to be like a featherby

a not so private tête-à-tête between sisters…

My Manchester

Dear Ellie,

After spending three years in Manchester I feel I owe it to the city to write about my favourite places to visit. Much can be figured out about a city from its restaurants and cafes; this is how I feel I got to know Manchester. I loved heading into the city or out to the suburbs to escape the Univeristy bubble that surrounds Fallowfield.

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St Ann’s Church

Manchester has two notorious loves: music and football. This vibrant mishmash between flashy footballers (a few own restaurants in town), and Morrissey fanatics has come to characterise much of the cities’ culture. This shines through in the centre. Around King Street hales the fabulous Italian restaurant San Carlo. This was the first place my father took me and it remained our favourite place to go and people watch. The menu is huge and there seem to be about fifty waiters running about the place. I’ve enjoyed both large, and loud, dinners here and quiet lunches for two; it has the rare quality of suiting all occasions. I am yet to find a restaurant in London that matches San Carlo for atmosphere although of course being in Manchester is the reason for San Carlo’s unparalleled spirit.

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the roof of Barton Arcade, St Ann’s Square

While making my way to King Street I always made sure to walk through St Ann’s Square, a favourite spot, to admire the impressive church’s beautiful windows. Also the spectacular Barton Arcade, Manchester’s own Crystal Palace, squashed between two buildings. It is also worth checking what is on at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It was originally a bank so head inside to see the Great Hall and unique stage that dominates the room.

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Royal Exchange Theatre

On the other side of Piccadilly Gardens lies the famed Northern Quarter, home to a more musical-loving rather than football-loving Manchester. It has a village-y New York vibe, full of the city’s creative crowd. Oldham Street has the best vintage, particularly in Oxfam Originals where they shift through the rubbish stuff for you and have a near-perfect selection. I miss nights at the non-pretentious Matt and Phreds listening to jazz and eating pizza. Is there much more you could want from an evening out? Pretty much all the bars are good around Thomas Street and the cake on offer at Teacup is a must. Also don’t fail to be seduced by the inconspicuous Chocolatier on John Street, Bonbon. For a smart meal you can’t fault the delicious food at the Northern Quarter Restaurant, whose simple décor was refreshing amongst some of the vamped up restaurants you find in town.

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Bonbon, John Street

In first year I made a habit of walking to get the bus to my halls down Canal Street. I simply think it is the prettiest street in Manchester. At night it is covered with fairly lights and down on the canal there are little boats docked where you can have drinks. There is also The Velvet, a camped up boutique hotel and coolest place to stay in town.

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Canal Street

Heading towards University territory on the Oxford Road you pass Cornerhouse; a sort of cultural hub. They put on exhibitions and talks yet I lapped up their cinema. I should really have become a member although there didn’t seem much point since you can see matinees for £5. The selection is always brilliant, both indie and mainstream. Screen one is enchanting, almost a throwback to the 1920s with soft lighting and red cushy chairs. It is my favourite space in Manchester and I am rather heartbroken I don’t have it a bus ride away anymore. I never ate at Cornerhouse choosing rather to go to Aardvark Café down the road on campus- honestly the only good food on campus. Such a treat eating here, they have yummy salads, good coffee and lots of places to work or meet tutors.

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Screen 1, Cornerhouse, Oxford Road

Past Fallowfield, on the edge of Withington, there is the loveliest pub in Manchester, The Red Lion. I am a big enthusiast of drinking here as it reminded me of the pubs near my school in West Sussex. It even has a bowling green at the back. It is the kind of place where you can settle in for the afternoon and stumble out into the refreshing cold hours later.

Where I lived in Withington there was not much going on so I was very happy to discover the village of West Didsbury, a short walk away, full of little cafes and boutiques. On weekends, my housemates and I, loved to wile away Sunday blues with cake and tea at And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon. You would also often catch us gazing at the wedding dresses at The White Closet, the only wedding dress shop that has ever been appealing.

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And The Dish That Ran Away With The Spoon, West Didsbury

There is much more I wish I had done and seen in Manchester. Visiting Altringham was on my mind all three years as was trying one of the infamous burgers at Almost Famous. There was also talk of going to see a concert at the Royal Northern College of Music. Discovering the Bridgwater Canals right at the end was disappointing as it would have been lovely to spend a sunny afternoon at the pub there. Of course there will be many chances to visit again, although I know I will feel nostalgic for my student days,
spending afternoons and evenings hanging out at cafes and bars. That’s what being a student is all about really.

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Bridgewater Canals

Now I bet you wish you had come to visit more,

Love Sarah.

Two Heroes

Dear Ellie,

Pauline Kael and Lynn Barber are two writers that inspire me and hopefully you will enjoy their writing too. They are feisty and forthright, making no effort to hold back, whilst also importantly being knowledgable and hilarious. I think the best writers are the ones you can trust and these two I trust entirely. They also both happen to be highly opinionated, unsurprisingly a trait I love in a woman.

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Pauline Kael (1919-2001) was the film critic of The New Yorker from 1968 to 1991. She is often cited as paving the way for the style of film criticism we are familiar with today. Her reviews were so esteemed by her fans (she had a legion of acolytes, known as Paulettes) that she often had the power to make or break a film at the box office. She was an early champion of the risky and revolutionary film Bonnie and Clyde. Considering she helped its success at the box office, she can also be attributed with helping to spur on New Hollywood and changing American cinema for the better (Midnight Cowboy/ The Graduate). She was controversial, of course, which I am sure she would have admitted was her aim. Disliking almost all Fellini and Hitchcock’s work while trashing The Sound of Music as “the single most repressive influence on artistic freedom in movies.” Yet I admire her intent to initiate American moviegoers to watch more challenging films, out of their comfort zones, championing cinema as an art form as well as entertainment. She loved risk and hated the mundane. I now want to see all the films she raved about including Robert Altman’s Nashville and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. I use her reviews as instruction of what films from the past I should make sure I have seen. Although she has passed away, Deborah Ross’ witty reviews in The Spectator are just as reliable, honest and entertaining, if a little less controversial.

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You already know about Lynn Barber because the movie An Education is based on her memoirs. As her character in the film suggests, Barber is a forced to be reckoned with. Post-engagement fiasco, Barber eventually made it to Oxford, whereby she has said she slept with 50 men in her first two terms. You must listen to her Desert Island Discs. She then went on to be a journalist at Penthouse– an adult magazine- which seems fitting considering her risque reputation. She has since become well know for her scathing interviews in The Independent and The Sunday Times which have garnered her the nickname ‘demon barber’. Often people refuse to be interviewed by her. Lucian Freud even wrote her a letter telling her that he didn’t want to be ‘shit on by a stranger’, which she proudly hangs in her downstairs loo. She defends her style as ‘fairly aggressive’. Interviews with public personas often get so dull because of unjust praise, treating the subject as a celebrity, rather than a human. How often do you read interviewers where a paragraph is spent describing how otherworldly and beautiful their subject is?  Barber does the opposite. She likes to point out faults, and focuses on character, rather than what they are promoting. Stephen Fry, she feels, is seriously screwed up. She also revealed Richard Harris fiddled in his trousers during their interview. She is not always carping though, her rule is generally that if she likes you, you will get a good write up. Fair enough for me.

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So two feisty journalists for you to enjoy. Perhaps it is time for you to get writing again?

Love, Sarah.

Match Made in Heaven

Dear Ellie,

I have already spoken about my adoration for Sofia on the blog, and so I was happy to hear Sofia was interviewing her long time collaborator and ‘favourite california blonde’, Kirsten Dunst, for the cover of W magazine. Sofia also guest edits the issue with a fabulous opening letter: ‘And with all the fast, flashy culture today, how about a little refinement? Here’s to beauty and living well, and taking the time to enjoy it.’

The photos are really beautiful, taken by Jurgen Teller, another long time friend of Sofia’s.

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say no to tanning

I love that Sofia asks Kirsten how she keeps her mystique in an age of selfies, a question that no doubt plagues all those trying to keep it cool in the public eye, and also a question that is fitting to the themes of celebrity and fame that Sofia always comes back to in her films. It is also nice to hear Sofia agree with a mantra I think we both admire- not everyone has to like you, and try not to get them to! The film Kirsten is promoting, ‘The Two Faces of January’ , set in Greece, looks like a scrumptious thriller, no matter how paradoxical that sounds, yet it worked for  The Talented Mr Ripley, which was also inspired by a Patricia Highsmith novel.

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In other news, Sofia has been called in to direct a version of The Little Mermaid which I am highly anticipating. Sofia has also bought the rights to Alysia Abbott’s memoir ‘Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father’, which I think you will enjoy. Abbott tells the story of her move from the conservative east coast after her mothers sudden death, to San Francisco in the 70s, where her father came out as gay in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and the hippie movement. An unconventional and lonely childhood, again a much visited theme in Sofia’s work, and of course I think she will be able to do the book, and Abbott justice.

Alysia Abbott and her father the poet Steven Abbott

Alysia Abbott and her father the poet Steven Abbott.

On another note, here are some daffodils for Easter, Happy Easter Ellie & blog readers. xxx

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WOW

Tove Jansson

Image from ‘The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My’, Tove Jansson, 1952

Dear Sarah,

I was going to write about Tove Jansson in my post about Maurice Sendak but then I thought that she deserves a post in her own right. Jansson was a painter, illustrator and author, most well known as the creator of The Moomins. The original Moomin series included nine books, five picture books and a comic strip released between 1945-93. They quickly grew into a phenomenon; they now have their own theme park and a shop devoted to them in Covent Garden. You will remember the Moomin cartoons we used to watch:

The cartoons capture the eerie atmosphere of Jansson’s books, although they don’t have the same magical illustrations.

Image from ‘The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My’, Tove Jansson, 1952

My favourite character is (of course) Little My, shown in the image above using an umbrella as a parachute. Little My is described on wikipedia as “A mischievous tomboyish little girl, who lives in the Moomin house and has a brave, spunky personality. She likes adventure, but loves catastrophes, and often does mean things on purpose. She finds messiness and untidiness exciting and is very down to earth, when others aren’t.” Little My is just one of Jansson’s intriguing and complex characters.

I rediscovered Jansson and The Moomins  when I watched this documentary about her life, last year. I highly recommend it as a portrait of an artist who lived life her own way. In the documentary we see how the Moomins were both a blessing and a curse, as they eclipsed her other work as an artist. We also learn that Jansson lived much of her life on a small, secluded Finnish island called Klovharu; immersed in the rugged landscape and harsh climate.

Jansson with her creations

I also recommend Jansson’s adult fiction. I have read The True Deceiver, which is set in a Finnish hamlet and tells the tale of a strange young woman and an elderly artist who come together through their mutual loneliness. One of the main themes of the book is the oppressive, harsh winter. The scene is set well by the book’s opening line: “it was an ordinary dark winter morning, and snow was still falling.”

Love,

Ellie

Tove Jansson

Once Upon a Dream

Klee and Sendak

Dear Sarah,

Last month I went to see Paul Klee – Making Visible at the Tate Modern. Klee belonged to a German Expressionist group of artists called Der Blauer Reiter (1911-14), which also included Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc.

Klee’s paintings are small-scale but intense; notable for their jewel-like colours and abstracted figures, as well as an overarching sense of mystery.

Paul Klee, Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms, 1920

Paul Klee, 'Comedy' 1921

Paul Klee, Comedy, 1921

The figures in Klee’s paintings are mythical, and combined with a backdrop of rich, segmented colour, the artist creates otherworldly scenes. They remind me of children’s book illustrations because of their conscious naivety and imagination.

One of my favourite children’s book illustrators is Maurice Sendak. This interview, written towards the end of his life, is a great insight into his world, although he comes across despondent and is awaiting what he calls “yummy death”. Brokes suggests that Sendak’s books “acknowledge the terrors of childhood, how vicious and lonely it can be”, in short Sendak refused to sugar-coat his stories for children.

I first came across Sendak when I watched Spike Jonze’s film adaptation of his most famous book Where the Wild Things Are, which tells the story of a boy’s escapist adventures into deserts and forests with a motley crew of monsters. As well as striking visuals, the film has a pleasant soundtrack by Karen O.

For Christmas I got My Brother’s Book, which was the author’s last work and a tribute to his older brother. You can see the illustrations here. Similarly to Klee’s paintings they are images to get lost in. Below are a couple of my favourite, joyful pictures from the book, however some of the others are a lot more melancholic.

My Brother's Book: My Brother's Book by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, Image from My Brother’s Book, 2013

A blissfull sleep in multi-coloured rain drops above.

My Brother's Book: My Brother's Book by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, Image from My Brother’s Book, 2013

I love how happy the naked boy is in the illustration above!

Love,

Ellie