One of my great plans for success in traveling to a country six hours ahead of east coast time for three and a half days was to try not to change time. That way the re-entry sequence would not be so bad and I would not be wide awake at 2 am. Still, the plan for Saturday had been meeting Corrado and Eduardo at the art museum (apparently the second biggest beaux-art collection in France–I will never know) and the natural history museum (two whole dinosaurs), respectively. The plan was around 10 am.
So I admit to having watched way too much Hurricane Irma coverage at 2 am and texting with a friend whose parents had not evacuated. Also, who can resist watching CNN when the newscasters are holding on to railings by fingertips as hurricane-force winds rip down trees behind them? Not me. So yeah, 2 am.
I woke up on Saturday to a light-filled room and my husband BH working at his computer. I asked him what time it was and I swear he said “8:15”. So I turned over and slept again. It turns out he said 11:15. He had been to breakfast and back, knowing full well my plan for sleeping success. At 12, I bumbled out of bed and finally realized the time, and saw I had only 30 minutes before meeting up with the group for MORE FOOD. So yes, part D’oh! Talk about food coma. Be warned…you can lose a day in Lille…a morning at least.
A quick shower later, we were off down the cobblestoned streets. Wait, where did all these people come from? Yesterday had been quiet, an easy walk down narrow sidewalks. Now there were couples and families perambulating everywhere. Cars! Sun! Where am I? I would say only one drawback to the perfect place called Lille is there seems to be no clear delineation between where cars go and pedestrians go on the main roads and squares. We saw one pedestrian-car incident and one bike-car incident–one ended in yelling and the other politely with an exchange of information. I was a bit twitchy on those streets, though possibly that was from lack of coffee.
I am mad that I took only a photo of my plate in the beautiful L’assiette du Marché. What a lovely restaurant. Also owned by Guillaume’s friend Antoine, it was a charming restaurant tucked into a small courtyard of the main street. Antoine himself joined us for lunch – a charming man with twinkly blue eyes, a gregarious manner and full of information on Lille and food and wine.
On Friday, I had been told by a horrified Corrado that Eduardo had ordered an espresso BEFORE lunch. This is a terrible non-non, apparently, so I made sure Corrado was down at the other end of the lunch table before ordering my own coffee. But I did see the waiter wince when I ordered espresso as everyone else ordered…what else? An aperitif! Champagne with coffee! Well, seriously I had just woken up. I did note that the waiter remained so horrified with me that he never did refill my white wine glass. Sigh.
Okay, let’s discuss paté, with copious apologies to all my vegan friends. Let’s get the fact that I am a hypocrite out of the way early on. Yes, save the elephants, organic beets, I believe in all that. I try really really hard not to think of the ducks, and how their little livers are engorged. Darn, I just thought about it. But in the end, you really can’t avoid paté. You can avoid those nasty little snails and their friends the frog legs (well, only if your friend Tracey warns you away from it because they don’t translate those exactly so it sounds all nice and delicious as everything does in French). I ate it all, I would have stabbed anyone with my paté knife who tried to get my share.
I also had a lovely fish and no, I can’t remember what it was. What is it about France that makes me turn into a raving food lunatic? I do remember dessert thank you very much. Little tiny strawberries and cream. Ahhhhhhhh.
After lunch, Guillaume and Tracey had to set off for the party place to get it ready for night fun. Eduardo, exhausted from the two-dinosaur-viewing, took off to his hotel while Corrado, BH and I took to dodging the perambulators on the street. No goal in mind, only a wary eye on a sky that threatened rain again. We stopped in the former stock market to check out the used stuff sale–old maps, books, everything. Mostly I looked at the cool architecture: so many faces in every building.
We walked and walked, out of the pretty center and into the bad 1960s buildings. I don’t mean to be critical because of course Lille was probably wrecked in the big war (must look that up, too) but the 1960s were not good for architecture anywhere. Clothing choices too, really. But more on that later.
Now we saw the gate to Paris. Wait, what? Aren’t we about an hour TGV from Paris? The gate is here. We walked through to see if we would be magically transported like a Harry Potter movie. No. It started to rain; we headed for a beer.
Through some wacky time warp it was now almost time for the big party. The theme was flower power and hippie clothes were encouraged. I had borrowed some flower pins and scarves from my mom but I admit I totally wimped out. Dressed in black, a flower pin. We so did not compete with the main party folks. But I am getting there…getting there…
The party was held at L’Huiterie. Yes, another Antoine restaurant, though this one had a sad story. Once a two-star Michelin, it had lost its stars and closed. For the last year and a half, Antoine has been trying to get it back on its feet but it wasn’t there yet. Now it was an empty fish market front (gorgeous tiling, and open space where Antoine was opening oysters like he was flipping open tops on soda cans–hundreds) and a refined two-room event area in the back.
After hugging all the hippies, we got ourselves some oysters, some chunks of salmon, some foamy frothy stuff, and all kinds of miraculous Frenchy appetizers. As in, so small you pop them in your mouth, experience heaven for a short second and then boom, it’s gone. Then you must hunt down the waiter for more. Wine flowing like water. Happy French and English people. And here’s where I’ll get serious for a moment.
Guillaume spoke briefly about his wife’s illness when they first got married. A cancer scare. And how important it was for him that everyone was there for them then and now. He thanked all of us who came from afar by name, all those who came from close-in by general appreciation. And at that moment, I was so happy that we found a way to come for a weekend–one has to make an effort to share this happiness and friendship and I’m so glad we did. While I haven’t made much of my MBA (10 years career in marketing), I have made much of the friends made there. Priceless. How else would I have met Lille, the perfectest place in all of France? Through Evanston, strangely.
And so, let me end this by saying, yes we danced all night. Well, until 2 am anyway, and the hard-cores apparently until 5 am. Who are these people? They had no jetlag to sustain them. Must be the paté.
Tomorrow: the city of lights.