Wednesday, April 19, 2006

[The Life of Shaun #44] From light into dark

Ah, Wednesday! Wednesday's an extra good hump day when your only work days are the Tuesday and Thursday surrounding it. I've returned from Manchester for a little bobble here in London before heading off to Madrid for the weekend coming. I also noticed today that starting from last week I have short weeks every week through to the week starting 15 May. Not a bad situation.

Russ arrived in town early Friday morning; I met him at Euston and we boarded a train heading North. Just under three hours and a bottle of vodka later we were in Manchester (via Birmingham; I saw the Selfridges - very cool!), the Gem of the North. This was my and Russ's third time to Manchester and we were excited to see how it compared to our memories. We went there before "Queer as Folk", the original, made it (relatively) trendy to go there and we hoped it hadn't changed too much.

It hadn't! There was some new development, it was busier, and even a Manchester "Eye", but the essence of the city remained unchanged. We quickly settled into our hotel room, directly on Canal Street, and set about reacquainting ourselves with the city we love.

I have to set out, Manchester is not glamorous. As soon as you leave the city centre its blue collar roots betray. Nor does it have any "wow" like London, New York or any It city. But what it does have is the loveliest, warmest, lightest character I've ever come across. I don't know how, but everyone in this city in the middle of England's depressed North seems to be happy. When you go out to bars, there will be a silly pop song that could only be popular in Britain playing and everyone, I mean everyone save me and Russ, are doing the moves to it. This would earn you a stare of derision in any mecca on the gay travel circuit, but here no one has a hint of attitude. Everyone just seems so happy and is having a great time. I love it.

So that's what we go to Manchester for, and despite the climb it has made since our last visit, its heart is still the same and we spent a very happy weekend there.

An added bonus to this trip was an excursion Sunday night to the famous English seaside resort town of Blackpool. It was a bit cold (read: freezing) to be on the beach, but we rode our £9 roller-coaster (the tallest in Europe, we were told, and if so this continent is severely lacking in amusements of the park sort) and went to Funny Girls, a great drag cabaret. It's not the typical drag one-act, but a series of acts about 20 minutes apart overnight, and serious ones with dancers and all. Well worth the price.

So with contented hearts and minds, we settled back onto a train, new bottle of vodka in hand, and returned to London to celebrate Russ's birthday before heading to Madrid this weekend.

We decided to celebrate at Dans le Noir?, a new branch of a Paris-based restaurant on Clerkenwell Green, just 'round the bend from ours. Its concept is this: you eat in complete darkness; you cannot see a thing. All the waitstaff are blind, they lead you to your table, and you must rely on them if you have to get up for the restroom. Sounded like a cool experience. And it was.

But that's all I can say good about it. The food? Was terrible*. When the whole point of sight deprivation is to heighten your other senses, you'd expect the food to have a certain kick to it, something interesting, or at the very least, be good. But bland chicken and mashed potatoes? A spinach filo thing? And you'd think they'd pay attention to the texture since, for the most part, you're eating with your hands.

My poor flatmate ordered the surprise menu and had no idea what was on order. What she got was some large, flavorless mass with acres of overdone spinach on the side. Even the desserts were mostly a bust (though I quite liked mine). And it all was so terribly expensive. Dinner for four (with two bottles of wine and one of champagne, of course) was £280 ($490). Not at all a ridiculous price if the food were good, but since its quality was sub-par even to my £2 canteen lunches at work, we felt gorged and betrayed.

A side note, the London Times critic was there and Natasha got talking to him when she left the table early out of disgust for a cigarette. His assessment of the experience: "Blind people eat shit food." Look for his review this Sunday.

Looking forward to the weekend ahead; Madrid's an unknown entity to both Russ and me. Hopefully we'll stumble on some gems and some trouble. But regardless what we encounter we'll get to in the company of the Spaniards and their lucky, lucky genes.

Cheers,
Shaun


*Thanks for that construction, MD, I couldn't think of a better way to say it!

--
Shaun Coley
scoley@gmail.com
http://www.friendster.com/profiles/shaunism
London, UK

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