Friday, September 16, 2011

throughout the summer

Raising the May Pole as part of the Gywl Ifan Welsh Folk Dancing Festival

Welsh dancers in folk dress

Roath Park Lake

Fish and Ships Festival -- end of August

Welsh National War Memorial at Alexandra Gardens

Marigolds and ornamental corn (?) at Alexandra Gardens

ma bicyclette rouge

Finally, I have a bicycle! And a very sexy one at that. I bought it for a nifty £35 from Pedal Power, the charity that reworks bicycles for the handicapped and rents and resells them as well.

With the red suspension, it screamed 'Steal me!' when I first laid eyes on it, so hopefully after I sissify it with a back fender (or mud guard as they say here) and a pannier, it will be less tempting. Bicycle thievery seems to be a thriving trade here as I've seen many bikes in pieces locked to cycle stands.

My plan was to buy a bike when I first arrived, but economic realities put that idea aside -- as did my mistaken belief that a bicycle in my yard came with my 'furnished' apartment. (The neglected cycle actually belonged to my neighbour who reclaimed it after a month.)

In actuality I haven't missed having one as much as I thought as I am a fair weather, flat ground cyclist. I would much rather walk in the rain with an umbrella than ride a bike through a downpour. But August and September are gorgeous months here and now I can go down to the Bay and Penarth in half the time.

These wheels are made for rolling, and that's just what they'll do .... (with apologies to Nancy Sinatra)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

un blwydd! (one year!)

It's hard to believe, but it's been one year today since I arrived in Wales. I still know very little Welsh (I think 'blwydd' is pronounced 'bleweeth' -- but I could be wrong). The language is stronger than one might think. Most people speak English, but children learn the language in schools, all the signs are bilingual (like Canada with its French and English) and often the Welsh is placed first.

There is a BBCWales which broadcasts original material in Welsh and English. I've watched the Welsh language station a few times for short periods of time, mainly to just hear how it's spoken. BBC Wales is headquartered here in Cardiff.

In this past year I've lost 20 pounds (a little more than one and a half stone, as they say here. A stone is equal to 13 pounds.)  This loss was in the first three months of my room attendant job with an international hotel chain, working my butt off literally after too many years sitting on it at a computer. I'm coming on my first year at the hotel in early October. It's taken a (long) while, but this older body has finally gotten some lean muscle mass.

I've also let my hair grow and haven't coloured it since I left Canada. This began because it's four times more expensive here to get your hair washed, cut, styled and coloured. I rather like the grey mixed in with the dark brown and plan on keeping close to Mother Nature's palette. Most often now I wear it in a short pony tail.

I think the hard part is behind me. It's scary when you're starting everything from scratch and you don't know what to expect from the winter or the coming fuel bills. I've gotten through all that, know what to expect and how to find necessities and luxuries and have met good friends at work. The connection I felt with Wales on my first visit years ago remains and I can feel the rhythm of the land and its people.

Thanks to a healthy tax return from the Canadian government I am going home to Canada for two weeks in October, in time for blue autumnal skies, clear sunny days and Thanksgiving turkey -- and FAMILY!

Friday, September 2, 2011

'fish and ships'

'Fish and Ships' -- the last big summer festival down at Cardiff Bay, wins hands down for the city's best summer celebration and best title. The last Monday in August is a Bank Holiday, similar to Labour Day weekend back home, and the rain held off, the sun shone, and everyone was having fun.

There were masted ships and working boats, food booths with better food (and even better prices) than the International Food and Drink fest earlier in the season, and fishmongers sharing the secrets of their trade and competing for the U.K. championship.

The fishmongers were selling their wares and bits and pieces from their exhibitions. For £1 I was able to buy 8 salmon tails with which to make soup broth. But the fishmonger (love that word) said I'll give you 10. When I got home with the iced double-bagged tails, I had an even dozen. That's a lot of delicious soup set to stew. Many of the tails had half a fish attached.

Airplanes flew over the Bay in an air show, however, I don't like watching them. I'm always afraid a plane will stall and spin into the water or land. Still, you watch.

This weekend marked the official end of the summer festival season. It hasn't been my imagination that the skies have been sunless and rainy. Recent reports say it is the coolest summer since 1993 -- uggh! -- though August was much better here than the previous few months.

Totally unrelated to the 'Fish and Ships', but likely related to dampness, I began reading Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes. For years I resisted this book, especially after seeing the bleak film, but though McCourt's Irish childhood was tragically marked with deaths and extreme poverty, he was a remarkable writer and he mined a deeply rich vein of humour and resilience. There are few books that can make you laugh out loud and despair so easily. Hugely deserving of all the accolades.

His story is mainly set in Limerick, Ireland and when I was waiting at the bus terminal there in May for the airport shuttle, the two Irish people who were conversing about the economy also spoke about McCourt's book. I hadn't realized before that the autobiography was set there. The woman said her mother, from Limerick, originally doubted anyone could have been that poor, but a friend of hers remembered otherwise and said, yes, we used to take food down to the very poor people.