Manc de Ville

_PW_9629_30_31-Edit-EditHaving written about Manchester’s grand hotel, I thought I’d continue the theme and tackle their Hôtel de Ville (a tenuous link I know).

Paris Hôtel de Ville completed circa 1880 in a...
Paris Hôtel de Ville completed circa 1880 in an unequivocal French Neo-Renaissance style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French term for a town or city hall seems appropriate when you look a the magnificent Hôtel de Ville in Paris and then compare it to the Town Hall in Manchester.  Each is fronted by a large open square that gives the structure greater stature, and each was substantially constructed during the 19th Century.

Manchester Town Hall, Clock Tower
Manchester Town Hall, Clock Tower

That Manchester Town Hall should stand out in a city with so many architectural riches says a lot, but this building does so with ease.  It is world-class, and though the splendour of the exterior is apparent to all, the interior is also impressive.

In its heyday, Granada Studios contained an exact replica of the House of Commons which was used by both Granada and other companies for shooting a number of political dramas.  (Meryl Streep filmed in it when shooting The Iron Lady).  Production companies shooting in Manchester then had to consider locations that could double for other parts of the parliament building.  Step forward Manchester Town Hall.

Visitors are permitted access only to the ground floor but even with this restriction it’s easy to understand why it makes a popular filming location.  Limited to a few minutes before starting work one day I found the main entrance was still closed.  Undeterred I followed some council workers through a side door and then began my negotiations with a security guard.  A short phone call to get agreement and I was in.

The sculpture hall which is the dominant feature has been transformed into a café, but don’t expect a Starbucks or a Costa installation.  This is something altogether more luxurious and sophisticated, albeit with a very masculine air.

One of the things that I like about the city is its patronage of the arts, and clearly this building exemplifies that in its design, its decoration, and in the people who it chooses to lionise.  The Sculpture Hall includes political campaigners and leading scientists that have played important roles in Manchester’s development, but also Sir Charles Hallé, the pianist who founded the city’s great orchestra, and Sir John Barbirolli, that orchestra’s most famous conductor.

Though not open to my visit, The Great Hall features a series of murals by the Pre-Raphaelite Ford Madox Brown that tell the story of the city’s development.  The Manchester Murals begin with the founding by the Romans and end with John Dalton collecting marsh gases, which lead to his development of atomic theory.

With so much grandeur it’s easy to miss the finer details as I did.  One of the recurring motifs found throughout exemplifies the work ethic at the heart of the Manchester story; the industrious bee.  There’s certainly workmanship aplenty to be found through these doors.

Manchester Town Hall
Manchester Town Hall

Art Nouveau or Art Deco? (Habana 3)

Following on from last week’s post I gave some thought to trying to identify the less classical forms of architecture to be found here.  I knew from my guide books that there were fine examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco within Havana, but perhaps I’d walked straight past them in my ignorance without recognising the difference, or even their existence? Both are European forms originally, but were successfully adopted on the other side of the Atlantic too. Art Nouveau followed the Industrial Revolution and perhaps as a reaction to that embraced natural, flowing lines and curves.  Think of the Paris Metro, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or Tiffany lamps.

A typical copper foil Tiffany lamp, with a jon...
A typical copper foil Tiffany lamp, with a jonquil daffodil design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Art Deco was a reaction to the Great War, so you might expect an abundance of even more romanticised design to arise in attempt to forget such horrors, but instead we find clean, sleek, modern design as exemplified by New York’s Chrysler Building. Before the Revolution in 1959 Havana was a magnet for celebrities, socialites and mobsters, and was a successful city with a long history, so it should be no surprise to find examples of both styles here. Did I find examples?  Of course I did. But can you tell the difference?


Fettered (Venezia 229)

One of the problems that global communication has created is that fads explode internationally in relatively little time, whereas once they might have blown over in one small neighbourhood before the rest of the world ever took notice.

Take the craze for love-locks.  Supposedly having its roots in a Serbian romance turned sour in the Great War, it was rarely seen in the years that followed. Then at the turn of the millennium it gathered momentum with bridges in Paris, Rome, New York, Florence and more buried under the weight of unwanted metalwork.  The urban myths proliferate about this being a great tradition, particularly on the Pont des Arts in Paris, despite the fact that the first lock wasn’t placed there until 2008.  Six years later and the parapet has begun to collapse under the weight.

Being wooden, the Ponte dell’Accademia has neither the strength, nor thankfully many suitable fixing points, to allow this practice.  It hasn’t stopped people completely though.


How many Harry’s? (Venezia 16)

In recent months a new bar has opened in Newcastle upon Tyne called Harry’s Bar.  My heart sank.  Another nail in the coffin of the brand.

You see there are lots of Harry’s Bars in the world, many of them as unoriginal and unremarkable as their Novocastrian namesake, but there are two that are more notable.  Independent of one another, yet each with their moment in history.

The first that I visited was the smoke-stained Parisian version, more correctly called Harry’s New York Bar.  Here the Bloody Mary, The Side Car and The Monkey Gland were first concocted, and in the downstairs Piano Bar George Gershwin wrote An American in Paris.  James Bond lost his virginity at age 16 after a night in Harry McElhone’s establishment.

The Harry’s Bar in Venice is a very different animal.   From the moment you squeeze through its narrow doorway into a world of highly polished table tops and white-jacketed waiting staff who will steer you to a table, rearrange the furniture to your comfort and present you with the drinks menu, you know that things are a little different here (and yes that includes the price!).  Owned by the Cipriani group, and named after an American to whom Giuseppe Cipriani leant money, this is where the Bellini came into being, and one of my favourite dishes; carpaccio.  Ernest Hemingway, who was also a patron of Harry’s in Paris, ordered the first Montgomery Martini here, a martini so dry it features 15 parts gin to 1 of vermouth.  I suspect he came back for more.

Harry's Bar
Harry’s Bar



Icons of design

I don’t know for certain how long I’ve had a Swiss Army Knife.  I do know that the one pictured here has been part of my life for the last 22 years, it’s predecessor having taken on the role of impromptu camera support for a self-portrait of Gill and I taken before the fountains of the Grande Arche at La Défense in Paris.  One the timer had finished beeping and the shutter clicked I retrieved the camera, but foolishly left behind the small red solution to getting the angle right.

Over the years I’ve been bicycle repair-man, photocopier paper-clearer, wine bottle-opener and the hero who saves the day whenever the cry goes up “anyone got a pair of scissors”.  An occasional sharpen and a drop of oil every so often is all it needs and it still functions as well as when I took it from its box 22 years ago.  Once upon a time I could honestly have said that I never go anywhere without it, but nowadays it would be frowned upon to be carrying an offensive weapon, particularly when working in the field of education, and of course it must travel in the hold when I take flight.

For well over a century, the Swiss Army has issued these handy items to their soldiers, the dimensions of the knives issued being precisely set to facilitate the reassembly of their rifles after cleaning.  It remains an essential part of their equipment.

I love mine; its size, weight, feel and look are all spot on, and for years it has answered the question of “What is that little pocket for in your 501’s?”.  It’s a design classic.

Another icon of European design (and one that is still manufactured today in Brazil) is the VW camper van, which although it has been with us only half as long as the Swiss Army Knife has still endured well beyond its original designer’s wildest dreams.  Loved by surfers they are a staple of any Cornish holiday scene, and have recently become very popular for transporting brides to and from their weddings.

The couple I met today had a Type 2 (the camper being VW’s second design after the “beetle”) and were in the supermarket car park.  They’d borrowed the van, and were having problems getting the rear hatch unlocked to put their shopping away.  This gave me the perfect chance to shoot Julie while her other half continued to struggle with the lock. 

Bet I could have got in with my Swiss Army Knife!