Notes from Poland II.

"Paul Paul Ogigol
Paul Paul Ogigol
Something Misha Something Something
Polish Polish Something Something
Paul Paul Ogigol
Gdjem, Gdjem, Gdjem
Gdjem Gdjem, Gdjem.

Rough Translation:
We are not afraid of Paul
We are not afraid of Paul
We will put him in a pan
We will scramble him for all.
We are not afraid of Paul
Jam, Jam, Jam
Jam, Jam, Jam" --Timon and Kaitan, ages 5 and 9.

Cramped Renault van, 6 hours (two of which are all about being lost). Arrive at Gdansk Shipyards, where Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc began. Meet small family of stray kittens. Meet hosts in Gdansk, Teatr Znak. Stay in abandoned Manager's Residence, cramped rooms with high ceilings, sculpted Baltic brickwork under layers of Communist ash, crammed with abandoned technical manuals and Znak's masks and stilts. Loud Euro-techno music. Six bunkbeds in a room with jailbars for a door. One leaking concrete bathroom, 20+ people.
Teatr Znak performs their original work specifically for us visiting Americans, in what must have been the dining hall, now blackened and sealed into a theatre space, with Hamlet's words in chalk on the walls. Loud, aggressively physical, haunting images, spoiled by overbearing sexuality and bad Grotowski work. Still, there is ample evidence that they are skilled artists. They had the guts and the wherewithal to put down stakes in an industrial wasteland, which is now something of an artist's quarter in a demimonde squinted at by the authorities. Like Casablanca without the Nazis.
Gdansk: wide cobblestone pedestrian streets, where wander large herds of elderly tourists wearing matching neon stickers. Beautiful Baltic brick churches, where the paving stones are polished like glass and baroque still struts around like high class bad-ass. Amber amber everywhere.
Watch firedancers and oildrum-drummers in the middle of the night. Worry about gender roles on a street where no women drum, and no men dance. Go on a clandestine tour of the Shipyards with the Znak kids (I'm ashamed to say that of all my worthy H2M colleagues, I was the only one who didn't wuss out on this). Huge crumbling warehouses, mysterious Cyrillic controls, empty furnaces like dead volcanoes, crude foot-traps set by the hapless guards to catch malefactors like us. Tunnels and locked doors that yawn and sag in the dark. Tolkien's Moria passages. Huge ships sitting on the slipway in sheathes of scaffolding and rusting scraps. Cranes that make skyscrapers look like dominoes, reaching high overhead like vast fingers scratching at the moon. Have a beer on an ashheap surrounded by broken glass. Ghosts of Polish longshoremen and the lone guard roam the deserted yards, so its best to keep things quiet-like. Bridges that end mid-air, rooftops that look out on a horizon of ruins. Notice how distant the stars are.
I am now in Katowice, and mightily displeased/relieved that I will not have the opportunity to visit Oswiecim only 30 km away. Look to hear more from me in Krakow. Much love to you all. Know that there is nothing so lonesome as to travel in a foreign country, even when doing so with friends and colleagues, doing hard, backbreaking theatre.


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