Fourth Wall

Monday, July 31, 2006

Adam: "Who does America support...

...Jen, or Angelina?"

To which the response was twofold. Erin: "Jen." Alice: "ADAM!"

We were entertaining ourselves in the magazine section of the local Spar covenience store, because there was really nothing else to do and we were trying to spend some time before going to dinner at (oh! the excitement!) the only place open, the local open-late Greek-run gyros-kebabs-hamburgers-pizza place. It has been raining on and off almost all of our long weekend, negating the possibility of long rambles and making life generally wet and unpleasant.

Even the pubs have been low-energy and somewhat dull, although when we showed up at the Castle Green on Saturday night the television was playing selections from Sesiwn Fawr Dolgellau. I think I may have seen us standing at the front of the Euros Childs set-- I certainly saw the arm-waving Welshmen behind us. The Patagonions showed up soon afterwards, having been to a party to celebrate the anniversary of the colonists leaving for Patagonia. They were each placed at a different table at the banquet, thus ensuring that they would speak Welsh. All this gave Silvia a terrible headache, so she showed up at the tavarn complaining "Fy mhen wedi torri-- Fy mhen wedi 'pouf!'" (My head has broken--my head has gone "pouf"!) and ordering me to speak to her in Spanish.

There is, however, always some silver lining on miserable and rainy days. Just when Erin and I* thought that we were going to have to shoot ourselves for the sake of some excitement,** we decided to brave the rain and make our way to the Student Union Pub, which would provide, at the very least, a change of scene. This resulted in being stuck under an overhang with a trio of young classicists on their way to the opening reception for their two-week classics intensive. Two of them, both from McGill, decided to be fashionably late to their reception and came along with us. (Confidential to Larry, who will ask anyway: the cute one is also a creative writer who has been accepted to University of Iowa). This means something very important: NEW PEOPLE TO TALK TO.

My Welsh, however, is in a state of atrophy. I don't know what it will sound like when I run into the Aberystwyth kids later today, but I'm not looking forward to it.***

*Kat's father is in town, so at least she has something to do.
** This is an exaggeration. There are no handguns in this country.
*** Looking forward to seeing them, yes. Looking forward to James chastising me for not speaking Welsh, no.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hywel Dda and Ty Ddewi

In that proverbial and oft-cited other news, Thursday's day trip was...interesting. We started the day at the Hywel Dda Garden and Interpretive Center. I thought, in my silly American way, that an Interpretive Center would be something like a living history farm, with fuzzy animals to play with and people dressed up as medieval welshmen. Instead, it was a small building and garden on the site where Hywel the Good, King of Deheubarth in the tenth century, gathered his advisors and wrote the code that was the basis for the Welsh law until the union with England in 1536. The brochure describes it as "The only Garden in Europe dedicated to the Law".

Alright, so this should be interesting to someone who, like me, is interested in Medieval legal codes. Still. Dim fuzzy animals. Big problem. Furthermore, while the garden was lovely, someone had clearly put a little too much thought into the design. Allow me to quote from the hand-out:

It is divided into six small gardens separated by stone walls and hedges. Each garden has a distinct planting scheme and its own tree to represent one aspect of the Law-- Society and Status, Crime and Tort, Women, Contract, the King and Court, and Property. Extracts from the laws have been cut into slate plaques illustrated with champleve enamel and mounted on the walls.

It goes on to describe the symbolism of the tilework--meant to illustrate the arrival of various representatives and advisors--and the building, which is modeled on manuscript descriptions of the building where the conference was held. The garden itself is lovely, and was clearly designed to be a place for the community as well as a memorial to a historic event. I still found it strange-- and docents never tell me the sorts of things I want to know. I don't care about the enamel, I care about the history.

Furthermore: hidden dangers of a language with no easy way to say no: Adam (everyone's favorite Warrior of Devon) is allergic to wheat, and only narrowly escaped having a biscuit forced down his throat by one of the nice little ladies at the interpretive center. "I suppose I could have taken one and put it in my pocket," he said. "Come home with a pocket full of crumbs, [Hester would say,] 'what happened to you?' 'I forgot how to say no! Problem mawr gyda fi." He was also the only one having significant problems holding his tea mug without burning himself, thus providing substantial entertainment.

I know that you are all on the edge of your seats waiting to see what Europe's only garden devoted to law looks like, so here are some pictures. First, the shrubbery in the women's garden:

The enameled sundial in the Contract garden:

Herbs growing in the Property garden (they weren't kidding when devoting it to laws):

(Transition here in the style of Herb Caen for my San Francisco Readers)

* * * * *

Dinas Ty Ddewi is only a dinas because of the Cathedral-- thus making it the smallest city in Britain, set in a beautiful county in which hilly farmlands drops dramatically into white beaches and blue sea. The Cathedral is lovely, built deep in a valley for protection from what Fr. Mike would call "marauding blonde people". James/Seamus/Iago (depending on language) and I made our way through the Cathedral being loudly Catholic, paying respects at the supposed tomb of Geraldus Cambriensis ("Ah, The Great Badger Himself,"* said J/S/I, so you have to take your respect as it comes). However, once we had done that, had seen the ruins of the Bishop's Palace (insert choice Irish words from James here in re Henry VIII), searched the gift shop for the tackiest items, and bought Ice Cream ("beth ydy mint chocolate chip yn cymraeg?"), there wasn't much to do but wander around the back streets and formulate plans for pretending to be Basque tourists** who spoke no English if accused of trespassing.

That said, we have pictures yma. Presenting Ty Ddewi:

We also saw Fishguard Harbour, site of the last invasion of Britain. The story, as told to me by Jo, goes that the French attempted to attack Britain through Wales. The attack was completely unexpected, and the men were all out in the fields. The women of the town, however, saw the ships coming and decided that they might as well put up a fight. They took whatever tools and utensils they could down to the harbour to meet the French, who mistook the traditional black Welsh bonnets for the hats of a massed army and promptly surrendered.

* * * * *

The Italian students have left, marking the end of an era for us: we will no longer have to wait in lengthly lines at the refectory, have trouble falling asleep because of their late-night karaoke parties, or have their English teachers to hang out with at the pubs-- in other words, our social circle is shrinking dramatically, and the campus is going to be very empty without them. Last night, a group of students were in our courtyard trying to hold a farewell/"graduation" ceremony, but with only one cap. Much laughing, hugging, and kissing one another in congratulations which many of them, I hope, deserved—they had just taken oral exams for proficiency certificates. A few of the boys joined our group at the Cwmanne Tavern for live music on Thursday night. They were sweet and polite. Also there was the slightly awkward young man who has been working the counter at the University Book Store. Turns out he's Sean's brother, Patrick (Nickname: "Patch"). Small town.

On the subject of small towns, some of you may be interested in seeing just what has been going on on our front lawn. The answer is here:

I feel like Lady Brideshead when the Agricultural Show takes over her manor (although because we live here, we haven't had to pay the entrance fee.) Patrick, please note that that red trolley is selling Dutch Pancakes. I thought of you.

As you can see, it has taken over the courtyard as well:

And it wouldn't really be a Welsh Fair without live music and dancing.

* * * * *

In the "News to Me" Department, one of the elderly locals at the club has informed me that I'm "the quiet one".

* * * * *

Alright, then. I'm going out to pick up an Organic "Welsh Burger" (read: lamb) for dinner before it starts raining on the fair again. Forecast shows more blogging over the weekend: what else is there to do? (Aside from studying Welsh, reading for my BA, and figuring out what to do with my life, of course.)

* Don't ask.
** See above.

Okay, so...

yesterday's post about sleeping in did not really consider that the Lampeter Food Festival is taking place today on our front lawn and inner courtyard. It's raining and stormy, but I can already smell the butter and sugar.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Half-Term Break!

Do you know what this means? Tomorrow is the first day since leaving Newark that I'll be able to sleep in past nine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Somewhat Overdue Update

Saturday morning conversations about Welsh rock bands can be topped by only two things: Saturday Morning conversations about superheros, psychedelic drugs, and Welsh Mythology; and Welsh rock bands themselves. Adrian, Cwrs Pellach tutor, was in fine form during Saturday's tea break, joking with the Aberystwyth boys about Superman ("Swperdyn") and the third branch of the Mabinogi. Adrian is the head of the Canolfan Dysgu Cymraeg, posesses a reverberating voice, and (as James says) may be the only person in the world who can discuss chaos theory yn Cymraeg.

Adam: I mean, Batman's just buggered if he forgets his utility belt, isn't he?
James: His trousers would be around his ankles, for one thing.

Adrian: There is only one thing that can explain Welsh mythology. Too many magic mushrooms. (Insert disquisition on Bran and Branwen here.) What did they do with Bran's body, anyway? Use it as a boat to get back to Wales? "Why is my head down by my ankles?" "Oh, don't worry about it, Bran."

I'm not sure the latter citation works well if you weren't actually there, but I'm including it as an aid for my own memory.

After class, James, Phil, Erin, Kat, and I got into Phil's car and made the two-hour drive to Dolgellau, a small town in the foothills of Snowdonia built entirely of the local shale.

As James is the first to point out, there's even less to do in Dolgellau than in Lampeter-- except during the Sesiwn Fawr, when people come from all over Britain to see bands from all over the world. We camped in a pair of tents on the fairgrounds, which made for an interesting (read: cramped and cold) night, as Jo had kindly lent us girls a two-person tent and a pair of sleeping bags. We'll never complain about our University accommidations again. The campsite, however, was beautiful. Here's the view of Snowdonia from our tent:

We saw eight of the many acts, including the UK Ukelele Band, whose cover of "Shaft" has now been added to the list of Best Covers Ever, EVER.* Phil, in his enthusiasm, had us scheduled down to the minute. We saw a Mexican band, Los de Abajos, who I greatly enjoyed until two of the members put on George Bush and Vicente Fox masks and the crowd was encouraged to heckle them off the stage. I was suddenly distinctly aware of being in a foreign country. (Then, and when one of Jo's fiddler friends turned to me and asked, "are they singing in Welsh?" "I think it's Spanish," I said. "Ah," she said. "I'm from London. I just knew that I didn't understand it.") All in all, though, masks aren't so bad. As I mentioned to James, "don't people still burn the Pope in effigy in this country?"

James's family is from Belfast, and he's my partner in Catholic triumphalism**-- particularly entertaining when some of our acquaintances know nothing about it. Example:
Phil: So, are you a member of a sect, or...
Alice: No, just Catholic.
Phil: Are Mormons Catholic?
James: PHIL!

Alice: (Trying to get him up for mass in the morning) You don't want to get in the car with Phil driving with missing mass on your soul.
James (Putting on his sweatshirt): Yeah, I'm going to Hell anyway. I might as well try to make it Purgatory.

Other good bands: The very American Group Hayseed Dixie (say it to yourself six times fast and you'll get the pun), which does bluegrass covers of heavy metal songs, Welsh Emo/Eclectic Euros Child, and Welsh Rock band Frizbee, who closed the festival with the Welsh National Anthem on the electric guitar. Euros Child was by far our favorite, and we were at the very front-- which is how I discovered that my head is at precisely the elbow hight. Last week we learned that the welsh word for elbow is the same as Patagonian slang for 'small penis',*** and this provided much private entertainment. Despite the drunken, arm-waving Welshmen, the Euros Child set is now up there above Ozomatli/Los Lonely Boys on my favorite concerts list. Anyway, Steph: WELSH EMO. I'll bring some home for you, because I love you.

Phil and James are excellent tourguides, full of geographical and historical information which usually involves the Welsh nationalist movement. On our drive back to Lampeter, Phil made us stop at the site of Owain Glyndwr's Welsh Parliament. It was closed, but I did get a picture of the plaque.

And North Wales, of course, was beautiful-- even when Phil's Welsh Bling got in the way.

In other news, both classes are afflicted by particularly strict and unpleasant tutors this week. Carol is, in a way, growing on me in that I understand her pedagogy--but she'll never be our beloved Meleri from last week. We've been to the Student Union Pub almost every night because there's nowhere else to hang out and complain.

Alice: I am, however, glad to now have subordinate clauses.
Adam: What's a subordinate clause?
Alice: ...
James: We're British. We don't study our own language.

Tomorrow, we have a day trip to St. David's Cathedral. I promise to take pictures--and I might even post them on time. To make up for the delay, here's a picture of one of the locals:

*Other items on the list: The Gypsy Kings' cover of "Hotel California" and Cake's "I Will Survive".
** Apologetics a la James: "Well we're Catholic and we were founded by Jesus, so give up."
***Penelin. Once again, don't say I never taught you anything.

Friday, July 21, 2006

General Gratitute

Many thanks to Jo for driving us to her rented cottage in Tregaron for dinner and serving us the first real and vegetable-filled meal we've had in weeks.

One of the many charming facts about Wales is the naming of houses--some houses have numbers, but they all have names. Jo lives in "Ty Gwyn Bach," The "Little White House." It is indeed small, white, and charming.

In other news, we stopped in at our favorite pub this evening and made plans for the weekend with some of our classmates.

James (Translated from the Welsh): You. You are coming with us (pointing at himself, Erin, and Kat), and Phil, and Jo, to the music festival in North Wales.
Alice: There wasn't a question mark at the end of that sentence, was there?
James (Translated): Absolutely not.
Alice: How long will we be gone?
James (Translated): We'll be back on Sunday. Don't worry, there's a Catholic church in the town.

So we're leaving for the festival tomorrow. I'm excited. Pictures and report to follow, but it should be good. Jo, who is a music major doing traditional Celtic music, had already recommended the trip, so I'm glad I've found a way to go.

Oh, and as you can tell from the above dialogue, my comprehension is far superior to my speaking ability.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This just in

Mattieu, Canadian font of all knowledge, says that deunaw was a special number to the Celts, being equal to both 2 x 9 and 3 x 6. Breton, he says, also has a special name for 18, which translates as "three sixes." Use this knowledge as you will.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Introduction to the Welsh Language.

"Gwr is an interesting word," said Mattieu one evening. "In Welsh, it means husband. In Breton, slave. Which way the transference?"

In other news of things Welsh, grass and sky are the same shade: glas. Synthetic greens have their own color, gwyrdd, but it is a more contemporary word (like pinc).

Furthermore, Welsh (and Irish) is a verb-first language, thus making it (as I told Veronica in a moment of frustrated profanity) quite literally "ass-backwards" to Latinists. Almost every present-tense verb we've come across has actually been a verb-noun. Example:

Dw i'n dod o San Francisco.: I do come from San Francisco. The verb-noun is in boldface-- dod, to come. Example two:

Dyn ni'n hoffi coffi.: We do like coffee. hoffi, to like.

Or, if you want to get really intricate, there are questions:
Ydy Alice yn hoffi wisgi? (Does Alice like wiskey?)
Nac ydy, dydy he ddim yn hoffi wisgi. Mae Alice ddim wedi yfed wisgi. Mae Beata yn hoffi wisgi, ac mae Alice yn hoffi cwrw Cymraeg. (No she doesn't, she does not like whiskey. Alice has never drunk whiskey. Beata does like whisky, and Alice does like Welsh beer.)

Ydy Kat yn hoffi sider? (Does Kat like cider?)
Ydy, mae Kat yn hoffi sider iawn. (She does, Kat does like cider very much.)

Roeddon nhw chwarae pel-droed nos lun? (Were they playing football Monday night?)
Do, roeddon nhw chwarae pel-droed nos lin ac byddan nhw chware nos fory (Yes, they were playing football Monday night and they will play tomorrow night.)

You may have noticed that there is no simple "yes" or "no". Mattieu says that this is a built-in test of whether or not someone actually speaks the language.

These minor amusements, however, pale in comparison to the traditional Welsh system of counting. Not only are there both feminine and masculine forms of two, three, and four, but it is a system loosely based on God-knows-what, creating the following system which I recreate primarily for Steph's amusement, with literal mathematical translations:

un 1
dau/dwy 2
tri/tair 3
pedwar/pedair 4
pump 5
chwech 6
saith 7
wyth 8
naw 9
deg 10
un ar ddeg 1 + 10
deuddeg 12
tri ar ddeg 3 + 10
pedwar ar ddeg 4 + 10
pymtheg 15
un ar bymtheg 1 + 15
dau ar bymtheg 2 + 15
deunaw 9 + 9
pedwar ar bymtheg 4 + 15
ugain 20
deg ar hugain 10 + 20
deugain 20 + 20
hanner cant 100/2
trigain 3 x 20
pedwar ugain 4 x 20
cant 100

Mae pen tost gyda fi! (Is a headache with me!)

Do we ever.

(After a conversation on dunking in witch-hunts)
Alice: If she weighs the same as a duck...she's a Witch!
Jo: Oh, you have Monty Python in America?

Monday, July 17, 2006

All-Entry Conversations

Kat: Hey, Dave...
D: Daffydd.
K: Sorry. Mea Culpa. Daffydd.
K: If we're going to be picky about names, I'd like you to call me Katarina.
D: Catrin.
K: Not Catrin. Katarina.
D: But Catrin is Welsh...
K: It's not Welsh. That's the point. Katarina. (Shouting down the stairs.) Hey Erin, what you got?
E: I'd like to be B-shizzle from now on...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"There's a bald man making faces at us!"

Even in this intensive schedule, Saturday morning classes are even less productive than Friday afternoon meetings. Yesterday's class was hijacked by a half-hour discussion of California bands, Welsh bands, and how you translate their names into Welsh. The Patagonians had gone to Bangor for a party for Valeria's brother (who has married a Welsh woman), so there were only six of us in the class: retired teacher from Patagonia Silvia, who did not go to the party, surfer-dude from Devon Adam, Polish Metallica addict Beata, and Erin, Kat, and I. Somehow, we mentioned that whenever we go to our favorite pub, they invariably put on The Bee Jee's "Massachussets" and, of course, "Hotel California"-- because that's what blue collar Welsh men know about our home states. Erin mentioned that she doesn't particularly like The Eagles, or for that matter, The Beach Boys.

"What?!" said Adam. "Dim Beach Boys? Dim Bachgen Ar Lan Y Mor?"

Turns out our then-tutor is quite a fan of "Hotel California," and so went to the effort to write out "Er Eryrod" on the board-- "The Eagles."

"Do you know another band from California?" he asked.
"Metallica!" said Beata.
He ignored this and wrote "Bechgyn Y Traeth" out on the board-- "The Beach Boys".

Further results of the translations:
Y Pregethwyr Stryd Manig: Manic Street Preachers
Y Stereoffoneagau: Stereophonics
Yr Anifeiliaid Belwog Gwych: Super Furry Animals (Who have, indeed, made a CD in Welsh. 'tis good.)

"Are they super as in a super hero, or super as in very furry?" he asked.
"Super as in awesome," responded Adam.

I don't think the other class had a particularly productive time, either-- at one point, a fellow named David who lives in our entry showed up and started making faces at us through the window in the door, hence the above exclamation from Erin.

One of the side-effects of the intensive schedule is that our tutors change every week. The most recent fellow, the one who was such a fan of The Eagles, was pretty miserable--although he did buy me a pint at the pub, so I was a little confused about what to think of him. (The new tutor is a great improvement.) He sidelines as a writer for the BBC4 Wales soap opera Pobl y Cwm, "People of the Valley," and another one of the tutors, Geoff, was an actor on said soap. He was in charge of our mini-Eisteddfod. This is to say that Erin and I have received acting direction from an actor who was on the Welsh soap opera.

On the sort of people who learn Welsh: in a class discussion on what we wanted to be when we were children, we discovered that Kat, Beata, and I all wanted to grow up to be Egyptologists.

In other news, there was an article about the Patagonians in the Welsh newspaper Y Cymro. I bought a copy, so I'll bring the article home, but they don't have an online website-- so you can't see the cute picture. Instead, here's a link to a BBC article on the Patagonian Welsh renaissance.

Oh, and one more thing: today is the feast of Lampeter's parish church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Happy Feast Day, all.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wedi blino dw i.

Good news of the month: I've been allowed to change my rooms to one that doesn't have an overpowering scent of stale cigarette smoke. Baby-poop-orange curtains, yes, but at least I can breathe again.

Another architectural oddity of this building (aside from the curtains) is the fact that there is only one shower--every entry but ours has a bath, which means that a great many people use our shower, including those employed to teach English to the legions of young Europeans at the International Summer School. Last night they decided that they really ought to get to know us if they were going to be keeping us from our bathroom, and invited us to meet them at the Cwmann Pub for live music and, of course, drinking (because you can't seem to do anything in this country without alcohol).

Well, we weren't so much listening to the music as talking and arguing with one another late into the evening. They were mostly British, although Sean (the "really hot one," according to Erin) was raised in Lampeter. One of them, David, was particularly beligerent.

Erin: I'm from California. I could totally kick your ass.
David: I don't have an ass!
(General laughter)
David: And the first person who kicks my donkey is going down!...That's how they took over the world! No-one can bloody understand what they're saying!

They closed the pub at 11:30 and we were asked to leave, so we made our way back to the University to the sounds of David and Kat loudly arguing about whether or not it's possible for an American girl (i.e. Erin) to be a good football player. I can't recount the details, because Sean and I were far less drunk ("Mae Alice yn chaperone," Erin said at one point) than everyone else and were discussing Barcelona, where he teaches English during the rest of the year. We did, however, take time during the morning tea break to ask the Aberystwyth boys if they had heard us when we walked by their house. "No," said James. "Oh, wait, were you with the group of loud English men around midnight? Yeah, I heard them."
"They were probably shouting loudly about how a girl couldn't be good at football," said Kat.
"I have to admit we were surprised," replied James.
"Yeah..." said Kat. "I haven't played since I was five."
"Oh," I said, "I played all the way through eighth grade, in gym class."
James was shocked.
"In America, girls play football in gym class?"
"Oh, yeah... usually girls against boys," I said. They found this almost as shocking as Erin's swearing.*

It may, however, have been a mistake to combine strong cider with a football game, as Erin and Kat were both a bit hung over**, and Erin and I are sore from the game. Oh well. We're singing in Welsh at the Castle Green*** tonight, and invited the English teachers. Another football game is planned for Monday.

Stop asking me if I want to come home. I love you all, but you know the answer is no.

*Another argument with David was over the d --> dd mutation in Welsh grammer, during which Erin called him "a dipshit-- with one d!"****
** blinder ddoe "the weariness of yesterday", as in Mae blinder ddoe arno i "The weariness of yesterday is on me." Don't say I never taught you anything.
*** Quote from Castle Green patron, on England's football team: "I have a teabag at home that spent more time in the cup than England!"
****They didn't know what that was. Nor do I, come to think of it. Don't enlighten me.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fun with Consonant Mutations

Weird things happen when you go abroad. For example: you start playing pick-up football (soccer) games, and liking it.

We three American girls asked the boys from Aberystwyth if we could borrow a ball, since we've been eating the refectory food (ick ah fi!) and not getting much exercise. "Sure," said James, "want to play tomorrow? During our lunch break?" "Oh, oh, sure," we said. "I mean, we suck, but sure..."

"It's a cultural experience," we told ourselves.

The boys showed up about ten minutes late, and weren't as frighteningly good as we had feared (James kept trying to head the ball, and missing), and we spent a pleasant hour or so kicking the ball around and shouting at one another in Wenglish (or Spanelsh-- Federico, from Patagonia, joined us for the game)-- "dim goal!" "dim lucas!" (no luck) and the like. Furthermore, we were playing in a narrow field next to the creek, and needed to fish out the ball whenever it went out of play. "And now we paddle," said James, as he and Adam started pulling off their shoes and socks. Erin, who was already barefoot, beat them to it and was made designated ball-retriever for the remander of the game. She slipped once, and her jeans are still hanging out her window to dry.

Kat was pleased to hear that Welsh swear words are reasonably similar to those in Saesneg, although she did have one slightly embarassing moment which I believe I shall use to start off the following selection of quotes.

Adam: Next time we'll have Phil and Dan. They're shithot players.
Erin: Shithot?
Adam: Really cool.
Kat: Shithot means really cool in Welsh? I'm so going to remember that!
Adam: Um, actually, it's English... English English.

Erin: We need a sideline over here... oh, I guess it's the river.

Alice: Yeah, but you see... Kat and I suck.
James: Well, so do I, and Adam... (turns to see Adam showing off with the ball)...Adam is from Devon.

James: What do you think? Celts vs. Saeses?

Adam is really nice, but a little spacy. He dresses like he's from San Diego, and because he's Celtic Studies from Aberystwyth, he already knows all of the most important words, even though he's in the introductory class. Example:
Tutor, in lecture on how to tell time: brawn--almost.
Adam, whispering to Erin: It also means breast.
Erin: Oh, I'll remember that.
(Some time passes, Erin returns to handout.)
Erin: Does brawn mutate?
Adam: I don't know. I usually say it so fast it doesn't matter.

And that leads me to the title of this post: Fun with Consonant Mutations.

Alice: Top Dog... Cary Grant... I forget the mnemonic for M mutating to F.
Kat: I can think of one, but it wouldn't be appropriate.

Addenda: In the realm of professional football, someone (who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty) reports that "Cristiano Ronaldo still melts my butter". Erin has picked this up as her own phrase.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"My Welsh Experience is Complete"

To start, a picture of our courtyard:

Some of you may be wondering what I've been doing when not devotedly writing for this blog (as, of course, I ought to be). There's a simple answer, which is that I was trying to upload photos of Carmarthen last night when Safari crashed on me-- so I gave up and went to the Castle Green with my entry mates, which is our new favorite pub.

However, they're keeping us busy here with five hours of class a day, as well as evening social activities. We do two units a day (one each on Saturday and Sunday), and are supposed to give up English (Saesneg) and Spanish (Sbanaeg) after unit 15. We finished unit 12 this morning. Last Tuesday, they assigned each of us one of these kick-ass binders:

I had forgotten that everything in Wales is emblazoned with dragons-- even the lining of my dresser drawers carries the red dragon. Those are not, however, *my* baby-poop-orange curtains: I was sitting at my friend Kat's desk. Mine are slightly more tolerable.

"My goodness," you may be thinking to yourself, "that's certainly a large binder." Well, yes. Paper here is A4 size, and the width is absolutely necessary: here's how many hand-outs I had on Saturday afternoon:

And just to hit it home, here's Saturday's pile-o-flashcards, with book for scale.

Our class schedule is as follows:
9:00-10:30 class
10:30-11:00 tea/coffee break
11:00-12:30 class
12:30-4 free time
4:00-5:30 class
5:30-6:00 tea/coffee
6:00-7:00 class

after which those of us "in hall" are served dinner in the refectory. We have class from 9:00-12:30 (with coffee break) on Saturdays, and 5:00-7:00 on Sundays.

Last Tuesday, we had a Twmpath Dans (folk dance) in the student pub. It was very much one of the most fun things ever, in part because almost everyone, including the students from Aberystwyth, was willing to participate. Try getting 19-21 year old college students to do something like this in the US.

Corollary to these photos: while there exist some cute British boys, they all seem to posses unfortunate sideburns, girlfriends, or both. Note the skirt.

On Friday night, the band which played for our Twmpath was playing in a pub in town, so most everyone in the class went down to see them (not that there's much else going on in town). Before I left, Larry told me to learn to sing while in Wales, and let me tell you: everyone here claps and sings along-- that is, those of them who aren't dancing. Nor do I mean the arhythmical writhing that passes for social dance in proms and bars at home: people here know their jigs and reels, and how to pull them off in a crowded pub. When the band played Ar Lan y Mor, everyone knew the words-- as did I, for that's the song we used for my senior one-act.

Not that Wales is all roses, lillies, and the sea shore: another song they played (written by the main singer) was called "Dirty Old Town". The refrain was something like this:
I met a girl down by the old canal.
I met a girl by the old canal.
Dirty old town,
Dirty old town.
I kissed a girl by the gas works wall.
I kissed a girl by the gas works wall.
Dirty old town,
Dirty old town.

"Hrm," I thought, "how Southern Wales."

As we walked back to the college that night, my friend Kat (from Massachusetts--how do I always surround myself with Red Sox fans?) said, "we have to go back there--that's just what I thought Wales would be like. My Welsh experience is complete."

We watched a great deal of football in the Campus Pub. I sat with the Patagonians, who are awesome ("wicked awesome", says Kat), for the second half of the final. This has continued to affect my Welsh, because now I'm thinking half in Spanish-- although just enough Welsh was used to create some comedic situations. "Hw-yl!"* interjected Valeria as Zidane was sent from the field,** and Esaiah had his first Mars Bar.
Esaiah: Maaars...
Erin: Mars.
Esaiah: Hoffi!***

Sunday night also happened to be the birthday of one of the Aberystwyth kids, who was rather more than tipsy by the end of the evening. His friend James had some trouble explaining this to me in Welsh, and finally gave up and said, "Phil is pissed. Oh, shoot. That means something different in America." Phil ended up ranting in broken Spanish about Welsh Nationalism. "I've seen Phil like this before," said James. "In a few minutes he'll be offering us each a penny to die for Wales." It never got to that point, but about fifteen minutes later (after I had complimented the dragon earrings worn by one of the Patagonian women), James asked, "Have you seen Phil's Welsh bling? Phil, show her your bling cymraig." Kat and I have since judged "bling cymraig" to be our favorite Wenglish phrase.

Our social activity tonight is a mini-Eisteddfod, also held in the campus pub. Both classes have been taught Welsh songs, which we are supposed to perform, and we've been invited to bring traditional songs or performances from our own cultures. Kat, Erin, and I (the three Americans) can't think of anything. But then, we've been busy exploding stereotypes.

A: Dw i'n ddim yn hoffi teledu.
Adam: You don't like TV? Isn't that the American stereotype, sitting down in front of the telly with a big bucket of... of...
Erin: Kentucky Fried Chicken? Yeah, but we're from San Francisco/Berkeley.

I think that's most everything I have to say. I promise I'll get Carmarthen pictures (and pictures from our Lampeter hike) up as soon as possible. I'll leave you with a few more quotes.

Erin (given the vocabulary word "Canolfan Hamdden"): What's a leisure center?
Adam: It's like a gym, but with a pool.
Erin: A gym should have a pool.
Adam: It's like a Roman bath.

Alice: Vicky, you call everyone a twat.
Vicky: That's not true. We're all *lovely* people.

Erin: We're Americans and we don't know anything about the beer. Well, that's not true, we know Coors is crap, so don't try to sell us that.

Right. Beer. I've just been ordering anything with a dragon on the tap, which has always come out as a nice medium bitter. Quite a few people drink the apple cider, though, which is Kat's favorite-- and the Aberystwyth kids get it with blackcurrant syrup in it, which is so British it doesn't even bear thinking about. I did, however, get to buy Kat her first beer (like me, she was waiting until she was legal to drink it) on Sunday night. On the bartender's advice, she got a Grolsh in a (fancy) bottle.

Alice: She's never had a beer before.
Bartender: And by never had a beer, you mean...?
Alice: No, not that she's never had a good beer. She's never had a beer before.

And some of you might just know me well enough to know why it's so fitting that I've made friends with another American of Welsh descent whose name happens to be Kat.

* Hwyl- "Good-bye"
** There's an International Summer School program going on on Campus, with grade school students from Italy, Spain, Portugal-- and as of Sunday, France. "I think it's great that there are French students here," Mathieu said at dinner last night, "maybe they'll start head-butting the Italians."
*** "to like," as in "Dw i'n hoffi coffi"= "I do like coffee."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Okay, then. Birmingham.

This was the first thing I noticed on entering my room in Birmingham. At the time I thought it was both hilarious and particularly European, but now that I'm suffering in a dorm room that stinks of stale smoke, I'm not quite as amused.

It isn't in any guide books, but if you ever find yourself in Edgbaston, I recommend a trip to St. Augustine of Hippo. It's a small, sweet, much-used, and very Anglo-Catholic Anglican Church. I had trouble getting the entire structure in one picture, but this is my favorite of the many pictures I took of it-- I have to be selective, because I took about twenty.

The next two pictures are of the two towers which inspired Tolkien's volume of the same name. They are right down the street from one another, and make a dramatic skyline. The first is part of a water-works. I don't know what the second is, and I don't know which tower was inspired by which.

Here's part of Newman's Oratory, where Tolkien studied as a boy and his guardian Francis Morgan was a priest. Mass here was so quick it would put Fr. Pat to shame. To shame.

British optimism-- a huge billboard in Victoria Square, right across from the aforementioned "floozy in the jacuzzi".

By the end of my time in Birmingham, I was very happy to be leaving. There were too many cars moving too quickly, and too many unpleasant people. I could hear Melanie in my head saying that it had bad Feng Shui. It is, however, a great place to go if you are interested in architecture, and this is one of my favorite examples.

This is St. Chad's. St. Chad is a seventh-century priest from the midlands, who died of the plague. There was a shrine in Birmingham which was destroyed in the British reformation, but his relics were preserved by familes of the faithful, and when the church was built in the 1800s (the first Catholic church built in England after the reformation), they were enshrined above the altar. It's gorgeous on the inside--very Victorian with a great deal of gold. I have to say that I can't really imagine hiding a saint's relics in my house.

And here's part of the garden outside their Anglican cathedral.

Finally, to finish on our theme of white animals and water features, here's a cat sitting next to one of the Birmingham canal boats.

Good night, everyone!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dw i'n hoffi defaid.

I've had a request for sheep photos, so we're going to break chronological order and do some pictures from Carmarthen and Lampeter. Birmingham will follow, now that I have internet in my dorm room.

This was the first thing I noticed about Carmarthen: the grass, the beautiful river Tiwy, the sheep, and the swans.

Whenever I was bored, or lonely, or scared about my trip, I'd walk down to the river and watch the sheep, which cheered me up and calmed me down. I took a series of these pictures during a particularly low point on Sunday, when it was over 90 degrees and there was nothing to do in town-- so I walked down to the river and sat in the shade under the bridge.

Those who are interested-- that is, Mom-- will notice that these sheep are pretty young: their tails haven't been docked yet. (As Carolyn would say, "agricultural secrets for the savvy farmer".)

In Wales, there are four sheep for every person. This is a real statistic.

This is Lampeter's "Old College", and the building in which I am living-- sharing a quad with the administration and the chapel. My room is the third window on the right (yes, the right) of the arch.

The view from in front of the Old Building. What could those white things on the hill be?

My Spanish is getting an unexpected workout from the Argentinians. Favorite moment, which occured (literally) over my head. "Ella no entiende espanol." "Si! Ella lo entiende muy bien."

The cafeteria food was much better today-- as in it wasn't undercooked chicken. Tomorrow I'm dragging my entry into town to watch the football/soccer game.

Oh, and it's going to be really hard, but this is a kick-ass language and it's going to be amazing. Just so you know.

Coming soon to a lunch break near you: Historical and Architectural sites in Birmingham and Carmarthen.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Internet access (and pictures) coming soon-- I'm safely in Lampeter, getting along with my entry mates.

Many Patagonians, many sheep. Larry: no cute Welsh boys yet. Miss you all.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Few Notes

1) Wide ties are "in" over here. All together now: ick!

2) I'm somewhat concerned with being for Portugal in today's game. At least I'm out of England now.

3) I went to mass at Cardinal Newman's Oratory, where Tolkien studied as a boy. St. Philip Neri is there, looking...well, incorrupt, waxy, and a little creepy. Managed to get to confession, even though the rather deaf and heavily accented priest and I had difficulty understanding one another.

4) I was there for about fifteen minutes before I realized that the altar is supported on either side by naked cherubim. "Ah," I thought to myself, "quelle baroque".

5) When I am in Newark, I feel I am in hell-- but when I'm in hell, I/ll think I'm only in Newark. (With all appropriate apologies to Ruskin and Wilde). Bad weather on the East Coast left me stranded for a night.

6) I haven't had any beer yet (Tom: I don't know what to do without you to order for me), but the restaurant where I ate on Thursday had "Old Speckled Hen" on tap. If I hadn't been trying to get over jet lag, I would have been sorely tempted, just to be able to tell the story. I did, however, have fish & chips and a bread-and-butter pudding that was good enough to kill for.

7) Carolyn: Birmingham's main square features a fountain referred to by locals as "the floozy in the jaccuzi." I thought of you.

8) Many, many, sheep.