Monday, January 23, 2012

rover way

Sun setting on what I believe to be part of huge Sims Metal Management scrap yard

Last weekend I went for a long, exploratory walk to the River Rhymney on Cardiff's east end, as according to a city map, it looked as if I might be able to access the sea from there.

A mile or so from the city centre, Newport Road heading east loses any sense of Welshness and/or Britishness and becomes a dense, noisy motorway that, with its McDonalds, KFCs, Burger Kings, TGIFs and strip malls could be interchanged with any suburban sprawl in North America.

I had walked this route once before in search of the sea and hit what appeared to be ring roads and industrial zones off limits to pedestrians. This time I was going further to the Rhymney and a mapped out conservation area.

When I came upon the Rhymney, I followed park paths to a marshland which was much smaller than it appeared on the map, with the sea no where in sight. But there were fishermen there on this grey day. These fishermen were nothing like those you see along streams or riverbanks in North America, clad in casual shorts and summer gear or waders. These fishermen appeared to be 'hunting' fish with their camouflaged tents and clothing and expensive lines attached to small, fixed foundations every twenty feet or so.

Perhaps it is a lack of a real wilderness that makes the British take their forays into nature so seriously. But they do. I have watched TV programs where the host has intrepidly watched a squirrel from a blind in the woods or crawled along a manicured village riverbank to view an otter. It is comical, bewildering and endearing at the same time.

I followed a path that looked to take me back west, but hopefully stayed away from the thoroughfares. The path, along the twisting, bleakly muddy and apocalypticly barren Rhymney, ended up beside the industrial ring road I had previously been blocked from, hidden behind a small greenway. But I could see this was taking me to the sea and the grassy walkway, on a crest above the motorway, gave me great views.

This area of Cardiff, primarily home to empty and grimy industrial lands, made me think that this is probably what much of Cardiff Bay used to be like when industry reined. I find such industrial space, like that in west Windsor, my hometown, or like the Cherry Street area in the Toronto Portlands, intriguing. There is something primeval about the grimness and oiliness and nature's determination to spring up wild wherever it can.

As the path neared the sea and curved back towards the city, I was stunned to see a horse before me. As far as I knew I was in the middle of nowhere with dusk coming on and commuters whizzing by in their cars below the ridge. But I have seen horses within the city limits before and even an hour earlier in someone's backyard near the marshland. This horse, though he did not look well kept and was tethered to an old tire on the ground, seemed to have more than enough grass to eat and plenty of fresh air. I was perplexed though as to why he was there.

Pony in front of the Severn Sea at low tide -- along Rover Way

Continuing towards the city, past the pony, I could see the small figures of an adult and child coming towards me, probably at least 100 yards away (one football field -- about the only land measurement I seem capable of imagining). I was glad to see someone else on the path. As we approached each other I could see the woman was purposeful and hurried, not on a recreational jaunt, and I could only think that perhaps she was the owner of the horse. The woman, in her twenties with lovely red hair, hurried past me singing loudly with no acknowledgement of my presence at all, and no seeming interaction with the child whose hand she held tightly. It was disconcerting, as if perhaps she was a little insane.

Behind her and the child, who was unafraid and happy being pulled along the path, was a cluster of what appeared to be homes. I really couldn't believe anyone would be living here in the middle of nowhere, on a strip of land between the sea and a motorway. As I approached the compound, bordered with trash and wandering geese, the only thing I could think of was that perhaps Travellers or Gypsies lived here. Since then, after some research on the Internet, I realized that this is indeed a Travellers settlement -- an official area backed by the city of Cardiff, though there is talk of closing it down and relocating it. Since arriving in the U.K. I have learned that Gypsies -- or Roma -- are not only the dark-haired peoples of Spanish or Romanian descent with which I associate the name. Many of the Travellers in the U.K. are of primarily Irish descent and their lifestyle is something totally new to me.

It was also at the settlement that the path disappeared and came down to meet the motorway. Upon a little searching though I found it carried on across the road and I continued homeward past the expansive, metal scrapyards.

The road which the path bordered is called Rover Way -- a grand name that to me evoked pirates and perhaps, gypsies or travellers and the lure of the sea. In actuality, the motorway appears to be named after a Rover automobile plant which was in the area decades ago. However, it is a rover's way.

Gate along Sims (?) scrapyard

Friday, January 6, 2012


For some reason I have watched programs on the Welsh TV channel for four days in a row, despite the fact that all the programs I watched were in Welsh. Well, I know the reason -- the programs during the last week were of particular interest, despite only two of them being subtitled in English. It fills that inexplicable need in me to know about this country and its people and to hear the language in full force.

Often S4C will show the same programs, sometimes subtitled, and other times only in the native Welsh. The first program was a documentary about the Swiss village in which famous Welsh son Richard Burton lived for more than thirty years. It fortunately was subtitled and hinted at a dark tragedy that was dramatized in another film made on the relationship between Burton and his eldest brother, a TV film I haven't yet seen.

The second night I was flipping through channels and saw that the actor Rhys Ifans was the subject of a 'documentary'. Ifans has long been one of my favourite actors, and I'm sure that like Welshman Michael Sheen, he was a favourite before I even knew he was from Wales. Strange that is. Unfortunately this program was not subtitled but I watched it anyway just to get my Ifans fix and see him as himself, which I had never had the opportunity to do before. I believe Welsh-as-a-first-language speakers find deep delight and solace in being able to converse in their native tongue, despite their exquisite professional use of the English language. Ifans was interviewed on set of the latest Spiderman film as well, apparently, on some land he seems to own in Michigan (!) -- which I gathered only because the word 'Michigan' is the same in English and Welsh.

The third night I watched the Welsh-produced film Patagonia, released last year and a UK entry for an Oscar as best-foreign film. This showing, unlike one a few days before, had subtitles in English and Welsh (for the sections of the film in Spanish). The film takes place in Patagonia, Argentina and in Wales and was quite good. The acting, cinematography, music and editing were top-notch. The acting in particular was uniformly strong, with a young Argentine, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, being particularly riveting.

And last night a variety program highlighted performances by Welsh pop artists -- of course, with no subtitles. A pudgy, pudding of a man, appearing to be in his late 60s, began to sing in a fascinating voice that sounded thirty years younger and upon reflection reminded me of a catchy, bluesy Bob Dylan. I learned today, upon looking up Meic Stevens online that he has been considered a Welsh Dylan over a long career. In his younger photos he has the look of a John Lennon. Amazing how age changes appearances, but his voice is vibrant and infectious. Apparently, he has held court with the best and was drinking with Jimi Hendrix the last night of his life. The world is full of so much talent. Mr. Stevens has found a long-lost youthful love who was sent to Canada years ago and apparently now resides in Vancouver.

Post note: S4C presented the Rhys Ifans interviews with English subtitles since the original post. Ifans does not own land in Michigan. He was in Ann Arbor filming a Judd Apatow film and following that he was interviewed at a lakefront home in Michigan rented by the Welsh media crew.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year from Wales -- Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!!

I am glad to say that I have recovered my emotional equilibrium after a trying Christmas and post-Christmas week. I imagine that much of the problem, besides being away from family, is due to the fact that this was the first Christmas that I have worked. Last season, my first in the hospitality industry, I didn't work the holidays because we were overstaffed. Now I am a 'seasoned' veteran.

And including today, I now have four days off! Sweet bliss. If it was warmer and the weather better I would go for a day trip to Swansea or somewhere, but the U.K. has been experiencing gale-force winds and flooding throughout much of the country in the past few days, so I will stay put, relax, and shore up the home front.

2011 was a good year for me, though trying as I settled into my first year in Wales. I face 2012 feeling much more grounded and ready to make travel plans for jaunts to Europe and Wales and a home visit to Canada/U.S. I am now under contract at the hotel, rather than 'casual', and this will help in organizing time away.

I don't believe I am alone in being a little fearful as well at what 2012 will bring us. The state of the economy on both sides of the Atlantic is precarious and in dire need of fixing, yet no one really seems to know what to do about it. What is really needed is a drastic overhaul and a readjustment of the imbalances of capitalism -- but how to accomplish that without a complete collapse of the world as we know it?

This year the U.K. is putting on at least two showcases -- the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in early June celebrating the 60th year Elizabeth II has served on the throne, including a countrywide tour by Her Majesty as well as a flotilla on the Thames -- and, of course, the 2012 Olympics. Huge, symbolic events such as these are always something to look forward to, but also always make me uneasy as Britain in particular has known terrorism on the homefront. Most of the Olympic events are in London but Cardiff is hosting some of the Olympic football (soccer) games. Only this week our hotel is host to security forces preparing for the Games in Cardiff.

I brought the New Year in at home as the weather was a little blustery and I was working on New Year's Day. Last year I attended the outdoor festivities at City Hall with a fine crowd of happy, celebratory folk. This year I watched the amazing crowds and fireworks in London on the BBC. I couldn't believe my eyes when fireworks came out of Big Ben! I have seen fantastic firework displays on the Detroit River over the years but this London celebration was the most fantastic I have ever witnessed, live or on TV. Outside my groundfloor flat my street erupted into cheers and celebration as a family party poured out of their home and ran up and down the roads, lighting fireworks and sending them with repeated bangs into the sky.

At work the next day my co-workers talked of sending and receiving calls of celebration from loved ones across the globe. I had called my brothers and stepmother at the UK midnight, only 7 p.m. their time. A co-worker with family in Thailand said his Thai relatives had brought in the New Year five to six hours before the U.K. A Polish co-worker whose Indian husband is currrently in India received a call from him at 5:30 p.m. and called her Polish relatives at 11 p.m. for their New Year.

Around the world we are all connected.