Mach 3

Posted on July 7, 2012 by admin

In Dyfi Valley, Machynlleth Tan-y-Coed on 7 July, 2012

This whole thing is like a giant treasure hunt. I know there are Giants around. I know where they’re meant to be. But they’re trixy to spot. That’s part of their charm: you’ve got to work to find them, and when you do it’s like you’ve been let in on a great secret. From hanging around them and observing innocent passersby, it’s at the very least clear that most people never look up!

The first Giant, the urban Giant in the centre of Machynlleth, was cunningly hidden in the car park of Y Plas. Y Plas is a pretty diverse place – previously a weekend estate for some bigwig, it is now shared between the local council, an art gallery, a shop a children’s playground, a café, and a community centre. And the community centre is the venue for today’s ‘El sueno existe – festival del sol’[1]. Every other year Tony, of yesterday’s lentil-bake-and-circle-dance fame, organises a biennial 3 day festival to mark the works and demise of Victor Jara, a Chilean singer-songwriter who was tortured and killed in Pinochet’s 1973 coup. The years in between festivals host cut down 1 day affairs, and this year I happen to have arrived at the right time for one of these. All these goings on mean that the Giants pass under the radar a little. One of the members of the artistic community referenced a sort of art saturation: so much is going on, it’s hard to keep track. Which is why, through all of this excitement, most of the people hadn’t even noticed the Giant silently watching, growing happily leafy. The barista in Y Plas café, who works 25 metres away from the Giant every day, didn’t even know he was there.

Back inside to the community centre, the festival is getting underway. Flor Rodrigues talks about a Peruvian Marxist, Derek Wall (Green Party speaker) talks about ecology and social justice in relation to South America, and Simon Thomas (Plaid Cymru) talks about the Green Left movement, and Plaid’s relationship between the English government[2] and the Welsh Assembly. This whole thing is a learning curve: Nobel-prize winning economics, indigenous struggle, alternatives to capitalism, media bias, and even a bit of Quechan[3]. Someone even brought in the concept of ‘ecocide’, where murder can be committed upon the Earth. Considering my crusade here, this is an idea that resonates. Maybe the Giants are a personification of the environment we live in? In a divine Tolkein/Julie Andrews melange, the trees are alive with the sound of music environmental activism and community spirit. The Dyfi valley is full of trees, all alive, with or without faces.

But it would certainly be a crying shame to hurt a tree with a face.

Giant number two, the rural cousin of Y Plas, was hiding amongst his faceless friends in Tan Y Coed, a forest a couple of miles North of Machynlleth. I’m looking for the Giants (albeit without a proper map) and I’m having trouble locating them. Madcap cycles up narrow category 3 slopes, wandering around one-street towns looking lost (impressive). If I know about them and can’t spot ‘em, I feel sory for the others who are oblivious! Luckily I had help in the form of Marit Olsson, the official Guardian of the Giants. She greeted me with a flask of coffee, and tales from the Welsh Giants’ birth. If I thought the last couple of days was rainy, it sounds like the Giants where forged in hardier times. Their hoisting hampered by heavy downpours and flooded roads separating the Giants from their prospective foliage down in a different town, Upper Corris, a 65 person place[4], pulled together some Biosphere community spirit and greened them up. They planted them well, as this giant was doing splendidly: bushy primrose eyebrows, some foxglove earrings, and a proud fern goatee.

Sitting having a coffee with one of the Giants allowed us to ponder how they communicate with their warm blooded neighbours. At the moment they’re a treat for those in the know, a happy secret. The guy who lives closest to the Giant in the Tan Y Coed didn’t tell his daughter about him to see how long it took her to notice. Their shyness is part of their elusive charm, but you do have to know to be in on the fun. Maybe they need signs? Maybe they need a real treasure hunt linking them up? A visitor’s book? A geocache?

The Guardian of the Giants further evidenced how multi-cultural the Machynlleth area is, considering the towns 2500 population. I was taken to the Giants’ birthplace itself, into a Swedish household, and fed Tanzanian[5] food! I was then rolled back down into the valley and witnessed the glorious musical second part of El Sueno Existe. It isn’t every day that one is welcomed into a vibrant sustainable community who stage gigs with peace choirs, welsh harp players (who are 10yrs old!), protest singers, Victor Jara tributes, and traditional Peruvian pan pipe music jumped into the 21st century. I have an inkling that this incredible diverse cultural interest is related in some way to the CAT. The milk thickens…

In other news, today I went to the local library to use their wifi. I tried to read the pronunciation section of a Welsh dictionary. I cut my losses. I also managed to snap the end of my phone charger off inside my phone! Disaster. As my sole communication device and photograph machine, this was an issue. After a bit of panic, a run around town to find no one sold phones or chargers, and borrowing someone at the festival’s one to temporarily top up the battery, the eminent Guardian of the Giant proved herself to be the Guardian of Idiot Cyclists too.

[1] ‘The dream lives on – festival of the sun’. The dreaming seemed to have worked, as today it didn’t rain. Magic.
[2] I assume this is like Andy Murray being British when he’s winning and Scottish when he’s losing… The issues involved in devolution and independence are fairly hefty, and were touched upon in a very practical manner. Maybe to be developed further when I get to Scotland!
[3] Unfortunately immediately erased from memory.
[4] An old slate mining town. The houses are built from slate that wasn’t suitable for roofing purposes, and the rest was loaded into trolleys and rolled down the valley to the coast to be shipped off. Upper Corris used to take 12 workers per house, and had 7 chapels and a pub. The decline in the local slate industry appears to have hit the nightlife hard.
[5] “El Sueno Existe” isn’t the only festival in town. Last week Marit and friends organised an event focusing on a different continent, called “Taste of Africa”, with seven talks discussing issues and work in different corners of the continent, including Marit’s work in helping women profit from education in Tanzania.

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