Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Spoons Dish Out Welsh Soul

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By Sandy Katz

Mature Life Features

Cardiff Castle (British Travel Authority)

 

To be born Welsh is to be born privileged.

 Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,

But music in your blood,

And poetry in your soul.

–Wilfred Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

CARDIFF, Wales — In the heart of this Welsh capital, I dropped into the Castle Welsh Crafts shop to learn more about Wales’ soul by poring over spoons made out of wood rather than silver. These utensils with variously designed handles are known as love spoons and date back to the 17th century, when a young man would carve one to present to the young lady he wished to woo.

The symbols carved on the spoon have particular meaning. For example, a heart signifies love; a wheel, work, and a shield, protection. They’re still given out as a lasting token of affection.

Most of the Welsh are descended from people who began settling in these western reaches of Great Britain thousands of years ago. The earliest were the Iberians followed by invasions of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and English. Struggles against these marauders and efforts to earn a living from the harsh, rugged land helped shape the strong, independent Welsh character. Their eloquence, warmth, and imagination have been attributed to their Celtic forebears.

Wherever you roam in Wales, you’ll encounter the Red Dragon. This symbol of bravery and victory over countless invaders has been emblazoned on shields and standards since the Middle Ages as the emblem of the Welsh people.

Pubs play an important role in social life here, but Welshmen proudly maintain close family ties and are deeply religious. They love to sing and are famous for their excellent choirs and glee clubs. It’s not surprising that they turned out to be quite a theatrical and poetic bunch. Consider such well-known actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton, singer Tom Jones, and, of course, poet Dylan Thomas.

Cardiff sprang from the wealth fueled by the region’s thriving 19th-century coal empire. In the city’s center stands the 1,900-year-old Cardiff Castle. Restored in the 1800s by Victorian architect William Burges, the citadel is an extravaganza of color and exquisitely detailed craftsmanship. East of the castle stands the aristocratic structure called the National Museum of Wales. Amidst its art, natural history, and science displays is a spectacular exhibition on the evolution of Wales, complete with animated Ice Age creatures and a simulated Big Bang. The fourth-floor gallery houses paintings by such Impressionist masters as Degas, Manet, and Pissaro.

To learn more about the Celts, we headed for Celtica, a recently restored mansion in the village of Machynlleth just south of the mountainous Snowdonia National Park. Exhibits illustrate Celtic beliefs and culture, as well as their poetic, inventive, and heroic nature.

Anyone who dotes on browsing in musty bookshops will find nirvana in Hay-On-Wye on the Welsh-English. The tiny settlement proclaims itself as the second-hand-book capital of the world. Virtually all the shops, including the town’s former theater, offer books on every conceivable subject. The village’s reputation for beguiling bibliophiles owes a fair amount to the somewhat eccentric bookseller Richard Booth who, among other things, once declared himself the King of Hay and that his minute realm was to be independent from England.

To the west, beyond Camarthen in the village of Laugharne, Dylan Thomas devotees will find his Boathouse where he wrote his most famous work, “Under Milk Wood.” Built into the hillside a 15-minute walk from the town, “The Shack,” as he called it, is a shrine to the poet that houses photos, manuscripts, and recordings.

Local legend says Merlin the Magician was born in Carmarthen and raised by his mother and nuns in the Church of St. Peter. His mother was said to be the daughter of the King of South Wales and his father was described as a spirit who lived between the moon and earth. Merlin was thought to have spent most of his adult life in the area of Caerleon advising King Arthur.

Copyright 2003

 

 

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 25, 2011 at 10:06 pm

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