Monday, April 27, 2009

Trawling around Leicester it’s not difficult to see it is another city that has been discarding bits of its old soul and is not quite comfortable in newer, dressier, designer shoes. Not that the residents aren’t drawn to the humongous and starkly modern Highcross Shopping Center (re: Mall) and a four-story glassy emporium to merchandising called John Lewis. Shuttered shops on the High Street clutch the pavement like wallflowers that will no longer be asked to dance. And possibly I romanticize the loss to health and safety issues of the 2-story indoor Silver Arcade dating from 1899 and its quirky little shops because I still have the funky cap with the silk tassle I bought there years ago. A newer building my Leicester friends absolutely hate, I found cute and quirky. They call it the blue building with its patchwork of primary colors, which I quite like for a tall building. But I completely understand. People who live there react differently than we outsiders do. There are buildings in my city that I gawp sneeringly at now, especially down on the lower east side but that’s the nature of a city like mine. It doesn’t yet seem to be the nature of a city like Leicester but things change and things have changed a lot since we have been returning over the years. I am aware of the fact that if I ideate a memory of a place then I lock myself out of the ability to accept and revel in the changes. After all, New York City is all about change. But we don’t have those peculiar ornate archaic buildings, some of which are older than my country. Confronted by the odious chain of Subway shops now on the Queens Road and I react as if MacDonald’s had been stapled to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Oh, wait. It has been.

But how marvelous and darkly mysterious to be wandering the pedestrian malls on Gallowtree Gate and wondering, not unimaginatively, about the origins of the place name. The coarse shouts from the vendors at Leicester Market speak from the pages of Dickens or a PBS mini-series at least. The market is over 700 years old and it is Europe’s biggest covered market. I regret every visit there when I don’t come away with fresh produce destined for a home cooked meal that the sellers advertise barking out a rough sing song across the stalls. I must content myself with the purchase of hats, which I will bring back home and wear with pleasure.

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