The Alexandria delegation was also in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
By James Cullum
ALEXANDRIA,VA–Did you catch the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on television? Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson and his wife, Alex, were actually at the celebration in France! Since Alexandria has a sister city in Caen, France, the mayor and his wife spent a week drinking wine, eating French dinners and being toured around in whirlwind fashion.
“We drank a lot of wine, had a lot of dinners with families in Caen, which invited their other sister cities there as well,” Wilson said. “It was great. We had a good time.”
The Wilsons, who were joined by Karem Bilge, a member of the Sisters City Committee, spent their first day sightseeing in Paris, and went to the Louvre and walked along the Seine and enjoyed French cuisine. The next and following days were all business, filled with tours and meetings and more wine and more food. Did you know that Caen’s city hall was built by William the Conquerer? It’s true, and the delegation was given a tour of the building by Alexandria’s summer intern to our sister city, Sandrine Janowsky, who is former State Sen. Patsy Ticer’s granddaughter.
“It’s an incredible building. It’s a castle,” Wilson said.
The Alexandria delegation’s first night in Caen was spent at a Norman Rockwell exhibition, which included notable VIPs like Ruby Bridges, who Rockwell immortalized in his painting “The Problem We All Live With.” It’s an unforgettable piece of work, as the innocent girl is escorted to school in a white dress and sneakers by National Guardsmen. It was the first time that this and other paintings were exhibited outside the United States.
The following day, June 2, was a little busier. The day began early at the American Cemetery in Normandy, where about 10,000 Americans were buried.
“That was an incredible experience, just to walk through that cemetery,” Wilson said. “There were a lot of veterans who were there for the week for the big ceremony on Thursday. And so, as we were walking through the cemetery, we ran into a couple veterans and that was very powerful, because everybody would stop and clear the path and let them walk and start clapping. There was a lot of folks thanking them and recognizing them for their accomplishments.”
Wilson also attended the American ceremony with President Trump and French President Macron.
“The flyovers were amazing,” Wilson said. “You know, at the end of the speeches they did all kinds of military flyovers and everything, and that was pretty cool.”
Incidentally, Caen is one of Alexandria’s four sister cities, and has been in the port city’s family of localities since 1991. The others are Dundee, Scotland, Helsingborg, Sweden, and Gyumri, Armenia.
Wilson said that Caen’s system of government is interesting.
“They have a 55 member City Council. They have 12 deputy mayors,” he said. “It’s a much bigger government. As we were making the arrangements leading up to the trip, you know, I was emailing with the staff in Caen and they were so baffled by this. They’re not used to a mayor emailing them directly.”
Wilson invited Caen’s Mayor Joel Bruneau back to Alexandria, and said that Caen does a great job in cultivating its sister city relationships.
“They see this as extremely serious, and I think part of it comes out of their history,” Wilson said. “I think they learned the very hard lessons of what happens when there are not strong connections between people in that continent. So I think they feel very, very committed to making sure they have people-to-people city-to-city connections all over the world.”