Nov 19, 2010

Book Review: Patagonia, Matthew Rhys

Matthew Rhys, a native of Cardiff now living in Los Angeles, has appeared in more than 30 roles for film and television, including "The House of America," "The Edge of Love," and the television drama "Brothers and Sisters."

In 1885, a group of Welsh settlers in Chubut, Argentina set out to explore the Andes and found and settled Cwm Hyfryd, "Pleasant Valley". They were members of the largest Welsh settlement in South America, founded twenty years earlier by the passengers of the Mimosa.

Actor and author Matthew Rhys joined a group of the descendants of the original Cwm Hyfryd expedition to recreate their accomplishment, on horseback as they did themselves. Rhys has published a beautiful book of his photographs and commentary on this experience: Patagonia: Croesi'r Paith/Crossing the Plain, a photographic memoir of this journey by horse through the Patagonian landscape and some of its Welsh history.

Although formatted as a beautiful coffee-table style book, Patagonia is about equal parts text and photographs, mainly black and white. It's presented in English and Welsh, including an introduction in those languages and Spanish. Rhys has included some background history of Welsh immigration to Argentina and the story of the original journey, including a few wonderful historic photos of those early settlers and the Argentina of their time. Instead of a linear description of the trip, chapters focus on Rhys' companions and elements of his experience, with titles like "Lunch," about the routine of easting, resting and riding and "Knives," which gives some insight into the arrangement of the trip. Rhys describes the following encounter:

"A number of farmers, and their wives and children, came out to greet us. One old gentleman gestured toward me inviting me to slow down. He ventured something in Spanish, and I gave him my customary response:
"'Perdon, no hablo catellano, seƱor.'
"'Wyt ti'n siarad Cymraeg, fachgen?' ('Do you speak Welsh?') was his answer."

The photographs are excellent. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heroically panoramic. Sometimes warm and small and precise little narratives themselves of people and things.

Patagonia was a comfortable pleasure to read. Picture and narrative together subtly built a sense of place and people, of Rhys' experience, the things he saw and the men who accompanied him, the marks on the land the original settlers left and the effect all this had at the end of the trail. The people, the landscape and customs are brought vividly and splendidly to life and conjure the desire to enjoy an asado in the Andes with these wonderful people, in this beautiful place.

Patagonia is published by Gomer Press and is available through

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