I have been staying in Leeds – a city I have never visited before – for three weeks now, rehearsing for Opera North’s production of Fidelio. For me, Leeds is a city where day to day life combines communication, motion, energy and camaraderie with a slight edge. An edge where young people walk with style, all have room to be unique or full of character and worlds collide with a neat mix of European, Asian and African influence.
The centre of Leeds and the heart of its character can be found at the Leeds City Market. I am simply wild about it. All of my colleagues at the opera have heard all of my stories about my numerous adventures at the Leeds City Market – certainly too numerous to mention in this blog. At least twice each week I find myself shopping there and never need an excuse to go. Just this past Saturday, for instance, I woke up early and decided to get my week’s shopping done. My first stop was a small breakfast cafe with red and white striped plastic tablecloths. I ordered my tea and breakfast and sat down in a spot where I could enjoy the activity of the Market. The silence of the cafe was quickly broken by the sound of my eggs hitting the sizzling grill.
At that very same moment, as if timed with a two-hand gesture from the short order cook, the radio began playing a nostalgic clarinet rendition of “Begin the Beguine.” The smell of sausages came wafting up from the grill as the ceiling fans, clock pendulum and passers by all seemed to move and sway to the beat of the Beguine. A woman at a table in front of me dressed in a thickly piled beige wool sweater began to tap her foot to the rhythm, joining this parade of motion. Special moments like this are why I always frequent this wonderful and very atmospheric place.
I got up to leave and the woman behind the register took my 3 pounds and said “Thanks, Love, have a nice day.” Warmly spoken greetings like that are very typical of what I’ve experienced at the Leeds City Market. Whether I buy a pair of shoelaces, a filet of salmon, fresh produce, a toe-nail clipper or just a cup of tea, everyone always calls me “Love” and communicates and happily engages in conversation. When I think of the primary element I enjoy about Leeds, it’s this exchange in dialogue which I especially cherish. In New York City we call it “kibitzing;” that wonderful daily chitchat shared with a shop owner or passerby. Kibitzing is all but gone in Manhattan and, can I say, I adore this quality about Leeds. When I return from the market and remove all of the articles I’ve purchased from my shopping bags I remember each conversation and every person I met that day. The market is overflowing with color and wit and character and it enriches my daily life here in Leeds.
Some other things I love about Leeds are too numerous to mention but I will name a few. I love that people feel comfortable jaywalking (makes me feel at home!). I love that flowers now decorate Briggate along with benches and trash cans to keep the city friendly, yet tidy. I adore watching the trains whiz in and out of the city atop the elevated tracks, either from my balcony window or from below and up close. I marvel at what city planners did with Granary Wharf, adding a modern feel while maintaining an old world charm through artful restoration. I love eating Thai at Saengarun restaurant or having a coffee with Michelle and Janet downstairs from where I live. I love drinking John Smith’s Smooth Ale at the end of the day! And finally, I really enjoy walking home, down Briggate, and waving through storefront windows at shopowners who recognize me as a customer, and glancing down at the pavement to admire the wide spaces between the enormous old stone pavers on my street to welcome me home.
All this and I have not yet even begun to speak about the wonderful Opera North! The cast of “Fidelio” is an amazing group of talented and personally heartwarming people. I cherish every day I work with them and equally love my days free because I get to enjoy the wonderful city of Leeds which has impressed me so much.
Readers of this blog can definitely find me strolling the shops in the Leeds City Market and I would welcome a kind exchange of kibitzing any time! So if you spot me, do say hello!
Steven Harrison, Florestan, Fidelio