Let no one tell you that Manchester is a long way from Sicily | Howard Jacobson

‘Come on our patch playing Greensleeves again and you’ll end up in a wafer,’ I was warned by an Italian ice-cream family in the 50s

I recently stumbled upon a statue in Manchester that I’d never seen before. From a distance, it looks like a fairytale rocking horse, and closer up, it still looks like a fairytale rocking horse, but it turns out to be a monument to Chopin, who played here in 1848, the year before he died. This speaks well both for the good relations Manchester enjoys with Poland and for its love of music. Say what you like about our taste in public sculpture, but let no one tell you we Mancunians are provincial.

I’m sorry there’s no comparable monument to Domenico Modugno. If you don’t know Modugno, I’ll give you a clue: “Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più.” No? OK, then, here’s the chorus: “Volare, oh oh”. That’s right: Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu, recorded by Modugno in 1958 and specific to Manchester, in the sense that I heard it first on a jukebox in an Italian espresso bar on Oxford Road just across from the Manchester Central Reference Library, a building that aspires to look like the Pantheon in Rome. If that’s not enough Italian for you, the library’s foyer houses a creamy marble sculpture by Giovanni Ciniselli of a half-clothed girl reading a book I’d like to think I’d written, but is probably Dante’s Paradiso.

If I had more space, I’d tell you more about the relations I enjoyed with Italians in the 1950s, including my feud, as a Wall’s ice-cream salesman, with one of the famous Italian ice-cream-making families from Ancoats. “Come on our patch playing Greensleeves again and you’ll end up in a wafer,” I was warned. That’s something else you should let no one tell you about Manchester: that it’s a long way from Sicily.

I go back home at this time of year to hear my granddaughter sing in the Hallé Children’s Choir. Walk out of the concert hall and you’re in Barbirolli Square, named after one of the Hallé’s greatest conductors. John Barbirolli was part Italian. And Charles Hallé, the orchestra’s founder, was German, one of countless central European musicians and intellectuals who enriched the city’s cultural life in the 19th century.

How far memory of Hallé and Engels and Richter explains the size of the German (and now French and Italian) Christmas markets that sprawl across the city, I don’t know, but Europe seeps naturally into Manchester’s bloodstream. That you can be individual, intransigent and proudly independent, yet still relish the wider civilisation of which you are a part, is the grand example of fearless magnanimity that the city sets. Boris Johnson has warned against supine vassalage to Europe. He should come to Manchester and try saying that.

Contributor

Howard Jacobson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Meyerowitz Stories is an excruciating watch if you aspire to make great art
The Meyerowitz Stories and Maudie offer two portraits of an artist. I know which I’d rather hang on my wall

Howard Jacobson

13, Jan, 2018 @7:59 AM

Article image
Howard Jacobson: ‘I sailed through the air with the lightness of a gymnast’
This fall was special. I have never before, of my own physical volition, flown. I am an earthbound man

Howard Jacobson

11, Nov, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Milos Forman's Taking Off hasn't aged nearly as badly as I have
It’s natural to feel that a work of art you particularly love is yours, especially when enthusing about it to novices

Howard Jacobson

18, Nov, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
It’s been a long time since I wrote the words ‘snowed in’. If I ever did | Howard Jacobson
I email to cancel engagements in London. In Cotswolds, roads impassable, see you when I see you

Howard Jacobson

23, Dec, 2017 @7:59 AM

Article image
Howard Jacobson: ‘Larry David is a warped version of Don Quixote’
Where would comedy, or indeed philosophy, be without the easily hurt?

Howard Jacobson

16, Dec, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Howard Jacobson: ‘I’m in two minds about fish’
It’s an atavistic ritual. You take your seat, you ask to see the fish, you poke it and you nod your head. ‘That one’

Howard Jacobson

30, Sep, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
If you want me at your party, you’d better get your invitation in early
Jonas Kaufmann has asked me over the same evening Philip Roth wants a game of darts

Howard Jacobson

09, Dec, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Howard Jacobson’s diary: ‘There is no excuse for a man not to wear a suit. Leisurewear is a curse’
Dressing up, we call it. Up. The preposition tells you all you need to know. We dress up not to succumb to down

Howard Jacobson

14, Oct, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
How many of us still read a book in bed?
Once I couldn’t sleep until I’d read 30 pages of a novel. Now I watch the news until late

Howard Jacobson

04, Nov, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Howard Jacobson: ‘In pre-weather-app times, “later” was a terrifying concept’
Our mothers prepared us for later by making sure we didn’t leave the house without a pullover, scarf and pac-a-mac

Howard Jacobson

25, Nov, 2017 @8:00 AM