Introducing: Manchester and the Bees
Actualizado: 13 de dic de 2020
In early 2020, we got the chance to visit Manchester. The city had a great effect on us and inspired a lot of content. To start with, we'd like you to walk around the city in our shoes.
Through Ana's Eyes: From Songs to Real Life
We got off the train and even though it was not too late, it was already dark outside and a soft and cold drizzle welcomed us to the land that gave birth to most of the music I listen to, yes, I listen to music that depressing. We were on our way to the hotel when all of a sudden, I saw something through my foggy glasses that made me stop cold. I was standing before a brick wall belonging to a pub next to a barren land and on it there was a painting of the hands from Adam's Creation by Michelangelo and below it read: “On the sixth day, God created MANchester.” A play on words meaning that God not only created men, but He took time off His busy schedule to create the city of Manchester specifically. That was when I began to understand how the ego of a certain pair of brothers named Gallagher was probably rooted in the regional pride shared by all Mancunians.
Is it really all that grey? That was my first reaction, the way I saw everything that first day. We left our luggage in the hotel room and went to the closest Lidl to get some food for dinner. The scene was heartbreaking: in one corner, there was a mobile soup kitchen where volunteers prepared hot meals to give to anyone in need. Later on, we would learn that Manchester is the city with the highest mortality rate among homeless people in the UK (read more about it here). Through the curtain of rain, everything turns a bit more grey, but on those first days of 2020, we also got to see a glimmer of humanity in the streets of Manchester.
The following day, for the walking tour, we arrived at the meeting point prepared for the weather: hats, scarves and gloves. Our tour guide, a local history student, who was only wearing a windbreaker jacket and no scarf to protect him from the chilly winds, had no trouble figuring out we were tourists. At that moment, I was thinking to myself: “These people are ready to face anything.” Mariel will go into further detail about what we learned on the tour, but you should know that, as first impressions go, my thoughts were an understatement.
In brief, the thing about Manchester is that, as it happens with the version of New York we grew up seeing in Martin Scorsese's films, I was half expecting that the version of Manchester from the songs I grew up listening to no longer existed. However unlikely it may seem, it is still there.
It's the alleys straight out of Peaky Blinders, the protest street art that could have been painted on the banners carried by protestors in Peterloo, by the suffragists or by the union members. It's the eternally grey skies and the freezing cold rain drops.
It's its people: the teenage girl singing and dancing in the streets at 5 PM as if it was 4 in the morning, the inebriated friends messing around with the supporter of the losing team right outside the pub where they've just watched the match or the supporters of the winning team celebrating and chanting as they stagger on their way to the tram stop.
It's the punk kid coming into Piccadilly Records for refuge, the group of friends picking out outfits that anywhere else would be considered eccentric, but in Affleck's it's just normal clothes. It's the Ethiopian restaurant that opens the family kitchen to cook for two crazy outsiders that expect to have dinner at 11 PM, and the waiter who has the Northern Soul in his voice.
It's the city where a mailbox that survived an attack by the IRA is still standing as a reminder of one of the darkest hours as a nation, not too far from where someone painted an Ariana Grande mural, where the first statue commemorating a woman was only erected in 2018 and by 2020 they've set out to revise their history by providing a femenist and migrant perspective in museums.
Manchester is the sum of all its contradictions. Change is constant and yet, some things never change. The old and the new coexist, abandoned warehouses—in neighbourhoods where nobody wanted to live—are now the beating heart of the city. You can feel it in its music, you come to truly understand it when you see it with your own eyes. As it was brilliantly described in this paragraph from City of Revolution: Restructuring Manchester:
“Despite a century of decline and eleven years of Margaret Thatcher, despite the lousy weather and even lousier prospects, despite the grim housing estates, the boarded-up buildings, the shallow obsessions of club culture, the drugs, the gangs, and the garbage in the streets, Manchester still feels alive. That is an accomplishment, however long it lasts. The place survives through small acts of defiance. In and around the ruins of an empire, kids are dancing.”
Through Mariel's eyes: Unravelling the Mystery
Manchester is a city of contradictions, of contrasts, of paradoxes even. From its architecture—a mix-match of beaten-down industrial warehouses and cold modern glass buildings—to its shops—the monstrous Arndale shopping centre with housing on its rooftop in harsh contrast with Affleck’s quirky, eccentric, lively, original and unique shops—to the food—a mixture of pubs and cuisine from around the globe—and the indecisiveness of the weather—ever humid and chilling to the bone but constantly changing from sunny to drizzling.
On my first visit to England almost eight years ago to the date, I had to write down a list of cities to visit and sadly narrow it down. Manchester was initially in it but finally did not make the cut. Perhaps it was a good thing. Perhaps 25-year-old me would not have felt the same about Manchester that 32-year-old me does, or perhaps the Manchester of back then would not live up to the one that exists one. You can love a city. You can hate a city. But Manchester captivates you, it invites you into a mystery I believe would take quite some time to unravel.
One of my favourite parts from the two walking tours we took with Josh during our extremely short three-day stay (that I will discuss in more detail later on) was his emphasis on the transformative power of Manchester. How it is ever-changing and evolving. How it has stayed relentless, and through the many unsavoury historic episodes it suffered, it came out strong on the other side, however long that might have taken.
Having already decided to visit the city, by mere chance I listened to an episode of Jonathan Van Ness’ podcast that had Tan France as a guest. Having started on a very light note with the adorable banter so familiar for the Fab Five, things eventually turned to Tan’s experience growing up Muslim in the UK. At one point during the interview, he discussed the blatant xenophobia and racism that drives him to admit that, although Manchester will always be home, he would never consider moving back. This reality (still pretty much alive according to Tan himself) was hard to reconcile with the Manchester I saw and the history I came to learn yet somehow still seems in tune with the world we know today. It was hard to reconcile with our walk from Picadilly Station towards our accommodation, passing through the famous Gay Quarter, where the colours of the gay flag engulfed us. With the tile LGBT flags on the pavement throughout the city. With Manchester being the birthplace of Elizabeth Wolstenholme and Emmeline Pankhurst, who drove the right to vote for women. With the city where the Paterloo massacre took place, where 18 lives were lost and hundreds were injured during a peaceful protest that is so present in the citizens’ minds today. With a city known for its street art and its drive to fight for freedom of expression and protest with projects such as the Cities of Hope. With a People’s Museum that screams inclusion, equality and understanding. What is true is that the city felt far from the more cosmopolitan capitals of Cardiff or London (though it might have to do with the fact that we stayed in the more central part of the city this time around and our stay was short). It is also true that over the last few years I have opened my eyes to the fact that things are never what they appear and that we live in a society that has found its hatred validated somehow by the many people in power that feel the same way. In this way, I can return to this city of contradictions, a mystery I am still a long way from unravelling.
There are many stories worth mentioning about the city and its history. Many spots and recommendations. On a future article, we’ll make a feeble attempt at getting there, but our primary goal is to inspire in you an urge not only to visit this city and stay longer than we did (three days is not enough by far) but to explore it, to dive in and find all the nooks and crannies, visit the museums, the libraries and the galleries. People watch at different times of the day. And, most importantly, if you don’t come from any place too far north or too far south, to bring plenty of layers or maybe even visit in the late Spring.