The idiosyncratic and witty travelogue of a young Welsh-speaking American woman who travels the globe in search of Welsh communities.
° Studying in Lampeter, Dyfed, and learning Welsh, Pamela Petro found it infuriating that whenever – in the post office, at the butcher’s, in the pub – she stumbled with her Welsh, the locals would – kindly, they thought – always revert to English: ‘English is so much easier for you, izznit?’ So she decided to go where English was not an option (ie not to Canada, Australia, South Africa or the USA) for the student of Welsh – Paris…Oslo…Tokyo…all kinds of unlikely places with long-standing Welsh-speaking communities.
° The other reason for writing the book, Petro says, is to confound those mean, smirking people who, upon hearing that she is trying to master Welsh, inevitably ask: ‘What in the world are you going to do with that?’ This book is the answer.
° Once you start to look, you find the Welsh everywhere: among Petro’s intended ports of call are the Hong Kong Men’s Choir, all Chinamen who sing in Welsh; the Japanese bardic eisteddfod in Tokyo; the Welsh golfers of Oslo; the diners of the Paris Welsh Society (one of three in the city); and many more, including, naturally, the long-suffering Patagonia.
° Cymru a‘r byd (Wales International) reports that no such book has ever been attempted – this will be the first collective narrative about the global Welsh, the first book to inform these isolated communities that they have counterparts elsewhere.
° Wales is a marginal nation. Between 1536 and 1967 the Welsh language was officially outlawed in Britain. But somehow this ancient tongue and its feisty people have survived, worldwide. This is the book that pays that due credit to that achievement.
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"Unlike most travel narratives, this is not a book about place, but a book about language. Can a language be said to describe a place, a place the language that is spoken there? Is it possible to travel to many different places and arrive, not back home, but in the terra incognita of a new language? And just where might that be?"
A young American woman of German-Hungarian descent comes to Wales, falls for the land and decides to learn the language. Why, why, ask all her friends and acquaintances. This brilliant, witty, wise book is her incontrovertible answer.
She starts, obviously, with the Welsh golfers of Oslo. Thereafter her odyssey takes her through fourteen countries on four continents in search of a language and its consequences. She practices and improves – and forgets – her Welsh with the expat cafe crowd of Paris, the TV correspondents of Brussels, the Gibbon lady of Bangkok, the students of Tokyo and the elderly of Patagonia, among others. Within the space of a week she can be found drinking sake and singing about Rugby and coalminers in Japan and then intoning Welsh Methodist hymns and imbibing mate in the Argentinean desert some six thousand miles away. There are many impediments to her progress – Welsh kitsch, slippage into English, an eisteddfod conducted in Spanish, mutation lessons, unreality endings – but the pull of the language, and its enthusiastic adherents worldwide, bring her on and through, into a sense of home.
Pamela Petro brings a rare flair for language to this stimulating, amusing and moving book about what happens when language meets identity. She flourishes her own 'Welsh' virtues – sociability, musicality, honesty – before us, and the hospitality her reader enjoys at her hands makes for something different, and sheer reading pleasure.
"'Travels in an Old Tongue' is a delightful read – a marvellous mixture of wit, nostalgia, character description and atmosphere-setting. Anyone who is Welsh, or who has connections with Wales, should read it, as should anyone who isn't, or hasn't, but who simply wants to work out what an earth is going on in the minds, hearts, and mouths of those for whom Welsh is the language of heaven."
PROFESSOR DAVID CRYSTAL
Pamela Petro has been educated at Brown, Paris and Harvard Universities; in 1983 she went to the University of Wales at Lampeter for the first time, to do her MA, returning in 1992 for intensive instruction in the Welsh language. She has since taught Welsh and travel writing in the USA. She regularly contributes to the New York Times Travel Section and to Planet, and has compiled a guide to New England. This is her first ‘real’ book. She has, by the way, no Welsh blood.
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Book Description HARPERCOLLINS, 1997. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0002556561