October 13, 2005 in Voices

Evening with visitors was trés manifique

Sandra Babcock The Spokesman-Review

The French quietly invaded Spokane Valley three weeks ago.

They were here with an arsenal of Les Jamelles wine and saucisson (French salami) making it clear our typical Wednesday night was under attack.

Miriam, a petite, blonde was perched on our recliner. Laetitia (Miriam’s daughter) and Mikayla (granddaughter) hail from Boise. Miriam was visiting them from France, and all three traveled to Spokane Valley to meet us.

Mikayla, a talkative toddler, stared up at me. I squatted down and as we talked, Miriam stood and walked toward me.

I’ve heard the stories. How the French can be rude toward Americans. Miriam was small – real small. I knew I could take her.

But in those few seconds a commonality was recognized; nationalities were erased. We hugged. “Welcome!” I said. Miriam smiled, relief spread across her face. She only spoke French and Laetitia became our link.

Soon the wine was uncorked, the saucisson sliced and bread broken. An international camaraderie was in the works. While sharing their gifts I thought of France, the country where peace treaties ending the American Revolution, World War I and Vietnam were signed; the country we love to hate and hate to love.

Obnoxious and arrogant. Proud and boisterous. Overly giving with a desire to be respected is an accurate description of …well, both France and the United States. Is this typical of cantankerous siblings united by history, I wondered?

America’s history is sated with French influence. Until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 France owned more than 800,000 square miles of territory from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. The French have meandered throughout our history, appearing as trappers and traders, military adversaries and allies, and even la famille.

Locally, Coeur d’Alene is French for “heart of the awl” a name given by French trappers and traders to the Coeur d’Alene tribe due to their tough trading skills. Pend d’Oreille (or Pend Oreille) is French for “hanging ears,” a description given to local Native Americans by French-Canadians because many wore ear ornaments that extended the earlobes.

In Spokane Valley, the origin of Mirabeau Point caught my interest.

“Apparently, after IEP purchased the land along the river (around 1920 or so), they hired a French surveyor to map the property. He came to the spot currently named Mirabeau and must have liked it. He named it after a Lt. Mirabeau that was a hero of his from the French Revolution,” wrote Greg Bever of the Spokane Journal.

“The trustees wanted to name Mirabeau and literally argued over names for weeks. Finally, someone looked on a map and there it was, Mirabeau Point. We decided to move forward and accept the name provided by the good Frenchman.”

The origin of the name was answered, but what does it mean?

“There is no direct French to English translation of the word Mirabeau. If you separate the Mira/beau, the French words mean “reflect beauty,” which is certainly an apt description of Mirabeau Point,” wrote Jayne Singleton, of the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum.

We stood in the kitchen that day, steam from the spaghetti fogging the windows, the scent of sauce filling the air. Laetitia helped with dinner, watched Mikayla and translated with ease. The room was warm with laughter. On this fall evening, France was a good friend.

A laptop computer provided a gateway to Miriam’s world as we viewed a map and pictures of France and Corsica. Miriam provided an Internet tour of her home and work, the gardens, shops and the grand Château de Chambord.

It was an amazing evening, one I never thought possible, but the French have always been a part of America. I don’t know why I was surprised.

This quiet invasion has made an impression. Our passport applications are ready for processing. The Rocket French program is downloaded into the computer. I promised Miriam next time we meet she’ll show me her country and I’ll converse in French.

Two promises I plan to keep.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email