Returning

It has been four years since I visited Lund, and then it was only for a weekend. The circumstances are not unfamiliar, though — I have come from Iceland, on an early flight, and I will be visiting the same relatives, whom I have not seen since that first visit. The sense is the same, too — of relief — glad that I have found myself in this warm, sunny southern Swedish city after months in the more rugged Reykjavik. Here, at last, it feels like spring!

What has changed in four years, in my circumstances? I am no longer under the illusion that my finances are endless. I travel now with more purpose, and more aim. I am also more inclined to fret. Did I have a plan last time? Was I really only making it up as I went? Yes — but I didn’t mind. My school plans and my ideas of fun have changed, and my grandfather, the link to these relatives, has died. There are distinct differences in this sense.

Like last time, I am running short on sleep, with an early flight giving me a strong need for caffeine. But instead of having had a late night due to a long picnic and revelry with friends, last night I stayed awake trying to seek reassurance after attacks at the airport in Brussels gave me an uneasy feeling about flying. I flew into Copenhagen, but traveled independently to Lund, taking the smooth, efficient train, rather than being picked up. Even though the reason for this is sad (my cousin’s failing eyesight), it is a pleasant train ride, and I had time to enjoy the scenery and wake up a little before arriving. Coming in on my own also meant that I could see the city before meeting up with family, and I am writing from a cafe that I think could become a favourite were I to stay here any longer.

I think the people at the table across from me are foreign students. By the sounds of it they are not here on exchange, but the conversation is in English, so I would guess they are from different places, taking their degrees in Lund. When I last visited I was considering a degree here myself. Now the hope is that my sister will come here on exchange next year. The same — but different.

The feeling of a return is pleasantly nostalgic, but it is still mostly a new city to me. One weekend is not enough to see everything, and having more time is an exciting prospect. I believe it is time to explore!

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Shore Mornings

There are times that are good for thinking, and early morning is one of them. My walks are becoming less and less like early morning, with the sun strengthening each day, and although I go out at the same time I do not see the same scene now as I did two weeks ago. It is still, however, empty enough to think, and to let myself wonder about things as I would not if I were inside my room. There is a time and place to concern myself with the practical and immediate.

A few days ago, there was a storm. It should not be so frightening, to have a storm with no thunder, lightning, threat of funnel clouds — yet the wind, on its own, was enough to chase the people from the streets, and nearly enough to keep me indoors. Even then, the sound of it never ceased, and the force of it shook the walls. All across the bicycle path there were stones and seaweed, heaved up from the beach by the force of the wind. With the wind at my back I could barely see for flying hair, but with it straight into my face, I was blinded by rain and the effort to move against it. It has calmed now, but for two days, it was nearly impossible to walk down the street.

Walking in the morning also makes me consider the things that I would like to do in a day, regardless of whether I plan to, or whether, even if I did, I could find the time to make those plans happen. I have been lax, lately, on my Welsh lessons. I have been thinking of that, without the pressing need to do them immediately. But they have had the chance to flit into my mind, during these walks, when I’m mulling over conversations had. I keep coming across people, primarily English, who wonder why on Earth I would choose to do Welsh. The word ‘useless’ is not excluded from their assessment. So, why do I do them?

There is the simple answer: no knowledge is completely useless. However, I would not class Welsh with trivia or party tricks, which are limited in their interest and useful only in certain moments. Welsh is a living, if not a commonly spoken, language, and that alone is reason enough to learn it. To my understanding it shows respect for a culture, any culture, to learn to speak their language, and it opens new possibilities in literature, which go beyond translation (I haven’t reached this or anywhere close to it, but in principle, it is a good argument). It would, in the limited sense of the word ‘useful,’ allow me to work in translation or interpretation between English and Welsh.

When I read Tolkien’s essay ‘English and Welsh’ last year, and came across the real reason, it was incredible. His first and most prominent suggestion for why English people ought to learn Welsh was simply ‘because Welsh is beautiful.’ There was more after that, of course, but that was the phrase that stood out. Would you believe it was a revelation to me? I knew that I had been learning because it was beautiful, but it had seemed an embarrassingly sentimental reason. Yet reading that essay, I think I saw the sense in it because it was not only me who thought that reason enough — it only makes no sense if one looks at language purely as a utility, something to communicate, whereas anyone who has seen ‘Dead Poets Society’ knows that it exists to woo women! (Or, presumably, men.) I started thinking about music, about painting, about everything that people do for reasons other than their daily work, and enjoy as more than tools. Why is it stranger to learn Welsh than to learn to play the harpsichord? The harpsichord can make fine notes, and Welsh can make fine words. I find it a beautiful language — and, by and large, we study what we find beautiful.