This entry is dedicated to…
Andy, my fellow bookworm
Jenn, who knew
Corgee, who prophesised it

7:33AM, well at least I got a little sleep-in.

The guys have already disappeared and the girl is still sleeping - I exit stealthily. In the thick-walled, white-washed, oft-flooded basement, I feast on free cereal and toast. The cleaning lady inquires as to how many people were in my room - four - she shakes her head, only two paid, "but it's all in good fun".

Leaving the hotel/hostel/pub behind, I strike out down the road, intent on finding my way out of Abergavenny.

(When I told my plans to Jim, he took me to see Chris, who is Welsh. When I told my plans to Chris, he said "What?" and looked very confused before explaining to me that it isn't Aber-gav-in-knee, but, rather, Aber-gah-vehn-knee.)
I strode away from the hotel and train depot and in towards town through a light, misting rain.
On the way in, I passed a playground and a stone circle - these things are everywhere!

At the visitor's center I picked up a small stack of postcards, scads of bus schedules (you just can't find these online), and a small plethora of maps. Then, I reversed my route and dropped a map off at the hotel for Bridgitt - it detailed a route up the nearest goodly mountain. I left hoping that she decided to climb it… and that she survived.
I took a quick swing through town and the market, where I found myself a cheap raincoat (more on this later).
I swing back through town and discover that at least some people in Abergavenny think its culture is at risk, though I don't find out why. It occurs to me that I haven't seen a Wal-mart or other such culture-killing institute since being over here. Perhaps it's the tourists.

To expound on that, to walk through any town is to walk past dozens of little independent restaurants and stores, as well as a number of small, distributed grocery stores (these do seem to run in chains). On the way to the university these past couple of weeks, I pass four grocery stores, two stationary stores, five or six clothing stores, three pharmacies, and innumerable restaurants and pubs - in about a mile. The idea of the big box store and its associated evils doesn't seem to have penetrated.
I'd been thinking of hitchhiking from here out, but the bus is cheap - 2.50GBP for something like 20 miles and five or six villages (that's another beneficial institute: public transit) - and I have a deadline to meet.

You see, Corgee wrote me saying, "My favorite thing to do in Paris is go to the old book stores - if you come upon one in Bristol, I suggest you stop in - they are really quite amazing." And then, the next day, Jenn mentioned rumours of a city filled with book stores somewhere to the North. I vowed then to find this city - even against all odds!

I spend an hour in Brecon - enough time to stretch, drop in on a book sale at a local tavern (though not the book sale of legend), and find myself lunch at a co-op. Then it's time to get back on the road.

I've never liked buses - you never can be sure where they're going and they tend to meander - but these are more like trains: directed, purposeful. You can trust them.

Forty-five minutes later, the bus drops me off on a quiet country lane at the edge of the legendary City of Books: Hay-on-Wye. Walking through a streaking rain, I approach the town, purported to hold somewhere between 35 and 41 bookstores (no sure count seems to exist). On the way, I contemplate Richard Booth, who famously declared himself ruler of the town and its books, claiming it a sovereign, if tiny, nation.

The first bookstore I pass claims over 20,000 titles - and it's a movie theatre. You can see shelves through the fire station window. And then, I get into the town…

Once, when I was younger, I took a trip with my class to a park and went wandering. When I reappeared they told me they were afraid I'd "gone off to the big library in the sky", but no library was ever as wonderous as Hay-on-Wye.

Perhaps, dear Reader, you think this is all in jest, but I invite you to see a token of the evidence for yourself…

And that's only half of them!

Every person should have a few tomes they've never found, but always seek; here, in this city, they're probably all hiding. The problem was, any search was doomed - doomed, I tell you! - to frustration through distraction… so I settled for trying to speed-browse my way through all the shops. And, naturally, failed.

On my journey I saw many strange and wonderous things for which, dear Reader, there is insufficient space in the margins of this page to write down. The wonderful smells of those shops, the creaking stairs (many were three stories tall, with dank, labyrinthine basements), the unexpected armchair next to a fireplace, the odd booksellers, the bookshelves-in-an-alley… oh, I cannot tell it all.

But where would I spend the night?

Normally, I'd hide-out down by the river (and every town has one, if you look), but in Wales, when it rains it pours… and pours… and pours… and, well you get the idea.

So I had some goat cheese and beet root tarts while locating a hostel.
Then it was back to the bus stop, for the hostel I'd found was many miles distant. My umbrella kept me dry as the rain grew harder; the Irish Wolfhounds didn't have umbrellas, but all clustered under mine before being dragged off into the damp.

I stood, sheltered beneath my umbrella, looking out over the Welsh country-side and then… I was in Brecon. All the townsfolk could tell me was that the hostel was somewhere between two and eight miles away; they kept repeating that I didn't want to walk there.

But I did.

With long strides, I left the town behind me. Angulating the umbrella into the rain kept my face dry, but my shoes and pants seemed to just soak up the rain. I stuck my thumb out, but, not unexpectedly, nothing happened. Then the trail left the road and plunged downwards into the woods.

On this trail, I passed a couple who pointed in the direction of a town; passing them by in search of confirmation, I found on an RV campground where no one knew anything. I retraced my steps and strode by the couple silently as they examined a gate.

At the Three Horseshoes Inn, I mingled, unnoticed with the locals, getting a feel for the place, finding and confirming the location of the hostel. Suddenly, I'm face to face with the couple I passed and his voice is booming that the hostel's down the road, that he's heard this from the locals, that it must be true.

I have a rule: never trust locals.

But my cover is blown, so I begin to exit. As I head for the door, it hits them, and she asks, "How did you get here before us?" I simply look back and smile as the door closes behind me.


View from the Three Horseshoes Inn

Out in the lane, I follow decide to give the locals a chance and, a few minutes later, they receive corroboration from a wee sign sticking just above the grass.

Then it's just miles more walking between high bushes along this narrow road. The only sound in the night is the bleating of sheep around me.

Much later, just as I'm thinking the locals were clueless after all, I come to a gate and, looking up the hill, see light pouring out of a large bay window. It is the hostel.

I sit up for a while, trying to keep up with the rapid flow of German around me and, mostly, failing. Then I'm alone, writing in my journal. Across from me the room's only remaining inhabitant slumbers. He's a over-weight, his belly hanging out of his shirt over the top of his pants. Every few minutes a frieght train rushes out of his mouth and then, utter silence. The rhythm gets to me after a while, and I look up to see that, in the interims, he's struggling to breathe.

I'm scared at that moment - I've never learned how to save those with sleep apnea, though I'm able to cook up some possibilities. I sit, on the edge of my seat, waiting to dive in and resuscitate, but the situation doesn't seem to be changing. RRRRRR   Silence.   snrksnrkRRRRRRRRRRRR I'm tired from my night up with Bridgitt and, finally, it's too much. I make a lot of noise leaving the room and he wakes up. I've been debating it - ignorance and happiness, maybe, or fear and forced change - but I ask him, gently, if he knows about sleep apnea. We talk a while and my pronouncement doesn't seem unexpected, just another problem to sort out.

My room's upstairs in a loft and, as I bed down, staring upwards, I think back to all the many wooden, beamed ceilings I've gone to sleep looking at… it's a lovely thought to drift away on.




Check if this is a private message just for Richard:


Kelli - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 06:21:41 (PDT)
Bravo :) I understand Brigitt entirely. :)

Richard - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 00:59:44 (PDT)
I'd been hoping to CouchSurf in Abergavenny, but my host and I didn't connect till afterwards. I mentioned that I'd "helped a lost Texan", and this is what he replied:

Phew, I'm glad everything worked out for you, I guess the universe wanted me too drunk to check e-mails so you could help that texan who would otherwisely had his transplantable organs removed in the dead small hours of night by gangs of hooded local children with crazy bloodshot staring eyes armed with blunt, rusty steak-knives.

I love traveling ;-)

Andy - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 06:11:38 (PDT)
"... think back to all the many wooden, beamed ceilings I've gone to sleep looking at..." - Which makes ME think of Moosejaw, which I haven't thought of in a long while...

BW - Saturday, July 18, 2009 at 12:13:54 (PDT)
Whoa... "...had his transplantable organs removed in the dead small hours of night...." I hope you're planning on never staying at that CouchSurf host's house!!

Richard - Monday, July 20, 2009 at 11:23:28 (PDT)
I think he was imlying the relative safety of his house - would be better never to go to that town at night again! (It didn't seem dangerous, at the time.)

Mom - Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 13:38:49 (PDT)
Cousin Jean's dog looked just like those Irish Wolfhounds, but maybe slightly bigger being a Scottish Deerhound.

Mom - Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 13:40:26 (PDT)
Really love all the "bookstores with Richard" photos!!!

Kelli - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 21:52:04 (PDT)
Ah, Richard! I love reading your thoughts on life! :)

Richard - Sunday, August 02, 2009 at 16:11:49 (PDT)
Why thank you, Kelli.

home - Sunday, December 25, 2016 at 01:24:16 (PST)
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