Our Laguna: Laguna says 'bonjour!'

The youth of sister cities Laguna Beach and Menton, France, cemented relations this week.

The Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn. entertained students from Menton and their two chaperones with dinners at local restaurants, field trips, some free time to browse downtown stores, a pumpkin-decorating party — introducing the kids to American Halloween customs — and joint classes with Laguna Beach High School students.

"The association has had the vision for just this kind of educational and cultural exchange from the very beginning," said Karyn Philippsen, president of the Laguna association. "We look forward to having our students have a similar opportunity to visit Menton."

The students have actually been connected for about 18 months, via real-time Skype in their foreign-language classes: English in Menton, French in Laguna.

"But it is the first time students from the Lycée Pierre et Marie Curie have come to the USA and the first time people from the Association Menton-Laguna Beach have come to Laguna," said Florence Lagache at C'est La Vie for dinner Sunday.

Lagache is one of the two teachers who accompanied the French students to California and the president of the French association.

The dinner was attended by students from both countries, local families whose children are in Odile Dewar's French class and members of the education community and the Sister Cities Assn.

Laguna Beach High School Principal Joanne Culverhouse welcomed the group, speaking in French, the words spelled phonetically for her by Dewar.

"I am sure my students will tell me tomorrow how I butchered this," Culverhouse said.

Mayor Toni Iseman also welcomed the group.

"We call it sister cities. You call it twin cities, and they really are," Iseman said.

She compared the coastline location, the hills and the scenic beauty of the two cities, echoed by Lagache.

"Laguna Beach is in Orange County, while Menton is called the City of Lemons," Lagache said. "You live next to the Pacific Ocean and we live next to the Mediterranean. You have hills and mountains, so do we."

Another connection: a museum featuring Severin Wunderman's Cocteau collection.

Wunderman lived in South Laguna for years. He wanted to open a museum in a building now occupied by a rug merchant on Ocean Avenue, but was denied because the street is reserved for resident-serving businesses.

He split, and he and the museum ended up in Menton.


Welcoming ceremonies also included a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Vanessa Gee singing "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, enthusiastically accompanied by the standing crowd, none more enthusiastic than Laguna Beach 10th-graders Megan Cavanaugh and Clare Howell.

The French students, Lagache and chaperone Thierry Sitter-Thibaulot joined Dewar's class in the high school auditorium for an assembly at 7 a.m. the next morning. They were greeted by Philippsen, who had stopped by South Swell Donuts to pick up five boxes of goodies.

Students were divided into three groups. Group A spent second period with Janet Steel's English class and third period with Dewar's French class. Group B went to Dewar's class for second period and joined Mark Alvarez's social studies class for third period. The third group shared second period with Haley Mclellan's English class and third period with Bill Darnell's ceramics students.

"My students thought the main difference in teaching was it is more interactive here," Lagache said. "I disagreed, and I reminded them of a genealogy project where we made books.

"Students here also study literature from all over the world. In France, we very much favor French literature."

She said students learn about literature from other countries only in language classes.

But there is little difference in how students raise funds for special activities, like trips.

"We did shows, had bake sales, car washes and pancake breakfasts," Lagache said.

Not crepes, but pancakes, she said.

The students gathered again in the school library for a lunch of ZPizza and salads provided by Ketta Brown. Presentations included slide shows featuring Laguna's Sean Siegrist and Willy Horton skateboarding and one showing items in the Cocteau Museum, electronic music composed by 10th-grader Zac Waldman and a poetry reading in French by Gary Grant.

Anya Miller played music by French composers on the flute and a trio of LBHS guitarists played "Michelle LaBelle."

The period ended with an explanation of American football.

"The French kids wanted to go to a game, but Laguna had played Thursday night before they arrived," said Betsy Jenkins, school board and Sister Cities Assn. member.

Jenkins accompanied the French contingent on a Crystal Cove State Park hike, led by ranger Winter Bonnin.

Monday's dinner, including a scrumptious array of desserts, was at Las Brisas. Entertainment was provided by the San Juan Capistrano mariachi students, who perform annually in the Laguna Beach Fete d'Musique, an event borrowed from Menton.

Lagache's speech at Sunday's dinner was so well-received, she was encouraged to reread it.

"It has been a long way to come, but here we are — two teachers and 29 students, representing their high school, their city and France," Lagache said.

Laguna's hospitality, she said, would be reciprocated and maybe encourage other Menton residents to visit.

Lagache said her father was a big Beach Boys fan. His favorite songs were "I Get Around" and "Surfin' USA." That was all she knew about California as a child.

Then she learned about World War II and how American soldiers helped to free her country from the Nazis, earning the gratitude of her grandfather.

Seems fair. After all, the French helped America break free of England.

"So we evolved from 'wouldn't it be so nice to be together?' as the Beach Boys would have it — to 'Let's go to Laguna,'" Lagache said.

Lagache presented Iseman with a handcrafted necklace and a card signed by the students and chaperones.

The group spent Tuesday in San Diego.

Wednesday they went to lunch at the high school to mingle again with their American amis.

For more information about the Sister Cities Assn. or membership, visit http://www.lagunabeachsistercities.org.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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