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3 Lost Sisters

Having lived in Westport my whole life, I thought I knew everything about this town.

From the Bankside Farmers to the banks no one ever goes to; from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Marilyn Chambers, I’ve heard all the stories.

Except the fact that Westport has 3 sister cities.

It’s right there in Wikipedia, which never seldom lies: “Westport currently has three sister cities: Marigny, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Yangzhou, China.”

If that’s true, we must be part of a very dysfunctional family. You know, the kind that never gets together– even for holidays, weddings and funerals.

Well, it is true. I typed “sister cities” into the town website. There it is again, under “Appointed Boards”:

The Westport Sister Cities Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving human ties and understanding through cultural, trade, and educational exchange with other communities throughout the world. The Association strives to enrich the lives of Westport and Fairfield County residents through participation in such exchanges.

Westport currently has three sister cities: Marigny, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Yangzhou, People’s Republic of China.

So we not only have 3 sisters — we’ve got an entire Association dedicated to them.

Marigny - magnifique!

The Marigny connection makes sense. Right after D-Day Westporter Bob Loomis — a gun sergeant — ended up there, 25 miles from Utah Beach. A couple of weeks later another Westporter, heavy machine gunner Clay Chalfant, moved through Marigny with his company on their way to Belgium.

Woody Klein’s history of Westport notes that after the war Charlotte MacLear, head of the French department at Staples, sparked an campaign to “officially adopt Marigny” and help its recovery. Our town sent clothes, money and Christmas gifts, thanks to fundraising that included selling toys and buckets with designs painted by Westport artists.

In return, Marigny created the “Westport School Canteen,” and named the town’s largest square “Place Westport.”

In June 1994 — as part of the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy — Marigny invited 3 Westport middle school students and 2 Westport veterans to stay in the homes of residents. They visited shops named “Westport Pharmacy” and “Westport Gift Shop.” The 2 veterans were, of course,  Loomis and Chalfant

Zut alors!

St. Petersburg seems to have no connection to Westport. It is, however, the only one of our 3 sisters I’ve actually visited. I don’t recall any signs hanging near the Hermitage or Neva River saying “Здравствуйте, Westport” (thanks, Google Translate!).

Of course, I might have missed them. There was a lot of vodka involved.

St. Petersburg -- not too shabby.

Finally, Yangzhou. Of our 3 lost sisters, this was the one with the most potential. After all, the US is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of China, so we ought to embrace our relative with all the money.

Bingo! (Or, as we say via Google Translate, 宾果!)

Google offered several links. The 1st was a long-ago sister-city site on a Staples server. It hasn’t been updated since 2002, but it included information about exchange programs with students, and a trip to Yangzhou by long-ago social studies teacher Todd Parker. Though the messageboard, chatroom and guestbook were all defunct, clearly some sort of arrangement once existed.

Clicking the link to Yangzhou’s official site delivered this error message: “The URL. is categorized as ‘pornography.'”

Now we’re talking!

Yangzhou in the spring.

Another link brought up a long-ago journal entry from Chris Fray, the Staples Mandarin teacher. Traveling in China, he wrote:

I meet Joel and Arline Epstein, two Westporters who have recently moved from Long Island. They are on a four day visit to Yangzhou and want to meet me. Joel and Arline are active in the Westport Sister City Committee and have come to Yangzhou to scout out some potential activities for the Committee as part of a larger-scale visit to China….We spend most of the dinner discussing China and the potential of future exchanges between Westport and Yangzhou.

And in June 2005, WestportNow reported, then-First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell visited Yangzhou to “commemorate” the 10th anniversary of the sister city relationship, and then renew it.

Since then, 这是她写道 (“that’s all she wrote”).

Chris Fray confirms that — after 9 years or so of teacher exchanges, and a few other connections involving photographers and businesspersons — our Yangzhou connection has petered out.

There’s no more information online about our sister-city relationship with Yangzhou — or St. Petersburg, or Marigny. And, Chris thinks, the sister city committee hasn’t met in several years.

Do you think it was something we said?

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