My wife is a saint, and not just because she lives with me. When a wild hair sprouts and I just have to heed some distant drummer, she is gracious. Hence, she's given me leave to return to Wales late this spring for the annual Hay-on-Wye festival. Now that I think of it, maybe she is not a saint: perhaps she just wants me out of the country for eleven days to get some peace and quiet.
No matter what the cause, my travel plans are locked in. Soon, I'll be in a country in which sheep outnumber people by a ratio of about 4 to 1. This year, I'll be staying in a medieval castle and walking several miles into the village for the festivities each day.
What festivities? Hay-on-Wye is a book lover's paradise. It is an old market town hard on the border with England. Not much happened there for centuries; well, all right, make that millenia. In the 1960s, Richard Booth bought the crumbling castle in the town's center and decided to sell used books. His scouts scoured North America and books began to blow from West to East. Over time, the town adopted the printed word as its economic lifeline. There are now nearly 40 dealers selling books in the tiny town.
About a quarter century ago, another inspiration transformed the town. Why not an annual literary festival? And so it happens now each year. Authors, actors, entertainers, politicians come from around the world to give talks, performances and presentations in a tent city constructed not far from the center of town. It's a mob scene: nearly 100.000 people flock to the festival each year.
I attended the festival in 2007, and came home with a suitcase full of books, and shoes caked with mud from the everpresent rain. Events conspired to keep from returning last year. Not so this year.
I am not sure who is on the program this year. The list will not be published on line until APril 10. It is the equivalent of a college catalogue. There are so many lectures offered, the real challenge is ruling things out. There simply isn't time to take it all in.
Last night, I sat up late reading a guidebook to Southern Wales. I plan to feast not just on the written word, but to spend several days on day hikes. I still recall the sight of a wild mare in the Brecon Beacon park one windswept day. And I also plan to spend time checking out some old castles, and, finally visiting the site were the Holy Grail is said to be hidden still in the Snowdonian Mountains to the North.
Two members of our herd are griping about my departure, however. They cannot fathom why I would leave them behind. Odysseus and Penelope, the border collies that run our lives, are in revolt. All those sheep and I am not taking them? Just last summer, both dogs showed real promise with sheep when we worked them at different farms on the East Coast. I wish I could take them to Wales, but I suspect they would not want to return home.
Am I counting the days until I leave? Not really. Frankly, I am already there. Check out the festival on-line, and if you decide to go, look for me at the Mouse Castle. We'll share a pint somewhere close, or walk hills the Arthur himself may have traveled.