This Thanksgiving we are thankful for France. So, at last, let us cross the border.
183 days have passed. 13 countries have been conquered. Beer has dominated our EU Austerity Drinking Tour for months. Sure, Belgian and Dutch beer shocked us into appreciation of how fine beer can be. But finally, we step foot back into France: home of wine. Champagne, that fizzy light at the end of this trip’s tunnel is in sight.We start in Lille.
Magnificent, crenelated buildings, color, and life abound in this frigid town. WWI and II cut gaps out of churches and city blocks. But this is fabulous France. The Theater looms grand at the city’s heart.
Above town square, along ancient alleys, shop windows like cats’ eyes glow and tempt us with endless cheeses:
Philip Olivier’s cheeses and staff are perfect. Hops hang from the ceiling hinting at local beer to come.
But to remind you that THIS IS NOT BELGIUM, THIS IS FRANCE, Lille goes laughably cliché on us with Macarons…. Foie Gras Macarons:
Detective Clouseau’s arch accent now infects our speech. Not to zee ootdun, Quick, la France’s answear to Mac Donalds’ provisions us wis zee Fois Gras Bouger:
(I adore the health advisory that recommends at least five fruits and vegetables a day: yes, this bouger will kill you).
You also know this is France, when an atrium honoring scientists includes Chaptal: Napoleon’s scientist/politician who institutionalized the process of adding sugar to raise a wine’s alcohol: known as Chaptalization (he also coined the term nitrogen).
Although in France, very little wine gets made this far North. Now, I know I promised wine. But Lille is the core of French Flanders. Our grocery store proudly puts local beer at their aisle’s head. We will never have it so fresh. So, once more unto the breach:
This being France, beer comes in 750 ml bottles, sorry Belgium. Moulins d’Ascq, Hellemus Blonde des Flandre, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France. Bio, unfiltered. €2.70 75cl
APPEARANCE: looks a hazy, medium amber gold, with white fizz film. AROMAS: smell moderately intense of pinto beans, dried peas, honey. PALATE: feels off dry, pretty darn tart, mildly bitter, but warm and 8% abv, with a medium body. FLAVORS: taste more powerfully of candied grapefruit, lychee, beans, and coconut milk of medium plus length. Hellemus’ Blonde des Flandres is frothy, complex, and wild. Very good (4 of 5).
Gayant Brewery makes another Flanders Blonde called, La Goudale, Biére Blonde à l’Ancienne, Douai Cedex, France. €2.74 75cl
APPEARANCE: looks clear but also amber gold and again a very small fizz, white film. AROMAS: smell of ripe, pronounced pineapple, whisky barrel, bark, and honeycomb: fantastically complex. PALATE: feels drier, medium in acidity, with medium plus alcohol (7.2%), and a fuller, medium plus body. FLAVORS: taste pretty richly of roasted mixed nuts, malted bread, honeycomb, orange peel, coriander, and soft herbal hops that last forever. Gayant’s La Goudale is outstanding (5 of 5) beer. Well done!
No French reentry (Frenchentry) would be complete with a visit to the art museum:
Much of the work is French and of the last five hundred years. One of David’s early works, impresses us with its drama and pathos:
The later 19th century room ups the verism, amid Monet, with Alfred Agache’s extremely fierce old lady:
Sculptures parade in stillness downstairs, while a bronze Napoleon spawns French industry from his fingertips:
Alone now, in the pitch black basement we open a door to a dark room the size of a city block. Glass cubes glow eerily quiet. Louis XIVth commissioned 1/600th models of each of France’s border towns, probably for war planning, with obsessive detail (every home, fence, and turret, is included):
We bundle up alongside boisterous school children and return to the cold.
Oh, how we missed France. Its relentless drive to make anything and everything beautiful, spontaneous, and new. Even a war map must include hand-painted house shingles. A Macaron is lovely, but why not add Fois Gras? Beer is nice, but it should taste of coriander, whisky, and pineapple!
The clouds break a sunset on a Deco spaceship of brick. Our heels hurt so we head back to our hostel.
Next Monday’s post: Amiens and ever closer to Champagne!
Such variety in France!