There’s been talk for years about wanting to get a “Mediterranean-style café culture” going round here. Maybe it goes back to when Mick Hucknall opened the Barca bar in 1996. It’s tended to be met more with amusement than enthusiasm. Manchester and Barcelona might share a love of football, but we haven’t exactly got the same climate.
Having said which, it’s taken off to some extent in town, and in “trendy” suburbs like Didsbury and Chorlton. Not so much everywhere else, though. In fact, pretty much everyone in my area hit the roof when the council decided to widen the pavements along the side of the main road, in order to “encourage café culture”. It meant that one of the busiest roads in the country was reduced from two lanes to one lane, creating a horrendous bottleneck and all sorts of traffic problems. I’m still furious that they did it. And, no, it didn’t “encourage café culture”. But, thanks to people being nervous about dining inside cafes and restaurants, and also the current restrictions on meeting up indoors, café culture has finally taken off, since eating places were allowed to reopen in July! There are tables and chairs out all over the place. I suspect that most of them shouldn’t actually be there, but, for once, the council have shown a bit of sense and turned a blind eye. The downpours forecast for later this week will probably put paid to it, but it’s certainly been fun whilst it’s lasted – a rare positive effect of this very strange situation in which we’re all caught up.
I love the “café culture” thing. Sitting out along the banks of Lago Maggiore on a warm summer’s evening, with a cappuccino and an ice cream. Sitting in the main square of a small resort near Taormina with a drink and plate of Sicilian cannoli. Then there was the time that I decided it would be a great idea to go to the café across the road from the hotel in Seville for a coffee (I usually drink tea, but the tea in Spain and Italy isn’t great) and a piece of cake at 1/4 to 11 at night, which might be normal for Sevillanos but definitely isn’t for Mancunians. I’d had no energy for the previous few months after having a horrendously bad reaction to anti-depressants, and decided that I could prove that I was getting my mojo back by going out for a piece of calorie-laden cake at bedtime. It made sense at the time, OK! Those little pasteis de nata that you get in cafés in Portugal … mmm. And I’ve always rather wanted to go “strolling down the River Seine, having [we had] a drink in each café” … which I’ve never done, because I’ve always been too busy stressing about queues and crowds and getting back to the group meeting place in time.
One of my favourite “café culture” memories is of Sparta, of all places. They don’t abandon babies in the woods or do naked athletics training any more. And they seem to have got over their rivalry with Athens, because, on this particular evening, everyone was out in Sparta’s main square, watching a Champions League qualifier between Panathanaikos and Club Brugge (for the record, Club Brugge won the tie, and were then drawn alongside United in the group stage). TV screens from inside bars and cafés had been carefully moved to the doors, so that everyone could sit out, on a very warm night, with their food and drink, and watch the football at the same time.
I thought how lovely it would be to do that here, on a night when United or City had a big match. For all the jokes about the weather, big screens have often been put up in town, if not in the suburbs, when there’ve been big events on. Maybe there were plans to do it this summer, when we should have been enjoying Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Olympics. It wasn’t to be, and who knows if it’ll happen next year – when will we stand excitedly in a big crowd again? But these days when a “Mediterranean-style café culture” finally took over our North Manchester suburb will be one of the happier memories of this very strange year. Cheers!