By William Markiewicz

Why is Poland different? In my view it's because of its unique geo-demographical situation: Poland is practically the only country in Northwestern Europe which is not Germanic. Yes, there is Finland, there are small Baltic republics... But Finland is squeezed and absorbed among Scandinavians, while Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia are too small to mark the region. and remain more or less picturesque geo-political points. Poland is big enough to be noticed, to develop cultural complexities and it is the focus of romanticism and fantasy in a Germanic sea. One can enjoy the surprises that Poland offers in practically every domain: art, folklore, architecture, the personality of those you meet on the streets, in cafes, hotels, in private houses if you make friends. Leaving Poland your feelings will probably be too complex to elaborate a homogenous Polish image. The traces of Northern reserve may suddenly be countered by the natural charm and elegance of the women and the flamboyance of the men, with a bit of a bravado undertone.

Warsaw has one of the biggest open air markets in the world, or at least in Europe plus several more of impressive size. Walking among the stands you are drawn into a mediaeval drama from a painting by Bosch or Breughel. Travelling merchants from Poland, Russia, Asia, crowd their stands almost one on top of the other by the thousands. This megacity of stands forms a giant spiral from the bottom up to the top of the hill. The hill is hollow, crater-like, and at its botom is a soccer stadium -- an interior universe isolated from the madness of the outter walls of the crater. From a distance, while driving along the road outside, you see giant trails crossing these spirals, crowds crawling along them as if in the Roman Vomitarium. A friend told me that he and his companions never go there unarmed because it is a meeting point of the mafiosi from all over the East. But maybe he wanted to impress us because it's hard to believe that those countless thousands could all be mafiosi or people who thoughtlessly risk their lives to browse and shop. Still, caution is advised, walk with friends who know the language and the terrain.

If the old city of Cracow is bursting with life, the old city of Warsaw, rebuilt from scratch after its total destruction by the Nazis and filled with tourists on a quest for souvenirs, is an unreal souvenir in itself, seemingly detached from the rest of the city. Modern Warsaw absorbs you into its dynamic whirlpool as well as into its vestiges of martyrdom and heroism from WW II.

Beautiful old Cracow is commercialized; so filled with business that it seems to be one big display window. The entire old city has been surprisingly renovated. For those who remember the difference between past and present, old Cracow in losing its melancholical poverty has also lost some of its poetry, its romanticism, its continuity with its past. In one word, Cracow has joined the modern world. But those who don't know the difference still discover a Cracow of magical incomparable beauty and mystery.

Cracow's mediaeval Jewish neighborhood is in ruins. Some houses seem to have been hit by an earthquake. It's clear that only the destitute want to inhabit this area, emptied of its Jews. The streets keep the Jewish names; Izaak St., Rabi Maizels St... We went to the Jewish restaurant recreated in the old style. The food was good and probably more or less authentic. Still the owners who wanted to affirm the Jewish presence, only succeeded in creating a mausoleum. The walls exude sadness, scream of ghosts. It's Pompeii.


Warsaw (~34Kb)
Cracow and Torun (~46Kb)
Kazimierz (~40Kb)

Back to the index of the Vagabond
© Copyright 1997 E-mail to: William Markiewicz
Brought to you with the help of: PD