American (or Australian, for that matter) tourists don't often get to the north of France. For the next few days, we're in Lille (info here or here), a city about an hour from the Belgian border. Everyone speaks French, but the architecture is definitely closer to Dutch (an interesting study in the shifting influences in this part of Europe). Here are some shots: one of the main squares (it seems to have two, actually), and one of the very, very old streets. (I'm not sure how old the buildings are, but the streets are medieval-narrow and medieval-convoluted. There is no such thing as "around the block" in that part of town.)
We also had a look at the cathedral, about which opinion seems to be divided; but I found it beautiful and surprisingly understated, considering it was begun in the midst of the Gothic Revival in the 19th Century. I'm hoping we can get to mass there on Sunday. Here are some shots:
In the crypt, they had an exhibit of some of the most powerful religious art I've seen. It wasn't like the art in Notre Dame, in that it was all contemporary, and it wasn't intended to be part of the liturgically based structure and decoration of an actual church. But each work (and there were works by a dozen or more artists) was deeply thoughtful and reflected an agonized wrestling with the questions of how there can be evil in a world created by a loving God, and whether human nature is essentially good and worthy of redemption, or essentially evil and deserving of sorrow questions I find myself wrestling with on pretty much a daily basis. One artist's Stations of the Cross was one of the most soul-probing works I've ever seen. (No photos that would be stealing these artists' work, and I don't want to invite bad karma into my creative life!)
If anything, the people in Lille are even more kind and supportive of my efforts at speaking French than the Parisiens. The food continues to be fantastic. Lille is not only a university town, but a European cultural center*, so we all feel right at home. We brought a bottle of good French burgundy back to the hotel room. Life is good.
*Lille was, essentially, written off in the 70s and 80s as a dirty, defunct textile town with no redeeming virtues. Today, it's a town with historical, artistic, scholarly, aesthetic, and gastronomic charms. It's got tons of educational instutitions (including a conservatory), a major orchestra, professional theatre companies, the largest bookstore in Europe (it's definitely on our list for things we must not fail to see while we're here), students, artists, light industry, good transportation networks, etc., etc. Lille a study in renewal!