n the night that former President Bill Clinton addressed the Hay book festival in Wales, the initial greeting came from Wales First Minister Rhodri Morgan -- in Welsh. He said things like Croeso i Gymru (Welcome to Wales).

After which, Clinton told the audience he was pleased to hear those opening remarks in the old Celtic tongue. That way, he said, he knew he wasn't the only one speaking a foreign language.

Hay there ...

Books and bookstores: The focal point for an annual festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. Bill Clinton referred to the Hay book festival as a "Woodstock of the mind," adding that any town with one bookstore for every 32 people "is all right with me."

Holding court

Frank McCourt did not have tourism in mind when he wrote "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis," but the books and the author have had an impact. They've also stirred some controversy.

Hay-on-Wye is dotted with book shops.Some readers were offended at McCourt's take on the Catholic church in Ireland. During a session at the Hay book festival in Wales, he referred to the "heavy hand" of the church that lay on the country during his childhood. "Now you might say," he continued, "that you have the church in other places like Italy, too, but at least in Italy you have the cuisine."

Now that he is well-known, McCourt said, "I'm a voice of the Irish Tourist Board."

When it comes to the Emerald Isle, he said, "I'm in a constant state of seduction." Returning to Ireland to live has its temptations, he said, but he would miss New York, "which is like a buffet where you can take all you want from different cultures."

Besides, he would miss a very specific pastime. Calling himself a "traffic light pervert," McCourt said he delights in standing at New York intersections watching the street dramas that erupt, such as when one cab bumps another, and then the sudden end to each contretemps when the red light changes to green and the entire cast of characters moves on.

On the wagon

What is the "world's favorite form of transportation"? According to author Frank McCourt, it is the bandwagon.

Insider regrets failing to ask if it is commissionable.

His & her fun

Noted Welsh author Jan Morris told her audience at the Hay book festival that she has "written some cities into the ground."

Once, though, she simply imagined a city, but readers generally concluded she was writing about a real place. "Only one person got it," she said, "a woman in her 80s from Iowa."

The author gained some notoriety years ago when, as a published author already, under the name James Morris, she underwent a sex-change operation.

In the wake of that, she told festival-goers, she had occasion to go from one London club to another on the same day, visiting one as a woman and the other as a man, because she was a member of one as a woman and the other as a man.

"It was fun," she said. That is a bit of fun most of us won't ever experience.

Nice try, kids

Louis de Bernieres, author of "Corelli's Mandolin," reported that fame has brought all sorts of changes to his life, not the least a bulging mailbox.

He told an audience at the Hay book festival in Wales that schoolkids are sending him letters with long lists of questions about himself, his thinking, his books, etc. -- questions he said he often does not even know the answers to himself.

Noting that a full response from him would virtually write the papers for the inquiring students, he said he replies to the requests as follows: "You write my next novel, and I'll write your essays."

Listen up

The movie "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" does not adhere precisely to the story line in the book it is based on.

When asked how he felt about that, the book's author, Louis de Bernieres, wasn't too enthusiastic.

He said it is like "having your baby's ears put on backwards."

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