Here, in the lavish, lazy valleys of South Wales one can smell the old, taste the green. To the mystic’s palette it is chateau briand for the soul. The harmonious voices of stocky, Welsh coalminers blend with the buoyant tongue of an ancient language to stoke the most experienced fires.
Too bad they drive like shit. Well, one can’t have everything.
Our brief foray in the UK takes a turn from the sleek, overly preened mien of London to the clumpy, sodden town of Newport, Gwent, South Wales. It is a place as equally devoid of panache as it is pretention. The people are as unremarkable as they are genuine. Note to self: read that line again later.
The River Usk upon which this town is built looks like one long bowel movement running through the center of town. To hear them speak with pride for something so utterly un-notable is in equal measure quaint and unnerving. The last time we were here a few years ago, I joked with my wife, for whom this is her birthplace, that Newport was the only ugly place in all of Wales.
Beyond the obvious revitalization enjoyed by this city, I repent of such ignorant, North American bluster. Besides, the passing years have replaced my previous eyes with new ones. I see now something quite different. The grey, spongy demeanor of the place is easily eclipsed by a deep and knowing spirit – a kind of relaxed ennui, without a hint of self-pity.
I must learn from this.
When the soul moves past its incessant need for the spiritual X-factor, it then can see the better coal beneath the monochromatic surface of its own shallow intentions. The beauty of Newport isn’t found in its breathless joie-de-vivre, the jaunty rollercoaster of soulish affixations we often call spirituality. It is somewhere down under. It lies beneath all of that, in the bedrock of older soil breeding nourishment over luxuriance.
In exploring here, I am struck by how difficult it is to amuse the over-stimulated American psyche. By contrast, the British are delighted by small pleasures. The sheer joy of a few hours before the fire with a stiff cup of tea, a biscuit and conversation is all they require to feel human and whole. As our spirits chase after ever more lusty extravagances, Newport reminds me that the best things come in the unbidden grace of simple, genteel moments.
Today, I am a tourist in the most non-tourist town I’ve yet seen. Better still, I’m a pilgrim where once I was a tourist.
And, I am seeing the beauty that lies beneath.