Oh, the places you used to go: Lille

A friend gave Mark the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go during a time of great uncertainty in our lives, and it has served us well ever since as words to live by. Like everyone else, we’re now stuck in the doldrums, in what Dr. Seuss called The Waiting Place and what the French call reconfinement.

…a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

While we’ve been waiting, cooling our heels and growing our hair, our physical driver’s licenses arrived. Hooray! These in hand, we can rent a car, something that was not permitted by our temporary licenses. But seeing as how we’re only allowed to go 1 km from home, it seems like another one of 2020’s cruel jokes. I’ve made a shrine to the god of travel, who is of course the Michelin Man. I will be sprinkling it daily with coffee from a thermos, the holy water of the road trip, and beseeching for better days to come.

For lack of being able to plan anything for the future, I’ve been hitting the wayback machine, aka the photo archive. Once upon a time (ok, 2016), we went to Lille, France’s fourth largest city, which is tucked all the way up north near the Belgian border. It’s a beautiful town whose architecture makes you think more Belgium than France, which makes sense if you know that it was once a part of Flanders. Like many border towns, Lille has been besieged and conquered throughout its history, which leads to an interesting mixture of culture. The food definitely leans towards Belgium, which is to say not memorable, or at least not memorable in a good way. Chocolate and waffles, go ahead, name another typical Belgian dish if you can. Ok, beer. It’s not a food, though some of them drink like a meal. One of the more famous traditional dishes of Lille is Cabonate, beef stewed in beer. Sounds delicious, however I was shocked to find out that it’s sweet! And that’s not just unfortunate, it’s flat-out wrong.

Bistros serving traditional food like this one are called Estaminets

Despite the disappointment with their traditional food, we loved Lille. We were due to go back there with my sister last April. She has an affection for northern Europe and formerly sad textile-bust towns like Lille that have turned themselves around. I wanted to go back for the excellent and huge 5-story Furet du Nord (Ferret of the North) bookstore, as well as the huge and excellent park surrounding Lille’s Vauban-designed citadel. Vauban was a 17th century French engineer, an absolute genius of military and civilian infrastructure. The citadel is closed to visitors, but the park alone is worth the trip to walk the walls and even to settle in for the afternoon.

And I definitely wanted go back to LaM, the Lille Museum of Modern Art, which has a wing devoted to outsider art, that is artists without formal training. The concept was defined by the artist Jean Dubuffet (of Art Brut fame), and the museum houses a large collection of his work as well.

Lille also has one of those wonderful scary old natural history museums that I am so fond of.

Lille doesn’t get a ton of foreign tourists. We were there on our where-shall-we-live-in-France tour and were deliberately visiting more out of the way places. I almost could have lived there. Lille has a lot going for it: history, art, culture, great transportation, green space… but it doesn’t have sun. In our nearly one month long visit, I think we saw the sun twice, and you’ve seen all the pictures. It mostly looked like this:


We bailed out early on our stay in Lille and headed straight south to sunny Provence. Even though I think Lille deserves more love, if you did the same, I wouldn’t blame you.

May sunnier days be ahead!



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