Leaving Wales

I have been living mainly and studying in Swansea these last three years. However, I have now finally left this town. I am moving to Spain to become a part-time teacher. I still have a small suitcase full of books to return to the University library, but I don’t think I will go back. My sister studies there, so I hope she can return them. I recently finished my dissertation. It ended up being, largely, about poet Gerard Manley Hopkins connection to Wales’ spirituality, despite his Christian faith. My pagan views meant I was myself more suited to Wales as well.

From chatty downpouring rain to institutionally omnipresent sunlight.

 Swansea’s ecclesiastic setting upon a constant tide came largely without the scheduled events or known names that cities often do. While this can feel like a loss it offers so much more in gain. Lessons are constantly revealed through the difficult beauty of the Valleys, Cliffs, and Bays; there is expressive change everywhere, all the time. Most of the photos I took of Swansea were of buildings. Being bombed and rebuilt after World War II, the sporadic placements of homes creates bleak geometry, and the rarity of tall structures leaves only the trees and distant hills the sky’s reign. Something can always be noticed. It is subtle, or deceptive. You don’t plan it and have your ticket torn, it’s just on in the background. The hills roll in waves and sometimes the sea is completely still. Cornwall can be seen on clear days; the flames of Port Talbot and ticks of the Mumbles lighthouse can be seen on clear nights. The people are almost all lovely and talk to you freely.

I feel the only way to manoeuvre through this change effectively is in placing artistic faith in Zaragoza’s nature.

 The school I will be working in is Catholic: this is infinitely more religious than where I was studying in Wales. Patterns of sacred iconography adorn the churches of Zaragoza. Their paintings have robes that flow with almost shy pinks, greens, and blues, against the deep red of Mary’s heart, which I think is wonderful. They are adorned in sacred ratios and golden halos. There are religiously shrouded subjects I obviously will not be allowed to discuss. Nevertheless, I desperately look forward to speaking in Spanish, and meeting the people that live in Zaragoza. The streets in the area around my new workplace are named after important artists and activists: Pablo Neruda, Clara Campoamor and Maria Zambrano; there is a river too. In my surroundings, I will have time to read, which I look forward to.  Wandering these unfamiliar streets, I won’t need to decide which pages to turn next. This is what I am most excited about.

There of course comes some anxiety with change. Coming from the neotenous city of Swansea, situated in the timelessness of Wales, and moving to the 2000-year-old Spanish settlement will be a complete shift. From chatty downpouring rain to institutionally omnipresent sunlight.

I will miss the Welsh beaches but will remember the everchanging tide, especially if I feel lost.

I feel the only way to manoeuvre through this change effectively is in placing artistic faith in Zaragoza’s nature, the Spanish river trees and how the terracotta waves sit, sun wash stained, atop the sleepy plane. It is new information but through appreciation it will become familiar, linear as the years since Jesus’ death, and the birth of this new-to-me place. It’s not about the photos or galleries particularly, but more so of finding a way to fit, serenely, into a new way of life. Finding a way of holding your hands supine to today’s sunlight.  

I look forward to leaving Wales, and I know what I will miss. I don’t know what I fill find, despite having rambled a little about my speculations, but I am aware of what must remain. I will miss the Welsh beaches but will remember the everchanging tide, especially if I feel lost. And when it rains, I will read more Dylan Thomas. I promise.

By Max Niederer

Illustration: zaragoza by Phil Fiddyment on Flickr

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