Again, as every year, I spend a few days in Kraków in winter 2018/2019 meeting friends and sharing a Swiss cheese fondue with them. In my luggage I carry the cheese and this teddy. It is a Steiff teddy, to be more precise, and it is for the new born baby of one of my friends.
In Kraków, I enjoy some early spring days – sunny and warm. I discover some Polish humour and the Polish classic play „the wedding“ by Stanislaw Wyspiański.
Polish humour – slippery ice rinks and remedy against both hunger and pain
Watch out – uwaga ślisko 😉 – this ice rink is slippery. The word “ślisko” already sounds “slippery”. Well, this is what is to be expected from ice rinks (smiley).
Are you hungry or do you feel pain? To the left you can eat shrimps (krewetki) and, to the right you find remedy against pain (ból), evil (zło) or any other suffering (cierpienie).
Books for children with a touch of humour
I love the bookshop „De Revolutionibus“ in Bracka. It has a wonderful corner with books for children. For the children of my friends, I buy two books about Pan Brumm and his friends. One book tells about Brumm celebrating Christmas and the other about him travelling to Hawaii. My favourite picture: Brumm sits in front of a computer branded „pear“ (gruszka) that says hello to the world via a telephone modem. And look at the mouse caught in the trap…
Source: Daniel Napp: “Pan Brumm na Hula Hula”, Bona Wydawnictwo 2017, the original has been published German (Dr. Brumm).
Reading the Polish classic play„the wedding“ in Magia
Most of the time in Kraków I spend in my favorite coffee bar, the Magia, where the black-white cat sits on ITS own sofa between the guests.
I listen to the soft and sizzling Polish language, while reading the classic play “the wedding” or “Wesele” by Stanislaw Wyspiański. He completed writing “the wedding” in 1900, when he was just 31 years old. Let me summarize the book. “The wedding” is a classic piece of literature. All my Polish friends had read it at school analyzing it in detail.
Background: In 1900 Poland was still divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The country had disappeared from the world map in 1792, but the Polish spirit stayed alive materializing in several uprisings – unsuccessful though. Wyspianski’s „the wedding“ talks about the reconciliation of peasants and bourgeois intellectuals from town, shows the shame that the Poles felt, when being reminded of their once grand history and tells how another uprising initiated during that wedding failed. It is sad that Wyspiański died at the age of 38 and could not see Poland resurrect in 1918.
In the first act, the play starts as a „normal“ wedding. A bourgeois intellectual from Kraków, GROOM, marries a country girl, BRIDE. The ceremony and dinner have already taken place. The stage is the room with the dinner table in disorder and with some symbolic paintings on the wall. In the background the sound of musicians and the steps of dancers can be heard. Wedding guests meet in the dinner room. They talk about the wedding, about life in Poland and about politics. One well-known phrase is: “So – what’s new in politics, sir? Haven’t the Chinese answered yet?” GROOM and BRIDE are in love and happy to have found one another.
A rose bush stands in the garden, wrapped up in straw to be protected against frost and winter – perhaps like these bushes on the Wawel castle hill.
At the end of the first act, GROOM and BRIDE invite the rose bush to come in and join the celebration.
At midnight, the second act starts. The rose bush, now called STRAWMAN, joins the ball, and so do various ghosts from the past. I understand their roles like this:
- Some ghosts represent the former grandeur of Poland: STANCZYK, the jester, stands for the wise king Zygmunt (1506-1548) and the hero BLACK NIGHT stands for the brave Polish army of the past vanquishing the Teutonic Knights of the Cross in the Battle of Grunwald (1410).
- Other ghosts represent the will to fight for Poland: JAKUB SZELA was the leader of the brave farmers that fought against manorial property in 1846. VERNYHORA is the legendary 18th century Galician bard that foresaw the destruction AND resurrection of Poland.
- One ghost is a traitor: The nobleman KSAVERY BRANICKI led a conspiracy of nobles that cooperated with the Russian Zar. This was one of the factors that led to the destruction of Poland in 1792.
- One ghost, just called GHOST, is the dead fiancé of one of the wedding guests.
The ghosts talk to the wedding guests, one after the other. The situation escalates at the time, when VERNYHORA issues the order to the father of BRIDE, called HOST, to launch another uprising to free Poland. The uprising is to start, when the cock crows in the morning. VERNYHORA gives a golden horn to HOST. HOST hands the golden horn over to JASIEK, the best man (he is a young farmer), and asks him to convoke the army. JASIEK obeys and rides off on horseback, with the golden horn.
In the third act, morning dawns. HOST sleeps. He wakes up slowly and at last remembers the order that VERNYHORA has given to him. Farmers have come with scythes and weapons – they had been convoked by JASIEK. They fall asleep. JASIEK returns. He has lost the golden horn. He is in despair. STRAWMAN (the rose bush) enters following JASIEK and scolds him for having lost the golden horn. STRAWMAN tells JASIEK to take the arms away from the people. Then STRAWMAN starts to play soft, melodious wedding music, and the farmers dance in pairs around JASIEK that has sunk to the ground. The cock crows and the dancers continue to dance. STRAWMAN says the last sentence of the drama to JASIEK: “You oaf! You had the golden horn….” Obviously, at this “wedding”, the Polish people missed another opportunity to make their country resurrect.
I am impressed. Wyspiański wrote all this at the age of 31 years! And he was not only a poet, but an all-round Art Nouveau artist. Always when in Kraków I have to see his window showing the Creation of the World in the Franciscan church.
VERNYHORA was right about the fact that Poland was to resurrect, though he did not foresee the time. It was in 1918 that Poland reappeared on the world map. It was wiped out once more during the Second World War, resurged again after the War and even more so in 1989, when it became the fastest growing country of Eastern Europe. Will Poland continue to move forward in that spirit? Will Poland be able to “marry” the people from the country with those from the towns once more? Will Poland keep the ease of their humour?
Saying good-bye to Kraków
Perhaps the Krakówian dragons symbolize the Polish fighting spirit? The city is full of them, particularly massing up near Bronislaw Chromy’s fire-spitting dragon in front of “its” Wawel cave.
I return to the Rynek with the cloth hall (Sukiennice) and listen to the brave trumpeter that warns the citizens of the attack from the Mongolians, exactly as he has done in the 13th century. Another example of the fighting spirit: The fierce Cracowians vanquished the Mongolians, warned by their trumpeter who was killed by a Mongolian arrow (this is the legend).
Good-bye Kraków, farewell!