Archive for April, 2011


April 30, 2011

This month, me and the rest of England have four bank holidays. (A “bank holiday” is the English word for “holiday.”)

Anyway, April usually has three bank holidays, which is a lot. But this year William and Kate got married, so there were four. Yup: the whole country got the day off, just so we could watch the dress and the hats on the BBC. Since all those bank holidays were packed into two (2) four-day weekends, it turned out that April had only one (1) full-size work week. Clever people took a look at the calendar and requested time off between Easter weekend and the royal wedding weekend – thereby granting themselves an 11-day vacation for the price of three (3) days’ leave.

It is hard to describe how much nothing in the preceding paragraph would ever happen in America.


Sangria Familia

April 18, 2011

I went to Barcelona last weekend.

We did the big-hit postcardy stuff. First off: the Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction. Amazingly, all the work — from stained glass to new towers to pews — is being paid for exclusively by tourists. Throngs of tourists, all of whom pay 20 bucks just to get in the door.

I figure this must make God either very happy or kinda worried.

We shelled out an extra $5 for the audio guide. It kept telling us to “take a moment for silent contemplation” but honestly, I have never been in a cathedral less conducive to prayer. It was like being in Disney World.

My friend Nancy kept calling it the “Sangria Familia.” I thought that was perfect.


Nancy and me at the Parque Guell.


April 17, 2011
Typical Manc building: big, gutsy, not-so-subtle.
Slum building — the part that juts over the river is one of those privies I mentioned.
Thank goodness their aim wasn’t better: part of Canterbury the Germans missed.
Medieval Starbucks.

Manchester & Canterbury (2 entries in 1)

April 17, 2011

Last month I visited two new English cities: Canterbury and Manchester.

Actually, neither of them is new. Canterbury’s been here since old England was spelled “aulde Englelond.” And Manchester’s existed since the year 79, when a Roman general built a fort called Mamucium there. (This may explain why a person from Manchester is, to this day, called a “Mancunian.”)

Manchester was the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth century. Back then it wasn’t computers, but cotton. And Manchester was Cottonopolis. It’s strange to think of a time when the cutting edge of technology was… weaving. But the men who devised mechanical looms went on to invent mechanical everythings.

Manchester built the world’s first train station. It organized the first trade unions. It was visited by everyone – kings, presidents, Karl Marx. When Mark Twain stopped by, he said “I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transition between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable.”

One wonders what he meant; perhaps he found Manchester boring. (Hard to imagine: it was teeming with big money and big thinkers at the time.) Maybe it was just too rainy, too smoky, too shitty (poor people, of whom there were many, lived in tenements whose privies emptied directly into the river).

Nowadays, Manchester reminds me of Philadelphia or Detroit. A boomtown whose boom is over. It’s filled with broad-shouldered buildings, big boasting Victorian architecture that says “London who?”

But the old energy is gone.

Whole chunks of the city are too. The Nazis bombed the hell out of Manchester. After the war, there wasn’t a lot of money for rebuilding, so the holes were filled with shabby midcentury office buildings, vaguely Soviet but less cool.

The Germans, incidentally, also bombed Canterbury during the “Baedeker blitz.” This was when they tried to destroy English morale by destoying strategically unimportant but picturesque cities. They found the cities in Baedeker’s guidebooks. This is the 1940s equivalent of using Fromer’s to pick your bombing targets.*

Luckily, they missed the cathedral. So Canterbury is still a nice place to visit. You can wander down crooked little lanes, where ancient buildings are occupied by department stores, and the crowds are composed of tourists instead of pilgrims.

It’s even harder to imagine Canterbury’s heyday than Manchester’s. Both places remind me England has been doing very well, for a very long time. And both remind me how much things have changed, especially lately.



* Those Nazis. They were like the villains in a Marvel comic. How did they get to be real?