My partner and I wound up in Lille this week – a spontaneous trip to visit friends from France and Moldova!
What you might appreciate most after months of volunteering, or working, or studying elsewhere, are the connections you take away with you.
It reminds me of a quotation from Helen Oyeyemi I noted while engrossed in her book Mr. Fox:
“I’m never sad when a friend goes far away, because whichever city or country that friend goes to, they turn the place friendly. They turn a suspicious-looking name on a map into a place where a welcome can be found. Maybe that friend will talk about you sometimes, to other friends that live around him, and then that’s almost as good as being there yourself. You’re in several places at once! In fact, my daughter, I would even go so far as to say that the farther away your friends are, and the more spread out they are, the better your chances of going safely through the world…”
I wholeheartedly agree.
You may find yourself with manifold homes when stepping back from what you once understood as displacement. You have seen yourself as the world. If you leave feeling global, you have likely realized you can flourish where your allies rest. No place will feel too strange – you know that there is another unknown where someone you love has roots. And there is little as satisfying as returning to a connection conceived in unusual circumstances, perhaps girded with a language you and your compatriots now share, flavored by new gossip and memories.
Of course you will find yourself again exploring, discovering. Your one choice to depart has fated you for many more departures, but these are rotating doors. Some will land you back at your heart’s attachments; others with open to blank space, where you find furor or transit. These spaces, the far-flung ones, are like Alice’s hole to the underground. Some might spin like fantasy. You will pop back through, though, with a new feather in your hat and, if you have opened yourself like before, some other small charm in your recollections. It is inevitable that you do; you are now the world.
After our trip, my partner and I gathered ourselves in a mood of appreciation. We came away with renewed ties and many feathers. For an illustration of our travels, and how I understood Lille through collected images, see below.
An Assortment of Photographs from Lille
Lille is a large city, with boroughs connected by highway and metro. The center of the old town – La Grand Place – is packed with restaurants and concept stores; the money is immediate. Other areas are more welcoming for tourists, but with the good grace of wide lanes and an abundance of nature. Some neighborhoods feature multicultural spaces, large markets and salons and Pawn Shops, comic shops, “world” goods and specialty stores. It’s an eclectic town.
The Church – Sainte-Catherine
Lille features a grand citadel, star-shaped, and a surrounding park. The citadel itself is a military base, off-limit to most tourists. However, the park surrounding the space is lined with a dusty path, perfect for strolling, jogging or biking. The day we visited, my partner and I encountered a pop-up group of LARPing adults. The warriors attracted a lot of attention, though their sopping dog, after plunging into a nearby moat, scattered the most enemies.
A Market Square in Lille Grand Place
Near the center of Lille’s Grand Place, there is an “indoor” market – set up in the open space of one of the square’s buildings – where vendors display comics, figurines, old posters and other sundries. Visitors can gather at two tables to challenge each other in games of chess.
There are few corners in Lille where you won’t find some form of street art.
Gare Saint Sauveur – “Ola Cuba” Art Exhibition
Many cities in France re-purpose old spaces – take the ceramics factory in Limoges that now houses a McDonald’s, or Lille’s covered outdoor market that is now a “Match” grocery store. Lille has also transformed an old train depot into an event gallery that may house temporary art exhibits.
Open Market “Marché de Wazemmes”
One of Lille’s most colorful stops (in such a colorful city!) is its open market, one of France’s largest, where you can find products both domestic and international. It was the most multicultural space we visited.
France is known well for her political protests. This year, I’ve already witnessed three – and all by chance. This past week, a very long procession of union members, notably from many separate backgrounds – French Communists, immigrants, anarchists and more – marched through the center of Old Town and beyond.