Before I even applied for the Visa I’d read about Wales, of course. I was aware of its geographical position on this notorious island I’ve only visited once, but I knew nothing except for what’ve learned about the language I tried reading and listening to: it sounded complicated, harsh and unapproachable. It was, it is! on the other hand, gracefully distinct. The Visa application asks me do I consider myself a person of good character. As a matter of fact, do I consider myself would be more accurate. Of course, I put yes, as I am expected to. I am not ready to revolt against a British questionnaire.
What I am mesmerized by is a range of news articles about the cliff collapsing into the sea in Gwynedd, a county in the northwest. I look at the photographs. A castle will find its way into the image results, whichever town you look for online; you have to be precise and search for Nefyn beach in order to stumble upon the depiction of the soil tearing itself off the belonging territory. Later, I will find out that Wales is often referred to as “the land of castles”. Four hundred twenty-seven castles, to be exact.
Caernarfon is arguably the most spectacular castle in Wales. Work began on the current stonewall structure in 1283 and wasn't completed until 1330.
During a pleasant dinner, prepared and served on the hill overlooking this very castle, I learn that the sea commonly swallows houses, even whole towns (the coastal area has a surface geology of weak, superficial drift deposits of clay, silt, sand and gravel). However, the image I retain is of a peculiar place, swallowed by a man-made lake, for which the reason was Liverpool’s low drinking water supplies. When the Tryweryn Valley - where the flooded village was located - ended up underwater, the school, the post office, all the houses and playgrounds were destroyed. I know about such stories from my surrounding as well. During forthcoming days I dream about people underneath the surface of the lake. It was one of the last Welsh-only speaking communities, they told me, but moments before I wake up the people are awfully silent.
Once the dessert is on the table I use my spoon to check its consistency. Parts of peoples’ gardens also tumbled onto the beach, I wish to speak up, neighbors say the house that lost a large part of its garden is a second home, I wish to add, a previous landslide around 20 years ago killed a woman walking on the beach. Who was this woman? The cake is delicious, so this is what I eventually decide to say: the cake is delicious. At the end of the day, I again search for the collapsing cliff:
In the middle of the garden there is
a barricade tape after which comes a void.
The man is hugging his smiling son, in a green polo shirt.
His blond wife is wearing a blouse with big, colorful flowers.
Behind him, the yard cut in half by the erosion. A sunset.
They are waiting for a rock engineer to give them advice.
These images make me wonder what it would be like to be a landscape, or at least a garden: horizontal and still, unobtrusive, part of a prestigious coastal property with a possibility of merging into a holiday area.
I become curious about the weather. I wake up, no alarm involved, before seven o’clock in the morning. Nights are quiet and dark, non-inviting. Mornings are quite the opposite.
Morning rain, then a shower
A little afternoon rain
Mostly cloudy, rain ending
A passing afternoon shower
Sunshine and patchy clouds
Clouds giving way to some sun
A shower in the afternoon
A retired English gentleman is explaining to his wife, circling around the dock at sunset: you see one castle and you’ve seen them all. At this exact moment I decide I won’t set foot in this castle built by the English – after all, I reside in between its surrounding walls by pure luck, not by merit. I also sense a strong urge to leave something to my imagination; as a tourist I never have this privilege.
The excerpt from the weather forecast is reliable but quite useless, a quality which makes it lyrical. I look up: the stone laid eight hundred years ago still stands calm and disinterested. From its perspective Prince Charles, the gentleman and I are equally insignificant.
I am planning a long walk when a local girl tells me - with no intention to sound poetic whatsoever - there’s a hill involved. It is a warning, a delightful one, while the mountain I see from my window reminds me of a hill being involved at all times. I finally let it lead the way.
I am captivated by a house situated near Ceunant Mawr Falls, in the street named – Waterfall. This simplicity entertains me. The location, as described in Google Maps, is a striking cataract tumbling into a ravine, but I forget about the waterfall and only think about this household surrounded by its subtle sound, by flowers and trees. Above the garden is a bridge with arcs; an old car is nonchalantly parked on the grass beneath one of them, with no designated spot for its resting place.
We walk up to the top of the quarry (the mountain's slate bones), carefully stepping on steep stone staircases. This beautiful sight, a colossal hole, reminds me of the most famous Welsh avalanche in which the coal waste slid down a rain-saturated mountainside. I obviously only saw this in a documentary. To meet the new demand created by urban expansion, quarries were worked round the clock, with men and boys, recruited from the farms of North Wales. Centuries of hard work led to this landscape’s nomination as a World Heritage Site and slate is everywhere – on the rooftops, in the graveyards, in a museum. I touch it: sharp and brittle.
At one point,
Even though I already knew this, it in a way surprises me: the movement of the sea is precise and predictable. We make a plan in accordance with the tide:
High - 01:35 - 4.15m / Low - 08:47 - 1.72m /
High - 14:12 - 3.87m / Low - 20:56 - 2.02m
Wild horses and wild seals are what I see before the families with loud children come closer. On the way back I meet a woman in her 90s, sitting on the edge of Newborough Forest, serene in her pale blue coat. She says it is beautiful to live here, between the mountain and the sea. I hesitate; nevertheless I ask to take a photograph of her. I am not sure why.
Further north, looking towards the lighthouse built in 1809, there is a man in a navy blue sweater, walking decisively. My phone camera is not working well so it blurs the man and sharpens the bushes in front of him. The cliffs appear in the background, vaguely suggesting the impressive scenery. I like the possibility of these unsharpened images, especially since they are attainable via phone cameras only by mistake.
In the afternoon I am determined to walk into the sunset, which is yet to appear on the horizon. At this point I trust it will bathe me with temporary golden light. Cows are withdrawing from the field, like the sea withdraws from the harbor. The boat in front of me, sleeping in the mud, carries the name Britain. I notice that it is isolated from other boats and, well, this makes me laugh.
The day of the festival Caernarfon is beautiful, rising from the early spring in what seems to be its best edition. The seawater found its way back into the harbor and people are smiling and chatting. I see an older lady stumbling with food in her hands and young women carrying children in their arms. A man is walking across the square diagonally, adolescents are running around a derelict church, a ladder is swaying in the wind amongst the trees in a neglected backyard above rail tracks. Finally, a fisherman is untying the knot on his sailboat: a choreography consistent for decades. The shade of green surrounding everything is indescribable.
- Where did you say you are from, lovely?
- Belgrade! I am here on a literary residency.
- In Bangor?
- No, just here, in the parallel street.
- Well, nobody comes to Caernarfon!
I drink two full cups of black coffee and eat a hot cross bun with melting butter – it’s a simple, tasty treat. I will only later find out about its religious significance and the holidays during which it is to be distributed. In 1592, Queen Elizabeth I decreed that hot cross buns could no longer be sold on any day: they were too special. If people got caught baking buns in their own kitchens they had to give up all of the illegal pastry to the poor. My breakfast would’ve been illegal a few centuries ago and I find this charmingly ridiculous. The empty chair across my plate reminds me of a similar one in my grandmother’s apartment, locked until probate proceedings take place. Once the toast is in the toaster, speed is of the essence, the owner tells her young employee. Who is this woman: her daughter, or a cousin? I cannot fully grasp the name when she tells her to go help in the kitchen.
The houses also have names here, nonetheless this doesn’t mean they can be saved or called upon. Coastal gardens disappear in landslide while stones remain solid, unbothered and valuable.
Environmental officials are expected to launch an investigation
Police warn people to ‘avoid the area’
Homeowners fear property is now worthless
My arms carry my luggage across airports and my hands are always checking where I’ve put my documents. These gestures point out that I am surely not a vast territory, but a small body compliant with its borders and with those of other people. These gestures suggest that there is no pleasure in repetitive maneuvers: you see one cliff collapsing and you’ve seen them all.
It would be, however, outstanding to slide into the beach and lay my arms in a slow dispassionate manner, straight into the sea.
the process or fact of being detached,
of being dirt, of becoming soil of one’s own