Tuesday, November 26, 2013

piękna poezja

Oh. Romeo? Oh, I used to have a scene with Him.
-The Killers, Romeo and Juliet

One thousand miles east of London, and nine hundred eighteen west of Moscow, there is a metropolitan medieval city of seven hundred and fifty-five thousand five hundred forty-six, which is roughly the population of Charlotte, North Carolina.

This city is called Kraków, and it is the cultural and spiritual heart of a country called Poland.

Caught between the Baltic and the Carpathian mountains, Poland has not recently grown in stature, but her girth has changed multiple times throughout the centuries.
She is a country who mourns the fact that she is "too small and yet too big."

Me too, Poland, me too.

Kraków, like many European cities, grows more modern the farther from the center you travel.
But if you stay in a guest house near the more modernized Borek Fałęcki, near what used to be the Solvay Quarry, then take the tram to Poczta Główna into the heart of Kraków.
There, you will find a magnificent old-world city, preserved pristinely, like an insect in amber.
The medieval merchant town, the thriving metropolitan center of culture that was here has not disappeared. 
A touch of the renaissance still hangs about Stare Miasto; the overwhelming cloth merchant's hall holds thousands of goods 
Right on the edge of the Stare Miasto, there is a massive, elegant basilica.
Named after Notre Dame our mother, this beautiful church features two asymmetrical towers.

The taller of these towers has, close to it's summit, a circle of windows at the top.
Every day, every hour, a man climbs the stairs of that tower, and plays, on his trumpet, a haunting little hymn called the Hejnal.
From these windows facing each of the four corners of the world, his short little tune sounds four times.
His short little trumpet call always ends abruptly, mid-note, in honor of the original trumpeter of Kraków, who sounded the alarm from St. Mary’s tower when an army of Tartars launched an attack upon Kraków in the 13th century. 
This first man never got the chance to finish the piece. He was shot by an arrow of the enemy invaders mid-song.
To this day, the trumpeter's song ends in mid-note, a haunting reminder of the first trumpeter, who gave his life for the life of the city.
And his life, and his story is immortalized in the hourly song, an hourly memorial of the cost of freedom.
During the Nazi occupation, the playing of the Hejnal had been outlawed.
When the Red Army swept into Kraków at the end of World War II, a man grabbed his trumpet, and ran up the stairs of the St. Mary’s tower, to sound the Hejnal, to sound the call of freedom.
That man back in 1945, and the man who played on Monday the 21st of October both played to honor something so tangible to them: their freedom.
The town square that St. Mary’s Basilica now dominates hardly looks like a battlefield.
When I stepped into the square, I reveled in its atmosphere of oldness.
I had never visited a place before that was so secure in its own culture.
 It had stories seeping out of the flagstones, and years of histories hanging in the air.
 During the day and during the evening there were an entire army of vendors, situated either in the covered market hall, or set up in the tents out in the open air.

One evening, as we all wandered around the square, shopped, or ate at the little street stands or the many restaurants that line the square; a rowdy crowd surrounded a band shell.
As we gathered behind the Church of St. Adalbert –the smallest church in Kraków, which is nestled comfortably in a corner of the square, quite close to the massive basilica—a group of young men started break dancing, to the tune of the laughter and applause of the crowd that surrounded them.
Every evening we spent in the square, I was delighted.
Here, in this square, an energy and life, a palpable sense of community thrived.
That old, wise square was the heart of the city.

As the trumpeter finished his final note, its incompleteness hanging in the air, instead of feeling the sting of a Tartar arrow, as his predecessor had, the merry trumpeter leaned down and waved cheerfully at the friendly faces waving back at him.
Tears welled up in my throat, as I had never so keenly felt what a large price tag freedom has.
The ability to dance and gather in the streets, to simply play a trumpet in a tower is such a costly gift.

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