I wish I could describe to you the scents that permeate St. Anne’s Square right now. Going shopping for the last of my Christmas gifts, I walked through its busy festive market, the rain drizzling and natural light giving way to a constellation of LEDs. There, you are surrounded by fragrant, insistent aromas of vanilla, waffles, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee…as heavenly as any of the expensive perfumes I had tested out at Boots just half an hour before. Now, I say this as someone who loves a good perfume – but I do probably love food more!
Anyway, the reason I headed down that way today was to go and visit the café at Waterstone’s Bookshop. My plan was to retreat into that cosy little hideaway among 3 floors of books; to forget all about hunting for the right presents and order a delicious espresso. I had a book along in my bag, ready to draw me in to its company with an engagingly written and plainly laid out analysis of the future of narrative in cyberspace. Sadly, it seemed like everyone else had the same idea about where to go. I was just too late to get a seat. 😦 The sign outside may say that 2nd View is the city’s “best kept secret”. Well, if that was ever the case, it’s certainly not anymore. Too bad because their soup is gorgeous and they serve it with really generous chunks of fresh-baked bread. Sigh. But hey, at least I ended up buying yet another book to threaten the bookcase with! Girl Reading by Katie Ward. Ironic, don’tcha think?
On that theme: I am not sure if Katie Ward explores the relationship of her female portrait-sitters to the books themselves, as well as to the artists who paint them, but I can’t help thinking about how books – physical, smellable, wonderful books – have been the one constant source of fascination, discovery, challenge, comfort, escape, and countless other nouns/emotions/properties, ever since I was in my pram and couldn’t even read them. I must have had some inkling of that, because (ask my Mum) I clutched them tightly anyway. Being taught how to read and soon after how to interpret is equivalent to being armed with magic. The fact that so many people in Manchester chose to go to the bookshop today to relax is really something special. Even with ebooks and computer games and new forms of narrative gaining popularity and signalling (perhaps) a natural progression, some people will always love leafing through the “old-fashioned” paper kind. I hope so anyway, since at least a few books are among those Christmas presents…
…and while, sadly, War still isn’t over, at least I can report that the atmosphere at Manchester’s wonderful Christmas Markets, which opened this week, is one of peace, happiness, and genuine “good cheer”. Lots of food from around Western Europe; many flavours of delicious mulled wine; artisan glassware; sweets; wooden decorations; and tonight (for one night only) a fabulous vintage clothing and accessories fair, hosted in Manchester’s Town Hall.
These markets are fantastic because without any pretension and without any slick PR campaign trying to guide people’s perceptions they draw a diverse crowd of people to enjoy an unusual and value-for-money combination of “commerce” (though somehow it doesn’t feel like it) and socialising in a makeshift market community.