Letter from Laura Alonso Sanchez

December 1997

Dear family

How are you? I and my family are fine. But I miss you a lot. I have had a lot of exams, but now I have holidays.

I like your letter very much and the photographs too. Sean and Susanna are lovely.

This summer has been the best of my live. I enjoyed a lot in Ireland, which is a wonderful country. I enjoyed my stay with you and you have been very generous and pleasant with me.

Sean and Susanna are friendly children. I always remember when they played with me and Diana.

I hope that Sta. Claus will bring they a lot of presents and toys, because they are good children.

In my town it’s very cold and some days ago snowed. I and my friends made a snow puppet. [small drawing of ‘snow puppet’ here]

I will never forget you and I would like to come to Ireland next summer and I would learn more English.

I enclosed some photographs, because I think you would like have them. Susanna, Olivia and Sean are lovely.

My parents are grateful for your preasant. The salmon was very good.

I send kisses for Sean and Susanna, and for Olivia too.

Love, Laura




Filed under Ireland, Memories

52 responses to “Letter from Laura Alonso Sanchez

  1. Cymbeline

    Hello Brendano. Your guest obviously enjoyed her stay with your family and was delighted by the children. She will remember the experience all her life; youthful memories of being made welcome in a foreign land are indelible. When they are successful, language stays and exchanges do a great deal for international understanding. That is why I am very fond of the Erasmus programme.

    Was your guest from the Spanish Pyrenees?

    I had never come across the term ‘snow puppet’ before. It is not a literal translation from Spanish. A brief Google reveals that it is used in English. Is it an Americanism?

    • Hello Cymbeline. Yes, Laura enjoyed her stay. She was 16 at the time, and burst into tears at the dinner table the first night, leaving us and an Italian student looking at each other in puzzlement. She was homesick, but soon settled in. A very nice, warm-hearted young woman. She wanted to come and stay with us the following summer, but by then we were in the process of moving out of Dublin.

      She was from Toledo, right in the middle of Spain.

      I had assumed that ‘snow puppet’ was a literal translation, but it may indeed be an Americanism that Laura came across somewhere.

      We had a children’s computer game in English and Spanish versions. When I showed it to her, she said that the Spanish was actually Mexican.

      • Cymbeline

        I have returned from an evening dental appointment. To keep my mind off what the dentist was doing to me, I thought about snow puppets. When you think about it, the term is actually very apt. Snowmen don’t have legs, they have a long skirt. They do actually look like giant hand puppets.

  2. Cymbeline

    Ah, Toledo. Great centre of Jewish, Christian and Arab learning at one time. I visited Toledo for the first time as a student, and then kept going back. El Greco featured largely on my first visit, and then I returned for the Semana Santa. The last time I was there was about eight years ago. There was an interesting music festival exploring the Jewish, Christian and Arab music that was once heard in Toledo. We listened to the music outside in an ancient courtyard. Hot Spanish summer nights. All the women were using fans. A giant many-winged butterfly or moth.

    Yes, there are varieties of Spanish. Laura would have spoken Castillian. De pura cepa as they still say.

    • It sounds like a wonderful night. Hot summer nights are a long way from incessant Irish dampness.

      Now Susanna is studying Spanish, including Spanish culture, and may spend the third year of her course in Spain. I hope she’ll be able to have experiences like you’ve had.

  3. Cymbeline

    Incessant Irish dampness? The Spanish and French have all sorts of romantic fantasies about Ireland, and I dare say other nations do too. All to do with the grass being greener on the other side, I suppose, and hey, the grass really IS green in Ireland.

    Here is Michel Sardou singing about Connemara :

  4. Thanks for that, Cymbeline. It went on and on a bit. Yes … as another song says, ‘the grass it is green around Ballyjamesduff, and the blue sky is over it all’.

    This morning I was at a funeral in Mullagh, Co. Cavan, and sang in the choir. The dead man was John Joe Lynch, a popular publican and musician who was known for teaching dogs and hens (!) to do tricks. He was 78 … his mother is alive and well, aged 99.

    Two of his brothers played ‘Amazing Grace’ in the church, very well, on saxophone and trumpet. We sang ‘Abide with Me’ in four parts … a hymn that always makes me feel emotional. ‘Change and decay in all around I see.’ I was glad I went.

    • Cymbeline

      Yes, it does go on a bit. Bizarrely, it is a very well-known and much-loved song in France. A sort of popular classic. I can’t stand it mesself.

      Yes, both ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Abide with me’ are powerful hymns and I am not surprised to learn that you were especially affected by the latter.

      My grandmother (the one mentioned above) was called Grace and ‘Amazing Grace’ was her favourite hymn. She also happened to be a very graceful and beautiful woman and an excellent ballroom dancer. The hymn was played at her funeral.

      In my ignorance, I didn’t know that Catholics sang Anglican hymns. I always thought that there was a separate body of Catholic hymns.

      John Joe Lynch must have been entertaining company. I hope that his mother will be able to cope.

      • I don’t know whether it’s usual for Catholics to sing Anglican hymns, as my history of church-going is limited to just a few churches. When I was growing up, all the hymns I heard in the local church were Catholic ones, I think. The same person is in charge of the choir in my current local church and Mullagh, and it may be that she just chooses whatever hymns she likes, including untypical ones. She certainly chooses good ones, and drills us well.

        We finished yesterday with a real old-fashioned Catholic hymn … ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’.

        • Cymbeline

          I have just listened to ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’. There is a gentle sweetness to it. Very beautiful. I had never heard it before. Now that I think of it, I have only been to an English-speaking Catholic church once. That was in a Catholic church in Oxford. It was a wedding service. The groom was Catholic and the bride was Anglican. I think that the service featured both Anglican and Catholic hymns. The Catholic priest was obviously an enlightened chap as he did not insist on the bride converting to Catholicism. I have seen this generosity of spirit amongst Catholic priests elsewhere. In Annecy, the Catholic church lent their annexe to a small congregation of Anglicans. The vicar was based in Geneva. Two of my children were baptised in this Catholic annexe.

          I have been to Catholic services in Spain, Italy, France and Martinique. I do not know any of their hymns. They do not seem to be as rousing as the Anglican and Methodist hymns I know, and they seem very difficult to sing. Perhaps this is simply because I am not familiar with the toons. I am unfamiliar with the recitations too. The only formal prayer I know by heart is the Lord’s prayer in Welsh and English.

        • Cymbeline

          ‘drills us well’

          Bethan would approve.

  5. I know the Lord’s Prayer in Irish. Sometimes (yesterday, for example), the priest will use the Irish version, for no apparent reason. The congregation will know it as they all learned it at school. I must have recited the main Catholic prayers in Irish thousands of times.

    I know most of the main mass prayers by heart, despite a 30-year gap in mass attendance.

    ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’ is a hymn I remember well from childhood, along with others such as ‘Soul of My Saviour’. I was an altar boy for five years. My favourite hymn of all, I would say, is Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘In the Deep Midwinter’, which I didn’t know until I joined the local church choir a few years ago. I love singing this with the choir around Christmastime each year. There is something numinous about it (to use one of Carl Jung’s favourite words).

    I came across a definition of ‘spritual meaning’ in the course of my work that pretty much captures how I feel on these matters:

    ‘the extent to which someone views life itself as coherent and purposeful and also derives personal meaning from a force that she or he believes pervades, underlies, arches over, or transcends life’ (Mascaro & Rosen, 2006, p. 170).

    Mascaro, N., & Rosen, D. H., (2006). The role of existential meaning as a buffer against stress. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 46(2), 168–190.

    • Cymbeline

      I think that it is ‘bleak midwinter’, not ‘deep midwinter’. Perhaps your purposeful and positive mind is fighting against ideas of bleakness and this is why you have exchanged ‘bleak’ for ‘deep’. Or perhaps I am talking total rubbish and you have always sung ‘deep midwinter’.

      I know and love that carol very well and often sing it in my head. I did not know that it was one of Christina Rossetti’s poems put to song.Thank you for that piece of information.

      I can imagine your niece Aedin singing that song beautifully. Her pure and clear voice would be perfect for it, as perfect as when she sings ‘Sean and Clio in the Snow’.

      Your erudite references are very interesting, but I think that you put such ideas across much better than the so-called specialists and doctors of the human mind.

  6. Thanks very much, Cymbeline. Yes, the bleak midwinter, of course … a slip on my part. And yes, Aedín would make a lovely job of it.

    • Cymbeline

      My favourite hymn of all is Calon Lân. For me, it combines music and meaning the best. There is too my emotional attachment to the language in which the song is sung. I do not expect everyone to share that.

      You must have heard it through rugby. The words are wonderful. Have you ever read them in translation? Here are the words I like the best, in translation:

      ‘I ask not for a life of ease, I ask not for gold or rare pearls; I ask for a happy heart , an honest heart, a clean heart.’ I try to live my life like that. When translated into English, the term ‘pure’ is used rather than ‘clean’. I disagree.

      I was looking for a good you-tube rendition to put here. Katherine Jenkins is Welsh and has an internationally recognized voice, so I listened to one of her clips on Youtube. In this clip, she sings ‘am calon’ instead of ‘am galon’. Not a Welsh-speaker. After ‘am’ , the ‘c’ mutates into a ‘g’. So, I have gone off Katherine Jenkins. Not good enough.

      • Cymbeline

        At last. Here is Bryn Terfel singing ‘Calon Lân’ properly. Listen to it, please.

        My sister knows Bryn Terfel and his family well.

        • Cymbeline

          Failure. Another try :

        • Cymbeline


        • Cymbeline

          Hogyn ni.

        • Cymbeline

          Things always link up with whatever is going on in one’s life. In this clip, you will see that Terfel mentions Angela from Romania at the beginning, and at the end she joins him, singing Calon Lân with charming gusto. She is obviously a top class voice.

          I have started working with a Romanian woman who is a top linguist. She acquired French nationality via academic merit. I did not know that one could acquire French nationality via academic merit. She has a French doctorate in linguistics. She speaks Romanian, Russian, French, Italian and is in charge of a ‘cell’ for teaching French to non-francophone young immigrants and refugees. Her students are aged 16-19 and they come from all over the world. She tells me that the Chechens tend to be very good at maths. Things like that.

          Her job is to get her students relatively proficient in French within a year , so that they can gain a French qualification and start working. Her job is to give them keys.

          She is a wonderful woman, full of passion and intelligence. She invited me to her office and showed me photograph albums of her old students whilst telling me proudly about what they then went on to do. She gave me nasty instant coffee in a plastic cup, served with elegance and grace. She showed me around her world and was very interested in the fact that I speak Welsh.

          I looked for how to say ‘thank you for the coffee and the visit’ in Romanian and wrote it on a stiff card, in black ink. She was delighted, and now I am always welcome in her office. She has given me an invitation to a private party and she told me that when she arrived in France as a student, she did a phone-in quizz. It was all about the Sarthe region of France. She had only been in France for three days and won the competition. Flights for four to Paris, a weekend in a four-star hotel for four and a visit to Disneyland (unfortunate about Disneyland).

          Anyway, I met this extraordinary Romanian woman just a few days ago. I shall show her the clip of Angela singing with Terfel. Corny? No, definitely not.

        • She does sound like a great woman doing great work.

  7. Incidentally, on the subject of Connemara, you might find this interesting.


    • Cymbeline

      Much to think about in this. Will get back to you.

      • Cymbeline

        An excellent review of what is obviously an excellent book. ‘Nothing there that is not there and nothing that is’. I like the idea the permanency of fluidity and change. I like too the idea of the variety that is to be found in a given area. I was never much of a scientist at school, but I do remember a fascinating outside geography lesson. We were on a mountain and we had to pen out a small piece of ground and note down everything we could find in it. I loved delving into that small piece of world. And that was just plants. This book sweeps a far wider range of what is to be found in a given area; Connemara in this case. No dominating theme, but a multiplicity of themes.

        I was interested in the remarks made about the loss and presence of the Irish language, and how the old language remains present in the anglicised terms. What is a sean-nos singer? I thought of you and your songs when reference was made to the songs sung about tragically short lives.

        ‘A little room into an everywhere’. I love that.

        Thank you for the review. Far more inspiring than Sardou’s song.

        • Thanks, Cymbeline. ‘Sean nós’ means ‘old style’ … here’s an example of a sean nós song.

          There is also sean nós dancing, which is more fluid and less constrained than the usual concept of Irish dancing. This clip is of a man I know … he used to fish with Sean and me, and I have been in many music sessions with him. He was something of a hero to Sean.

  8. Thanks, Cymbeline, for ‘Calon Lân’ … stirring stuff, and I enjoyed it. My fault that it didn’t show up properly the first time, I think … I approved the comment before it had loaded fully.

    Wales did well in the rugby yesterday, though losing. Ireland did badly, though winning.

  9. Just posting those clips again, as they appear too narrow.

  10. Cymbeline

    Thank you for those clips. Very interesting. Special stuff. There is a sense of great culture, without any form of affectation. You mention the less constrained dancing. Yes, it is not tightly formal, but at the same time the knows exactly what he is doing, it seems to me. The dance is patterned and it has been taught and learnt; there is no sense of the dancer ‘letting it all hang out’. He is free, but disciplined too. The singer is superb and I enjoyed listening to the sound of Irish. What is he singing about? What does the word ‘sendernay’ in the refrain mean? It seems to be an important word in the song.

    I like the way the respective audiences listen and watch respectfully. I was interested to learn that the dancer used to fish with you and Sean. A privilege to know such a man of culture.

    • Thanks, Cymbeline. Yes, I see Tom (the dancer) often … he was at the funeral I mentioned above, for example. He is often to be encountered at musical sessions, such as in the country pub where Pauline and I went for the first time (with Aedín and Aoife) a few weeks ago. There he was, playing his flute. He is 82 now. We are friendly with one of his sons, who is a very good singer and guitar player.

      Aedín and Aoife are interested in sean nós singing and do a bit of it, incidentally. In some forms it has a very atonal, un-‘Western’ sound … like something from North Africa.

      The word means ‘old person’. In the introduction, the singer says that a sister of his grandmother used to sing the song. There’s a translation here:


      • Cymbeline

        Tseanduine. Thanks for that. Mesmerising words. Counting ideas and pictures. A good old song, like the taste of water from an old well.

        The sister of his grandmother must be Elizabeth Cronon (sp?).

        • ‘A good old song, like the taste of water from an old well’ … yes indeed.

          Yes, Elizabeth Cronin … Googling returns a good bit of information about her, if you’re interested.

          This is one of the songs she sang, as I recall.

        • Cymbeline

          Tseanduine. There must be a connection between ‘duine’ and ‘dyn’.

          ‘Dyn’ is Welsh for the English word ‘man’.

        • Yes, perhaps. I don’t think there are many similarities, but we identified the words for ‘river’ as another possibility, if memory serves.

        • Cymbeline

          Well, there are probably more similarities with Welsh than with North Africa.

  11. I know all the words of ‘The Good Ship Kangaroo’ and have often sung it at sessions. There are some good lyrics:

    Me love she is no foolish girl, her age it is two score
    Me love she is no spinster, she’s been married twice before.
    I cannot say it was her wealth that stole me heart away
    She’s a washer in a laundry for one and nine a day.

    When I first sang it, ‘two score’ seemed quite old.

  12. Cymbeline

    Was reading about the Muskerry Queen of Song.

    Listened to the song and liked the ‘tortoises from Tenerife and toys from Timbuktoo, a china rat and a Bengal cat and a Bombay cockatoo’. I like mad lists.

    I wondered about the line ‘forbid me love a Jew’ and then heaved a sigh of relief when I looked at the written lyrics.

    Two score IS old. Old starts at 35.

    • My dad came from Muskerry, and as a boy collected golf balls and caddied at the Muskerry golf course, which was beside his house.

      He also sang a song about the Muskerry sportsman, the Bould Thady Quill, which was once very popular. He claimed it was ironic and a jibe at a real-life wimp.

      ‘The GSK’ is quite un-PC, e.g. ‘On some China Hottentot I’ll throw meself away’. I imagine that it’s an English song (Milford Haven?) … many English songs found their way into the Irish tradition.

      Old starts at my age plus 20.

      • Cymbeline

        Interesting that you have a link to Muskerry through your father. Golf links too. Very funny about him singing a popular ‘ironic’ song about the sportsman.

        Oh, it’s absolutely fine to say ‘China Hottentot’, but you can’t say ‘Jew’, and it’s always OK to blame the English en bloc for being dreadful racists.

        So old starts at three score and eleven?

  13. Happy birthday, belatedly, Cymbeline.

    Sorry, I did not know. 😦

    You’re only a young thing anyway.

  14. Hey, Brendano, it’s nice to see that you are still active. I’m just back from a trip to Peru and found this in my inbox. It’s been such a long time. Love, Ana

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