July 10, Saturday
To criticize a city I have visited goes against the grain, but for Manchester, I make this small exception. So uninspired by the lay of the place, I am compelled to use a photo lifted from on-line (note the watermarks) to illustrate a place where we stopped for about an hour without taking the camera from my pocket. This photo illustrates, in the most favorable way, how the city has mixed old, the oyster bar in the background, with the new, a shopping mall in the foreground. More than Glasgow, this shopping area is an outdoor mall (long pedestrian-only street of several blocks) lined with indoor malls and shops, mostly high-end. The masthead photo above shows the exceptional popularity of Sinclair’s Oyster Bar, so crowded that we did not attempt to squeeze in.
In fairness, Manchester is a city on the move. My problem is that I could not determine from where to where, and this, as you will learn if you read on (your fault), applies to many of its residents.
Our well-placed hotel, about 50 meters from the train station and about twice that from Canal Street, the heart of gay Manchester, was in an area undergoing construction for blocks in all directions. On what should have been a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, the noise and dust were irritating. Perhaps this colored our perceptions, but Manchester seems to lack a focus, a theme, a soul.
The old and new in this city are jumbled together; they fight each other. Whereas Montreal and Edinburgh have “old towns” where history is maintained, refurbished, and replicated, Manchester seems to be the vision of a careless gardener, plucking weeds and runt plants haphazardly, planting new without much thought as to the overall effect, similar to my own gardening, making me an expert in this criticism. Perhaps at the end of another year or two, the planner’s original vision will spring to life in a sudden revelation of her intention. Good luck.
Manchester has a compact gay district inventively called “Gay Village.” It runs about three blocks of Canal Street forcing all the bars to be, cheek by butt crack, on the same side of the street—it’s a metaphor. It was a beautiful day, as this picture shows, but despite the balloons, flags, and pennants the crowds appeared dour.
Manchester must be the cross-dressing capital of the world, clearly accounting for over half of the world’s stiletto heels in size 12 and higher. Whereas my observation of these proclivities from years ago was of loud, audacious, campy, and funny queens, this crowd seemed spiritually confined by their cleavage-enforcing bras and tight skits. They identify with the genre’s moniker “sparkle,” but that seems to be the goat for the joy once given the world to hide some pain.
At night canal street gets much louder and more crowded. Oh to be young and pretty again—or just one…either one.
We searched for a decent restaurant, found one, but naturally, it was completely full. Fortunately, we discovered a new place called “New York New York,” while they were still celebrating the Fourth of July. Just a block from the wild popularity of Canal Street, there were tables to be found here. Better still, the food was excellent.
When seeking breakfast in the morning, the Hilton Hotel (highly recommended for people arriving by train and visiting Canal Street) sat us next to two guys with whom they must have thought we would have something in common. They had enough tattoo ink to contain War and Peace in both English and Russian, but I could not imagine chatting with them about renaissance painting, so we ate in mutual silence.
On Sunday morning we left Manchester in this beautiful Audi with an automatic transmission. The car had sensors for when it was getting close to some object and a GPS system that included the speed limit on each road, which is useful in a place where the speed limits change constantly.
European car engines turn off when stopped at a light and start up again when the driver takes his foot off the break. This is true for both diesel and petrol vehicles. Traffic lights in Europe turn red and yellow before green to alert the driver to put it in gear or take one’s foot of the brake to start the car. When it starts, it does not lurch forward or roll back.