Useful Words: Hiraeth

Mount Snowdon in North Wales

I ran across the word in a review in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Hiraeth is a Welsh term meaning a longing for something that can’t be recovered. Like, for instance, one’s youth; the ten-year-old ball point pen I lost at the Los Angeles Central Library; my friends who have passed on; my 1997 Nissan Pathfinder that was declared totaled by the insurance company for a damaged passenger door; and my first love.

There is something inexpressibly lyrical about certain terms in the Welsh and Anglo-Saxon languages. The following snippet comes from a lament for Hywel ab Owein, a prince of North Wales:

Since Hywel is gone, who bore battle gladly, by whom we used to stand, we are all avowedly lost, and the host of Heaven is the fairer.

Come what may of wealth from land domain, yet this world is a deceptive dwelling-place; with a spear Hywel the Tall, the hawk of war, was pierced.

A Little Bit of Wales

A Welsh Tea House in the State of Chubut, Argentina

Today’s post is the result of finding a business card in Spanish for one of our 2011 Argentina destinations. It was part of the best day on that particular trip. In the morning, Martine and I went to the giant Magellanic penguin rookery at Punta Tombo where we saw baby penguin eggs hatching under the watchful eyes of hungry shore birds. Then we drove to the Welsh settlement at Gaiman where we had high tea at the Ty Gwyn.

Although we were many thousands of miles from Wales, it was as if we were in the Old Country. The tea, sandwiches, and cakes were absolutely delicious. In fact, we had such a good time that we took a bus from Puerto Madryn back to Gaiman and had another high tea.

High Tea at Ty Gwyn

The State of Chubut was originally settled by the Welsh who settled in a number of communities, including Gaiman, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Dolavon. At the souvenir shops at the Trelew airport, a conspicuous presence were the packages of Torta Negra Galesa, the dark Welsh Cake that is the highlight of a Welsh tea.

The only other places where Martine and I had high tea were at Blenheim Palace in England—the birthplace of Winston Churchill—and Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is interesting that the Welsh in Argentina were easily on a par with the other two.


Hunting for Wales in Argentina

Flag of Argentina with Welsh Dragon

Flag of Argentina with a Welsh Dragon

It was almost exactly one hundred fifty years ago that a large group of Welsh colonists arrived at Puerto Madryn and proceeded to settle in the State of Chubut. Today, the Welsh speaking members of Y Wladfa Gymreig  (the Welsh Colony) number somewhere between 1,500 and 5,000. They are centered in the towns of Gaiman, Trelew, and, farther inland, Trevelin.

In 2011, Martine and I visited Gaiman with our guide (shown below), Rogelio Rhys. We had a fantastic Welsh Tea at the Ty Gwyn and, on a subsequent visit, saw a number of the historical sights of the colony. I had a read a book by Rogelio’s grandfather William Casnodyn Rhys entitled A Welsh Song in Patagonia: Memories of the Welsh Colonization.  Our guide was astonished that I was familiar with the book.

Rogelio Rhys in Gaiman

Rogelio Rhys in Gaiman

Shown below is a typical Welsh Tea at the Ty Gwyn. It is heavy in carbohydrates, but I threw all caution to the winds and determined to make up for it in the days to come.

A Welsh Tea at the Ty Gwyn Teahouse in Gaiman

A Welsh Tea at the Ty Gwyn Teahouse in Gaiman

So, if you should find yourself in Patagonia, don’t forget to visit the Welsh heart of the State of Chubut. In addition to the Welsh Colony, you will find the best place in the Americas to see whales (Peninsula Valdez) and penguins (Punta Tombo). And don’t forget to sit down and have some tea. It’s really great.

Musical Madeleine

LAPD Emerald Society Piper

LAPD Emerald Society Piper

You’ve probably heard about Marcel Proust’s triggering of his memory by eating French cookies known as madeleines. Well, since I’m diabetic, I have to use something else to trigger my memories. In that department, I find that, for me, nothing works better than music.

The police bagpipe player (above) was practicing a song that suddenly hit me between the eyes. I walked up to her and startled her by asking the name of the song she was playing. One of her colleagues answered for her with something that sounded like “Saigon.” He mentioned that it was played in a movie called Empire something. That’s when it all came back to me: The song is called “Suo Gân,” which means lullaby in Welsh. The movie is Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1989), based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel of the same name about spending World War Two as a child in a Japanese concentration camp near Shanghai.

I love the song. You can watch it on YouTube performed by the Kings College Choir.

My Favorite Spielberg Film

My Favorite Spielberg Film

I’ve seen Empire of the Sun several times and even read Ballard’s book. There is something incredibly beautiful about so many Welsh songs that I plan to write a posting about some of my favorites in the next week or so. If you feel starved to hear some now, watch the film How Green Was My Valley (1941), which features some beautiful examples.

What exactly did hearing a few notes from “Suo Gân” do for me when I heard them played by a police bagpiper at last Sunday’s Irish Fair in Long Beach? It sent me back to Wales, which I visited twice in the 1970s. Welsh is the most musical language I have ever heard; and I loved wandering around listening to people speak in places like Betws-y-Coed, Conwy, and Abergavenny.

Although I am a person of words and literature, music strikes me at my innermost core—even when I hear just a few notes.