As people wrote their year-in-review stories, I was confronted with the sad truth that I had gone an entire 12 months without once being in France.
The only place I had traveled to outside of California in 2020 was Iowa last January for the presidential caucuses. To have spent much of January in Iowa was not really so bad (aside from the caucuses) because I did not fully thaw out until July, thereby missing out on much of the initial angst about the shelter-at-home orders.
Nonetheless, January in Iowa was not something I cared to relive by writing about.
Then it occurred to me that I had, without meaning to, spent a great deal of 2020 in Wales. This is because my daughter was unable to make her annual pilgrimage to her favorite place in the world, Aberystwyth, Wales, for her summer immersion into the Welsh language.
The Welsh are extremely fond of their language, having resisted approximately 1,000 years of the English trying to break them of the habit of speaking it. Wales is now a bi-lingual country, and it was a visit to Wales that sparked Ariel’s love of the language. It was all those signs with words such as ysbyty (hospital), bwyd (food), and Crymych, which is really, truly, a town.
Another town is Llanfairpwllgwyngwllgogerychwryndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Ariel embarked on a study of Welsh at the University of Aberystwyth, which is also home to the Welsh National Library. This came to a halt because of COVID-19. This, however, did not deter the Welsh teachers, who hope to soon have 1 million people speaking their language. They went online with their classes.
Ariel joined in and thus I became used to hearing, at odd hours of the day and night, (Greenwich mean time) hearing conversations in Welsh, which, I discovered, has a distinct and lyrical beauty. Also, it does have vowels, only they are disguised as consonants, (the letters “y” and “w”) so that the word cwrw (beer) is, in fact, pronounceable (“kuru”).
Her dog, Puck, joined on
most classes, thus becoming one of the few Welsh-speaking dogs in California. I would awake to hear a jolly chorus from Ariel’s dog-loving Welsh classmates: “Hello, Puck!” or, if he were not up yet at 1 a.m., “But where is Puck?”
I also learned as we moved into fall, that the Welsh were following our presidential election with the kind of horrified fascination usually reserved for movies like “Pyscho” or “Night of the Living Dead.” I daresay Ariel’s vocabulary expanded profoundly as she tried to explain the electoral college (coleg etholiadol).
It was just before Christmas when, one morning, our house was filled with the sound of Welsh carols. It was a virtual sing-along, which Ariel had no hesitation to join in, at 1 a.m. or whatever time it was. If, in the coming dark months, you need to lift your spirits, I’d recommend googling “Welsh choral music.” That should do it.
Ariel’s friend, Douglas, a Welsh-speaking Scotsman, had planned to visit Napa last April, a trip that, like everyone else’s, was necessarily postponed. He changed it to October, and then postponed it again, this time to April 2021, pandemic-willing.
Meanwhile, they exchanged Christmas boxes: He sent her a selection of classic Brit foods, including Prawn Cocktail Flavoured Pringles and a Christmas cake, which looks suspiciously like a fruitcake with two kinds of icing and “Happy Christmas” written on it.
She, in turn, sent him national classics such as Velveeta Mac ‘n’ Cheese in a cup; HoHos, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and a jar of that strange, striped peanut butter and jelly. It is possible that her idea was understanding what Americans eat might explain the electoral college. And the current president.
I wondered, however, if they were deciding which country might be a preferable one to live in.
I’d vote for France.
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Sasha Paulsen is a novelist and features editor at the Napa Valley Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org