Saturday, July 14, 2007

Two-Fer from Hay-on-Wye

To Hay-on-Wye

July 12, 2007

This morning I set off early, about 8 a.m., to the train station in Chester, just down the street from the Stafford Hotel. (When you're next in Chester, stay at the Stafford on City Road. It's a nice place, with friendly employees, breakfast, and free wifi.) My train was bound for Hereford (pronounced HEIR-uh-furd, not HER-furd, as in Texas), whence I had to catch a bus to Hay-on-Wye. The train arrived in Hereford a bit after 10, after stopping at such Housmanian places as Shrewsbury and Ludlow. I got directions to the bus station, just a couple of blocks away; got the information about which stand to catch the bus at; then went into Wetherspoon's for a "pee and tea" break. Back out at the bus stand, I ate a can of tuna, drank my tea, and read Las puertas templarias, a sort of DaVinci Code-ish kind of book (which preceded DVC by two or three years) by Javier Sierra of Spain. (His La cena secreta was published in English as The Secret Supper several months ago.)

It was a gloomy morning, though there were moments of brightness on the train ride when the clouds between me and the sun thinned for a moment or two. A light sprinkling started up about the time the bus arrived, and there was light rain during the drive to Hay-on-Wye, but since I wasn't out in it, this has now become the third day in a row that I haven't used the umbrella. And later in the afternoon, as in Chester yesterday, the clouds actually broke up to a great extent, and we got a nice amount of sunlight. It may be following me, since someone told me that Hay was gloomy all day yesterday, even though Chester got sun. It is surely nice to see sunlight, though who knows if we'll get any tomorrow?

I was one of several people getting off at Hay, and Ken from Aldemiro Bed & Breakfast was there to meet me. He and his wife Gill have only 3 rooms for rent, I think, though there are only two in use tonight. I have heard the other guest--as he was preparing to go out--but haven't seen him. I gather that he has stayed here before and is a cyclist.

In case you don't know, Hay-on-Wye (the Wye is a river) is England's book town. It has, as I understand it, less than 2000 permanent residents, but has 30 used bookstores (according to the 2006-2007 brochure), plus three companies that do auctions or bookbinding. Lots of tourists/booklovers come here, so the town has lots of other stores--clothing stores, and so forth--that you would never expect to find in a town of this size. (For those of you familiar with Dallas, imagine a place half the size of Cockrell Hill.) In late May and early June there is an international book festival here, which draws something like 50,000 people, including authors, and I gather that there are now other kinds of activities here as well, like a music festival.

I visited several of the Hay-on-Wye bookstores this afternoon, after having a lunch of ham, apple, chips and a Coca-Cola. Since I only had the afternoon here, clearly I didn't spend a great deal of time in any of the stores. The Poetry Bookshop is one of several I will visit again; today I only nibbled at the edges. They have a couple of different editions of plays by W.B. Yeats, one of which I may buy tomorrow or Saturday. There are some other books there which interest me, to be sure, but I have to weigh how much I want to carry and how much I, as a pensioner, want to spend. One book I clearly can not afford to even think about is the first Irish (limited) edition of Yeats's books of poems Responsibilities, which is priced at 750 pounds--$1500 roughly. Other relatively pricey items include a signed copy of Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, David Jones's In Parenthesis, and early poetry collections by Mervyn Peake. They have quite a few early editions of Lord Byron's work as well, which are not terribly expensive because so many of them were printed--Byron was a bestseller (as was, later, Tennyson).

At the Sensible Book Shop, they have a lot of titles on sale for only one pound a piece--an entire basement full, in fact--as well as very reasonably priced books on the ground level too. They have an interesting assortment of Shakespeare's plays too, from two different multi-volume editions which someone at some time or another separated. So the plays are cut out of (or fell out of?) their bindings and are pages only, still sewn together, but with no fronts or backs. What makes these interesting to me is that they all come from two different sets printed in the 18th century--a small set from the 1740s, about 4 inches high, with print too small for me; and a larger set, about the size of a normal hardcover book nowadays, from the 1770s. Except for a couple which are, I guess, more collectible, they're priced at 3 pounds each. What's nice about books of this age, even without covers, is the way the paper feels--it's made of cotton and not wood pulp and is almost as soft as a T-shirt, even after more than 200 years. So I may buy one of those as well.

I also went into Booth Books, which was sort of icky. Oddly, this is a store owned by the man who got Hay-on-Wye going as a book town back in the 1960s, but the store is kind of a mess: books lie on their sides, or tilted at weird angles, on some of the shelves, as if there is either a lot of turnover or a lack of care on Booth's part to keep the shelves straight. There are a lot of books here, but the mess puts me off. Still I may return, if only to look more carefully at several shelves of "pocket" hardbacks: early printings of books from Everyman's Library, and small editions in the Oxford World Classics series, and so forth. Booth's other store is in Hay Castle, part of which is in ruins. I will try to get a picture or two of it tomorrow. It's rather scenic. Today I wasn't carrying my camera. This store specializes in visual-related materials: art, photography, cinema: and a few other subjects.

Now I know that you don't want to have an entry without a photograph, if at all possible, so I thought I'd better give you a photo-update on the ankle. It's been three and a half weeks since I twisted it in Valletta, Malta, and it's still about 50 percent bigger than the left ankle. It hurts a bit, especially if I move it certain ways, but doesn't object to walking. And today, you'll be glad to know, I barely avoided another tumble off of a pavement which sort of turned into a long series of steps. Another inch or so the wrong direction, and I might have going flying again! So here's the photo:

Maybe I'll just be Fat Ankle for the rest of my life!


Friday the 13th

July 13, 2007

Definitely Friday the 13th--today's weather ranks with my first Sunday in London for most consistently icky weather for an entire day. Or, as the proprietor at the Poetry Bookshop said, "abysmal" (although he may have been talking about the whole summer.) It began to rain right as I left the B&B, after 9:15 or so, and continued until about 3, when it pretty well quit for a couple of hours before starting up again. Since then it's tapered off again, but it's been a gloomy Friday. Fortunately it hasn't been nearly as cold as Wednesday morning in Chester.

I think 13 may be an unlucky number after all. On May 13, a Sunday, Nancy H and I spent a couple of hours trying to find each other in Livorno, and on June 13, a Wednesday, I went to Gozo. If you've been reading the Travel Log, you know what that means. And then today. . .

My goal had been not to buy any books until tomorrow, after doing a lot of browsing and seeing what the various stores have, but I fudged and bought two books today, neither of them expensive or collectible. One is a collection of poems, with a fairly lengthy introductory essay by the translators, by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy. It's a hardcover, but it's an ex-library book, so it only cost 4 pounds. The other is a paperback novel by William Golding, Rites of Passage, a sea story. It cost 1 pound 95 pence. I also found yet another edition of plays by W.B. Yeats, both less expensive and more inclusive than the ones I was thinking of from the Poetry Bookshop, so I may buy it tomorrow. I spent a good bit of time in the Poetry Bookshop today, trying to do a fairly decent scan of the main poetry shelves, just to see what's there and to see if something I wouldn't have thought of would surprise me. The verdict may be no, though if I weren't having to carry these things with me I might decide differently.

It's been interesting to compare, not just in Hay but in whatever bookstore I've visited in the British Isles, the different authors who receive attention here, as compared to the U.S. One example is John Betjeman, whose name barely registers in the U.S., but who is quite a presence on bookstore shelves in the U.K. He was, to be sure, the poet laureate at one time, but that's been a while. I think last year was the centenary of his birth, so that may be a part of the reason for his current prominence. Despite the fact that the U.S. and the U.K. share a language, and despite the fact that Harry Potter is adored in both countries, there are still a lot of differences in what we read.

I also visited Murder & Mayhem, which specializes in crime and horror fiction. It's owned by the same people who own Addyman Books and the Addyman Annexe, which have a much wider range of books for sales, so among the three of them, they must get a fair amount of the Hay book business. The Hay Cinema Bookshop, which I avoided yesterday, being fooled by the name, is not simply a bookstore for books about movies and actors--it's a bookstore built in an old movie-house! I did my first book-looking there this morning because it was open (some of the stores don't open till 10 or even 11 a.m.), because I had learned that it carried all sorts of books, and because I could get in out of the rain there. It's where I found the other edition of Yeats's plays. It's quite a large store, especially in comparison with some of the others, which may be two stories, but are still only two stories of a small old house.

After a while, of course, it's sort of hard to focus. One's eyes want to be looking at something other than the spines of books. It's also true for me at least, that being faced with an enormous number of used books from at least a couple of centuries, I sometimes forget things I would like to look for! I should keep a list of course, but I'm often not that organized. I had at least three breaks today--an early lunch; a tea break; and a brief time standing under a tree and my umbrella eating a packet of sandwich ham after my lunch had worn off. One thing Hay really needs is an area of covered tables where book-browsers can have an outdoor meal, rain or no rain.

This is a photo of Hay Castle, part of which, as you can see, is in ruins.

The photo at the head of this entry is also of the castle. Part of the castle isn't in ruins, and the Castle Bookshop which I visited yesterday is in there. There is a music festival going on there this weekend, and apparently it's started, because I keep hearing bass rumbling coming from somewhere, and I presume it's the music festival rather than a garage band practicing in the neighborhood (although, to tell the truth, it does almost sound like the same song over and over. I guess the bass sections of most bands are not very inventive. Oddly, though, at least some of what is featured at the festival is supposed to be folk, jazz, and reggae.)

The Granary (a cafe in town) actually has free wifi for customers, and if it had ever completely dried up outside today, I might have gotten the laptop and gone there to post the Travel Log and check email while drinking tea. (I had tea there anyway.) So maybe tomorrow I'll get the chance to log in, and now I'll have two days' worth of information for you, instead of only one.

I hope you are all getting more sunshine than I am, and I hope you are not complaining too loudly about the heat. As much as I have enjoyed so many things in England, I can't wait to be somewhere warm again. For me, July and Today's high will be 66 are words that don't belong together.


Sheila Ryan said...

Well, I'm disappointed that it seems Hay-on-Wye has disappointed you. As I noted at greater length in a private email message earlier today, it would appear that Hay-on-Wye's status as "the town of books" is yet another example of a cachet recently manufactured by marketers and members of tourism bureaus.

One can only discover the truth of such things by visiting the places oneself, however, and I suppose such hard-earned knowledge can be racked up to the broadening education that travel is alleged to confer.

DrTee said...

I think Hay-on-Wye has seen its Hey-on-Wye Day. Probably was a great place 20 years ago when we all first heard about it.

But I say buy the books you want and ship them home to Polly's.

DrTee said...

Renner, I don't recall if you're a PotterHead or not, but if you are you might find it fun to buy the book in the UK. I read the first one only, (I didn't love it like everybody else), but the one I read was brand, spankin' NEW, and nobody I knew had read it. I was literally the first on my block to read it, since I got it in London the summer it came out. I saw everybody reading it on the tube, so I got a copy. And the UK versions are a little different, with spellings and all, and of course the first one had a title change since Americans don't know what a philosopher's stone is, I guess.
ALSO, in the UK they usually have two different covers, one for adults and one for kids--but the book is the same! Those wacky Brits.
Anyway, I just saw a big sign at Kroger that said "8 DAYS," so the countdown is on for a lot of people. You can get it 6 hours before any of us can, though, as I said, I won't be reading it.

Sheila Ryan said...

This week's prize goes to The Doctor for "I think Hay-on-Wye has seen its Hey-on-Wye Day."

As I recall, Renner, you and I are in agreement about what you characterized as the "ickish" quality of Rowlings's prose. I expect The Doctor is with us on that.

But I'd actually rather read the books than view the films . . . unless the kids have finally learned to act. (Though I did enjoy the "Azkaban" film scenes featuring Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, and Timothy Spall tout ensemble, mainly by imagining them as outtakes from a Mike Leigh film.)

DrTee said...

I do love Timothy Spall, and Mike Leigh too, for that matter. I've often been tempted to include Secrets and Lies in my film class, but then I remember the old pearls before swine thing.

Since it's been ten years since I read HP, I can't recall the prose, but I'm sure I must have had "issues" with it. I actually have a great admiration for much of what Rowlings has done, as in GETTING PEOPLE TO READ. And some of her characters (especially the names) are brilliant (in the American sense of the word), especially their names. And as for the films, they have included many of my favorite actors, like Imelda Staunton in the new one (though I haven't seen it) and Michael Gambon. I have gotten a kick out of how she/they have been pressured (or pressurized as the British say) to include more minorities in the latter works. Her early work was very male and very white.

Sheila Ryan said...

Timothy Spall's "Secrets and lies! Secrets and lies!" outburst is great, is it not?