Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lille en fete!

Sumedha - the intrepid francophile is back after a week in Lille. Here's her story!!

In Lille, autumn is perhaps the most vibrant season. With beautiful yellow trees and streets patterned with leaves fallen off them! The autumn that we miss here at home…

But this year the festivities are really happening. India has been invited with the theme of “Bombay Kisses from Lille”. And Lille is colourful like never before! Numerous plays, concerts, exhibitions are taking place across Lille and will continue till January.
The celebrations began with a grand parade in which Indian culture met the north of France…..what I sadly wasn’t around to witness but from what I hear and imagine, the parade transformed Lille with kitsch colours and fantastical atmosphere, inspired by Diwali!
What you would notice the first (they are kind of hard to miss anyway!) are the elephants created by artist Nitin Desai. Nitin started as assistant director to Mira Nair, and has has since created superb decors for Bollyood. There are a total of 12 giant elephants eight meters tall gracing the each side of the main street from the Lille Flanders station to the main center or Grande Place. The elephants are made so beautifully and with such skill, they take your breath away! Big majestic creatures decorated with gold jewels with beautiful tusks(which thankfully aren’t precious enough to be poached away!just yesterday I read yet again of elephants being left to bleed to death after extracting their tusks!)
The station itself is illuminated into an Indian Palace with an illuminated façade of twinkling lights! I could easily imagine myself as a princess lost in the streets of an old Indian town…with the elephants on one side and the illuminated palace on the other!
Sadly since I was there for work I couldn’t find the time to explore the many exhibitions being held across the city. A few I read about were…”Bombay maximum city” an exhibition of photographs, sounds and a variety of images which would help the people to discover the incredible city of Bombay. The exhibition is being organized at the Postal Sorting Office. On the second floor of the building, is the exhibition titled “ Futurotextiles”, or the confrontation between technology and contemporary art. Its on till the 14th January. The Fine Arts Museum in Tourcoing is devoting an exhibition to Le Corbusier in Chandigarh. A French architect who designed one of our most modern cities! Music from across the borders isn’t far behind. Just a week before I landed there, was a performance by Anoushka Shankar at the Lille Opera. The National Orchestra of Lille will also make a point of being part of the event. A meetings between Indian music and symphonic music will be organized, directed by Jean-Claude Casadesus, as well as other concerts centred on scores by Hadyn, Alexander von Zemlinsky or Messiaen. Artists I cannot boast of being familiar with at all but nonetheless am sure for those who were and are there to listen to the concerts, would cherish the experience.
On my side, what I did enjoy was Lille at night! With the towering elephants and the lighted streets, it was wonderful!
It was wonderful to see how little flavor of India was made part of stores. The local patisserie had the elephant on diplay with a load of chocolate on its back! And the regal eagle bejeweled and perched on top a chocolate box!
Colourful flags displaying ”Bombaysers de Lille” flanked the streets everywhere. And motifs of Natraja, the autorickshaw, the elephant and the bull peeped here and there and everywhere on the streets of Lille. The travel agents had big billboards of ”Incredible India”, hoping surely to cash in on the Indian flavour of the season to transport some enthusiasts on another journey to discover the extraordinary country that is India!
Another wonderful experience I had was riding the huge ferris wheel, installed every year this time for Christmas! Its right in the centre of the Grand place with accompanying installations of reindeers and gingerbread houses all lighted up! My friends and I packed up in our woolens, well prepared to face the cold winds up there! The ride was slow and nice but shaky enough to make all attempts of my pictures from up there kind of blurred! A view from the top is always beautiful and at this time with streets lit up for x’mas and this time the stations lit up as palaces add to the charm!
Being a vegetarian in Lille isn’t easy! And especially when I am accompanied by my collegues from Honk Kong, China, Bangladesh who eat almost every kind of meat among them! But then I manage and manage well and in the end its fun for me and my colleagues who help me out! This time I went along with three other colleagues to a famous Thai restaurant, “Baan Thai”. Inside the restaurant were again very Indian looking wall hangings of old wooden carving with little bells which looked straight from Jaipur! We had a wonderful 5 course meal served to us by a cute chinky waiter. My colleague was kind enough to tell him to make my food spicy. And boy was it! It was yummy but I was eating through my tears! We ended the meal with mint tea which they served to us along with a selection of three different kinds of sugar! Whipped cream, jaggery with sesame seeds and brown sugar and mishri!
Seriously recommended for the food and service for anyone visiting!
The other place we tried and loved was “La Compostelle”. Five minutes from the Grand Place, it was a former coaching inn on the trail of Santiago de Compostela.It houses the sober charm of yesterday with the gastronomy of today. Fine French cuisine is proposed in rooms decorated in a different hue. We chose to sit in the spacious blue room. Choosing it over the red décor room, which was too warm for our liking. We were served in true French style, slow and easy! But the waiting was worth it, with each course better than the other. The most wonderful was the desert of crème brulee I ordered. I got not one but 3 servings in one! Each a different version of the crème brulee . One the original crème brulee, the second slightly with a chocolate flavour and my favorite….crème brulee spiked with vodka! We initially thought the waitress dropped some from my colleagues “Colonel” into my crème brulee! But then what I got was how it was meant to be! :)