Sunday, July 17, 2016

Manchester: El Laberinto

After Liverpool, and with two dear friends from Italy, I sang my way through "Manchester England, England... Across the Atlantic Sea"...

One of the many murals around Manchester
A friendly hotel receptionist from Spain suggested, “Manchester es un laberinto”: a labyrinth, a maze... a tough place to navigate. However, it is still a walkable city, and in just one evening and one full day, we really covered a lot of ground.

Manchester is full of canals. However, they are sometimes hard to reach!
Like Liverpool, Manchester is also a historically industrial city. Today, many of the old factories, textile mills, and warehouses have been converted to apartments, offices, and museums. Wish we could do this in Bridgeport, CT! Although my time in Manchester was brief, here are some memorable stops. Note that admission to all the museums and public/historic sites in Manchester is FREE!

1. John Rylands Library: My favorite place! Check out the link for gorgeous photos. The library is a late-Victorian, Neo-Gothic building opened to the public in 1900. It now houses various exhibits, special collections, rare books, reading rooms, etc. For a library-lover or anyone interested in architecture, this place is a must-visit. Not to mention, one of the current exhibits, Magic, Witches, & Devils in the Early Modern World, was really fascinating. 

Inside John Ryland's Library

An adorable little "machine"... you put in a coin and it plays a scene (in the library)

2. Right up the street is the city's historic Town Hall, a beautiful, gothic-style building constructed from 1868-1877. By signing in and getting a visitor's pass, we were able to go upstairs to visit the famous Great Hall and peek into some banquet rooms. A solid stop.

Manchester Town Hall, with the sky looking typical.
3. Canal Street, the “gay quarter” is a vibrant passage right along one of the many Manchester canals, lined with lighted trees, clubs, and music. We walked here at night, after a late dinner, and the scene was buzzing.  

4. People’s History Museum: Housed in the old pump house, right on the river, the museum's setting is the perfect ambiance to present an interactive history of voting rights, workers’ rights, and civil rights in the UK. There was also a special exhibit, Grafters, of rare and powerful photographs of factory workers, miners, and other laborers… Overall, an inspiring visit.

5. Museum of Science and Industry: A conglomerate of old warehouses with different things to explore in each, this museum can be quite overwhelming. We stopped by at the end of the day wandered briefly... ended up spending more time relaxing on a couch with tea in the museum cafe. It happens! 

6. Food. I have to say, we were again fortunate to choose some really great restaurants in Manchester. Here's a little list. The gorgeous food photos were all taken by my talented friend, Andreia Amarandei.

- Vietnamese. Wandering around the Chinatown area the evening we arrived, I convinced my friends to try Vietnamese food at a new place on Portland Street, somewhere between Princess and Oxford Streets (they don't seem to have a website yet). The place was full of extended Vietnamese families and friends, filling up large tables and keeping the small staff on their toes. It took a long time to get our food, but it was worth it! 

- Wasabi Sushi’s dessert room. After our pho etc., and on the recommendation of our server from the Vietnamese place, we walked around the corner and down the street to Wasabi Sushi's Dessert Room. Bright and bubbly in so many ways, this place serves all the quasi-novel, icy, chewy, gummy, popping desserts you sometimes see in bubble tea places and/or different Asian restaurants. Here, they were all together! We enjoyed lychee snow ice with various toppings. A super treat.

Lychee snow ice, with lychee jelly, strawberries, and little rice balls 
 - Mr. Thomas's Chop House: Traditional British food in a traditional, Georgian style house, this place serves bangers and mash, Shepard’s pie, welsh rarebit, etc. They even have Sunday roast. When my friend suggested this place, I thought, “Chop house = nothing vegetarian”. Well, I was almost right, but pleasantly surprised to learn that their (what I would call "French"-) onion soup is made with a vegetable broth, not beef as I am used to in the US. That plus the Lancashire Waldorf salad was a good lunch for me.
Bangers and mash (not suitable for vegetarians -ha!)

- Ning Malaysian. We passed by this place in the morning and I remembered it all day. At 8:15 that evening, we were lucky to get in without a reservation. This place was hot -and so was the food! A delicious way to end a fun day in Manchester. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Enjoying Global Englishes –and other languages- in the UK

I just spent a week in the UK to attend and present at the EARLI SIG Writing conference, in Liverpool. As you might imagine, attending this sort of event among Europeans (the British are still Europeans, for the moment; plus, participants came from all over Europe) entails being in a super-multilingual, multicultural context at various levels: exactly the kind of environment I love!  

The sign outside of Mr. Thomas' Chop House. "Mancunian" = from Manchester. 

At the conference, research was presented in numerous globalEnglishes; that is, varieties of English spoken by people from all over Europe, the UK, and the US. In fact, most –if not all- of the attendees were multilingual and, in many cases, also living multicultural lives. For example, I met a woman from Portugal teaching Portuguese in Mozambique, a young woman from Chile studying in Netherlands, an Italian woman working in Sweden who had previously worked in the US, etc. I also spent some time chatting with a woman from Glasgow, Scotland who grew up in Germany and also speaks Spanish (her husband is from Mexico and they are teaching their children both German and Spanish at home). Wish I would have known about the Spanish sooner, since for me it was really difficult to understand her Glaswegian English!

Local "For Rent" (not bathroom!) signs.

On the topic of not understanding English, the Liverpool dialect is unique and quite a challenge. It's called Scouse (here's another example). I maybe understood 50% of what I heard from native Liverpoolians. In one instance, at the train station, a shop was selling pasties (dare I call them "British empandas"?), and one of the ingredients advertised was swede. I stopped to ask what swede was. The woman working said something like, “ciopamveip adodipvah ik paidnoapite.” Translation: “It’s like a carrot; no, a turnip. Do you know what a turnip is?” OH! A turnip! But wait... this site says swede is not turnip, but rutabaga. 

"No diapers"

To make things more exciting, I spent the whole week with three friends from Italy, so, among us we were speaking mostly Italian. After the conference, we took a free, walking tour of Liverpool in Spanish (easier for the Italians to understand), guided by a guy from Galicia. It was kind of a relief to listen to and speak Spanish at that point!

Whenever I come to Europe I am amazed at the ease of mobility among people, languages, and cultures. All this makes me wonder if and when the US will ever embrace multilingualism as a way of life. I think some areas (e.g., Miami, New York) have done so, but, in general, to quote a colleague I met at the conference, “The US is one of the only countries in the world now where most people are still monolingual”. Perhaps... but how can we change this??? 

Free top ups! 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Liverpool: Home of the Beatles and the Three (Dis)Graces

I loved Liverpool. As soon as I arrived I felt like I could live there. It’s small enough that you can quickly get oriented, walk everywhere, and feel relaxed, yet there’s plenty to see, do, and eat.

Liverpool Pier Head/Albert Dock area
Photo by Andreia Amarandei
Liverpool was a thriving port city during the Victorian age, spanning most of the 19th Century. However, due to industrialization, the world wars, and changing economic conditions, the city suffered high rates of poverty and unemployment during the first half of the 20th Century. Things started to turn around a few decades ago, and, in 2008, Liverpool was awarded the EU City of Culture award. Thanks to this distinction, the city has been able to invest huge amounts on development. Nowadays, there’s an overall great vibe in this up-and-coming place, and the locals are very friendly and hospitable. After four days in Liverpool, here are a few of the highlights.

1. Waterfront. Liverpool is interesting because it’s a port city, but the port is pretty much right in the center of town. The buildings along the waterfront, where the River Mersey opens into the Irish Sea, create the iconic skyline of the city. Much of the old pier/port has been built up with walkways, public art (e.g., Superlambananas), shops, and museums, which now constitute the pier and Albert Dock area.

Waterfront walk on a sunny day in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

One of the superlambananas on the Liverpool waterfront

If the weather is nice, it’s a great place to wander and catch some street entertainment. If it starts to rain, you can visit one of the many, free museums in this area (Museum of Liverpool, International Slavery MuseumTate Liverpool, World Museum). The Beatles Story museum is also at Albert Dock, but not free.

Finally, I should mention “the three graces,” historic, beautiful buildings on the waterfront that make up the traditional skyline. The ultramodern buildings of the new museums are sometimes referred to by the locals as “the three disgraces”, as they stand in contrast to the graces as stark, cold, and even ugly pieces of architecture.

View of Liverpool's Three Graces: The Royal Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool Buildings

2. The Cavern Club. On a tiny street embedded in the pedestrian shopping area is The Cavern, an underground club where the Beatles used to play before they became famous. Here they were discovered by manager Brian Epstein, who put them on an international scale. The original Cavern Club was destroyed in the 1970's due to the development of Liverpool's underground railway. However, the site was excavated and rebuilt in the early 80's, and today is a not-to-be-missed stop on any city walk.  

A brick wall outside the Cavern Club: Each brick is inscribed with the name of a band that played here

Actually, the presence of The Beatles is everywhere in Liverpool. On a separate, Beatles bus tour hosted by the conference, we saw the red gate of Strawberry Fields (it was a Salvation Army group foster home for children), John Lennon’s childhood home, Brian Epstein’s home, Paul McCartney and Lennon’s respective colleges in the Georgian Quarter, and the still gorgeous Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Room, where The Beatles used to hang out. Our tour guide said that a recent study suggests that the city of Liverpool earns over one million dollars a year in revenue just related to The Beatles.

3. Chinatown. I heard from a tour guide that, out of Liverpool’s nearly 500,000 people, about 10,000 are of Chinese origin. For Liverpool, this means a small, but lively Chinatown with a couple of blocks of shops and restaurants.

Chinatown Arch
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

4. The Anglican Cathedral. A turn-of the (20th) century monolith, Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral hosts the UK's largest organ and heaviest and highest bells in the world. To the shock of my Italian friends, there is also a full-service cafe and gift shop right inside. When we visited, several elementary schools were rehearsing for a large-scale, hip-hop-style, praise-the-Lord concert. 

5. Food. 
Spice Lounge at Albert Dock has awesome Indian food. 
- We also discovered Bakchich, on Bold Street, a Lebanese place with the best falafel I have ever had. Great for vegetarians! 
- For a traditional English breakfast (not the tea, but a full plate of food featuring fried eggs, sausages, beans, and hash browns- I wonder where the US breakfast came from?), visit Maggie May’s Cafe, also on Bold Street. This place also serves the traditional Liverpool dish, (lob)scouse, a rich lamb/beef stew (not great for vegetarians!).  

Delicious Lebanese food at Bakchich, on Bold Street in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

Overall, Liverpool rocks. With friendly locals, a vibrant history and culture, and an up-and-coming feel, it's definitely a place to check out. Careful though... the Liverpool dialect (also called Scouse) is extremely difficult to understand! Stay tuned for more on the world Englishes I experienced at the EARLI SIG Writing Conference in Liverpool!