Sunday, October 24, 2010

50 UK Days: Week 2

It’s natural to assume that northern England would be grey and overcast this time of year, so imagine my surprise today when the sun was shining so brightly that I needed to wear sunglasses. It was hardly cold, about 7 degrees Celsius (I’m working on my conversions; that’s mid-40s Fahrenheit). It was a perfect day to stroll through Leeds and take pictures. Here is a link to my photostream of architectural facades and other views in Leeds. The picture you see here is just one example of the exquisite Victorian architecture that still flourishes here. It is the glass-and-iron ceiling of County Arcade in Victoria Quarter, an enclosed shopping district designed by Frank Matcham in 1900. It houses today some rather posh shops. In some ways, the city center of Leeds seems like a giant shopping mall. There are numerous department stores and boutiques everywhere, and more than 1 million square feet of new retail space is under construction. But if you’re looking for “ye olde shoppes” that conjure visions of the medieval past, you need to go to a tourist-like town such as York. Here things are more working- and middle-class capitalism. I only wish it was more culturally diverse (too many white people!). There’s certainly more to explore and discover in Leeds though, including areas by the University and near Clarence Dock, so I’m sure I’ll have more to say in the weeks to come.

Despite my fascination with this city so far (and England in general), I’ve had more than one reminder this week that not everyone is as regal as Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps the most noticeable thing is the number of people who drink at the pub. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing against having a pint at the pub. I’ve already done it myself more than once since I’ve been here (including having had a few during a burlesque show for a charity event, but I digress). I can understand why people drink here. It’s so cold, damp, and grey for most of the year, drinking probably helps warm (if not numb) the body. My cousin SG in Milano used to live in London and, as much as she loved it, she once told me she couldn’t understand why the English were always drunk (because Italians, as you know, never get drunk). Public drunkenness does seem to happen a lot here and, worse, seems to be tolerated in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen in New York. I’m sure my English friends who read this will object to what I’m writing (some in fact may point out the recent deathly hangover I suffered while I was with them in New York last month, but again I digress). Consider, however, a few things that have happened to me in the past week alone related to this. I have witnessed someone vomiting in the street, I have had someone slam into a window and scream at me while I was eating dinner at GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen…amazing burgers & fries, by the way), and I have watched a crew of people stumble through the train and fall into one another, this last occurrence taking place last night as I traveled back from York. The highlight of that train ride, however, was when a young women sitting 2 rows behind me kept wailing at her boyfriend in tears wanting to know why he treated her so badly, especially with (and I quote) “me carryin’ ya baby in me belly!”, to which he kept telling her to fuck off and leave him alone, that he “weren’t cheatin’ on her!” Between their harsh working-class accent and their slurred drunkenness, it was worse than an episode of Jerry Springer. Yes, the American South isn’t the only place where there is white trash. I finally got up and moved to another part of the train. Interestingly, 4 other people followed me, as if they were waiting for someone to make the first move. Leave it to the New Yorker to lead the pack!

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