Sunday, August 19, 2012

vive la 'diff

“Illusory, too,
that lost dark playground after rain.
The noise of trains,
gunshots in what they once called Tiger Bay.
Only real this smell
of ripe, damp earth when the sun comes out,
a mixture of pungencies,
half exquisite and half plain.”

~ Dannie Abse, Return to Cardiff

From the Llandaff pilgrims’ way, my steps recommenced toward the capitol city of Cardiff. With the slates wiped clear by a night’s rain, misted paths to Cathedral Road blended my walk onto busy streets. From long row-house-lined avenues in Pontcanna, I took to paths that traverse considerable greenways en route to the city center. Bute Park comprises a northwest-southeast corridor that flanks the River Taff. Extending from the oblong park area, there are roads leading to the city’s waterfront. At the southeastern end of the long park, Cardiff Castle stands as the city’s namesake, Caerdydd (“fortress on the Taff”).

Cardiff Castle.

Circle of standing stones, near Cardiff Castle.

Continuing south of the castle is the colorful and densely structured downtown. With the approach, it was clear to me how this is the largest city in Wales. Walking through successions of urban neighborhoods, Cardiff’s perimeters are not easily seen. Strongly reminded of the familiar aesthetic of Boston, I could enjoy the coexistence of intricacy, vastness, and intimacy. Within a short walk in Cardiff, ancient stone structures, large office buildings, narrow lanes, a massive rugby stadium, and tiny shops can be easily connected.

From jousts in the castle to goals at Millennium Stadium.

Spillers is the world's oldest record store, dating back to 1894.

Replete with numerous intrigues, the finest cities are by nature encyclopaedic. Having started life and adulthood amidst the dense thicks of Paris and New York, cities remain in my mind as enchanted forests. Encyclopaedian and thesaurian, a sizeable urban and cultural center comprises countless subjects in one voluminous proximity. At the same time, intricacies and tastes still need to be discovered. Exploring a city is often an evaluative journey, not entirely unlike mountain hiking. Seeking and finding are best done on foot- walking, musing, and speculating- through and between structures and streets. Exploration is also best done with patience.

Well-decorated shop windows demand some appreciation. Notice the ages of architecture, the delectables sold from push-carts, and the newspapers’ front page stories. I like asking people about their favorite cafés; there are always beneficial answers. City serendipitous finds itself when heading to one site becomes a string of pleasant encounters with additional places and people.

Pontcanna and the River Taff.

As journeys of any length or location can draw benefits, so my Cardiff sojourn rewarded me with enduring treasures. From Pontcanna through Canton and Riverside, I made the very long walk along the Butetown avenues to the Cardiff docks. I had to see where the River Taff meets the Bay whose Atlantic waters are shared far away by the State of Maine. Walking along the piers, the stark combination of 19th and 21st centuries brought to mind all I learned about Cardiff’s past as the world’s busiest coal-exporting harbor. In the sweep of wind, then rain, then sun, there were ships to admire near some shining new buildings.

Tiger Bay (Bae Teigr), named after the fierce tides, second in height only to those of Downeast Maine and the Bay of Fundy.

On the long hike back to the city’s center, I followed Lloyd George Avenue. Pedestrian lanes emanate from the lively shop-filled promenade called The Hayes (Yr Ais, in Welsh), at the base of which is the light-filled new Cardiff Library. Along the proximate streets are the famous indoor-outdoor skylit Victorian shopping arcades, each unique and filled with the sounds and colors of commerce; one of the arcades serves as a large farmers’ market.

Cardiff Library, The Hayes.

Weaving through mazes of glass galleries, with small collected purchases, on one occasion I darted outdoors to find the exuberance of a street minister. He joyfully proclaimed the sweetness of the realm of God. I just had to write down one of his invitations to have faith and be filled with the Holy Spirit: “Come taste the strawberry jam of Heaven!” My imaginings pictured bright angels dining on savoury Welsh cakes, aromatic tea, and Heavenly jam. Indeed, sweet gratitude preceded and followed me, from The Hayes up to Queen Street where I saw the eloquently poignant Mother and Son sculpture. I was reminded of my lifetime of encouraging words and reminiscences from my mother to make the travel to Wales.

As journeys of all lengths and locations invite rewards, so my Cardiff sojourn gathered memorable treasures. Hard-travelling pilgrims must have their nutrients, and providentially I found such venues as The Halfway pub that displays a Princess 300 typewriter in one of its windows, and serves the many varieties of Cardiff’s Brains Ale.

Writing with Brains at The Halfway.

The Halfway displays a Princess,
while Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is celebrated in The Hayes.

Another dining highlight was The Louis, which surely serves the pot-roast of Heaven. As with each and every dining establishment I visited in Wales, the welcomes were earnest and conversational. Everyone has something to say, and it’s worth a listen.

Pilgrim's feast in Cardiff.

Yet another serendipitous stroke chimed in these navigations as my steps reached The Pen and Paper Stationery Company, in the Royal Arcade. Browsing the shop and chatting with some of the staff was treasure in itself, though I invariably joined the ranks of their customers.

As with so many Cardiff shops, Pen and Paper presents thoughtful and artistic window displays. Banners, castle towers, lightships, flagstones, churches, teapots, confections, and umbrellas; these images visited my closed eyes following lengthened days of city sojourning. They remain with me to this day, and will ever accompany my thoughts and paces.

Friday, August 10, 2012

llandaff pilgrimage

“The pilgrim oft,
at dead of night, ‘mid his orisons hears,
Aghast, the voice of Time disparting towers,
Tumbling all precipitate, all down-dashed,
Rattling around, loud thundering to the moon.”

~ John Dyer, poet of Llanfynnydd (18th c.)

A month of places, discoveries, roots, and souls in Wales were connected by roads, rails, and numerous miles of paths. Routing from the southwest back through Swansea and toward Cardiff, I chose to explore the capitol city only after a walking pilgrimage to Llandaff. Turning my steps, I was reminded of a ship tacking northeastward. Packed bags and filled notebooks had already accumulated treasures and impressions. By this point in the voyage, I’d grown very pleasantly familiar with Wales. Travelling and exploring does, however, have its fatigue factor- but this was a cathartic roadweariness. Journeying pilgrims inherently grow a bit edge-frayed, but appearances also become less important with each adventure partaken. Longer journeys allow voyagers to take stock of experiences while in the midst of travelling.

Along the road.

The River Taff, north of Cardiff, and entering the Cathedral Close in Llandaff.

The freedom to pace oneself differentiates healthful motion from the life of fulfilling demands left at places of employment. Travels that stem from a drawing-forth of the Spirit are by nature meditative. Ever a pilgrim of trust on earth, walking the winding miles of the Cathedral Road which begins near Cardiff Central railroad station, my thoughts raised skyward with “what do I really have in this world?” Not as deprivation, but an untethering. The ancient Psalmist that said “whom have I heaven but Thee,” has such present-day successors as those who set forth on foot en route to 1,500-year-old holy places and stop along sidewalks at book shops. The journey to Llandaff transitions from city streets to verdant landscape as the settlements wend their gradation from the 21st century to the 12th. Even with one of Wales’ most prominent pilgrimage sites as a destination, the way there is integral and to be savoured. Journeying from the place of heart’s longings is also actively observing and learning with each successive step. Alerted senses notice sights that can be easily overlooked.

Llandaff Cathedral.

Since the 500s, Llandaff (“church on the river Taff”) has been a place of prayer, beginning with Saint Dyfrig’s community. Saint Teilo (one of Saint Dyfrig’s students), whose remains are in Llandaff Cathedral, was the bishop of the community. His cousin was Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. Devotion to Saint Teilo can also be found in Brittany, which is the Celtic region of France- where a number of parishes are named Saint-Télo. A large 6th century stone Celtic cross outside the cathedral represents Saint Teilo’s times. Llandaff cathedral itself dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and has long been a place of pilgrimage. On top of enduring its span of tumultuous centuries, the cathedral had been severely damaged in World War II. The latter made careful and extensive repairs urgently necessary, extending into the late-1950s. The combination of abiding antiquity with phoenix-like ascension provides profound impressions for an advancing pilgrim.

This extraordinary and modern Risen Christ is at the center of an enduring ancient site. Nearby is a reminder of the cathedral's rebirth after World War II.

The roads into the town center of Llandaff lead to a mediaeval market square, from which paths descend through trees toward the cathedral. Towers and spires reach skyward, contrasting the sense of being in a riverside vale. Through ancient arched doors, the entrance steps down into the vast cathedral. Inside the cavernous space, paces connect ancient and modern shrines, reminders of events and lives, always with a wonder of this witness of assembled sculpted stones. Engravings and reliquaries remind me of the great cloud of saints that have preceded us. Large, decorated, handlettered Bibles are kindred ancestors of the printed pocket New Testament in my backpack.

William Morgan was a 16th century Welsh Bible scholar and translator.

Circling the cathedral altar slowly was an experience of having arrived at a very central place. Pilgrimages have destinations, though true to a life of passage and traversal these terminus points are waystations. Along the paths to these sites, I was well aware of the trails as having been left to the present by pilgrims of old. Following the flagstone steps with reverence, I also know that my own journey is unique, as it is the one upon which I have been doing the travelling, and the way of my navigation.

From the Cathedral Green to the High Street, the town's essentials are found. The post office (below) is also a stationer- with toy dragons in the window.

Llandaff cathedral gives the small town of its environs the qualification of city. Asymmetrical streets and houses nearest to the cathedral are the oldest, with a blending of mediaeval and Tudor styles. Fortunately, the ancient market and cathedral square is not interrupted by traffic thoroughfares. One of the roads emanating from the center is the Llandaff High Street, along which are shops and tea rooms. Not to be missed, essential pilgrims’ waystations are places of nourishment. With many miles already walked, and more to go en route to Cardiff, a needed pause was taken to taste of Saint Teilo’s town.

A savoury feast fit for a pilgrim, on the Llandaff High Street.

Now, my writing friends- after window gazing at the tools of our profession, wouldn't you look twice at the street sign below?.

Strengthened by the short respite, the road resumed. From stone and earthen paths, to lanes, streets, and the A4119, continuing on to Cardiff, the way rejoined the busier city paces. With some doubling back, various landmarks were recognizable to me. I’d also become accustomed to the low-mounted street signs often affixed to walls, instead of the high-posted intersection signs in North America. Looking ahead to the capitol city reminded me of my eventual return from these remarkable travels. There are always subsequent journeys to anticipate. For the moment, however, new acquaintances with ancient sacred sites and saints provide enduring gratitude. Docks, downtown avenues, and colorful Victorian arcades were awaiting at the other end of the Cathedral Road.

The Llandaff end of the road to Cardiff.