The Dragon

It’s extraordinary how much a city can change in a short period of time. Take Dublin. In 2013 when I last lived here full time, Dublin was a vibrant city in the midst of change, just pulling out of the last vestiges of a huge economic slump. There was a sense of hope, of expectation, of burgeoning change. People were angry and yet hopeful. Now the economy has taken off and a type of lonely impersonal self-absorption has set in.

The city is bustling with busyness and smartphones and businesses and commuters. I see traffic and armed police officers, huge shopping queues, coffee shops with laptop wielding nerds and professional couples, people with baby strollers decompressing during lunchtime, solitary folk texting during break-time, stone faced professionals performing at breakfast meetings wielding busy clipboards and watching their tone and body language, restaurants filled brimful on weekday evenings when they should be half empty, and hordes of daily commuters trudging to work in obligatory reflective gear while I walk my dog at seven AM.

I am stuck in Dublin. But only for a short time. I am trapped in the city while I await the sale of my house to go through. It’s a frustrating depressing time. I have no job. I am recently unemployed having worked in a school in Karpacz, Southern Silesia in Poland. I loved my job. I loved teaching, and Poland was beautiful, if not a country grimly drifting so far rightward to becoming autocratic and living in a forbidding past. Some reports since my own departing seem to validate my choice to get out. Friends who live there right now are planning their departure in the forseeable future. However I had to come back to see through my house sale. Most of all, I had to come back because Ireland is my home, and I love Ireland.

The house I live in is empty. And, as I said, I have nothing to do. Moreover, its Christmas – ugh. And I just don’t do Christmas. From my early teens Christmas has always been a meaningless time for me. So as I pen this, I am aware how my own emotional filters colour these impressions and word pictures. Yet despite this caveat, the things I pen here have that gut feeling of a deep truth.

Its morning. I am still in Fairview Park. It’s dark and frosty and a huge half-moon hangs in the morning sky.  Workers whizz past along bicycle tracks in generic helmets and reflective gear and it all seems so correct and legal and safe and, well, boring. I just couldn’t do it. Not now…

Truly I say to myself (as my dog drags me round the park chasing pigeons), the life of a writer is incomprehensible to someone who does not write, who has never experienced its thrill, its seduction, its consciousness altering potential, the sheer rush of producing something good (though as Bob Dylan says you have to write ten bad songs to write one good one).

Once one enters into the dragon’s cave of being a writer, once one discovers the gold the Dragon sleeps under, nothing else in life is as beautiful or as enthralling. One has to befriend this Dragon. Not tame it, but befriend it. Accept its awesome power and beauty, and never be tempted by the gold.

There’s a lot of gold in the city now. Maybe its a different gold to the one that I am tempted by. And people are chasing it. I wonder if they know there is  usually a Dragon guarding it down there. Dragons take no prisoners. They look busy, these people. Focused. They are travelling as though they have a purpose. They are clean. Rested. Drinking coffee from one of those cappuccino stands that dot thoroughfares. The sun is coming up. Others have swung out on their bikes onto the main roads. Traffic is obscenely busy into the city centre. These people have got about twenty minutes to be at their computers. Or desks. Or meetings. Clients are waiting. I am going home. Have to make a sandwich. Or something. I haven’t decided yet. Yes, I guess I am hungry. Definitely a sandwich.

art-blinck-forest-dragon-girl-red-tree-creek-stones-guardian

Poles Apart

       OR

PEOPLE IN POLAND – AND THEIR DOGS

 

 Over the last few years I have been afflicted with a kind of wanderlust. Its impossible to really plot the origin of this need – the desire to experience, the desire to find oneself accompanied by an equal desire to lose oneself. One can endlessly speculate and never really come to a conclusion, but for one reaon and probably many others I found myself living and teaching in Poland for just under a year. And wherever I may roam, to crib a line from Metallica, there my dog comes with me. And Poland is a big country for dogs.  

doggypole

The sign reads, “Beware- Dangerous Dog”. It seems strange to say it considering the opening image alongside, but how dogs are loved here. Dogs of every breed and shape abound here. They walk day and night with owners of all ages – whether they be family members out on a Sunday afternoon get together or giant doggies strolling by distracted texting teenagers with cut off hipster jeans and piercings who have been ordered to sullenly take their family Doberman for its obligatory post prandial perambulation, or singletons out late at night with their one, two or sometimes three beautifully cared for special breeds paid for by fifty or sometimes sixty hours working in some office somewhere in Jelenia Gora.

img_20161105_084608

 

But not only are they loved but doggies are allowed in many places. They turn up at your beauty clinic, on buses (you can buy a ticket for your dog on all public transports in Poland), in bars or restaurants, concerts. Dogs sit underneath their owners in expensive restaurants as waiters zip by with full trays and bottles of expensive wine. Stray dogs lounge by doorways and around shops, utterly at home, appearing relaxed but actually on defence mode, continuously scanning for threats . Turn up at a coffee shop with your two giant Husky dogs and the waiter will smile, indicate a free seat and provide your pooches with a complimentary bowl of water. I once went out for dinner in a bar restaurant with my rather small sheepdog, only to find her playing tag with the biggest Alsatian dog I have ever seen. The landlord and landlady of the bed and breakfast I am staying in have three tiny aggressive Shih Tzu dogs.

img_20161105_084200
Kara waits impatiently for me to finish taking silly pictures so we can continue with walkies

Then there are pet shops. Along with the ubiquitous chemist shop (Polish TV is filled with endless ads about cold and flu remedies and vitamins to keep you healthy) and local shop selling beer, wine and rivers of spirits (the vodka is astonishingly good), one finds the giant and not so giant pet shop nestled in local areas or in big shopping malls, selling every conceivable amenity for your canine best friend.

Which makes me wonder why so many dogs, beautiful dogs, big dogs and small dogs, are just so damn mean – Alsations, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Bulldogs, Collies, Huskies. They attack our dog – for no reason. Its very strange. They bark all day and all night. They wake one up barking and keep one from sleeping at night. (I now wear ear plugs) And its not just my dog that gets attacked, by the way. Dogs attack other dogs, and yes, it happens all the time. One’s dog can be barked at snarled at or just bitten at any moment. Walk down our road here in Cieplice (a suburb of Jelena Gora, south of Poland) and yes, dear friends, you are no longer taking you beloved pet out for a charming and relaxing stroll. You are in a demilitarized zone. You are running a canine gauntlet. One takes ones dog’s life in ones hands allowing another dog to greet your hound. A seemingly innocent wag of the tail in greeting and a sniff of the collar can turn nasty and your little four-legged darling could be attacked. I have seen more unprovoked attacks by dogs here than one could shake a shaggy paw at. Again its somewhat at odds with the picture I painted in the first paragraph. Dogs are loved and needed. But then there’s the problem of how conditional is your love and the fact that your neighbour’s dog is viewed as ‘the enemy’. Dogs are used also for protection – against Everybody Else. Those Shih Tzu doggies I mentioned are little raving lunatics who attack our little collie at the drop of a paw. Then I remember something I heard on the TV program The Dog Whisperer – You can tell a lot about the owners of a dog by the dogs behaviour.

Like their pooches, folks here are, well, unpredictable. They love their own, but like their pets, they attack each other. This is partly due, I  have been told to political divides, but also a throwback to communist times. On the streets no one greets anyone. Gazes are judgemental or avoided. The human atmosphere here is frustrated, angry, depressed, hopeless. The economy is not in a good place. People work two jobs, sometimes more and live on credit. Buses run on time and the drivers are dreadful (discourteous, rude, aggressive). Wages here are outrageously low. Most of the teachers in the excellent school I teach in, work several teaching jobs to get by, and we are well paid and have great working conditions. Right now (late 2016)  one euro will fetch you four Polish Zlotys, give or take.

And then there’s the question of the EU. Europe is almost like a bad word here. Poles who have gotten out to find better jobs have done so and many loath to return. Poland’s government is obsessed with recovering its “national pride” and seem to resent defining themselves in terms of a larger European Union. Actually it is almost as if Poland never joined the European Union. The euro is not a currency one can use here. Those who criticize Poland are deemed as dishonourable, national traitors. Those who leave Poland to improve their lot are also deemed to be traitors to the cause and resented after coming back. Poland has elected a conservative regressive government with deep ties to the Catholic Church, so conservative in its views it makes the Council of Trent seem like a hippie love in. Catholicism deeply dominates and pierces the cultural worldview here, whether or not one attends Mass or even believes.  The aforementioned Government is in the process of introducing regressive social policies that are in many ways, openly anti woman and pretty undemocratic. The EU have written to the Polish Government criticising their policies and pointing out their legislation are against EU norms.

img_20161105_091010

THE VIEW FOR MILES AND MILES

And then there’s the fear people feel and the pressure for conformity. People feel afraid, afraid of the future, afraid of each other, afraid of taking risks, afraid of new ideas, afraid of public shaming and embarrassment. People are also unfriendly to each other. Many of my Polish friends here, want more than anything else, to leave Poland. And I understand. You know you are not living in a democracy. If  peoples’ minds are controlled, it is very difficult for them to freely vote and express themselves. People fear judgement, the judgement of God, but mainly the judgement of each other. I asked some of my friends here what are people afraid of and I was told “People are afraid to really live”. They fear being watched and being judged. They dress conservatively and excessively neat and clean. One cannot be openly gay or openly different or openly open-minded. Like John Cooper Clarke in his poem Evidently Chickentown “The bloody view is bloody vile for bloody miles and bloody miles”.

I see a lot of addiction all around me. As I go to work every day I pass my pals, the local alcoholics, who wave and greet me as they’re having their liquid breakfast. The amount of alcohol in shops here is simply astonishing. Tiny bottles of vodka are littered everywhere. But its not simply the consumption of alcohol. Its what’s happening to the people that arrests me. People don’t see a future. They want to escape and they can’t. They have debts, debts incurred to simply get by as wages are so low. Cars drive at insane speeds, driven by angry and dangerous drivers. People ignore each other in queues on buses and walk in or rather through each other in shopping malls. At night the streets are deathly quiet except for the dread sounds of cars speeding past. I walk my dog late at night in the dead silence only to be passed by  nervous people staring angrily and sullenly ahead. Ghosts.

More than anything Poland wrestles with its past and constant oppression. You can’t mention the war. Actually WW2 is never mentioned. Taboo. The Camps. Stalin. Death in the forest. Solidarity. Actually a new law has been enacted recently forbidding Polish Historians from implicating Poles in Hitler’s death camps here in Poland on pain of a prison sentence. So there are many things that can’t be freely discussed. The media have been effectively shut down (all dissenting voices dismissed or demoted from effective positions of expression) and Polish television is, shall we say, a little tedious. The word taboo is used often. People are polite, friendly, and superficial -when they are not ignoring each other. I have often speculated and discussed with my Polish friends, that this inner mistrust that neighbour has for the neighbour emanates from communist times when one was obliged to report on others anti party activities, thus sowing the seeds of a fundamental mistrust between the people, a kind of divide and conquer technique.

So it all looks shiny and modern in the cities and outside the cities, but down deep it is not like that, not really. The forces of conservatism are busily putting ideology and obsession above the lives and well being of the people. Education, health care and jobs are all suffering. And the people are in trouble. The fact that this present government even got into power shows how troubled the people are here. They felt bitterly let down by the so called progressives so they elected the conservatives in. And, oh boy was that a disaster.

One party seems to embody a kind of openness and reason (aside from the Greens who nobody cares about) called Razem (Together). I hope they, or someone like them, gets in sometime soon. Poland, beautiful Poland, needs a change.

Acknowledgement:

  • With thanks to Ishka for her many editorial suggestions and corrections.

The mad road from Karpacz to Jelenia Góra

Poland New  Year 2015

Holidays were over. It was new Years Day 2015. We walked down the icy snowy road to the bus stop carrying or partly wheeling our baggage on the last day of our Christmas break to take a bus from Karpacz to Jelenia Góra.

From there we would be getting a train on to Wroclav. It was a complicated journey, but certainly preferable to the excruciatingly stiflingly hot three hour bus trip from Wroclav to Jelenia Góra ten days before, when I honestly thought I would pass out from the dry heat and the constant din of eighties pop music the indefatigably affable bus driver seemed to enjoy so much. This trip I decided, would be smoother, more comfortable, and faster. There was one wrinkle to my naive idealizations. This was  a bus stop on new years day 2015 in Karpatch, South Poland and two men were talking and talking and talking right beside us. It was driving me crazy. They were clearly drunk. They were moving into that phase of drunkness and hung-overness where conversation and loud debate was the only way to presumably prolong the experience of New Year’s Eve festivities. One of the duo had cuts and scratches on his face. He was not saying much now, and was nodding and trying to interject even a single word. No use.Then he seemed to give up and listened with an occasional smiling nod to his friends loud over cheerful monologue. I had to stop them. Executive action had to be taken. I looked around in our bag and found the Solution to all of Life’s Diplomatic Difficulties: Ferrero Rocher Chocolates. I went over to the guys. They looked questioningly at this hairy man for a moment, and, after I offered them Ferrero Rocher, smiled in anticipation and took a couple each. Finally and might I say, blissfully, they stopped their incessant chatter. Then, to cover my tracks I offered a few more around and we all went back to our silent waiting. Ten Minutes. Twenty. Traffic was busy for a new years afternoon. The the bus came. And the thing was – it was small. Very small. I mean you might think a mini is small, but this was one small white bus. It seated no more than twenty five people. And it was full when we arrived. What was to be done? We discussed the possibility of getting a taxi to Jelenia Góra. Then we dismissed it as people began to disembark the vehicle. Anyway what taxi would want to drive to Jelenia Góra on New Years Day in the freeze and the snow?

Besides, we delusionally mused, we might even get a seat on the mini mini bus. As if. We got on and the bus driver enthusiastically squeezed as many on as he could. Ten more squeezed along the isle between the twenty five seated grimly gazing dozing poles. Then another five or six laughing travelling teenage girls who brought huge backpacks with them as they laughed at each other and happily handed their luggage down for to be piled on top of anything or anyone. This is insane I laughed. Stop laughing I told myself. The only people laughing were the teenage girls and they are obviously stoned, I decided. Stoned and under the influence of some weird gypsy curse. Either that or they are some type of super heroes in disguise invulnerable to potential death by car crash. My worst black humour was coming out to deal with this situation. The bus was chugging along now. I commented out loud about how someone driving this bus was disobeying all the laws of maximum occupancy. I received a stern look from Izabela. I decided it was going to be a miracle if this mini mini bus even arrived at its destination. Poles are experts at driving in the snow. Often they learn in winter, a time when they casually encounter and consequently learn to steer and drive up and down and around hills with black ice, packed snow covered roads and all kinds of potential sub zero death traps that would scare the living bejeepers out of lesser mortals. But this experience was something else. The bus was so overfull the driver might have to get out to make room for the amount of passengers he had allowed on.

2015-01-01 14.49.44

Two more got on. O god. With luggage. Dear Heaven. Ho hum, I thought. Perhaps they might have to sit on the drivers lap. Its times like this one wonders had one made a living will or had good health insurance. I had neither. We passed what looked like a military listening station, replete with huge choppers and trucks and ground vehicles. The teenage girls laughed as they made room for three people to get off and four get on. A lady indicated to the distinctly cheerful military looking young man in semi tactical clothing that the hard edge of a backpack was digging into her spine. I then understood she had been silently suffering this situation for twenty minutes. He moved it away from her. We drove on at speed through the ice and snow. The driver was chatting amiably to whoever was up there with him and the noisy girls had found seats for themselves. As had we, as the lady who had suffered the bag bruising had since gotten off with her friend who had been sitting with her. Her disembarkation was undignified. She practically had to climb over the tops of others. Nobody seemed to mind. Poles can be grimly fatalistically accepting of situations that would for instance have me reaching for my angry letter of complaint writing equipment. And so it goes. So we bounced and hopped along the road from Karpacz to Jelenia Góra at warp factor eight and arrived with no injuries, with a still smiling bus driver who made doubly sure everyone had their bags and waved us off. And save my shattered nervous system and a proportion of my body weight lost in sweat and nervous energy consumption, I was okay.

Pretty Woman Three Miles from the Czech Border

2014-12-25 15.23.03

I am watching the movie Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Gere is so stereotypically leading man material. However his tendency not to look directly at his interlocutor, this shy downward glance followed by his knowing smile is a little irritatingly condescending. That being said, his acting skills and his commanding presence overcomes this. Here he is looking his usual dashing self in this  eighties film about a yuppie who is so focused on money and power that he hires a beautiful prostitute to be his companion for a difficult series of business negotiations simply because it looks so much better for him to have a date on his arm during the time he makes more millions. the bonus for this deal is here he with Robers’ character he has someone he can control like everything else, using money. Anyway the annoying thing is the entire movie is overdubbed in Polish, and my Polish is non existent. I promised myself I would learn the language, but circumstances and a little laziness on my part prevented me from doing my homework. I keep watching the movie. They don’t use multiple voices for the various characters in the film. Just the same slightly basso translator. But I can still make out bits of dialogue. This room is old and the television takes about ten minutes to warm up. You switch it on and the screen turns a fuzzy blue and yellow and then after a while you see bits of a picture and then eventually Julia and Richard appears in all their opulent Lear Jet Stretch Limo glory. I keep thinking about the name of the film. Pretty woman. The room I am in is wooden. They build houses, houses that last lifetimes upon lifetimes, out of the wood from around here. The forests surrounding are vast.  The room is warm and warmly coloured and varnished wood. The ceiling is wooden. There are two sets of windows as I am in a corner room, an inner and and outer, to keep the cold, the freezing cold, out. Its insulated here. its well below zero here. and I am in a t-shirt. I sometimes go hunting in the presses and the drawers in the room. This is because I am immensely nosy man. I find pictures of beautiful women, far prettier than the very attractive Roberts, who lived their entire lives without ever becoming iconic. One must embrace the absurdity of things, I suppose.

The thing is the camera loves Julia Roberts. Thats her gift. And the fact she is an excellent actor. She completely steals the entire movie, and I imagine that was unexpected on the part of the producers, despite the giveaway name of the film.

Christmas in Poland, especially here in the south of Poland is immensely quiet. The forests that go on for miles act as a huge sound barrier. Add to this the circling mountains, a slight blanket of icy snow and you get an impression of the kind of soft quiet I am talking about. The odd car passes, but the noisiest thing I saw earlier was a snow truck that rumbled past as I went out on a night walk. With its flashing yellow warning lights, its frontal yellow rubberized snow scoop and its tail spewing vast quantities of salt, it looked like a huge mutant grumbling bumble bee hovering over the mountain roads. I passed dogs either chained or in their little houses and see many signs inpolish that say “angry dog”. No wonder the dogs were angry, I think. Its five degrees below zero on Christmas night. One wouldn’t put a milk bottle out in this weather. I passed the Hermann Goering Hill in the nearby distance. There the legendary Nazi supposedly had a domain in South Poland during the Second World War. There are arc lights and lasers reflecting from the forests onto the sky. Surreal stuff. Like a landing signal for an alien craft. I feel my ears freeze a little and wonder if the hat I have on is warm enough. Its half ten at night. I walk back, afraid I might slip despite the ministrations of the bumble bee salt spreader.

Families gather on Christmas Eve and eat carp and herring dishes and pirogi and drink borscht and wine and beer and play games. I got a game of Monopoly as a Christmas gift. I looked skeptically at the game and somewhere remembered the game was originally designed as a moral tool to teach people the dangers of greed and the pointless accumulation of money. I don’t think that intention worked out so well – mainly because Monopoly is awesome. Also I should point out that till then I had never played Monopoly before. The problem with this game was it was in Polish and I was the banker. These two factors made for the perfect storm of hilarity where the rules of Monopoly were to say the least not strictly observed and there were many lengthy pauses where I was asked to read out certain phrases for my education and have them explained back to me in English, much to the mirth of everyone present at my appalling Polish pronunciations. I went to bed about two AM. What a great Christmas Day. I go from Karpach (where I write this) to Wroclaw in a few days. Then I fly back. I will  miss here when I go. oh heres a picture of the Polish monopoly set. (awesome, isn’t it?)

2014-12-26 11.40.03

Travelling Light in Poland : 17- 27th October 2013

poland1

A fascinating piece of installation art we came across in a corner in Wroclaw. The statuary actually dissolves into the ground and emerges across the street. Arresting. Beautiful.

                    poland2   It took twelve hours to get to Karpacz, three hours by plane to Wroclaw and nine by bus, mainly due to connections not arriving and many waits. I travelled light. One bag, and, despite my loathing of anything to do with Ryanair, the flight was flawless, and we arrived fifteen minutes early. Of course there was one less than minor irritation. Ryanair took ten euros as a penalty charge for two fellow travellers who did not check in. Why? No idea. Me? I travel light – one small bag, books, unsuitable shoes that by now because, of all the hours and hours of trekking and climbing are in shreds, and my notebooks and pens (can’t do without them). Also, I am wearing a borrowed coat because, yes, I lost my coat. Travelling is tiring. Some of the bus stations we stopped in were simply horrible – grim soulless post communist functional affairs devoid of warmth or light with equally grey grim looking people, young and old who didn’t talk to each other and filed silently onto the bus that is when it finally arrived, swinging into the station, mounting the footpath and then hopping back down on the tarmac as the doors swung open. Other stations were brighter and more modern and better organized. Overall the trip was, despite its extraordinary length, pleasant. People sat quietly, talked quietly into mobile phones, and left the transport in a neat orderly fashion. There is an ethos of orderliness, thrift, respect for authority and tradition, an anxiety about the future and search for security, a reluctance to take unnecessary risks, a wearing of sensible shoes and warm jackets, an impetus to settle down and make ends meet. I find Poles in Poland an intelligent, realistic, thoughtful, pessimistic, unhappy, deeply independent, terribly anxious people. Compared to how warm and  friendly and open I find Poles in Ireland, with a few notable exceptions (friends and acquaintances I met and socialized with whom I found utterly delightful), Poles in Poland are unfriendly and hostile, offputtingly depressingly so.  In a restaurant or huge shopping mall in Wroclaw there is a marked tendency to not look one another in the eye, or greet each other, or perhaps one could define the tendency is to walk past each other as if the other person is simply not there. if you buy something, change is not handed to to you directly, rather it is put on a tray between you and the service person, who does not look directly at you. I greeted someone in a lift who smiled at me, and honestly thought I was going to be attacked by her partner. As someone who has gotten into trouble for being somewhat over friendly, seeing this first hand is rather a surreal experience for me. Their anxieties over a great country’s troubled history and the enormous pride in Poland show in their faces and their endless concerns over protecting their futures and their own patch of turf seems a little too paramount and shows up in little ways – for instance television stations advertise more vitamin supplements and various forms of pain killers and drugs that would keep any virus in mortal fear of its existence. I am reminded how the Mayor of Paris told Parisians to be nicer to visitors some years back. Poles should take the lead from Paris’ experience. They too are a great hearted people. I was waiting outside a shop in Karpacz in Poland on the afternoon of Day four, and, as I was getting tired and a bit disoriented (I had a cough and temperature), I didn’t see the long black haired, wide-shouldered short stocky man walk towards me. He bounced off my shoulder and, as he nearly fell, I caught him and gave him a hug and apologised loudly in English for being such a twit. He grinned sheepishly at me, and, as he was rather drunk, began talking to me in polish. I don’t in the least look Polish, and it was pretty clear neither of us came from this country. I shrugged my shoulders and said something akin to ‘non polska’ which only served to widen his sheepish grin. He sat down beside me, and, in broken English told me he came from Peru, that his wife was Polish, that he was too drunk to drive, and that he was going to be in so much trouble when he got home. Then, shaking my hand and hugging me once more, he invited me for a beer sometime and when I said I did not partake of alcohol, he seemed quite disappointed. He wobbled off, and I wondered how someone like that got to live here, deep in southern Poland, high in the forested mountains, in the midst of the Polish National forest, surrounded by tall pointed dwellings with specially fitted snow protectors on the roofs, dwellings with double windows and piles and piles of carefully cut logs outside and inside. Here in winter the snow reaches three metres high and everyone skis and ice skates and toboggans. The area around Karpacz is gorgeous, mesmerizingly so, with vast sweeping silent forests that are hauntingly beautiful, with streams and old bridges and clefts and gulleys and huge knotted roots that reach up and dive down and reach up again and choke the ground so much you fear the roots are coming to get you like something out of Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids – this is  more the stuff of fairy tales than anything one can fix in twenty-first century life.  On day three I went mushroom picking and came home with a basket of weird reddish brown mushroom monstrosities that I was assured were very tasty indeed. They looked beautiful but I had never eaten such things before. So the monster mushrooms were cooked twice, sliced, and cooked with dill and cream – and made an amazingly delicious sauce that kept for days.

poland3I
zabela Cwiszewska – who dislikes being photographed on forest trails. That’s my big head shadowed in the left foreground.

This place, Karpacz, is about the forest, for the forest surrounds, contains and completes this world. And this is a world older than imagination, and once one hears the forest’s  voice, once one sees the expanse of hills, once one understands the eternal silence of the forests, one knows there is no music like it. Compared to it the sound of the city is a torture and a dissonance that can only be endured for a while and one simply has to get back here or somewhere like it. We travelled up into the mountains, up a trail deep into the forest into the Czech Republic, to stay in a wooden hostel by a lake way above the forest line. poland4

Izabela taking a photograph of Mirela – whom we met by accident and who very kindly directed us to the lodge we stayed in when we got a tad misdirected. The lodge structure is to Mirela’s elbow. Note the lake and the hills in the background. Those sheer structures cause avalanches that killed quite a few people over the years. As a result the trail we took back to Karpacz is closed during winter.

As we travelled all day the trees got smaller and smaller, until all one was left with was a denuded proto artic landscape with ultra bright sun and piles of rocks and gorse like bushes and tiny trees stretching out onto undulating hills with patches of grey and green and a wide expanse of  mountains below with hundreds and hundreds of acres of forests with bald patches where the trees had died or were dying or had been cut away for fuel. In between the forest were houses and Karpacz and roads and places where roads were being built and rebuilt, and of course so many hotels and ski resorts. poland5

High Tundra Trail. Everything in the background is forest below you -as far back as you can see –for miles and miles and…

Before I came here I dug out some books about Poland from Dublin Public Library before departing on my trip, particularly Adam Zamoyski’s ‘Poland – A History’ which is a marvellous read. I am reading about the rather shocking era of the 1790’s where Poland as a national entity doesn’t actually exist, a horrifying experience for such a proud and brilliantly accomplished independent people, a dismembered commonwealth that was not in any way helped by the ruthless Bonaparte, who used the Polish Legions to further his own ends without in any way helping restore the commonwealth. (Those Polish soldiers actually saved his life at one stage.) More bits and pieces of history protrude in the region. I saw a hill with a rather shady looking building that was pointed out to me known as Goering’s Hill – a place completely fenced off and, yes, you guessed it – supposedly a dwelling house for the delightful Nazi himself. Hermann Goering. There is no mention of this place anywhere on the internet, yet there it was. I was left wondering what this strange half hidden building on that forested hill was really used for. Then I went for a meal in large rather conventionally built (so I was told) restaurant filled with animal pelts, a rather disturbing huge stuffed deer in the middle of the room  in the pose of calling out, toboggans carefully placed of maximum visibility, a roaring fire, and great glass jars of preserved fruits and vegetables equally placed for maximum visibility. Very touristy I was told. Its the economy, stupid, I told myself. Karpacz is filled with hotels great and small, some in the process of being rebuilt, and despite this the place is still real enough and inexpensive enough to give you a memorable visit. Yes, I know I am sounding like an advertisement here. I really don’t care. Check it out.