me, Soso, and taxidermy


Soso and I have our familiar routine which includes going to the Red Park then to the Gare Saint Sauveur across the road. A converted train station, the Gare Saint Sauveur houses art exhibitions, an excellent bistro and all sorts of seasonal events. This season they’ve installed a skating rink and a toboggan run. Sledding and tobogganing is called “la luge” in French. Saturday we went to the cinema to see the movie, Coco.

Here’s the Red Park which isn’t its real name. Winter in the north of France can be grim. It wasn’t too cold, but it was gray and damp during my weekend in Lille.


For the first time ever, we visited the Lille Natural History Museum. Founded in 1822, it houses zoological and geological collections. Here’s the north-facing wall. There’s a lot of brick in the north of France that I like. In the rest of the country, you don’t see much brick.


The place was packed, not only with small kids and parents, but with large dead stuffed animals. All museums in France are free on the first Sunday of every month. I guess that’s why it was packed.


Never in my life have I seen such a large collection of stuffed animals, there were rooms and rooms of them, filled with birds, flamingos, rodents, big cats, even a giraffe, a polar bear, lions and tigers. This is what I learned about taxidermy: the earliest methods of the preservation of birds were published in 1748 by Reaumur in France. Frenchman Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the National Natural History Museum in 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the museum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.


After awhile, Soso announced that he was hungry. So we headed back down the street, across the park and towards the in-house bistro of the Gare Saint Sauveur.


It’s an inexpensive, kid-friendly place that serves delicious food. Soso had fish fingers and chips from the kids’ menu. But not before spearing half a dozen olives from the glass in front of him. I warned him that too many salty olives will make him thirsty afterwards. “Mais, j’aime les olives!” he said happily, and continued to spear more.

I had a pork-vermicelli-coconut-cashew stir-fry with white rice and salad. With a small glass of white wine for me and a fizzy grenadine drink for my companion, the bill came to only 24 euros. No dessert. Afterwards, we went back outside to the skating rink and toboggan run. All entirely free. Lille is a Socialist city run by the popular Martine Aubry, mayor since 2001 and daughter of Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission and Minister of Finance of France from 1981 to 1984. Many family and cultural events in this city are heavily sponsored.


Back home for a hot bath followed by a game of BANANAGRAMS using letter tiles. 


On the 5 o’clock Sunday train back to Paris, I conked out.

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