Tag Archives: wales

Fernweh, homesickness, and the ever-elusive Here-and-Now

The Germans have some smashing words, Fernweh being one of them. Fern = far away, distant, and Weh = pain or woe. It means that you’re homesick for a place you haven’t necessarily been. Very Sturm und Drang.

I experience something similar, or in between, with England and Wales. Neither of them is my country, and yet… Gah. If Britain were a person, it would be “the one that got away”. It’s always there, like an evil siren, pretending to be something it’s not. Calling to me with memories whose silver nitrate sheen has nothing to do with truth. I know my image of the place is very different from the reality of living there, but there’s no accounting for childhood impressions. You feel what you feel.

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But I can also get homesick for the place I actually am. Filled with yearning for the present moment. When something is so overwhelmingly good in a banal sort of way, and yet impossible to handle or reach or know what to do with, because feelings are unwieldy beasts and my brain is too small for their limitless nature. How many times have I asked myself when I’ve actually been in England or Wales, “How do you wrap a whole country in your arms? How do you hug this sceptered fucking isle?” And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You can’t. A country is vast, and you are small. We’re not built for it.

Except… we are. Humans, for all their flaws, have one redeeming feature: artistic expression. Through this one divine spark, we can touch something like the truth.

How do you embrace something that’s a thousand times bigger than you? The only way is through music, through writing, through art. You don’t try to hold it for longer than it takes you to play it, describe it, or paint it. You accept it, and let it wreak its havoc with you because really, there’s no alternative unless you want an ulcer. Life is a fleeting moment of euphoric dread. Those who feel it deeply can touch fingertips through the very best of us who have the gift to make it tangible.

”Is it not strange that sheep’s guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?” (Much Ado About Nothing, 2.iii).

For me it’s always Elgar. The man whose auditive paintbrush is dipped in the misty green of rolling English hills. Who somehow looked into my soul before I was born and wrote the music that described my homesickness for a place I can never call mine.

And they say INTPs are emotionless machines!

The power of art

Today I watched the movie Pride again. Fourth time in a month, and it still has the power to punch me in the gut. To others, it may just be a run-of-the-mill British feel-good film about miners, but for me it pushes all the buttons and then some.

To begin with, Wales. *sigh* I can’t begin to express the beauty of that country. As a child, I was dragged back and forth across the Black Mountains year after year, and it remains my secret second home.

There’s no feeling like standing on top of the world, looking down at that patchwork of hedges and fields while the sheep graze around you and your skin shines with something which is neither mist nor drizzle, but something in between.

I love Wales. Love it. The cherry pies, the pretty villages, the welcoming people, the bracken and the foxgloves, the sheep and the rabbits, the castles and the churches. And you know what they say: if Wales was flattened out, it would be bigger than England.

I’m sad to say I haven’t been to Onllwyn, but I’ve sort of skirted it. The dotted line on this map shows some of the roads I cycled as an eleven-year-old who didn’t have a clue what had gone on here just two years before.

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Onllwyn is at the bottom of the image, just above Seven Sisters.

I could go on about Wales all day, but I’ll move on to Gethin. He has all of 1% of the storyline, but that’s what really stays with me. I know all about coming from a small village and getting the hell out of there because you’re the local weirdo. When Hefina wishes him Nadolig Llawen over the phone… oh Lord. I get misty just thinking about it.

And then there’s Bill Nighy. Christ, he’s good in this film. His scenes don’t feel like a movie at all, but like a documentary. When he speaks about the “dark artery”, it feels like listening to a real person, telling their own story. Actually, that’s another of this movie’s strong points, that it does such an amazing job of telling several people’s story in just a few brush strokes. They don’t spell it out, they rely on the audience to get it, and it’s extremely effective.

Like Maureen’s son who objects to the “gay invasion”, but you can see him fidget and fret about it. Like the god-awful scene at the nightclub between Tim and Mark. Perfect, understated, beautiful. A stab in the heart. Or like the first time the van arrives in Onllwyn, and they look out to see the children with their bikes, standing around in the street because there’s nothing else to do. It’s so real. I see it around me today.

What else? Oh, Bread and Roses, the song/poem that speaks about how you don’t just need to survive physically, but that you need something else, too – dignity, culture, love. Because without that, what are you fighting for? I cry every time. In fact, all the music is spot on and almost another character in the film. Not to mention the perfect blend of 70’s and 80’s fashion that sets the tone.

This is not the last time I watch this movie. Maybe in a while it’ll only be once a month, but it’s shot straight up there to my top ten of all time, and it won’t budge for less than a miracle. But more importantly, it has told me something about my own life: I need a Cause.

So that’s my vague almost-resolution for 2016: to find something to believe in and fight for. I have no idea where to start. I’m sure people around me have lots of suggestions, but I need to find it for myself. If I don’t feel it, it won’t happen. But I know I want it, and hopefully my brain will catch on when the opportunity comes.

Because I have heard the message of Pride: while we’ve been gathering our iPads and shoes and knick-knacks, and while my own damn country is building a fucking fence against the rest of the world, something important has been lost. And I, the most individualistic of all individualists, intend to find it again.