Friday, July 3, 2009

Welsh Invasion Observations Day 1 part 2

After an afternoon of musician stalking, and wandering around the tents to experience the cultural dynamics of the Cymru Smithsonian Wales* Folklife event I was exhausted. I had driven 9 hours through the night, and stopped to sleep for about two hours, and then made my way to the Washington Mall for this event.

(*a note about the name "Cymru Smithsonian Wales" - this does seem like a clumsy name for the event - it basically means Wales Smithsonian Wales, because Cymru is Welsh for Wales. I realize that the purpose of the title is to put forward the Welsh language, and I am completely in agreement with doing that. Yet the title also means something akin to "Friend (or Comrade) Smithsonian Stranger." You see the Cymru called themselves Cymru and it means something like Comrade, but their invaders called them Welsh, and that name means something akin to stranger or foreigner of non-Germanic origin - a Celt. Can you imagine being called a stranger in your own land?)

So, Aled Llion Jones had arrived and we stalked musicians together, but he is more graceful about stalking I think. If you speak fluent Welsh you can't be a stalker of Welsh musicians. Well Aled came to Washington to take part in a Welsh TV show Pawb a'i Farn (People Talking, or Question Time, or whatever people relate it to being, but it means something like "everyone's opinion.") I asked Aled if the show was open to attend. He said he did not know, but it was worth checking out. I thought it might be worth the look-see - after all I was in Washington to experience everything Welsh. So who cares about needing a little sleep. It had only been 36 hours since I had really slept.

We made our way to the Newseum a few blocks away, and entered the back door. The Newseum was closed to the public, and those who were there for an event had to come in the back door.

They were checking off names at the door as though this was an invitation only event. Aled spoke to them about me, and assured them that I "siarad tipyn bach" Welsh. They were happy to let me in, and so we entered and took the elevator to the 3rd floor.

Once we had arrived to at the reception area I noticed first that everyone was dressed in suits - except a few people, and they gave me great comfort. I had come to the Washington Mall on a warm humid day, and I was dressed accordingly: off-white shorts, a green short sleeved polo styled shirt with stripes, and some funky sandals.

We all stood around and met people, and small talked, and ate costly Horse-doovers - or durves - oer d'ouvres - ah, whatever they're called, and drinking wine or just as costly sparkling water. I saw a couple people I already knew. Among them was Catrin Brace from the Welsh Assembly Government office in New York.

After what seemed like a minor eternity of small talk someone told me that my group was headed into the studio. I followed and tried to catch them, but straggled in last. This was the group of Welsh living in America, and they were going to sit in the front two rows.

The presenter Dewi Lloyd was seating people where he wanted them. As I arrived last he pointed down the front row, and said something in Welsh which I translated as between the guy in the glasses, and the man in the blue shirt. I smiled hoping I understood him correctly, and wriggled my way down the row to my seat. As I sat down I realized that I was in the middle, and on the front row. I sat down, said "Shwmae" to my neighbors on either side, and thought that I was certainly in a pickle now. I was desperately hoping they would not call on me to answer any questions, because I would have to say "Sori, dw i ddim yn deall," or something equally as disconcerting for a Welsh talk show host.

I turned to look around, and saw that Catrin Brace was sitting behind me, and I thought that she must surely be wondering what the heck this silly man from Salem, MA who understood only the most basic Welsh was doing at a Washington DC Pawb a'i Farn taping - especially front and center. I was wondering the same thing.

They prepped the audience for the show. There were scripted questions, by prepared questioners, and we practiced clapping, and I noticed the camera angles, and saw myself in the monitors with some frequency, because I really was front and center. My clothing choice for the day was not quite as comfortable in this setting as it was on the field.

After quite a bit of prep the show began. We clapped. We listened and tried to look attentive, and I had to work harder at it since I was understanding about 50% of the conversations. Unfortunately, it was the not the important 50%. In a political discussion people say things like I feel..., I think..., I believe... and then they attach larger words to the sentence. So I was hearing, "dw i'n teimlo..., dw i'n meddwl..., dw i'n credu...blah, blah, blah...." Fortunately the show was scripted tight, and they did not reach out too far to ask questions beyond the prepared individuals - of which Aled was one.

The first Minister Rhodri Morgan, Allison Hill living in North Carolina who was a Welsh celebrity of some sort, and Gareth Howell were the guests on the show. Rhodri is an excellent communicator - well, as far as I can tell in my broken Welsh.

I began to feel the tiredness rush over me, and had to work real hard to keep my eyes open as the camera would pan to pick up the guys on either side of me who were prepared questioners, but I made it through the show without sleeping, and without being asked to respond to a question.

A couple days ago I received a facebook greeting. Gwenno Dafydd who helps organize the Christian Youth who serve in Y Gorlan at the Eisteddfod Maes B field said that she was watching me on Pawb a'i Farn, and said it was surreal. I was able to find the show later online, and saw myself working hard to stay awake on the front row. I just hope no one else noticed it, but I am sure the heavy bags under my eyes gave it away.

I would return to the Dudek's home in Virginia about midnight, and crash hard, but it was all worth it for the first day.

Want to see the show? Watch here.

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