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July 8, 2007

New Rochelle "Sister City Initiative" kicks off tomorrow By SARAH JOHNSTON

(Original Publication: July 8, 2007)

La Rochelle events in New Rochelle

NEW ROCHELLE - After receiving a New Year's card from the mayor of La Rochelle, France, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson decided something should be done to revitalize the relationship between the sister cities.

So Bramson called up former City Manager Peter Korn and formed the "La Rochelle Sister City Initiative," a committee of New Rochelle residents interested in developing cultural exchanges between the communities.

"Anytime we have an opportunity to celebrate our heritage," Bramson said, "it's great."

After contacting members of the La Rochelle community overseas, the Sister City committee decided to celebrate the rich history between cities with a week of events centered around Bastille Day on July 14, the French equivalent of the American Fourth of July.

The two cities share a deep historical bond. In the 17th century, French Protestants - more commonly known as Huguenots - fled religious persecution in France and traveled to New York. In 1688, the Huguenots purchased 6,000 acres of land, officially founding the settlement of "Nouvelle-Rochelle" - now known as New Rochelle - in 1689, in honor of the last city to be a Huguenot stronghold in France.

"The relationship (between the sister cities) has been going on since the founding of New Rochelle, particularly in times of war," said acting city historian Barbara Davis. In World War I and World War II, both cities helped each other get through difficult times, Davis said.

After World War II, however, relations between the cities started to diminish. But in the 1990s, cultural and historical exchanges started up again, with a group of New Rochelle citizens traveling to La Rochelle in 1999 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of New Rochelle.

"Friendship between nations begins with friendship between people," said Korn, the former city manager. "Our relationship with La Rochelle is 320 years old, and the diversity and openness of our community has its roots in the Huguenots' search for religious freedom that brought them here."

Two jazz musicians from La Rochelle will be joining in this month's New Rochelle cultural festivities, which begin tomorrow at New Rochelle City Hall.

The La Rochelle guest musicians - Cyprien Frette-Damicourt, 30, and Guillaume Rivilland, 17, both percussionists - will stay with local families and perform at several musical events, including a concert at Hudson Park and the Library Green Jazz Festival.

Next month, New Rochelle will return the favor by sending Brian Carter, a lifelong New Rochelle resident and musician, to La Rochelle as a featured guest for the La Rochelle Jazz Festival.

Carter, a professional drummer and member of the Brian Carter Quartet, said he is "ecstatic."

"I am a seventh generation New Rochellian, and I am honored that I'm being sent to represent New Rochelle," he said.

Other commemorative events planned for this side of the ocean include Trinity Church Cemetery tours, a French-themed "Market Day" at the New Rochelle farmers market, and a sampling of French food at several venues by culinary students at Monroe College.

The city donated $2,500 for the public events, with several private sponsors - including the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, Signature Bank, the New Rochelle Business Improvement District and Monroe College - covering the $1,500 cost of Carter's airfare to France.

Denise Lally, executive director of the New Rochelle Chamber of Commerce, said the initiative also will help residents appreciate New Rochelle's more personal connections.

"A lot of families make New Rochelle their permanent home," said Lally. "Our residents stay here. Nobody leaves New Rochelle."

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