Saturday, September 14, 2013

Last day in Wales

One of the readers of this blog came up to me at a "Don't Bomb Syria" protest and told me that she loves the woven fence. The photo I used before was a close-up, so here is one for her from further back - a little more perspective.

Woven fence

When I was leaving Paris I felt pretty satisfied that I'd seen it - not really all of it, of course - but enough. And I'd enjoyed it plenty! I was sad to think that I might never see it again, but I was okay with it. Not so for Scotland or Wales.

Sky over Bala Lake

I have to make it back. I can't imagine how, but I intend to try.

Colorful Bala

Our last day was a free day. We had to get an early start the next day, so there was packing of course. Some chose to head out to see the woolen mills (there had been promises of sweaters and such to loved ones back home), but I chose to stay back and wander around Bala. I'd seen these colorful house/apartment fronts from the car, but never walked on the street (how different from Paris).

For sale! Downtown Bala

Anyone care to invest in partially restored building? This photo is of the restored rear "town houses of character" but maybe we could create a little ex-pat community in downtown Bala. It has everything you need, though if you want to get much from the bookstore, you'll have to learn Welsh. 

"Grand Opportunity"

Some need more work than others. I like this window, so I might have to hire an architect and.....

Window on the main drag of Bala

Of course, any stroll should include a visit to a local church and graveyard. There are a few in Bala and I only went to one.

I think this was Church of Wales/England

I continued to add to my collection of photos of grave ornamentation. Many of the gravestones were written in Welsh, as befits a town with one of the highest percentages of Welsh speakers. There was also a grave of someone who had worked for Queen Victoria - in English, of course.

The handshake means the two people buried below
will meet in heaven

Meanwhile, the group had returned from the woolen mill and Terry was wandering Bala scouting for a restaurant (we ended up at the White Lion that night) and she commented that of course she would have found me in a graveyard. There was a young man walking through (the graveyard had a path that was a well-trafficked shortcut) and Terry told him that she always finds me in cemeteries. He quickly put distance between himself and us.

Guinea hen(?) in the graveyard

That afternoon, Bala was filled with the bleating of sheep. I wandered around looking for the source and found them being loaded up in several very large trucks. I keep hoping that sights like this will turn me into a vegetarian.

Headed for my plate?

But this is one place where my practice does not match my values, I confess. I love meat and am obviously able to distance myself from the whole ugly business when I need to. 

Not vegan, either, obviously

Part of the day was spent at the White Lion, making sure I had all my remaining travel arrangements in order. The ferry line to Dublin had screwed up my reservation and we had quite a back-and-forth, but got it all worked out - one of the disadvantages of traveling without a phone.

Common roof ornamentation -
looks like the prow of a gondola

I actually loved being phoneless. Now that I'm home, I still often forget to carry my phone and rarely hear it when it rings and sometimes go all day without checking it. I like this arrangement, but others don't. Ongoing project of working out how much I owe to other people versus what I want for myself!

Half-brother to the queen's corgies

I spent some of the afternoon in the little bookstore where most books are in Welsh. It specializes in Welsh history, culture, nature, fiction, and children's books. But they had enough books in English to keep me busy. I bought Wales After 1536: A Guide because it had the most I'd seen on nonconformists in Wales (my ancestors). 

Duck family by the bridge

The same author has written a book on Radnorshire - where my ancestors lived. I'm in the process of tracking it down - it's in print. I always start with Copperfield's, but they can't get it. But the book did give me information which provided greater impact for what I saw in Chester (where I headed after Wales - next blog post).

The hills behind our house

I also wandered by the lake and, as is usual in Great Britain, you can wander through private property and sheep pastures (as long as you close the gates behind you). I am also reading Walking Home: A Poet's Journey about Simon Armitage's walk along the Pennine Way in England - though shorter, it's something like the Appalachian Trail and equally difficult and dangerous in stretches. 

Bala Lake and Cader Idris - the hounds
of the underworld fly around its peak 

I found out about the book through an interview of Armitage in the New York Times travel section. They asked him, "From Robert Byron to Rory Stewart, Britain has its fair share of walking memoirists. For you Britons, what is it about walking?" Armitage replied, "Part of it, I would argue, is political. In the '30s, there was an effort by regular working-class people to reclaim the common land as their own. It's what's known as the 'right to roam' movement, and behind it is a political notion that most of the land cannot belong to somebody else, it has to belong to the people. So the network of footpaths and open access to land in this country, I think, is pretty much unprecedented. And more practically, you really can walk to places in Britain. It's not like walking from New York to Cleveland. You can actually set off and get to places here." So, of course, I had to get the book.

Same view - more sky

My brother lived in northern California briefly when he was in his 20's and didn't like it and moved back east. But he continues to be dismayed by how little public land is available for walking in the east as compared to the west. But it still all depends upon public land. In Britain you can walk through the pastures of the rich! And the working class movement to reclaim the land was sometimes violent and bloody (clarification - the landowners were violent and the working class ended up bloody and in jail). This would drive the liberal rich here crazy. Remember when Barbra Streisand threw a fit because people could get near her wedding? Coastal access be damned! Side note - she has been silent on Obama's bombing plans, while she was quite vocal about Bush.

Goodbye to Pen y Bont

As it turned out, the ivy was right and I had a good time traveling Wales with a group - though I'd be happy to travel alone or with my cousins and sister (Gillian has said this is making her want to travel in Britain). My new, possibly unattainable goal!

Tiny metal owl tucked into a beam
in the ceiling of my bedroom

I can't remember if I mentioned the owl hunt - I think I did - but just in case, here's one of 236 we found in the house.

And here's where we wrote

Just as on the first morning we selected a Welsh plant (mine was ivy), on the morning of our last full day, we selected another plant. Not so good this time. Sounds hard. Blackthorn - as ominous as its name: Blackthorn is a winter tree. The sloe, its fruits, ripen and sweeten only after the nip of the frost. White flowers are seen even before the leaves in the spring. It is black barked with vicious thorns and grows in dense thickets. The wood is used in the cudgel shillelagh and Blasting Stick. Its thorns are used to pierce waxen images.* 

My room is the window, upper-right

Physical: Unexpected change, plans altered or ruined. No choice however unpleasant. Events take over forcing you down the unavoidable path. Take courage, issues must be faced, decisions are unavoidable. Mental: Your negative view, clinging to old ways and facing challenges with anger and stubbornness will only make it worse and hurt you more. Accept the changes and move on. Spiritual: Realize you and your life have changed radially, enter reborn. As I said, sounds hard.

The window to Terry's room

And Terry will be doing this again next year - it will be the celebration of the 100th birthday of Dylan Thomas. I highly recommend it. Now, on to Chester.

Don't know what this says -
it was over someone's door

* waxen image - an effigy in wax representing a person whom it is desired to injure by witchcraft; it was believed that the victim would waste away as the wax melted in the fire, and feel pain if the figure was pricked or pierced. - Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

More research finds that this is the most sinister tree of the Welsh trees. In cultures in Great Britain - Celtic and Christian - it is associated with war, blood, and death. It is also associates with witches (the bad kind!) and is used to harm and curse. Coming home, I must have caused Obama to start threatening with missiles - I'm sorry!

Traditionally, blackthorn is used to protest against evil (as well as cause it?), creating boundaries (this must be the not answering the phone tendency I have), purifying, confronting our own dark side. Blackthorn dispels negativity (as well as facilitates it?), toxins, old wounds, and impurities.

But the Welsh description I drew indicates that blackthorn will give me the strength to persevere in adversity. I'd really just like to forego the adversity, thanks.

Blackthorn is sometimes called the Mother of the Woods or the Dark Crone of the Woods.


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