Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Krakow Poland, July 30, 2009

Krakow Poland
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kevin here.

Mike and I have seen a lot of beautiful town squares on this trip, but nothing compared with the majesty and elegance of Krakow’s central square. It was huge and colorful--and I’m pretty sure Mike will put up his traditional Cinema-360-Pan of it in the next blog. This city, so beautiful in every way, has an especially sophisticated and cool edge to it. The cafes where we rested, and sometimes wrote, were relaxed, shady, hip and chic. The lighting and lamps were often distinctive--indirect--and from unusual sources. In a number of bars and cafes there were hanging gourds, from which a thousand tiny holes had been drilled, and filled in with colored glass. Here’s a couple:

On Thursday the 30th we met Monika Wozniak in one of these ultra-relaxed urban bookstore cafes. Monika does academic work for the journal Przeklładaniec, which is dedicated to the academic discussion of translation. Her specialty is Italian-to-Polish translation and she is doing research currently on children’s literature. Monika confirmed for us some of the leading names in Polish literary nonsense and introduced us to a few new authors as well. She told us a few fascinating things about the connection between politics and nonsense in Polish literature. She described, for example, the communist attempt to introduce a new way of talking about ‘things’ in the 1950s. In what sounded like a very Orwellian plot, the Soviets required that writers in this era use, what the communists referred to as, “New Speak.” What exactly “New Speak” was, was difficult to describe. I asked Monika if “New Speak” was something like political correctness, or was possibly manifested by an Orwellian insistence on euphemisms. She said it was like those things, but that it was MORE than them too. According to Monika, New Wave Polish writers in the 1950s, such as Mrozék and Baranczek created what they described as a “new special language” and this new language rebelled directly against “New Speak,” and the result was often a rather sophisticated nonsense. In this Communist era, Monika explained, “Either you drink vodka, or you write nonsense.”

Monika also introduced us to the Polish nonsensical cabaret acts of Olga Lipinśka, which, in the 1970s, were also directed against communism. Lipinśka’s productions were carnivalesque, and reflected folk tradition, classics, New Speak, and slapstick. She noted that after the revolution of 1989, the nonsense featured in the cabarets lost its edge, because the oppressive government, and its oppressive language, was out of power.

I mentioned dragons before in this voyage, and I need to return to that subject briefly, because no visit to Krakow would be complete without mentioning Krak, the great flying lizard-beast that, tradition tells, lived in a cave beneath Wawel Castle in Krakow. If you go to the castle today you might notice the drainpipes, which are shaped like dragons: (click to enlarge)

From the castle’s edge there is also a mysterious entrance into what is known as, “The Dragon’s Den.” This spiral staircase leads down along the outer wall of one of the highest ramparts, and then disappears into the bowls of the rock below. Bravely following this dizzy staircase you are eventually emptied out into a surprisingly chilly and gloomy/roomy natural rock cave, far far below the castle. There is a creepy dungeon here, and more than enough room to park at least two mid-size dragons. Because there is a light at the end of this tunnel, you follow it, and eventually you break out into the open air under a small grove of trees nestled along the banks of the Vistula River. Then, just when you think you are now safe from dragons, there is the sound of a flame thrower, and you look up to notice that, yes, in fact there is a statue of Krak here, and yes, the statue is shooting great balls of orange flames out of its mouth. The maw of the dragon bursts forth flames for about five seconds, once every couple minutes. Quite remarkable. Remind me not to climb on this statue. Here is a picture of it:

Although it was tricky, Michael managed to catch a quick movie of the statue actually breathing fire:


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