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March 27, 2012

One of the joys of living amongst the Welsh people is listening to them speak. Unlike the “lockjaw” of the posh English, whose lips and jaws remain steadfast while words squeak through the slit that’s just above their chin, the Welsh relish each word and phrase, and offer them up in a sing-song manner that’s music to the ears, even if we can’t understand what they’re saying!

We’ve moved again. Don’t ask. Just know that water gurgling up into our shower every time we flushed the toilet wasn’t appealing. So we packed up our thousand-pounds plus of treasures and moved to an area of Wales that’s less prestigious than the “shire” in which we lived for the past seventeen months. We’re now residents of “The Valleys,” a name my Los Angeles friends will understand, and one that designates deep-rooted Welsh history. The Valleys are a microcosm of all that is good about Wales.

The Valleys is where Wales came of age and prospered. At least some Welsh prospered while the majority labored and aged. Veins of black gold, coal, gave birth to the area’s heritage. Below the velvet green carpets that now cover the rolling hills, remnants of the wonton destruction of the hillsides in the quest for riches remain. All that is left of the valleys are sleeping coal mines clinging to past glories, a few noble sculptures edging the roads and a tourist attraction. Remembrances of “How Green Was My Valley” continuously pop into mind, but Malibu was never a true substitute for the wealth and beauty of South Wales.

Houses, for the most part, are attached, terraced, made of stone and small. They have stood for over one hundred years and snake up and over the hills everywhere you look. These homes belong to the working classes. The people who put this country on the map. And these are the people who sing Welsh when they speak. Who acknowledge something wonderful with the simple, two-syllable “fab-lus.”

Words tumble out of their mouths that I don’t understand, but I smile anyway, enjoying all the musical notes they hit within each sentence. Just hearing them speak makes me break out in a smile. These are the Welsh who are the sugar in my tea.

They are friendly, these Valley Welsh. They say hello. They stop for a chat. There is no pretense erupting from their demeanor. They are real.

We weren’t in our house for one day when a card was pushed through our mail slot welcoming us to the neighborhood. In the fifteen months we lived on the “posh” side of the mountain, the only people who spoke with us were our lovely landlords and the kind, sweet men who worked for them. Talking to the sheep was joyous, but it lacked in engaging conversation.

I went for a walk the other day. Down our hillside, up an Alp and into the tiny village to buy our weekend newspapers. I passed a mudded field where cows stood. Another field held two fuzzy ponies. Baby calves snuggled into their mothers, and in the distance, large white specks were followed by frolicking smaller specks. I passed rusted fences adjacent to hillside gardens and neatly manicured lawns. Daffodils and crocuses (i?) were standing at attention in some gardens while barren blackberry bushes still lay dormant.

A "Fab-Lus" field of daffodils in "The Valleys."

An old lady sitting on her stoop waved and said hello. A young man stumbling out of one of the terraced homes gave a mumbled greeting before climbing into his car. A teenage girl with angst written all over her face (what teenager doesn’t have angst on her face?) was the only person I passed who didn’t offer commentary on the day. On my way back home an old man, out of breath from climbing the uphill side of the Alp was carrying a walking stick. He stopped and smiled his greeting: “Bee-yew-tee-ful day, in’nt, luv?”I stopped for a moment, smiled back at him in appreciation, and the only word that popped out of my mouth was: “FAB-LUS!” And it was.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Malcolm permalink
    March 27, 2012 5:54 pm

    Hi Jan you have captured again the feeling of where we live and the people who surround us.

  2. Pat permalink
    March 27, 2012 6:24 pm

    More pics! We are living in Wales through you.

  3. March 30, 2012 10:44 am

    Congratulations on the new place Jann! It sounds like you are really happy 🙂

  4. March 31, 2012 11:03 pm

    When in the Roman town of Bordeaux 2 years ago I thought of Wales. Mediterranean merchants saled from the Adriatic to the south of France and then westwards along the rivers of the Dordogne to the Gironde. From there they bobbed round the coast to Cornwall for tin and then round the foot, northwards, to Wales and goldmines.

    My paternal grandmother was a Hughes – very Welsh, but I’m not sure where from. She was a beauty, and descended in the female line from Sir Walter Raleigh, or so the family tree says!

    I enjoyed reading this.

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