Saturday 1 March 2014

Take a leek - today

If your name is Llewellyn, like my dear dead ould Dad, then you may be getting out of bed this morning fully intending to wear a leek (Allium ampeloprasum) in your hat, like your Shakespearian namesake Fluellen "the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service;"  And for why? Because today is Dydd Gŵyl Dewi - St. David's Day.  Honored and celebrated by true Welshmen the world over.  Only vain modernists would consider sporting a daffodil (Narcissus spp.) instead.  Apparently the shift to daffodils, which are conveniently brightly in flower at the right time of year, was promoted by David Lloyd George, the last century's most famous Welshman.  If today you are a long way from Llandaff, you might like a dose of hiraeth with  Dyma gariad fel y moroedd or this version.

The leek has great culinary virtue being winter-hardy and available in the early Spring for a much needed boost of greens after a winter of salt pork, beans and dicing with botulism.  As its Latin name proclaims it is a member of the great, wonderful onion family which gives us onion (A.cepa), garlic (A.sativum), shallot (A.oschaninii), ramsons (A.ursinum), chives (A.schoenoprasum) and about 250 other, more exotic species. Leeks are especially good in quiche . . . with gruyère . . . and bacon . . . and excuse me while I find a tissue to deal with my drool.

The Welsh language is, with Breton, one of the P-celtic languages; distinguished from Q-celtic varieties spoken in Ireland, the Isle of man and Scotland.  The difference hinges on a consonantal shift from K sounds to P sounds (mac - map - son; cúig - pump - five etc.).  Irish, the language, has for the last 120 years been key to consolidating a national identity.  At the foundation of the state of Israel, Hebrew was only known in yeshiva to help read antient scrolls of the torah and mishnah. By a concerted effort of education it was recreated as a modern language with words for television, tank and turn-table.  The founders of the Irish state aspired to achieve the same but chose to do so by thrashing a grammar and vocabulary into the unwilling heads of school-children.  Accordingly most Irish people leave school with a rapidly forgotten set of rote-learning and parroted phrases - and a determination to put their remaining language-acquisition skills into German, eSpanish or Mandarin. In Wales OTOH, 500,000 people (about 20%) are reasonably fluent in their language and speak it every day.  There is an oft suggested but cravenly never implemented idea that if we forbade the stroppy-and-contrary Irish to speak their native tongue, fluency would quickly become universal.

Today being celebrated by Welsh people the world over reminds me of Y Wladfa Gymreigthe outpost of Wales in Chubut province down in Patagonia - how cool is the flag!.  Starting a generation earlier, by 1900 there were 50,000 people of Welsh descent in and around the towns of  Gaiman, Trelew and Trevelin and there were probably more people fluent in Welsh in Argentina than were fluent in Irish in Ireland.  The relentless pressure of the dominant language has reduced the Welsh-speakers to somewhere between 1000 and 5000 people.  I can whole-heartedly recommend the film Patagonia a docu-drama about love, life and cultural identity. Or at least see a tea-shop owner cobbling up some Bara Brith in Gaiman, Argentina.

As it says on part of the 1977 Voyager plaque now leaving the Solar System:
"Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd"

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