Friends in Warsaw, Late Summer 2011

It is such a pleasure to visit friends in a foreign city, though Warsaw sometimes feels as familiar as New York. I like to touch into my friends’ current preoccupations, catch glimpses of their lives.

Today a visit to Staszek and Monika, took the tram at the stop across from the two mighty atlases at Pod Gigantami (“under the giants”) holding up the balcony of a surviving pre-war tenement on Aleje Ujazdowski.

Staszek and his son Daniel meet me at the door of their building. Daniel, a most charming young man with Downs syndrome has a budding career as an actor. His drama group recently performed a version of Alice in Wonderland, with an autistic girl as Alice. Daniel played the role of the “judge” who interrogated Alice as to why she lived in such a dream world. Staszek said it was powerful beyond belief.

Staszek teaches philosophy at the university and one feels like you can talk to him about anything. He relishes digging into the meaning of things. And Monika, beautiful Monika, arrives a few minutes after I do, wearing a bright red skirt and carrying ice cream from the market. Their flat is full of her art work, delicate paper cuts embodying traditional Jewish themes, storks, fish, outlines of books. She collects bells and dragons and takes exquisite photographs of the engraved stones in Poland’s Jewish cemeteries.

Their older son, G, lives in a squat, off Warsaw’s official grid, in a slower but arguably more dangerous world. They worry about him. Staszek and Monika were rebels in their youth, dissidents against a repressive regime. Their son is rebelling against materialism, against living life by the clock or the wallet.

Strolled back to the hotel through the leafy green Lazienski Gardens. The city is enjoying the last days of summer with ice cream cones and sunbathing, families fanning themselves on the benches near the former emperor’s Orangerie.

The other day I walked in Lazienski with Kostek, a well-respected Warsaw journalist. As we passed the romantic marble statue of Chopin, Kostek admitted he was “Chopin’d out.” I mentioned this friend Wojtek, a conceptual artist, who commented as to how he’d love to perform a double homage to John Cage and Chopin by hosting a silent Chopin concert. Kostek applauds the idea.

And yesterday Gosia, a playwright, took me to see the astonishing gardens on the roof of Warsaw University LIbrary. There are paths named for poets, bridges and arbors, views across the Vistula and above the rooftops of this historic city. She told me about an assignment she once had, creating a film for a Warsaw TV station about a visiting Dutch author– Matthijs Van Boxsel– who calls hmself a morosopher. Morosophy (fool-osophy): means foolish wisdom or wise foolishness.

(as he writes in an interview: “Morosophs operate at the crossroads of science, religion, art and madness. Is the earth flat? Was Dutch spoken in paradise? Are atoms spaceships? Is Delft Delphi? Can the floor plan of the pyramid of Cheops be found in the street plan of ‘s-Hertogenbosch? Is the world entering the Lilac phase? Did abstract thought commence when the clitoris evolved from the inside to the outside?” (attribution to follow)

As we walked paths named for Petrarch and other poets, Gosia told me how she interviewed von Boxell on this very rooftop garden, following him down one path and another as he talked about his attempt– which took many years– to figure out the theory that could explain everything. Then he said, he returned to “the initial page of his theory… and the same intelligence that had got me so far, turned against me and I dived into a deep depression.” He had to take a break from writing and learn to enjoy life again, live in his body and not his mind. Then he could return to stupidity.

This week, as hurricanes brew and insurrections continue and demagogues rail at home in the States, I am walking and feeling my body, enjoying life and dear friends in the late summer sunshine of the fine old city of Warsaw.

8 Responses to “Friends in Warsaw, Late Summer 2011”

  1. Ellen Zweig Says:

    Dear Louise, I am always so happy to read of your travels in Poland…philosophy and stupidity – how close and yet how far…love, ez

  2. Diana Rosen Says:

    Following a recent ALOUD program, I was introduced to your Crooked Mirror columns and have loved, loved, loved them all. In a world of Internet drivel coated with bad grammar and a divorce from cohesiveness, your cogent columns are a sweet gentle massage to the brain. Many thanks, and, “More, please!”

  3. lovely walks! perhaps we can recreate a few home-brewed ones by dipping into late summer-light baths in the silver lake. thanks for sharing your stroll with us.

  4. Charlotte Says:

    Evocative and thrilling. What a trip you’re on!

  5. Louise dear it is always such a pleasure to read your posts. I hope you’re continuing to have a wonderful time.xxxScotty

  6. Amazing you have two such distant homes – enjoy your friends & keep writing.

  7. I am so moved by the image of their Down Syndrome child playing the part of a judge!

  8. Hi Louise,
    Love how your chronicles are like bread crumbs leading the way back…and the way your world is populated with dear friends.

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