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Where does Poland pony up?

22 of February '22

We miss the sunny South so much that we treat our own land as a temporary residence. Apparently because of the lack of sunshine. We must be very sensitive, because the Dutch, for example, somehow do not have this problem.

"Poland lies on the Mediterranean Sea," Kuba Szczęsny repeated after Parandowski a month ago, and languished about the nearest star and warm countries: "And when the black rage gets you on a dark January morning (...) then you can close your eyes and remember the purple shadows. The cicadas. The vines on the pergola. The taste of grapes. The thick cushion of warm air. (...) And your round, happy baby face in the sun."

Prescription in the breath, I myself sometimes do so to chase away Polish January and the monstrosities it reveals. This applies both to politics, about which Szczęsny wrote, and most of all - to space, with which, instead of somehow pleasing ourselves, we have had a scythe for centuries. We are so offended by nature's circumstances that we treat the landscape per leg, cluttering it with forms disconnected from terrain, history, weather and logic. We compensate for the lack of sunshine with the angry yellow of the façade. We covered our backwardness with poor modernism. With our identity torn away, we were supposed to be fastidious with postmodern exuberance.

Thus, happy muzzles turn into snouts as soon as we leave the charter arriving from the substitute of the never-owned sunny colonies: "the Polish zone" somewhere in Turkey or Egypt. "Poles are so aggressive, and it's because there is no sun for almost seven months of the year, and the summer is not hot," Kazik chanted long ago. There's something to it, but, wait a minute, let's look at the statistics: there are an average of one thousand six hundred hours of sunshine per year in Poland. Just like in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, where - to top it off - the whirlwind does what it does here in Kielce. The Dutch, however, seem to be less sullen, more constructive, more pleasant to deal with. They didn't take offense to the dull landscape. They developed it in a first-rate manner, somehow arranged themselves with both difficult conditions and the weather, and did not so much marry the sea as transformed it into a mainland.

Already four hundred years ago, in colonial times, they arranged themselves so comfortably at home that few wanted to leave the country in search of a better life, even if their feet had to be warmed on peat-fired footstools, their joints were twisted by the damp, and the wind tore the black hats off their faces that still look at us from Dutch paintings. They painted thousands of these canvases, by the way, and they, too, prove that they appreciated what they had. There is the charm of cloudy northern landscapes, winter landscapes, storm-tossed ships and urban genre scenes. Yes, there are also fictional landschafts with mountains, which the painter's imagination carried over from his wanderings in southern Europe, but even these landscape imports didn't turn into Italian landraces. The Dutch had a firm grip on reality.

Thus, when I was a crafter, winter consolation for me came not from abstract memories of summer, but precisely from albums of Dutch paintings. They gave the gray months meaning, showed that you can tame a miserable landscape, enchant it, fill it with decent cities and architecture, find beauty in poor light. And if you need a springboard, there is imagination. I think I became addicted to Bosch.

After paintings came reality. In the mid-1980s, still as a kid, I experienced, for a while, the Netherlands live. It immediately felt like the right thing to do. Tidy villages and towns, houses small but cozy, people open but without servile hospitality. Cultural appurtenances modest, friendly, functional. Churches not with the smell of musty mice, but fragrant with coffee for visitors. Warm light on the streets and in the interiors, just in time to tame the winter months. Everything, as in the Netherlands, polished, sometimes too much, but - zero icing. Consistent with the sky, water and landscape. The flat, dull land has managed to be tamed by the Dutch in a model way, because they have taken life seriously, they do not dream, as we do, that they live in Italy. Their patch of land is not a temporary stopover, but a permanent residence. Permanent, as far as the climate will still allow.

For now, the Dutch are holding strong. Piotr Oczko writes admiringly about them in his just-published wonderful collection of essays "Postcard from Mokum." Every dozen pages he appreciates the Dutch sense of form, color, approach to space and greenery.

When I'm in Amsterdam I do about twenty kilometers a day on foot," writes Oczko, while in Cracow I stubbornly sit at home. Why should I get upset looking at the ubiquitous graffiti, ragged advertisements and dirty windows?

So how about copying the Netherlands somehow? Well, not such have tried. Mesh recalls the fascination with the Netherlands that Czar Peter I experienced during his famous European study tour. He sat in this Netherlands, seemingly incognito, peeping, even hired himself as a laborer to use the experience during the construction of St. Petersburg. But something went sideways. Let's take a peek at the 1839 "Letters from Russia" by the Marquis Astolphe de Custine. Increasingly terrified of Russia, he called its capital "a granite camp." The inhuman scale overpowered him on par with the unconscionable importation of designs from southern Europe unsuited to the climate and landscape.

Let's give him the floor, by the way:

The semicircle of edifices gives (...) the impression of a misguided ancient amphitheater; you have to look at it from a distance, up close you see only decoration plastered anew every year to repair the damage done by winter. The ancients built with indestructible materials under favorable skies - here, regardless of the climate destroying everything, palaces are erected from wood, houses from planks, temples from plaster.

A mutated Italy and Greece! No Holland - probably too modest and far from architectural pomp. Apparently, the Russians took offense to their reality and decided to gild it. This insult to northern realities rhymes with something native.

Themuch-vaunted transplantation of Dutch thinking is therefore difficult to dream about in our country as well. The Netherlands, too, we would probably translate headlessly. Besides, who knows if the canal (after all, a Dutch thing) in the Vistula Spit is not proof of this. Poland is thought to be on the Mediterranean. Over the Baltic Sea it marries, it merely crouches and does what crouching sometimes does. Pile - strange things: the purple shadows of the guesthouse in Mielno, the thick cushion of warm air from the flounder fryer.

If I were Baltic, I would have filed for divorce long ago.

Jakub Głaz

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