Found art

July 31, 2006

I don’t know who this chap is, but his picture was all over the place in Lille. I don’t like graffiti, but I do like collections of affiches like these. They seem to me to be quintissentially European. Here are some more.




Lydéric and Phinaert

July 30, 2006

Here are the patron giants of Lille, Lydéric and Phinaert, supporting the tower of the Hôtel de Ville. According to legend—and I hope Elisabeth and MLL will put me right if I haven’t got the facts straight—in the year 620, a prince named Salvaert, fleeing an insurrection with his pregnant wife Ermengaert, was ambushed by Phinaert, a bandit lord. Salvaert was killed, but Ermengaert escaped and was taken in by a hermit. She gave birth to a son, Lydéric. When Lydéric was 20, he sought out Phinaert, challenged him to a duel, and defeated him. The King of France gave Phinaert’s lands to Lydéric, who founded the city of Lille.

There is apparently a wonderful view of the city from the tower, but it wasn’t open the day we were there. We had to content ourselves with looking around inside, where we found two more huge effigies of Lydéric and Phinaert in the auditorium.

French Flatiron

July 29, 2006

This building in Lille reminded me of the Flatiron Building in New York City, famously photographed in 1903 by Alfred Stieglitz.

I wonder if Elisabeth or MLL knows anything about this building. I would love to see one of the apartments (I assume it’s an apartment building). I imagine them as very elegant.

The art of the swimming pool

July 27, 2006

I have never seen anything like these wonderful petunia pillars before. They are in Roubaix, which is 20-minutes or so away from the center of Lille on the excellent automated métro. Roubaix was an important textile manufacturing town in the 15th to 19th centuries

But the main reason to go there today is to visit La Piscine.


Originally an Art Deco swimming pool, it is now the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie. The old pool is a gallery of 19th and 20th century sculpture. The tiled edge of the pool is still visible behind the statues. The stretch of water in the middle is about three inches deep.

The old shower stalls and changing rooms have been turned into display cases for—among other things—the splendid displays of textiles and related items, and the wings that made up the municipal bath house and once contained bath tubs now house the fine arts collection.


To remind you of this wonderful building’s past, every so often, you hear a couple of minutes of taped shrieking and splashing.

Vive la différence!

July 26, 2006

I was a teenager when I first started to travel out of England, where I grew up. I didn’t care about traditional souvenirs; one of the coolest things for me was to come home with a tube of toothpaste of an unfamiliar brand that said it was “dentifrice” or a bar of soap that called itself “sapone.” The ultimate in cool was using foreign, and therefore exotic, products.

Now the same stores and the same products are everywhere, and I find it very disappointing. It’s not that anyone makes me shop at Tesco in Prague or eat at McDo (God forbid!) in Paris or buy Colgate toothpaste in Venice; it’s that I don’t want it to be even a possibility.

Sales were going on while my friends and I were in Lille (carefully avoiding Euralille for fear of finding a WalMart), and I’m happy to say that the exotic kicked in for me because the window displays were far more creative and daring than anything you’d be likely to see in the United States. This one was my favorite: At Gatsby’s “chaque homme est unique.”

The architecture of commerce

July 25, 2006

The exquisite 76m neo-Flemish belfry of the Lille Chambre de Commerce is seen towering above the buildings on this street. The Chambre was designed by Louis Marie Cordonnier and blends well with the style of such nearby buildings as the Vieille Bourse.


Below is the boxy Credit Lyonnaise tower, conceived by the architect Christian de Portzamparc as a block in the sky signalling renewal. It stands near the Gare Lille-Europe and the Euralille Centre.


Two such different buildings, both representing commerce, both built in the 20th century, and both—to me—with their own distinctive appeal.

Someone has to lose

July 24, 2006
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This supporter of Germany was certainly in the minority in Lille.

The staff of the little restaurant where my friends and I ate the night of the World Cup semifinal had hooked up a small television so that they could catch glimpses as they worked. Our waiter kept apologizing for forgetting things, explaining that he was distracted. We certainly didn’t care; we were on holiday and had all the time in the world. Besides, even though none of the three of us cares a bit about soccer, we were caught up in the moment and were rooting for Les Bleus right along with him. When France won, Lille erupted. Until well after 2 PM, people drove round honking horns and yelling.

The German flag continued to flutter from the window for a couple of days after the match—sadly but defiantly, I thought, as I watched it from my hotel room. I’m not good at competitive stuff. I’d like it best if everyone could win.