My top ten cities, accompanied by the very fine Midge Ure and Ultravox, with Vienna.
Vienna isn’t on my top ten cities, because I’ve never been. Maybe it would be, if I had.
1. Manchester. I’d be remiss if I did not have Manchester as my number 1 top city. We rule at sport, music, socialism and all sorts of other things. We do science AND industry. We do factories, we do warehouses, we do trains. We had the first proper canal, the first passenger railway and the longest passenger rail station. We welcomed settlers from the Flemish weavers right through to modern influxes of Irish, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian. We also created the Communist Manifesto to be written, and gave the world Dr Harold Shipman, the world’s most prolific serial killer in peacetime. We also had the biggest bomb released on mainland Great Britain in peacetime. God, I love Manchester.
2. London. I love London ALMOST as much as Manchester, although all they gave us were fighting bankers and a place for politicians and royals to hang out. I love Camden, I love Green Park, I love Piccadilly. I love South Kensington, I love the Thames, I love the Victoria Embankment. I loved those days when I worked in London and had meetings in the poetry society café and on Whitehall and the Strand or on Piccadilly. I love everything that London is.
3. Paris. Because it’d be rude not to. Because of the Sacre Coeur, because of Montmartre, because of Notre Dame and Ile St Louis. Because of bateau mouches and perky madeleines, because of macarons and grand cremes, because of the shopes and even because of the French people who look at every single tourist who tries to speak French as if they are speaking Farsi or Swahili.
4. Kyoto because it reminds me a little of Manchester, as it rains a lot. It’s surrounded by hills. I love the mix of ancient and uber-modern, of temples and Kyoto train stations. I love how there are coffee machines everywhere, and I love the little co-op corner shops who sell green tea Kit Kats and Pocky. I love how polite Japanese people are, and I love Mr Donut. I love tea ceremonies and I love sushi. I love eating udon noodles and soup at a little noodle bar. I love underheated floors and futuristic toilets with privacy buttons. I love the umbrellas and the handkerchiefs and the children in yellow hats and sailor shirts.
5. I love Fes. It’s everything I wanted Marrakech to be, but that was just too touristy, too slick and a little too jaded. Fes is fun and still feels foreign to anyone who’s not from there. There are souks galore – the whole city is a souk. It’s not filled with high-end restaurants and shops like Marrakech. Plus, this is the city where I saw a camouflage fleece jellabah. Every girl needs one of those. It’s also home to the tanneries – a weird kind of giant stinky paint box where all the leather is processed and dyed. Marrakech does not have one of these. Fes might not have a huge square like the Jamaa el Fna, but then they don’t have people trying to get money off you for taking a picture of a snake charmer, either. Something about Fes feels much more real. Plus, I like that the only things that can get down most of the streets are donkeys. That must make Fes, despite the tanneries and the huge population, very green indeed.
6. Havana. The socialists’ dream. No shops, nowhere to buy Adidas trainers. A wonderful harbour that has amazingly clean waters (that’s what having an embargo on cargo from the US does to you…). Yes, the buildings are in a state of ruin, but that didn’t happen in the post-Batista years – no matter what you think of Cuba or Castro, Havana – right now Havana – with its melange of donkeys, horses, bicycles, buses, ancient ladas and huge American classics – is utterly amazing. There’s a magic to a city that switches all its lights out at night – even if it is to save on electricity. The Capitolio, ice cream stands, pizza served from windows – all part of the charm.
7. Brasilia. Not the popular choice, I guess. But any city that looks ENTIRELY like something from the 50s vision of the future is cool by me. It’s the ultimate film set. I’m surprised it’s not used more as a backdrop to almost every modelling shoot there is. It’s way cool. It’s neat and it’s Brazilian at the same time. For a city so far from the sea, it also seems very blue – I don’t know why. Maybe they use a lot of blue glass. No government in the world has a parliament building as cool as the Brazilian one. No-one. Compare the houses of Westminster with those two saucer things and you’ll know what I mean.
8. Tokyo. Because of Omotosando shopping, the Meiji Shrine, Asakusa, the Asahi golden turd building, 60 storey department buildings, the Imperial Gardens, Harajuku, Shinjuki, Shibuya. It’s too cool for school. Yes, you feel that you’re in a world with 29,000,000 other people. You are. You can’t really find any space and if you’re a claustrophobic person, that might freak you out. Even if you go to Fuji, you’ll find that the other 28,999,999 people in Tokyo have decided to do the same, but it’s still cool.
9. Galway. Because it’s everything Dublin and Cork should have been. It manages to be touristy but it still feels like you’d want it to feel. You can still sit in little bars with a pint of Guinness and listen to people who sound like they should rule the musical world. It might have rained the whole time we were there, but, like Manchester and Kyoto, it’d feel kind of weird if it hadn’t.
10. Essaouira – this is just about THE coolest seaside city. It kind of looks a bit like St Malo in Brittany. It’s one of the last ‘safe’ stops before you get down to Western Sahara. People speak Spanish, French, Arabic, berber languages, English. There’s a great beach. There are little souks. There’s a fabulous marquetry bit and shops in the old fortress walls.