23 July 2012

To need a market

The last post about Manchester's fish market turned Crafts market got me thinking, rather intensely about local food, markets, and the things a market can do for a city and its citizens.

One thing about Manchester I just can't get comfortable with is the lack of proper farmers' markets. On the weekends, I love wandering about a market, meeting people who grow vegetables and fruit, who make cheeses and jams, and being able to buy food that is locally made and locally sourced. I like my money to support local food producers.

Manchester's city centre just really doesn't have anything like this. Once a fortnight, there is a "real food market" in Piccadilly Gardens, but the one fruit & veg stall there just sells the same shipped-from-South-Africa produce that every other supermarket sells. Loads of stalls sell cupcakes and burgers, but I can't find a Cheshire-grown head of broccoli.

I can subscribe to a local fruit & veg box scheme, and I did for my first year in Manchester. But when you're cooking only for yourself, a box that sometimes has 0 cabbage and 9 leeks in it can be overwhelming. I still need the cabbage, and I want a nice city-centre market, where I can buy locally grown cabbage. There is a market in Bury. There is an organic co-op in Chorlton. But these places require a tram ride.

It's a shame, especially when you look at smaller towns like Belfast, Norwich or Newcastle. They manage enormous markets, right in the centre of town, which really bring a lovely atmosphere to the city on the weekends. You wander down, with an empty shopping bag. You buy a coffee, bump into friends, get your shop done.

In this way, Manchester just feels incomplete.

A city, it seems to me, really needs a good market.

17 July 2012

Manchester Crafting!

The other day, I went to the Manchester Craft & Design Centre's new exhibition launch, Crafting History. The exhibition was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the MCDC, but also an effort at documenting the history of the building.

It turns out Manchester used to have a market, right in the center of town. On Tib St, in the Northern Quarter, there was a fish market. Actually there were two! A wholesale fish market, which was a massive open-air space, and a retail market, which once occupied the MCDC's space.

Several artists had created history-based exhibits, activities and installations. Chloe Hamill and Jordan Hargreaves created an embroidery workshop, where participants could make cloth fish, embroidered with the names of people who died on the fish boats that supplied the market.

Other artists created "Listening Posts," where you could listen to people telling their memories of going to the fish market.

Though I'd been to the Craft & Design Centre many times before, I'd never known it had been a market building. But as I wandered through this exhibition, I suddenly saw what it must have been. I saw the unfinished, half-open with stuffing falling out, fish laid out on the table.

And I saw through them, to the fish that were once sold here, gutted and laid out the same way.

These days, the building is used to showcase some of Manchester's finest arts and crafts. You can find some of the loveliest handmade gifts and jewelry here. Lots of brilliant artists and crafters rent small shopfronts inside, and sell their wares retail.

I didn't want to take too many pictures of people's work, though, so you'll have to visit to see all of the beautiful things on offer.

Most days when I visit, the MCDC is quiet, with the hushed sounds of people making delicate things. It's bright and spacious and clean. There's a cafe inside, on a wooden porch that seems like it should be outdoors, but charmingly isn't.

There's an inner balcony, allowing access to a second floor of shops. It also allows you to lean against the railing and watch people order coffee. It's a lovely place to look at art and beautiful things, to wander and think of the people you love... and whether they'd like this necklace... 

It's a quiet place, usually. 

Back when it was a market, that building was probably thriving and loud and full of activity. Fishmongers yelling and people picking out their evening meal.

That's why I enjoyed the Crafting History exhibition so much. For once, there were loads of people there, talking and chatting and making noise. People sewing and embroidering and making art and shopping for gifts. Kids running about.
It felt like we were recreating a little tiny bit of history that day.

14 July 2012


It seems I can't manage to post more than once a month, which either means I'm very busy doing lots of stuff or I'm not doing anything interesting at all, and therefore have nothing to report.

Lucky for me, it's the former.

A few weeks ago, I had another occasion to visit Deepali in London, because Mark and I had tickets to see GATZ! Staying at Deepali's is always nice, honestly, she's such a gracious human being. She was nominated to run the Olympic torch by her workmates and won, so on the morning July 23rd, watch the Olympic torch and cheer her on!

If you haven't heard, GATZ is an 8-hour word-for-word stage production/reading of The Great Gatsby. It sounds excruciating. It is brilliant. The actor who reads most of the book and plays Nick Carraway, the narrator of Gatsby, knows the book so well that he has actually memorised the entire thing. Word for word. Astonishing.

I first read GATZ when I was 16, I think it was required for my American Literature class at Walton. I still find it strange that the American educational system hands teenagers books like this, and then asks them to write essays on the themes of the novel. I remember writing that the book was about desire and the impossibility of regaining the past. What did I know, after all, about regret?

In the years since that first reading, I've read The Great Gatsby twice. And each time, it's changed, I've seen more in it. Life and wanting and regret. The role that we allow and force other people to play in giving our lives meaning. What forever means and what money is.

The Elevator Repair Service theatre group (ERS) came up with what I think was probably a frankly nutty idea at first. Produce a live reading of an entire novel. Sure. Who's going to sit through that?

In 8 hours, they completely & forever changed how I think about The Great Gatsby, and I will never read it the same again. 

I have never thought The Great Gatsby was a funny book, a sarcastic, overblown sit-com style hilarious book. Throughout GATZ though, I found myself laughing. Giggling and snickering and straight out laughing, because ERS found these little places, little moments, that aren't funny when you read them. But when you see someone act them out in a literal fashion, those little moments become hilarious.

And because it's such a thorough exploration of a beloved novel, I felt constantly surprised at what I'd never seen before. It wasn't boring, I didn't get tired. Sure, my booty ached a bit by the end. But right around the moment I started squirming, the actor who plays Nick closed the book.

And he recited nearly the entire last chapter without glancing at the pages. It's mesmerizing.

The experience is like nothing else I've ever seen in a play. Admittedly, I don't watch much theatre. But if it were all this good, I'd watch a whole lot more. The Great Gatsby, as a novel, makes me reflect on life and regret and wanting. GATZ, the play, made me reflect on the novel, and therefore, on life, regret and wanting. But it also made me reflect on the difference between reading a book and seeing what it really means. And how sometimes a book can change how you go about giving your life meaning.