating reasons to sign up for a week-long immersion program in France this summer.

Alan and Marilyn Mastin take a selfie with the 30-foot-tall elephant that has become a popular tourist attraction in Nantes, France.

Alan and Marilyn Mastin take a selfie with the 30-foot-tall elephant that has become a popular tourist attraction in Nantes, France.

“I love France, I wanted to renew language skills I was taught in elementary school, and I wanted to challenge myself with international travel as a fairly new amputee,” said Mastin, who also noted she had been intrigued by a notice in the April issue of The Resident. “Everything went smoothly, and it was a wonderful adventure.”

Astleford and her husband, Paul, and Mastin and her husband, Alan, were four of an enthusiastic group of 42 people from Jacksonville to spend six days in late June in Nantes – Jacksonville’s Sister City – as part of the program organized by the Jacksonville Sister Cities Association and Alliance Française de Jacksonville, along with their French partners at La Maison des États-Unis.

The diverse group (ages 6 to 81) spent six mornings in the classroom, said Richard Shieldhouse, Jacksonville Sister Cities vice president for the Nantes committee. “Participants were at all levels of experience with the French language – from absolute beginner to fluency. The Université Permanente of the University of Nantes provided 18 total hours of instruction to each student, and lunch each day at a nearby restaurant.”

Ortega resident Mimi Lord, right, with Mariette Cassourret, president of La Maison des États-Unis, the Nantes organization that organizes events and activities with their Sister Cities in Jacksonville and Seattle.

Ortega resident Mimi Lord, right, with Mariette Cassourret, president of La Maison des États-Unis, the Nantes organization that organizes events and activities with their Sister Cities in Jacksonville and Seattle.

Afternoons were devoted to tours – or just wandering the energetic and creative city. “A behind-the-scenes tour of the design and hand-manufacture of the giant Les Machines creatures was a huge highlight,” Astleford said. “We traveled around Bretagne by car, and the salt marshes, quaint medieval villages and harbors, and especially the rows and rows of puzzling ‘standing stones’ near Carnac, were fascinating and paint-worthy.”

The City of Nantes and the Nantes Metropole government honored the visitors with an evening reception at its city hall. On another evening, the city provided dinner at a riverfront restaurant to them and their host families.

“Our host family was welcoming and accommodating, and our French class was informative but light-hearted – we have already planned a meeting here in Jacksonville with our new friends to follow up on our studies,” said Astleford.

On the Loire with their French hosts: Herve, Marilyn Mastin, Regine, Alan Mastin

On the Loire with their French hosts: Herve, Marilyn Mastin, Regine, Alan Mastin

“The single most interesting, life changing event was staying with our host family. We began as strangers, with little common language knowledge and parted as fast friends. We learned so much about the kindness and pride of the French people. We have made friends for life,” said Mastin. “Before we left, email addresses were exchanged, and we plan to get together with our new local friends to continue practicing French. We want to learn more about our local French history and to possibly host an exchange visitor in the fall.”

Riverside furniture maker Matt Lackey was another of the participants. While in Nantes, he met Damien Hamon, a talented furniture maker with a large workshop on the Loire River in Nantes.

Damien Hamon, a furniture maker in France, with Riverside furniture maker Matt Lackey, who spent a week in Nantes learning to speak the language.

Damien Hamon, a furniture maker in France, with Riverside furniture maker Matt Lackey, who spent a week in Nantes learning to speak the language.

“I was fascinated by the way Nantes incorporated design into the fabric of the city – from wood, technology to architecture. Meeting other artisans who also do high precision work in wood was energizing,” said Lackey, who met with over 20 artists and makers working in a multitude of materials.

Lackey wants to have artisans from France visit Jacksonville for collaboration and exposition, and Hamon hopes to visit Lackey’s Nixon Street studio next November, during his slow season. “We have an amazing arts community here and such a visit would be exciting for everyone,” Lackey said. “In addition, being able to share and communicate regarding contemporary craft between the two cities would expand the techniques available to the Jacksonville Arts Scene as well as that in Nantes France.”

During the Nantes visit, representatives from Sister Cities and Alliance Française met with Les Machines de L’île Nantes, the famous organization that creates enormous mobile creatures out of wood, metal, and leather, such as the 30-foot-tall elephant that in 10 years has come to symbolize Nantes. The group from Jacksonville explored the pathway to acquiring such an attraction for Jacksonville, perhaps to be installed as part of new riverfront projects downtown.

“Besides the intriguing antiquities, I was fascinated to see how our Sister City Nantes has been transformed from a World War II shipyard town to the highly successful sixth-largest city in France,” said Paul Astleford, former Visit Jacksonville CEO. “Tourism has been accelerated due to attractions such as Les Machines, which Jacksonville could utilize in the same way to promote us as a well-known and prosperous global destination.”

Jacksonville dignitaries provide scale for the 30-foot-tall elephant that has become a popular tourist attraction in Nantes, France.

Jacksonville dignitaries provide scale for the 30-foot-tall elephant that has become a popular tourist attraction in Nantes, France.

The group also met with the organizers of the International Floralies, a huge flower show in Nantes every five years. Jacksonville Sister Cities Association member Terry Rankin is organizing a large display with Jacksonville themes for the May 2019 edition. This effort will require the efforts of talented landscape architects, master gardeners, and other volunteers, Shieldhouse said.

“We have told everyone what an enriching experience this was,” said Mastin. “We say there is no better way to absorb French culture, to enhance language skills, to make dear friends, and finally to learn about a city with much in common with Jacksonville. We are so glad we were able to go.”

By Kate A. Hallock

Resident Community News

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