Just back from a 4 day jaunt to Krakow.
It’s weird being back somewhere that was so significant in my life after a 12 year gap. Getting off the airplane and seeing all those signs written in Polish – it was as if my mind were slowly redeveloping images and sensations in a silver solution and ghostly memories were resurfacing, mostly pleasant, mostly poetic.
I went to Poland back in 1992 as a poet manque, following a college crush who was working on an anthology of young Polish poets. So the whole Krakow experience was particularly drenched in verse and desperate attempts to frame everything as an image, to percieve everything as a poem.
Now the Rynek, the main square, has the same clean, smart air as Vienna or Prague.
There are loads of shops and cafes, innumerable clusters of Poles milling around, seeming proud of their city. So many young Poles. I went out on Saturday night and noticed that there was not one person over 30 out on the streets. Only Poles in their twenties, taking in their prosperity.
I asked a taxi driver what the Poles thought about the upcoming accession to the EU. “For the young people it is everything”, he said. “For the old people, it’s loss of pension, higher food prices and unemployment.” I couldn’t be sure whether that was just the reflexive grumpiness of the old or a valid point. EU membership is always trumpeted as the salvation of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But as with all these grandiose gestures of the West, there’s usually some hidden agenda which causes the new Entrant to pay through the nose for the priviledge of membership.
Meanwhile I strolled the streets and squares happy that the Poles looked so hale and hearty. The Krakow I visited all those years ago had the doomy nobility of nearby Auschwitz about it. Dark, brooding, full of the wounds of the War. I’m glad that’s gone (though I’m glad I experienced it aswell…) I ate some of the best cake I’ve ever had. And some delicious food. I watched lots of movies with Polish subtitles. I read in suitably Central European cafes filled with wood carvings and Polish film posters.
And I went up into the mountains near Zakopane, Poland’s premier ski and hiking resort. From a warm and springy England, I suddenly found myself back in the heart of European winter. Thick snow all over the mountains, all the path annihilated with white, endless vistas of fir trees and clouded crags.
To be honest, it wasn’t great hiking, but I did stay in a beautiful alpine hut with a silence that battered my ears and air so fresh it anaethetized me for 10 hours straight.
I came back slightly amazed that I’d been away at all. A weirdly intense 4 day immersion into all those delightful Polish things: szarlotka, the flocks of pigeons against the Rynek sky, the water running out of broken aluminium drains, words like “zegarmistrz” . The slightest whiff of Nowa Huta.