Monday, March 2, 2015

Wales: Land of my Fathers - and my Friends

This has been a very Welsh week for me, despite the fact that I am living in New York City. 

First, a reception on Friday lunchtime for Wales’s First Minister, Carwyn Jones, at the British Consulate; the next day, major celebrations at the Red Lion, where, along with the Minister, we watched Wales beat France in the Six Nations on the giant TV screen; and, finally, yesterday, St David’s Day at Mr Biggs Bar and Grill in Hell’s Kitchen.
Mr Biggs is a local hostelry where a group of Welshies meet every Sunday when our friend, Phillip Arran, briefly escapes from the Norwegian cruise liner on which he is performing in two musicals. Yesterday was particularly lively, with an eclectic mix of other nationalities celebrating our patron saint, St David, under our national flag that the bar agreed to hang on the wall (thank you, Richie and Scott).
I always get very sentimental when I am around my countrymen and women. Even though my Welsh friends and family live in different parts of the world, when we get together there is a bonding of the heart that just isn’t explainable. The longing for one’s homeland is “hiraeth” in Welsh, and some other nations have their own word for it; but, as far as I know, there isn’t a word for that stirring of the heart that occurs when we are among our own.
I have always been very proud of my heritage. Cultured, erudite, artistic, fun-loving – I never have less than a great time among the Welsh. But more than anything, I love the Welsh sense of humour. At our Sunday brunch, we enjoy two hours of non-stop laughter – something that other diners stare at with something approaching mystification.
What is it that lies at the heart of Welsh humour? To me, it is multi-faceted. There is a quickness of wit, an ability to engage in self-deprecation (so much so, we have turned self-deprecation into an art form), an openness of spirit, a genuine enjoyment of the physical act of laughing . . . It’s hard to analyse (as humour tends to be).
But I think, ironically, what makes the Welsh so funny is their seriousness – the kind of seriousness that often lies at the core of very funny people. The lack of confidence that comes from having been an invaded nation, even, at one stage in our history, being denied our language, instils a desire, a need (a real necessity, in fact) to rise above conflict – and laughter really is the best medicine.
More than in any other country, I also think that humour in Wales is classless. I have met very funny people from all walks of life in my homeland: some educated, others considerably less so, but that has never stopped disparate groups of people enjoying themselves. That is probably in part due to the fact that we have more things that unite us than divide us – not least, singing and rugby – and a sense of pride that, at its roots, was bred amongst working class communities of the valleys.
I know some very funny people – Americans, English, Irish, Scottish, French (yes, really; sharing a rugby day with the French is the best) – and humour is obviously central to most people’s lives. It’s what gets us through the mire; it’s what uplifts us when we are low and carries us through and beyond pain, both emotional and physical. Humour is what wipes our slates clean: it consigns yesterday to a box and carries us to the unknown and the expectation of better times tomorrow.
But while I love the humour of so many people in my life, the world over, there is nothing that quite beats the all-consuming hilarity of a group of Welsh people: the laughter that is born of the same history, the same insecurities, the same passionate love of one’s roots.
And so, thank you to all my Welsh friends who shared this fabulous week – and special thanks to my Cardiff friend, Catrin Brace, Wales’s fantastic ambassador in North America, who includes me in the magnificent Welsh events that take place throughout New York on a regular basis. 

I’m a European. I feel part American. I feel like an international citizen. 

But, in my heart, body and soul, I will never forget that I’m Welsh. I remain very proud of that. 

And this week was a salutary reminder of who I really am.   

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