By: Jamie Trecker
MANCHESTER – This is the third time I’ve been in Manchester in the last 18 months. Or is it the fourth? You start to lose count when you’re on the road for soccer, because much of your time is spent getting from rail stations to the grounds and back again. Was that game at the Etihad or was I in Liverpool, over at Goodison that day? Was that hotel a converted print shop, or am I thinking of the one next to the railway, the one with the high ceilings that carried and held the drunk fans and their songs long into the night.
I am a rather eccentric traveler anyway. My rule of thumb is: why stay at the four-star hotel when you have a chance to bunk down in the hospital that apparently served as the inspiration for a key theme in Gravity’s Rainbow? Why get a meal at the safe café when you can stand four deep around a food truck? And why not catch a few reserve and third division games when you are given a “day off?”
This week, I am indeed at that hospital, which was leveled by bombs in the Second World War. It’s in Salford, an area just to the west of the city center, that subsequently fell into what kindly might be called “disrepair.” The urban center of Manchester is glorious; where I am has signs warning that “arson can kill.” But it is undergoing an ambitious revitalization program funded in part by the European Union, and it should be easy to see why from the accompanying photographs. The bones of the buildings, in the red sandstone prevalent in the region, are gorgeous, and many of the structures are what is called “listed” in Britain, meaning they are protected from being torn down.
Still, it’s a bit creepy walking around a night. Not that you feel a threat – you don’t – but because Salford remains very empty. Burned out hulks from the turn of the last century sit alongside working concerns like the Black Lion, a one-time haunt of the likes of George Orwell. The breakfast across the street costs the equivalent of $6, and is served by a woman who surely worked there as a young girl and stayed. The Quays have been reborn as trendy offices, and the river walk seems cleaned up – but there are still very few folks around at any given hour.
Perhaps it is because they are all at Old Trafford – certainly, the crowds over the last two days have not ebbed. But perhaps it is because the rebirth of Manchester, that city of the working class man – hasn’t quite spilled over across the edge.