Thursday, October 30, 2008

the last ride

sitting in a lounge at heathrow, waiting to find out the gate number for my flight back to l.a. the gate opens in about an hour, so they should announce it soon. as i have a lot to tell about my last day in the UK, i'll try to use the time productively.

i did end up driving to hay-on-wye, which is famous for having tons of bookstores (29, i was told), despite its small size. brendan was in town visiting his old pal michael, who's irish originally (brendan is scottish, btw, but he lives in l.a.).

the drive wound up into the black mountains -- and there was snow on the peaks, which was pretty fantastic. the countryside was pretty, with rolling vistas and trees decked out with multicolored leaves, and i saw a lotta backpackers in and around the brecon national park (and signs for youth hostels, natch). right before i left the B&B, i checked my cousin mark's blog and learned that my beloved aunt fannie had passed away, at age 88 (she'd have been 89 on saturday). she'd been ill and was going downhill, but it was still sad. i shouldn't have looked, but i wanted to know; i'd had a feeling she was on her way out after talking to the squirrel the day i left. anyway, the countryside was so lovely, and reminded me so much of pennsylvania, that i ended up drivin' and cryin' for a while. i'm so glad i went to see her when i was in erie for my younger sister's wedding last november.

sigh. anyway. it took me about an hour and a half to get to hay. although at least half the drive, maybe more, was through rugged countryside, the road was smooth and well-maintained. once in hay, i got kind of lost, but the place is small, so i just phoned michael and quickly got oriented. he has a complex of a big house, plus a coach house and stables and suchlike that he rents out long-term. so i was able to park off the street in his lot. the three of us made our introductions and greetings, and then we had coffee by the fireplace in the big kitchen. it was pretty cold out, probs in the 40s. brendan complained more than i did, though; i think i'm getting used to it? (just in time to go home to the tail end of a heat wave.)

so, they listened to me blather on about hamlet and love's labour's lost and david tennant and my various adventures, and we had a nice chat. a little later, we walked to a pub called the blue boar, where i had some hard cider (good stuff, but dangerously drinkable), and we ate a late lunch/early dinner. i had welsh lamb chops in mint gravy with tasty potatoes and veggies. we chatted some more about arts and politics and the housing market and music and our families -- it was a very welcome change from my self-imposed isolation (although i wasn't ever lonely during this solo excursion). the fire was warm, and the pub was charming and cozy.

it started raining while we were in there, and when we left it was pretty friggin' cold, so i didn't feel much like touring the town or book-shopping. michael did show me the bookshop that's at a castle, explaining it was owned by one richard booth, apparently the architect of hay as a book town, who declared himself king of hay in the '70s. the picture at the top of this entry is of hay castle, but you can't see the bookcases that sit in the courtyard, open to the air and elements.

back at michael's, we sat by another fire in the living room, had more coffee, and chatted more about music, l.a., the clash of the sexes, and brendan's latest projects, about which he was anxiously awaiting word from new york. then michael talked about his own project called jump4timbuktu. hay is twinned with the west african city, and michael and his friends started this organization to help the people there "trade their way out of poverty," like the website says.

i want to write a separate entry about this endeavor, but suffice to say that michael showed us his short film about the project, which showed the tradespeople at work on their jewelry and was really interesting. there's more to the place than jewelry, but i'll get to that later. he gave me some info, and then showed us some examples of the jewelry. i took a few pix, but the light was very orangey-yellow, as you can see. still, nice stuff, like this bracelet:

and some earrings:

and lovely pendants:

(this stone is agate, i think michael said.)

i stayed as late as i dared. they'd invited me to stay there, but i kept thinking about the long drive to heathrow in the morning, and that leaving from hay would add at least 90 minutes, if not more. in any case, all my stuff was still at the B&B in cardiff. so i left around 8 pm, and it was still raining. the way back was easily found but, as i went up into the mountains, the rain got harder -- and then it started snowing! i mean, seriously storming, even whiteout time at points.

luckily, after a while i came up behind a car that was driving veeerrry slowly. so, keeping a safe distance, just enough to have their taillights in view, i tracked on that car, which helped to guide me. as previously noted, the road was well-maintained, and i could see the center line b/c it was made of an endless row of reflective dots. but it would've been 10 times scarier if i hadn't had those red lights ahead of me and been able to follow the car's tracks in the snowy roadway. i was glad i'd had that coffee after our meal, too. driving in snow is a skill i learned as a teenager, but i haven't used it in a while ... i guess it snowed a little bit last year when i was in erie. still, it was nerve-wracking to the max to keep peering forward into this dark-white barrage of blowing, icy particles, like a constantly shifting curtain dropping and rising in front of me, brrr.

eventually i came down out of the mountains and onto the motorway, where it was merely raining hard. i was well relieved to get back to the B&B, just before 10. i still had to pack, but first i needed to relax. so i turned on the laptop and checked my e-mail, which was stuffed with google alerts about david tennant leaving doctor who. thus ensued a frenzy of IM-ing, e-mailing, and texting my friends and sister about this regrettable but not unforeseen turn of events.

anyway, i got packed and managed to fall asleep at a decent hour. got up at 7 this morning, loaded the car, paid the bill, and pointed myself toward london. on the way out of town, i passed BBC wales, w00t! back at the airport, i even managed to find the rental-car return without once getting lost, hurray. then i dropped my bags off, checked in, and kicked around the duty-free shops for a while. got a starbucks coffee -- it's not as paint-strippingly strong here as it is back home -- and decided to try to get this entry done before boarding.

i had a fantastic time and feel like i did a lot in a week, despite not doing too much. the shakespeare was probs the most amazing part, but the exotic world of bath and my unexpected journey to hay were also delightful (and i am chuffed to have survived the snowstorm, even though it was a wee bit terrifying at the time). as usual, i'm still processing everything and may have more to say about all this at some future time. i would definitely travel halfway around the world to see david tennant do shakespeare again ... i'm betting i'll get another chance before too many years have passed.

... and there's the gate announcement. off i go ... .

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