Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dydd Mercher

Thanks to everyone for the encouragement, in relation to my whinging post from Monday. I am always making vows to myself that I am going to stop complaining, but I'm apparently not very good at keeping promises.

It was a brilliant day here in Europe's youngest capital city* -- the sun was shining and I threw open the windows as soon as I got home -- so my mood was a little better than it has been over the past few weeks. I remain in over my head in university and my feelings about that manifest themselves in numerous ways. But today felt alright.

My Spanish courses are usually an ego boost because I have that inherent understanding of the language that comes from so many years of thinking all kinds of naughty things about Daisy Fuentes. My translation teacher inadvertently provided me with a good name for a band: The False Friends. Alternately, of course, one could go with Los Amigos Falsos.

Without any Welsh courses to cripple my good spirits, I was free for the day by 1 p.m. I walked from campus down Museum Avenue along Cathays Park and past City Hall on my way to City Centre. I decided I will probably take my parents down the same route when they come to visit in early April. It runs past some of Cardiff's nicer buildings and then takes the most posh route possible into City Centre -- the one that goes past the Cardiff Hilton and Slug and Lettuce pub (that's right, bitches -- we've got a Hilton and a Slug and Lettuce).

I bought a pasty from Cornish Bakehouse (the pasties there are so good that they're almost worth the trip to Cardiff in and of themselves [depending on where you're coming from, obviously]) and walked down to the temporary location of the Central Library to return a Mihangel Morgan novel that I had only managed to read 22 pages of.

As I was walking, I thought about what I had expected of Cardiff before coming here. For some reason, I had expected it would be a lot like Dublin, which is a city that is also not what I had expected.

In another classic example of my sheltered American upbringing causing me to have hilarious misconceptions about places, subconsciously some part of me was expecting Dublin to be a gritty Hogarthian London where all the blokes wore leather jackets, like Brad Pitt in "The Devil's Own," and I would run the risk of getting punched in the face for being a Methodist.

Dublin is gritty; the River Liffey, which runs through the city, is charcoal black. Along its banks there are several posts with life preservers that one could toss to a poor soul that has fallen in; I think those life preservers should be replaced with sniper rifles. Because if someone's fallen into the Liffey, the best thing you can do for them is just put them out of their misery. But the feel of the city is actually very European and cosmopolitan.

It's got its fair share of chavs ("skangers" in Dublin terminology, I think), but it's got some really nice bits, as well. On the night that the child bride and I met up with Donal, Elisa, Isobel, Linus, and others, I was struck by the fact that as we walked through the city centre there were loads of buskers ("street musicians" for those of you playing along at home) about. There were enough people wandering around at 11 p.m., and enough of them weren't drunken assclowns, that it was actually viable for people to sit there and sing James Morrison tunes to passers-by.

Some part of me decided then that Cardiff, Europe's Youngest Capital City, would be similar. But not so much. It's a little cleaner and brighter than Dublin, but unless fully intoxicated chavs from Pontypridd are your idea of European culture, it lacks somewhat. That doesn't stop it from trying, though. It's got its Cafe Quarter and Bay, and all throughout City Centre there are statues reminiscent of those in Dublin. But whereas Dublin gets a statue of a woman with an amazing rack, we get a bloke with fucking huge fists**.

A new Cardiff Central Library is being built at the moment, so it temporarily exists in a load of white worksite buildings. Never having gone to the old Central Library, I can't say for sure, but this temporary site seems to only contain a "best of" from the library's collection. As a result, I was unable to find any history or criticism of Académie française, which I need to form the crux of a paper I'm writing in Welsh -- the outline of which is due on Monday. Sadly, the university libraries are just as useless (or, perhaps there search engines are just as useless). After paying 48p for the pleasure of having held on to Morgan's Dirgel Ddyn for too long, I headed to Cardiff Central train station.

Platform 7 faces the afternoon sun, so I took a certain joy in having to wait 20 minutes for the train to Danescourt. I just sat on a bench and stared out across the Brains brewery and tried to forget about all the things that are frustrating me these days. I thought about summer and how Platform 7 is packed on hot days -- full of charming British youth heading off to Barry Island to drink cider and swear unnecessarily and serve as the living defeat of any argument that Britons are more cultured than anyone. Summer seems like it will be a long time; almost four months of my not being required to do anything. I am planning to write a book in that time, but I may just spend four months weeping -- this semester is challenging and I know things are only going to get more difficult.

Of course, I do myself no favours by taking a several hours to write really long blog posts...

*Like Americans, the Welsh enjoy coming up with ridiculous phrases that are supposed to sound impressive, but aren't really. The way that Minnesota is "the Land of 10,000 Lakes," Cardiff is "Europe's Youngest Capital City." In both cases, the statements are blatantly untrue. Minnesota has more than 10,000 lakes and Cardiff's becoming a capital city in 1955 easily predates the capital cities created by the break up of the Soviet Union.

**We love fists.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I've been thinking a lot today about roots. In hyper-regionalist Wales, the questions of where you come from, where you belong, and what you are, are ever-present and all important. These are questions that are underlined for me by the fact that I am married to someone whose religion emphasises family connections. These things expose the weakness in my composition.

I was born in Texas, my parents were born in Texas, and my grandparents were born in Texas -- that is what I know. That is about all I know. I know history that can be collected from living memory. If you were to ask me or my brother where our family comes from, we would tell you Ireland not necessarily because it's true (although, I know that at least one family member came from Northern Ireland) but because it sounds cool to us and there isn't a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

I was born in Texas; I was raised in four cities: Austin, Irving, Houston, and Bloomington. That resulted in five different homes and six different schools before I reached 18 years old. And in adulthood, I have yet to live in the same home for more than two years. I bounce. I have always bounced. There are positives and negatives.

My dad and I are both the sort of people who enjoy hearing ourselves say things that we think are philosophical, so we talked a lot in the months that he and I would drive to work together, before Rachel and I left for Wales. We talked on several occasions about these questions of who and what and where.

Before my family left Austin, when I was 4 years old, my father discussed the move with his pastor, who offered a gardening analogy: Sometimes you can move a tree and it will take root and flourish; sometimes, though, it just won't root. My dad sometimes feels that he might have made one move too many, that Minnesota holds no strong claim to his soul other than the fact that it is where he and his wife happen to have jobs and where his youngest son still lives and where his oldest son keeps coming back to.

His hope for me, and my belief and hope for myself, back in those days of darting along the 494, was that Wales would become my place -- this would be the place where I would take root and flourish, where I would feel solidity and belonging.

A lifetime of bouncing, though, makes me impatient. As I understand more subtleties, I feel more isolated. These people, so firmly rooted in this place, struggle to comprehend and I struggle to convey. When I say something, people hear it through a sort of filter created by their impressions of what an American is, what an American means when he or she says something, how an American thinks, and what an American doesn't know. It's a problem made acute by my inability to communicate dynamically in this language I've chosen to throw so much money and time at. I stutter things out and people guess at what I'm trying to say, using the American filter as a guide.

Maybe I'm one of those trees that just won't root. Maybe this isn't the right soil. Maybe I just need to give it time. How long does it take roots to grow? I can't remember ever feeling more frustrated. People will say this is all just homesickness, but where is home?