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Lille, European Capital of Culture

Lille Making Art not WarOn the news from France 2 last night, there was an article about the city of Lille, which for one year has received the title of capitale européenne de la culture. As you can learn in an article (Lille inaugure son titre de capitale européenne de la culture, December 6) in Le Monde, the city will spend a budget of 74 million euros, shared among the city, state, national, and European governments, as well as corporate sponsors. Expenditures include this weekend of partying, the restoration of several historic sites, and the "metamorphosis" of several public places into cultural "madhouses." For example, Lille's main train station (Lille-Flandres) is lit entirely in pink light, there is an inverted forest on display somewhere (still trying to locate a photo), and the Rue Faidherbe, which links the downtown area to the train station, is lined with matching pairs of futuristic arches (see image at right), 8 meters (26 feet) tall, created by comic book artist Jean-Claude Mezières. You can learn more at the official Web site of Lille 2004: Capitale Européenne de la Culture.

Last night, to begin the celebration in front of the train station, the Orchestre National de Lille was joined by a thousand other professional and amateur musicians in a concert featuring a performance of Le Chant des Chemins de Fer (The Song of the Railways) by Hector Berlioz. This piece was commissioned in 1846 to commemmorate the linking of Paris and Lille by rail. (You can listen to an unrelated performance of it here and look at the score here.) From the few seconds I heard of the rehearsal on the news, there is not much more I can say about it.

To put this in perspective, the budget of 74 million euros (about $90 million) to make Lille into a fabulous cultural madhouse is about the same amount as the increase alone over last year (up to $320 million from about $230 million last year) on what the United States government will spend next year on manufacturing new plutonium cores, or "pits," for our burgeoning arsenal of nuclear weapons (see James Sterngold, A new era of nuclear weapons: Bush's buildup begins with little debate in Congress in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 7). As Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) put it, "We have more nuclear weapons now than we know what to do with.'' When even Republican representatives are saying that, it's clearly time to carve up some of that DoD budget to transform a few cities in North America into fabulous cultural madhouses.

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