Sunday, July 22, 2007

A pretty place

Me on a rockI am safely again among the soggy throng of Caerdydd after spending a week in Nant Gwrtheyrn. I have been assured that the stitches from the Welsh Appreciation Assistance implant will heal quickly and I won't even notice it's there unless I support England in rugby -- in which case I will experience a "steady and unpleasant burning sensation in the head."

I'm sure it's nothing to worry about.

For those of you just arriving to this blog but still keen to tell me how to run my life or make snap judgments about what I do or don't know, I've spent the last week in the North Wales village of Nant Gwrtheyrn, an isolated patch of land that was set up as a place for learners to live a sort of immersion experience. The fact that this immersion experience doesn't seem to be able to make ends meet without also hosting self-involved English-speaking creative writing exchange students from CUNY kind of makes one wonder why he spent six hours in a minibus to go there, but it was at least pretty. Surrounded on three sides by mountain, the village rests just a few hundred yards from the Irish Sea. On a clear day one can see north to Anglesey, which is one of those pieces of information that really isn't all that interesting if you don't know the geography of Wales.

Here is a map of Wales. If you look at the top left corner of said map, you will see a little isolated bit of land -- that is Anglesey, known in Welsh as Ynys Môn. Just below that you'll see a small peninsula, known as the Llŷn Peninsula and therein is located Nant Gwrtheyrn, close to the village of Llanaelhaiarn. Not on the map, but some 60 odd miles to the west, is a place called "Ireland." You might have heard of it. On a really good day, one can see all the way from Nant Gwrtheyrn to the Wicklow Mountains, which is where the water for Guinness comes from.

The village gets its name from a king who reportedly moved there in an effort to get as far away from Saxons as possible. Gwrtheyrn lived in a castle on a mountain on the village's north side. Legend has it that he got all in a huff about something, ran all the way to the mountain on the village's south side, and flung himself into the sea. Why he couldn't have jumped from the mountain he was already on is anyone's guess, but it certainly puts into doubt those studies that say exercise helps to ease depression. The village was at one time cursed by grumpy monks, which resulted in a girl getting stuck in a tree, but it's most notable period in history was the time spent churning out rock for Queen Victoria's empire. Granite from Nant Gwrtheyrn was used to pave roads all across Britain. Tons and tons of the stuff was shipped to Liverpool, which, as Mary alluded to, meant that the village was more closely tied to an English city a few hundred miles away than any of those villages resting behind the mountains.

Nant Gwrtheyrn's quarry legacy lives on through Coronation Street. A cobblestone road in the soap was built with granite from the village. But for the most part, things came to a stop when Britain started using tarmac. The village fell into disrepair, was occupied by a hippie commune, and then sold to a load of idealists in the 1970s. If I remember correctly, they bought the whole massive area -- land, houses and all -- for around £35,000.

Picture of Jo Full taking a pictureThe village consists of six buildings: a main office, a chapel, a small cafe, a learning centre, and two rows of houses. All of these buildings are built of granite, most of them dating back to the mid 1800s (I'm not sure about the cafe). There are 12 houses in each row (FTYPAH, a "house" in Britain is pretty much any dwelling; an American would refer to them as "town homes"), each house about the size of the house that the child bride and I live in (two-floor, two-bedroom home of about 1,200 square feet).

The rows of houses are catty-corner to one another. Actually, I don't know if they are catty-corner, because I don't actually know what "catty-corner" means. I think it means that they make a sort of "L" shape. I heard my friend Paul use "catty-corner" once and so decided that it must be something intelligent people say (Paul is earning a PhD at MIT -- if smart were money, he would be the U.S. military budget). I am always eager to use the phrase, even though I don't know how to use it. Whatever the terminology, the rows of houses border two sides of a walled field where I played soccer for the first time in my life. From my window I could look out over the field and then beyond to the Irish Sea.

The air was fresh and in the mornings, sheep and wild mountain goats would mingle about eating the grass and heather and leaving all kinds of stuff for you to step in. It's a very pretty place, which means that it will almost certainly be spoiled within my lifetime.


David T. Macknet said...

Yep - you've been immersed, my friend. That last sentence there? Yep. That'd indicate that the process was successful - you are now an oppressed mass. How's it feel? Sad, huh? See - you've been immersed, but you haven't quit breathing yet, so you're not yet to the point where a good season of football is beating the English team once. But you're coming along nicely - the soul-eating depression is there.

Chris Cope said...

What on Earth are you on about, man? Are you reading my blog, or someone else's and then commenting on mine?

David T. Macknet said...

"The Welsh have a certain knack for overselling things: five defeats and one win against England is a successful rugby season; a dozen people are a good showing at a protest; third-rate talent shows are revered cultural events."

Sorry - football, rugby - all the same to me, really. Some git running around after a ball, lots of hollering, pointless rules, some violence, you know?

I'm merely interested in your transition between "student" and ex-pat, and wondering when you'll be the one PUSHING the Kool Aid. But in order to do that you're going to have to get past the phase of seeing anything negative ("It's a very pretty place, which means that it will almost certainly be spoiled within my lifetime.") and just be able to unabashedly sell the beauty of some rocky promontory with a couple of cabins slapped catty-cornered onto it, along with some CUNY students.

deanne said...

?? ....

Aaanyway - I think it sounds like a nice place to visit!