She can't remember much about that first trip to York in 1967 — just driving around with “a group of girls alone in a car.”
Colette Boucharat-Valli was 19 — too young to drink in the United States, she noted with a smile.
But she was definitely here, all the way from Arles, France, to meet her Pennsylvania-based pen pal. Forty-five years later, Boucharat-Valli still has the Polaroid photo to prove it.
Now 63, Boucharat-Valli returned to York this week for the first time since 1967.
A camera around her neck and a jacket around her waist, she — along with eight other Arlesians — spent Thursday touring York City and snapping photos at places like the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center and the Wolfgang Candy factory.
Twins: Arlesians have been visiting York — and Yorkers visiting Arles — since 1954, the year the two cities became “twins.”
The relationship was built and continues to be nurtured by the York Twinning Association and its counterpart overseas.
As far as the group members know, it's the longest international friendship between French and American cities.
For some, it's an arrangement that has blossomed into longtime, transcontinental friendships.
‘It's family': Evelyne Laurent teared up Thursday as she talked about the many times she's visited York and the friends she's made here. She first visited as a young woman in 1974 and returned two years later to celebrate America's bicentennial anniversary.
“I fell in love with York,“ Laurent said. “To me, it's family.”
Four decades ago, the contrasts between York and Arles were much more pronounced, she said. Globalization has since made those differences subtle, Laurent said.
The Arlesians' tour of York ended Thursday at the city's Agricultural & Industrial Museum, where they learned about the history of Pullman automobiles, the York Water Co. and old-fashioned farming methods.
“It's a method of just getting water from point A to point B without using electricity,” the tour guide said, explaining a device known as the ram pump that had been popular among York County farmers.
The guide forgot to mention one thing. But Lucien Tuliere, one of the visitors from Arles, pointed it out.
The ram pump is a technology invented in France.
— Reach Erin James at email@example.com.