Piper Mertle, 57, is a true Francophile.
Exploring and sharing her love of the prehistoric caves of the Dordogne valley in southwest France has become a passion, so much so that she’s presenting a two-part travel class through Whatcom Community College that she calls “Vive la France! Traveling to the Southwest and Dordogne Region.”
She will share her knowledge about prehistoric caves, World War II monuments, and other must-see sites, along with a brief introduction to the regional wine geography and the wines grown in some of the finest vineyards in the world. An optional wine tasting is included for those 21 and older.
Question: What brought you to Whatcom County?
Answer: I have lived in Vladivostok, Russia; Edinburgh, Scotland; Mexico City; and the tiny fishing village of Port Alexander, Alaska. For many years, my late husband and I fished commercially in Alaska.
Since 1990, we would spend half the year in Bellingham, where we knew many other fishing families. We stopped fishing and bought our house by Bellingham Bay to enjoy nature and the cultural opportunities here, and to raise our son.
I enjoy the cultural exchanges, friendships and lifelong opportunities for personal growth that learning another language provides.
Piper Mertle, traveler and teacher
Question: When did you become interested in all things French?
Answer: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and got hooked on French in middle school. In sixth grade, I got a French pen pal, Dominique, and we’ve been friends for more than 40 years. Her family became my French family.
I majored in French at University of California at Santa Barbara and spent my junior year abroad in Bordeaux. I first visited the prehistoric painted cave of Font de Gaume with my French family and got hooked.
I developed some lifelong friendships there, harvested grapes for two seasons and became a wine enthusiast. Upon my return to California, I helped establish and manage an organic wine grape vineyard with my father in Sonoma County.
Question: Why is France and the French language important to you?
Answer: I enjoy the cultural exchanges, friendships and lifelong opportunities for personal growth that learning another language provides. I recently took a leave of absence from my French teaching job at Sehome High School to earn my master’s degree at Middlebury College in Vermont and the Sorbonne in Paris.
Teaching enables me to foment a love for France in others, and I have accompanied Sehome and Squalicum high students on their trips to France.
Question: Why should people enroll in your class?
Answer: I hope they will travel to France and know there is so much to do and see, in addition to Paris. We will be sampling four emblematic wines of the region, provided through Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants. My class will give them a little “taste” of Bordeaux and the region of France I know and love the most!
Vive la France!
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 23 and 25
Where: Whatcom Community College, Kelly Hall 105, 237 W. Kellogg Road
Details: 360-383-3200, http://whatcom.edu/academics/community-continuing-education