Thursday, August 13, 2015

Flaneurs in Lille

Travel to a new place is always thrilling, reminding me how soon the unknown becomes familiar. Some deep territorial instinct seems to claim the small details and promptly spin them into remembered knowledge while the bigger picture remains indifferently mysterious. That's how it felt last weekend in Lille.
Our room overlooked the railway and traffic in ‘Toutes Directions’ and massive new build, but the larger life of the city was far less interesting than our daily trips along 'our' route ~ the cycle track discovered on the first night ~ taking us directly into the old town of Flemish buildings painted ochre & russet with sloping triangular roofs and rococo cherubic & garlanded mouldings.

It’s easy to lose yourself here, as the tourist ‘city map’ apparently locates roads where there's room for the print rather than with reliable reference to location and has no truck with scale, but Lilleans are friendly, and speak English far better than my pigeon French.

And anyway Hazel and I were happily indifferent as we sat with our notebooks at a pavement bar, beside a fountain, by the river, on a bench in the park or a log in the Bois du Boulogne. This was a writing retreat, our ‘artist’s date’ with the kind of process writing we used to do when we performed  words together as Live & Lippy a decade ago.
Why a citybreak in Lille? Because this random location and impulsive decision had a quirky energy we hoped would re-ignite a shared creativity that has, inevitably, lapsed since Hazel left Frome to live further and further north, now among the Cumbrian hills. So this post is not a travel guide to a city in Northern France, just a few personal glimpses: our notebooks filled daily without attempting much objective analysis. We observed life around us, flaneur-style, at the Palais des Beaux Arts, at the Veille Bourse on Argentinian tango night, at the student bar in the old horse market, the pop-up cafe in front of the cathedral on Sunday, along the river where paddleboarders glided by like swans, beside crumbling walls of the old citadel, at the open-air zoo in the park... For me this trip was about staying offline & offscreen for three days, using a notebook & pen, and connecting more intensely with a physical world. And having a really nice time too.

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