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Most people don't know much about Wales. I do, even though I'm English. My girlfriend is Welsh, and seems to hold me responsible for the English invasion that's said to have ruined the country - even though it was more than 800 years before I was born. In effect, Wales lost its independence about 1282 ... and has been suffering ever since.
The Romans described the Welsh as great fighters, but hundreds of years of English rule seems to have depressed them. Wales is now generally overshadowed by its more vocal Celtic neighbours, Scotland and Ireland. People know the Welsh like a drink and a song, and that Tom Jones and Dylan Thomas (below) were born there. But probably not much more.
Recently, the Welsh have been trying to remind the world that they have a culture that rivals those of the Scots and the Irish. With this in mind, a group of Welsh artists, writers, musicians and craftsmen recently made their way to the US for Wales Week in New York. It was a cultural PR exercise backed by the Welsh Assembly government. Americans had the chance to experience contemporary Welsh art and design, hear traditional Welsh singing and listen to readings of Welsh writers.
The focus was an exhibition of paintings, pottery and furniture at the swish Time Warner Centre on 59th and Broadway. All of the art was contemporary. Viewers were occasionally serenaded by a musical trio and the mellifluous tones of a Welsh harp could be heard above the hubbub.
But the highlight of the week was a reading of Thomas' Under Milk Wood. Wales' most famous poet once lived in New York, so it was a fitting choice. The reading was held at a house owned by New York University and the readers injected an earthiness into the lines that made them explode into life. It was much better than the film version (even though that was narrated by another Welshman, Richard Burton).
The reading had such a typically Welsh flavour that it was easy to forget it was taking place in New York City. Before the performance, listeners assembled in a makeshift bar downstairs to celebrate the American launch of a new Welsh whisky. Everyone got a little tipsy. Even a Welsh bishop, who'd turned up to introduce the reading, seemed to like a tipple.
For the Americans, it was a joyous introduction to the wonders of Welsh culture. Most enjoyed the free whisky, which tasted a little like bourbon. Some even said they'd consider visiting Wales for a holiday - now they know where it is.