As some of you may or may not know, I am in America at the moment, taking part in something called the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. It's an annual festival that focuses on a different culture each year - this year, that focus will be on Wales.
The festival itself receives about 1.5 million visitors and runs for a total of 10 days (spread over 2 weeks - it closes for 2 days in the middle). It's a very big hoo-hah, and I am one of 6 poets representing our country.
I arrived here yesterday and am in the hotel lobby now waiting for a shuttle bus to the festival site. The festival proper begins the morrow, today there's an orientation in "the Dragon tent" on the site. The site is the size of several football pitches stuck together, which will undoubtedly assist in the acheivement of one of my current mini-aims - firmity of thigh and "middle area".
I was told by several people not to worry, as Americans generally are overweight. So far, I am unable to confirm this as per my own experience. All I CAN say, is that I had a very cliche-type mind image of what a Native American person would look like. And then I saw one, standing outside the elevator in the hotel lobby. She looked to weigh at least 20 stone - in no way the slender Pochahontas I had been expecting (or, hoping for - I dont HONESTLY take Disney characters as anything close to resembling reality!).
In any case, that is one "want-to-see" ticked off in my mental book. There are a lot of other things I want to see too, and so far there have been myriad small happenings that I could fill whole pages of writing with.
What has happened so far? Well, the flight itself was only 8 hours, and most people representing Wales were on there. If the plane had gone down, that'd have meant no festival what so ere - luckily, it didnt and we got to Tulles airport just outside DC safely.
Safely, but not sanely. Some of us were pushed almost beyond a healthy mental state by the huge queue we then had to wait in to get through US customs. I had accidentally brought an apple and an orange off the plane (I put them in my bag, remembering how they'd been put ito the toe-bit of our mum's-tights-turned-into-stockings at Xmas)- unfortunately this meant another half hour of waiting for me as I was re-routed into Aggricultural Insprection just so they could dispose of the fruit "safely" (?!)
Poor Clare Potter (fellow poet) was subjected to an actual interrogation due to the fact she still had her permanent residency card/status from when she lived in New Orleas some years ago. Of course, terrorism comes in many guises, and poetry itself can be pretty political... but the "interview" they gave Clare was apparently a bit heavy-fisted, and I was glad my American visit began only with the fruit-related palaver rather than anything more serious.
It was cool seeing Gillian Clarke on the plane. Since she is national poet of Wales, I had decided to keep a vague eye on her as I was slightly worried about getting lost. Gillian, I thought, is going to be a priority - if I follow her, I will get to where I need to be. And, sure enough, I did.
She has no idea who I am, but then, most of the time, neither do I.
The weather here is hot, though not as humid as I expected. I think living in Japan (temperatures up to 40 degrees) meant I was maybe more prepared than the average Welsh person (by which I mean, my Ely-based, havent-travelled-much, Tenby-is-our-favourite-holiday-destination family - bless em).
The meals here have been, as I anticipated, HUGE in size and calorie-heavy. My thighs are only slightly bigger than the chicken pieces we had for dinner last night (and, I have BIG thighs!). On the festival site, there will be special places where we can get food: two places in the Welsh section (which is the main focus of the event) but two others also, one in the African American Spoken Word section (wow!!!) and another in the Latin American Music section. These are the smaller programmes showing this year.
Really, everything has been v v V exciting so far, and Ive only been in the US less than 24 hours! It was great to meet so many artists, poets, musicians, craftspeople etc on the plane... There are no big-heads or full-of-themselves sorts in those Ive met, and Ive met most due to a pre-festival gathering we had in Llandrindod Wells some months back. Everyone is open, friendly, positive... My dark heart feels actually gladdened - the creative spirit, it seems, is not a stingy one. Everyone is talking, collaberating, sharing stories and information. Despite the slight grudge Ive always felt towards the (to me) insular-seeming Welsh-speaking community (and, yes, most people here speak Welsh, and everyone knows everyone)Ive had some lovely chats with people, and havent felt excluded at all. I - might even learn the old mother tongue when I return (the Welsh language, I mean - my actual mother's tongue is a foul-spouting beast of a thing...).
So, am beginning (and ending)on a positive note. Am off to the festival site now, and will write again shortly!
You can find out more about the festival here: