The day begins with great news, Sarah Ball has won Welsh Artists of the year, which is fantastic as she will be involved in PATAGONIA150; creating portraits from the stiff studio sittings of the Welsh settlers from the archive that I sawn in Trefelin, these photos are a stark contrast to the images of them toiling and taming the land.
So with this joyous news we head off to Mountain Ash which neither of us had been to before, it resembles and feels like a typical valleys town, a little neglected but still with a fighting spirit and bizarrely an extremely busy ( and a bit smelly) poodle parlour !
Deliberately I’ve not planned the search for a location but want to do it on the ground and ask people on the street, most guide us to The Miners Welfare and a few chapel vestries but their all too small .
In the centre if the town is a statue dedicated to the towns most famous son, Griffith Morgan (1700–1737) or Guto Nyth Bran, a legendary athlete , one wonderful tale has him running from his home to the local town of Pontypridd and back, a total distance of some 7 miles (11 km), before his mother’s kettle had boiled.
Another, perhaps not so famous son of Mountain Ash origin who left for Patagonia was John D Evans who was later to be immortalised in a mythical tale involving a miraculous escape from marauding bandits astride his infamous horse El Malacara . For those of you who haven’t read the story before, here it is in Mike Pearson’s eloquent words .
They penetrated four hundred miles inland, to the foothills of the Andes, spurred on, some would have it, by the promise of gold. And then, on some instinct, they became afraid. They turned for home, riding day and night. The hooves of the horses bled. Two of the men had to be tied into their saddles. Suddenly, at a place now called Valle Los Martires – the Valley of the Martyrs – they were attacked by their pursuers, a vicious, marauding band from Chile. Three were killed with spears, their bodies slit open, their skeletons hacked out and scattered, their severed sex organs stuffed into their mouths.
Miraculously, John D. Evans escaped. He spurred El Malacara across a twenty–foot wide ravine and down a steep scree slope. They made the two hundred miles back to the lower valley in forty hours. Next year, John D. Evans and El Malacara guided the expedition that discovered Cwm Hyfryd. Eventually he became known as Banqueano, ‘a talented leader who is familiar with the life and paths of the plateau’.
Milton told the story with great fervour, lingering over the lurid details and the heroic exploits of John D. Evans. And why not? He was, after all, talking about his father. He also told the story, word for word, to Bruce Chatwin. It’s Chapter 17 in his book ‘In Patagonia’. And to Kyffin Williams, to Tom Vernon and to anyone else with an ear to listen.
Clearly it’s going to be a tough quest to find the right site to stage the show but I’m determined that it should be here as 47 of the people that boarded The Mimosa in 1865 where from Mountain Ash and Aberdare.
Mary Jones, the wife of John Jones who hailed from the town actually gave birth to a son named John aboard The Mimosa, incredibly on June the 11th! God I love serendipity , I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again , when your in the creative zone serendipity plays a critical and wonderful role….Penblwydd Hapus John! Happy Birthday John!