What can I think to say in the time it takes for the traffic lights to change? Inhabitants of this city will recognise Sketty Cross, momentarily quiet as this impatient junction gives way to wary pedestrians. No doubt William Dillwyn would be kind but disapproving that the street, and presumably the cafe I’m sitting in, is named after him. Born in Philadelphia in 1743 Dillwyn became a major figure in the anti-slavery campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, although his sincere Quaker humility meant his name faded with him, as he intended. His was a slow campaign but it helped establish the attitudes that are the norm today.On the other side of the city is quite another piece of Americana. I first admired the distinctive flowers of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) on the West coast of Canada. On my return I found I recognised it around Swansea, my first sighting was at a speed of at least 70 mph on the M4 motorway. The bright silvery patches show up on the dullest of days. No one really knows how they got here; maybe historic trade and industry may be sufficient. Typically everlasting flowers have papery bracts that keep form, colour or a certain iridescence when dried. Flowers could have very likely been pressed and sent back home as keepsakes by travellers and emigrants to north America. Eventually thrown to the winds their seeds established where they could in their new habitat. If this scenario is true these irregular patches resemble the pale shadows of the people who once walked on, but left, this landscape.
It must be said that some emigrants returned to refill the spaces they left, and a few did so in a changed way. Two roadside houses in Llandybie built at the end of the 19th century are listed for a unique reason. Their design and construction techniques were brought back from the US by a local carpenter who had worked in Pennsylvania in the 1870s. These clapperboard villas are so perfect in their setting you feel compelled to blurt ‘backyard’ not ‘garden’.
The brownie I had just enjoyed in Dilly’s Kitchen wae flavoured with Halen Môn salt. The trend for salted chocolate seems to have start with certain Seattle caramels that are topped with smoked salt from the same Anglesey company in north Wales. These are famously a favourite of President Obama, or at least were at one time. Two days ago the television news showed helicopters touching down at the NATO summit at Newport that might or might not contain Obama. Hopefully his hosts may find a box left for them in the Presidential suite on his departure.
At this distance the event generated cheerful grumbling. Swansea is about 50 miles west of Newport but yesterday someone seriously blamed his cancelled hernia operation on the summit. Flippancy aside, I can still remember the extraordinary mood of expectation in the air when I was in Washington DC a year after Obama was first elected President. The times have changed. Back in my house sound of military helicopters overhead beating their low path eastwards towards the summit venue was a reminder of lives distorted by war, threat and personal violence. ‘We are not wholly bad or good’ as the poet says, but let the proximity of this summit allow me a passing sense of hope that now it is over its results will make a difference. At the risk of being obtuse and glib, these times remind me of what was said to be a Arabic aphorism, ‘one good man should not kill another good man’. At a time and place when life was cheap, it apparently saved the life of designer Hermann Zapf who as a young soldier at the end of World War Two was confronted with trigger-happy enemy soldiers while finding his way home across Germany. I haven’t looked up the official NATO motto, but in its widest sense this simple phrase might have something going for it.
Fran’s Chocolates, Seattle, USA.
Hermann Zapf, About Alphabets, MIT Press 1970.