“Uhh, like, ... Wales?
“Did you say, ... like.... Wales??
“Umm, I mean, like, y’know.... whatever, y’know? But, like, umm.... Didn’t you say, at one point, like, ... Scotland? I mean, cuz, y’know, I could, like, get behind Scotland, y’know?
“Or even, like, England, y’know?
“But, ummm, ... like.... How’d you get to Wales from, like, England, or, like, Scotland??”
That, my lovely little gum-snapping, hair-twirling Valley Girl is a most excellent question.
The short answer is, I don’t really know.
See, here’s the thing: I don’t know how you ever really know a place, or choose a place. To live or work in a place, ... that’s all different from spending a couple nights in an AirBnB room, venturing into town for a bit of takeaway dinner you eat without utensils on a bench outside your room because you didn’t see until you’d returned there’s a sign that requests guests kindly refrain from eating *in* the guestroom and it’s too far to walk all the way back into town just for a fork.
I’ve been to the UK four times in the past five years, trying to “get a feel for” the country. And, y’know what? I can’t do it. I can’t. And in hindsight, I doubt anyone could plop themselves down in the middle of Oregon or Wisconsin or even Alaska for a couple weeks and walk away with a confident feeling, “Okay, okay, I get it now. It’s like [this] or [that].”
Furthermore, Britain is smallish, compared to the US, but it’s really jam-packed. With people, with terrain, with cities and villages and parks and beaches and mountains and more people. With trains and museums and river valleys and ruins and history and still more people. So even spending a week on the comparatively sparsely populated Isle of Skye, I met:
- An American ex-pat working in the Portree post-office for the past ten years;
- An extremely racist innkeeper who kept ranting about how “all those people should just go back wherever they came from” and
- A very peculiar (& somewhat creepy) mountain guide who ran a hostel and used to clomp around in his boots at 2am, waking everyone but never speaking to any of the guests during daylight hours.
So how then should I “read” the Isle of Skye? Racist? Peculiar? A great place for American ex-pats? Who knows.
So, then, why Wales? I suppose it’s mostly down to my friend Mary who lives in Penarth (near Cardiff). She’s known me -- admittedly mostly via email, but we’ve met in real life and chat by phone, so I can confirm she is actually a real live person -- for nearly five years now, and she sort of knows what I’m like. She recommended Wales as a good starting point for an ex-Alaskan like me. Sort of "Britain-Lite." She knows tromping around wild open places is an important part of my psyche. Surround me in concrete for too long, and I go a bit nutty. Trees, grass, streams.... each an antidote to the human footprint, needs taken at least every couple weeks or so, though ideally daily.
People have lived in Britain for a very long time, for much longer and much more of an organized or structured or cohesive group society than in the US. Well, white people. Sure, Native Americans lived here before we Europeans invaded the place, but their lifestyle was not one of huge stone cathedrals and paved roads and warfare on a massive scale. -- The point is, the UK is well-trodden land. Every inch of it, for centuries and millennia. I won’t embarrass myself by trying to summarise British history, because I have much to learn on that front. But suffice it to say that pretty much every part of Britain has the scent of humans attached to it in some way or other. Even the parks and greenspaces have been designed and manicured, organized and maintained.
So Wales is the part of Britain least like that. At least according to Mary and various other books & articles I’ve read. Maybe the Scottish highlands, but they have their own challenges.
And Scotland is far from Mary. Not that I couldn’t make a go of it entirely on my own, but why? Why not be close to at least one person I know, just as I’m making this enormous leap into the unknown? I would venture to guess most people make this sort of move with a friend or partner -- a husband or wife -- so my doing it entirely on my own, and in my mid-fifties no less, well, I’d like a bit of support, I think. At least initially.
So then what do I know about Wales? Almost nothing. But that’s maybe a bit exciting in its own way. Don’t you think?