Bienvenue les Béarnais
It was Jean Renault who, almost three years ago, e-mailed members of Castine’s historical society wondering if the directeur of the town school would be interested in corresponding with the students at L’ecole Jean Vincent d’Abadie in St. Castin—the school that is named for our mutual baron. And now Jean is finally here in Castine, here in Nouvelle France! Our historical cousins have come for another visit—this time, the members of l’Association Béarn Acadie Nouvelle France. Our two towns and regions are officially linked in an exchange of history devotees. Jean is the Secretaire general of the association; Bruno Tisserand its treasurer.
It’s hard to imagine our school exchange program without Jean Renault. He and his wife, Nicole, hosted Lesley, Ariel and I in June of 2007 when we made our first trip to St. Castin. They opened their home to us, three strangers from Maine. It was Jean who arranged numerous receptions for us in all of the member towns of their historical association: Arête, Escou, Escout—neighboring towns; imagine the confusion—the Conseil de Tourisme de Pau, and of course St. Castin. Jean even drove us to Jaca, Spain via the Val d’Aspe and through the tunnel de Somport. We were immediate friends and have e-mailed and Skyped regularly ever since. And it was Jean who put together the program for our visit to St. Castin with Adams School students in April of 2008 and toured Oloron-Ste. Marie with us…which included a visit to the Lindt chocolate factory.
Jean, a Burgundian, and Nicole, une Béarnaise, are retired high school math teachers. But Jean has started a new career in researching the voyages of Béarn men and women to Nouvelle France, Acadian history, French and Indian relations, and, in particular, the life of the French baron who married into the Penobscot tribe and lived such a colorful life in what is now Maine. For him, a trip to Castine is bringing his research full circle, from the town where the Baron was born, Escout, to the forests and inlets of his sejour en nouvelle France.
It has been a pleasure this week to return their many kindnesses and favors. Jean and Nicole, Bruno and Marie-Noelle, arrived in Bangor last Saturday night after a four-day visit to New York, their first trip to the U.S.
It will have been a whirlwind visit. On Monday in morning meeting, we sang Nos Amis Français, and then they joined us on the steps of the school for the all-school photo. Castine sites awaited: the Wilson Museum and historical society collections, the forts, and even the habitation of the baron off-neck on Hatch Cove. At a reception hosted by the historical society, we exchanged gifts and aspirations for deeper ties and more visits between regions whose history is so intertwined. As they week progressed, they visited Bar Harbor, the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and Northeast Harbor; Augusta for a meeting with Governor Baldacci and a visit to the Abenaki textile exhibit at the Maine State Museum; Camden and Rockland; then a reunion with Charles Shay and James Francis at the Penobscot Nation and a tour of the West Branch of the Penobscot and the great mountain: Katahdin. They will see American college football, sail on the Bowdoin and eat lobster. They have shopped at Hannaford’s pour un repas à trois courses, where Jean gave careful inspection of the assorted cheeses. By Tuesday and departure time, it will have been a very full visit, with many convivial moments, gifts, conversations, and sharing—and hopes for the next visit, here or there.
The future could include a symposium on Henry IV, beloved and unintended king born in Pau, who sent explorers to these unknown lands, our shores. Certainly we are encouraged to visit the verdant valleys of Béarn where un acceuil challereuse nous attends. We will see Jean, Nicole, Bruno and Marie-Noelle in April, when our 7th and 8th graders go to France. By then they will have prepared many wonderful sites for our exploration. The commerce of friendship, learning, and exploration continues and grows. Many, many Castinois helped make their visit so rich. À trés bientôt, les Béarnais! À Avril, 2010.