24 November 2009

By the book

Just returned from an idyllic holiday in Wales. The weather was bleak, but beautiful.  We were spared the heavy rains that deluged Cumbria, and just had heavy, howling winds and grey skies. Perfect weather for those of us with “Wednesday Addams” sensibilities.

The DEB and I had a restful time, cozying up in our little, rented cottage near the tiny village of Trelech. We cuddled up by the fire, read books and watched movies. Some days not even bothering to get dressed, and reveling in our “naughty kids” status by staying in our pajamas all day! Heaven.

I cannot say how long it has been since I have actually just sat and read a book, for pleasure. Since reading has always been such a vital part of my job as “professor” and “scholar,” I have developed a habit of reading that is in indicative of my trade. I read for speed, I read for facts, answers, information; and for some reason, I find this part of brain hard to switch off.  I often find it hard to sit and just relax, and lose myself in the written page.

Nowadays, this situation is compounded by my writerly ambitions, that impend my progress through a book by means of a non-stop internal monologue of directives: “I should be writing!” “Why didn’t I write this book?” or, more simply (and jealously) “This sucks!”

Magically, away from home, away from email and text messages, in the rolling, green valleys of Carmarthenshire, I found peace and quiet.  Time seemed to stand still, and angst subsided.

My book of choice was Hilary Mantel’s incredible tome, Wolf Hall.

The sheer heft of this volume is enough to impress. It’s smaller than a single volume edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, but bigger than the Oxford New English Study edition of The Bible -- by a third!  

To say that it is an “epic” doesn’t even come close. Size, as they say, is not everything, and indeed that is the case with Wolf Hall. There is more here to admire than the fact that it is “a huge heap of words.”  The writing, my God, her writing is extraordinary.

“A fictionalized account of the life of Thomas Cromwell.” To some, that would sound like a snooze fest looking for a place to happen, but Mantel has done an incredible job of doing quite the opposite.

While I lost myself peering lovingly through Wolf Hall, the DEB uncovered Dan Brown’s latest effort, The Lost Symbol and Robert Lacey’s History of Britain. The DEB is a much faster reader than I am, and so he is now waiting for me to finish Wolf Hall so he can dive into it.

(Can I just say, what a joy it is to share ones life with a man who loves to read!)

Reading and writing became the twin themes of our time in Wales. One windy night, we watched a dramatization of the life of novelist, Enid Blyton. Good grief, what a story. Helena Bonham Carter, one of my all time fave actresses, did an amazing job as the troubled and troubling children’s author.

Blyton’s story was grim to be sure, but I must say, from a writer’s point of view, she was pretty remarkable. She managed (by sheer force of will, neglect of her children, and the help of a few servants) to meet her target of writing no less than 6,000 words per day. Like her or hate her, that’s pretty impressive.

On the two sunny days we had, we ventured out to Laugharne and St. David’s. Set on a cliff, overlooking the Taf Estuary of Carmarthen Bay, Laugharne was the principal home of legendary Welsh bard, Dylan Thomas. Thomas’ Boathouse has been maintained for visitors to see, as well as his writing shed, where he drafted such works as Under Milk Wood.

Thomas’ writing shed had the most incredible views of sea and sky. I turned to the DEB and said, “Who couldn’t write with a view like this for daily inspiration?” Seeking to inspire me further, the DEB drove us to St. David’s on the next sunny day.

On the southern tip of Wales, reaching out toward Ireland in St. Bride’s Bay sits St. David’s. A tiny town, with a populace of 1800, St. David’s is home to one of the oldest and most glorious cathedrals in Britain. St. David’s Cathedral has attracted millions of pilgrims to this remote spot in Wales since the Middle Ages.

In medieval times, Pope Clement I declared that two pilgrimages to St. David’s was worth one to Rome. The ruins of the Bishop’s Palace, across from the church, attests to the great wealth and powerful this cathedral once held.

This place is an absolute haven for ecclesiophiles! I am not certain, but I think I may have just invented this term, meaning “lover of churches, church buildings and architecture”.

To my knowledge this word is not in general usage, but it absolutely should be, as its opposite term, ecclesiophobe –one who fears churches/church buildings—does exist. At any rate, St. David’s is an ecclesiophile’s paradise!!

In addition to the breath-taking architecture, there are several reliquaries throughout, and opposite the choir stall lie the remains of none other than Edmund Tudor – grandfather of Henry VIII. Bibliophiles will swoon at the vast and exceedingly rare holdings of the Cathedral Library.

The Canon, a sweet faced man, with a beautiful, sing-songy Welsh accent chatted with us for a bit, before hurrying off to prepare the church for Evensong. Just as we left the cathedral, a bright, full moon was rising over the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace. Magic. The perfect location for a murder mystery!

The DEB and I made our way through the dark, quiet, narrow streets of St. David’s, and found ourselves two very nice pints of ale, and a bowl of water for Lucy, at “The Farmer’s Market” pub. We enjoyed the pints so much we stayed for a meal.

The topic of writing filled our dinner conversation. “You just need to trust yourself, and go for it,” The DEB advised. (How remarkable to have someone in my life with such blind and dedicated faith in my abilities.)

While driving to St. David’s, I had phoned the DEB’s sweet rellies in Cumbria to see how they were faring in the wake of flooding there. They were fine, and my conversation with the DEB’s beloved aunt swiftly turned to writing.

She, too, is an avid reader, and knows good writing when she sees it. She was full of good advice, and now that we have returned home I find an email from her, picking up from where she’d left off in our telephone conversation.

It is so nice to have such encouragement and support abound. Just wished I could something about my indisputable scritturaphobia



Anonymous said...

cute entry. please post photos for all of us who wish were were stuck on bigger islands. i would love to see st. david's.

your friend in "dubai." feel better and sending my best to lucky.

Vicky said...

hay, the Land of My Birth! Just "down the road" in Cardigan! Wales is still my favourite place, though do like it here in Warwickshire.