Bridging Calais, Maine and Calais, France

This is the City Hall for the city of Calais, France, our town's namesake and sister across the pond. A similar picture of the French City Hall hangs in the council chambers at our city hall. The building is beautiful and intricate providing much more than just a space for city services.

By Kaileigh Deacon

 

On a recent trip to Paris, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the town with the same name as the one in which I grew up. Growing up in Calais, you often hear the name pronounced the French way (“Cal-lay”) and spend more time correcting the pronunciation to “Cal-lis.” So when the opportunity presented itself, I had to go and see what the place was actually like.

The adventure started with a speedy train ride traveling for two hours from the heart of Paris to the coastline of France. Be careful if ever traveling by train to Calais as there are technically two stops that have the name Calais attached. If you take the first one you will be stranded for an hour while waiting on the next train to cover the remaining three miles.  It was an interesting ride that involved miles and miles of open countryside as well picturesque small villages.

Calais, France is a city rich in history and tradition. When you first arrive, especially after having been in the heart of Paris for several days, it hits you how different from the city it is. I arrived on a Saturday and it was quiet and relaxed when I got there.

As you walk through the streets of the city, one thing you notice is the way that history and the present are blended together. This was something I found in Paris as well. You will have huge pieces of historical architecture and buildings that have stood the test of time right next to modern buildings. It was a beautiful blend of the past and present coming together. In many ways this made me think of home and the way we are trying to keep pieces of the past alive in our own small city, including the revitalization of the Sarsaparilla Building and restoring not just the building but the faded advertisement paint on the front as well.

As I walked through the streets of this foreign city surrounded by another language and different cultural norms, I found myself oddly at home. The feel of Calais, France felt much like home with the small-town attitude and friendly and comfortable pace.

The sound of horns surprised me in this small city but when I looked up I was surprised by what I saw. It wasn’t the aggravated drivers I had become accustomed to hearing in Paris but a celebration. An old-fashioned car carried a bride and her groom while a long line of vehicles followed behind honking their horns, inviting the whole city to join in the celebration. Each member of the party was dressed up, right down to the ladies wearing fancy hats I’d only ever seen on television.

A big difference between the two Calaises was the fact that in France, Calais is an active port just across the channel from Dover, England.  There is a beautiful white sand beach that stretches on for what seems like an eternity and a lighthouse warning ships of what lies ahead.

Here away from Paris, where the tourists are sure to flock, I found that my limited (and that’s being generous) ability to speak French was a challenge. Communicating without being able to understand someone’s primary language can get confusing, but just like when I am home, people were friendly and helped as best they could.

 

Calais, France was a truly unique experience that I’m so glad to have done. To connect where you come from to someplace so far away is exciting. I felt that not only did a part of me belong here, but I found a part of my home in a foreign country. Calais, Maine was named in honor of the city in France as a nod to the French help the U.S. received during the Revolutionary War. Having seen the namesake of my hometown, I feel more connected to its past and won’t be as offended when I hear “Cal-lay” rather than “Cal-lis”.