Notes from Poland III.

Katowice. Grimy, crowded city in Upper Silesia. Reach the theatre at 10:00 pm. Pan Mihow, which is Polish for Mr. Chuckles Mc-Slow, is our driver, who has never driven outside of his small Polish town and tends to do 5 km per hour. I kid you not. He tried to do a u-turn on the freeway that evening. Best not to talk about it.

We arrive at the theatre relatively quickly. Have dinner at Teatr Cogitatur's cafe, whose menu entrees Iherein copy verbatim, after translating:
  • --Philosophical Crumbs Russian Style
  • --Fight Between Lent and Carnival
  • --Roy's Fish
  • --Fillet Calvin
  • --Handbook of Eustachius
  • --Nuts and Bolts of Aunt Rudigar
  • --Sweet Gretchen
  • --Apocryphal Hot Soup

After sampling one or two of these (they weren't quite so great as their titles imply), we embark on an excruciating midnight two-hour odyssey in search of our arranged lodgings. By the very end, we were a sorry sight; five Poles and five Americans in a long, straggling line of baggage, strung out over a block, behind which our van with its trailer, strapped with props and equipment, crawls along, Pan Mihow improbably passive at the wheel. So frightening-frustrating was it to ride in the van at 1:00 in the morning, that walking to our hotel was preferred to spending another moment in thatgod forsaken van, whose last appearance was in the ninth circle of Dante's Inferno, as a vehicle for the just punishment of traitors and philanderers.

After arriving at our Communist-era hotel, which is now some kind of international student-union/inn/physical ed. institution (?), somehow I manage to have a long conversation with one of my Polish castmates about the cultural contrasts of Polish andAmerican theatre, and our differing definitions ofthat oily term, `professional`, and the crucial role which my experience of racism plays in my personal avocation for theatre, something endlessly strange and fascinating to my Polish colleague.

Next day I split off from the main group, overfull with residual trauma from the previous night's adventures. Also, I had hoped to visit Auschwitz during my time in Poland, and it was abruptly made clear to me that this day would ostensibly be my only opportunity. Unfortunately, the last train to Oswiecim (the Polish name) left before I could make it, and I spent the day writing my last mass-post and soaking up the Silesian Museum in Katowice, which was one of the most satisfying museum experiences I've ever had.

It's not so big. And it only covers Polish art from the 19th century up to 1939. But Polish painting is very, very compelling; they've managed to take the light from Old Dutch Masters and weave striking forms and bristling colors into everything. You see echoes of expressionism and romanticism along with the steady progression of things, but each is a vibrant interpretation of those prevailing norms--in general, the dramatic tension is much more heightened, the sense of purpose and momentousness is starkly delineated, the colors are explosively passionate. Winged hussars, babies sleeping, Grand Dukes and Archduchesses, still lifes and grandmothers with violets--the quotidian in European art somehow endowed with a special, potent something that is irrepressibly Polish.

Our performance in Katowice was cramped by lack of space and tech time. But the audience was startlingly enthusiastic, and crowded. More on this later. The next day I actually do manage to split off and visit Auschwitz, which was horrifying, and which every human being owes it to their common sense of humanity to see. I happened to visit on the same occasion as a detachment of Israeli Defense Force officers, and the cultural myopia as a result was altogether too much for me. There is something traumatically disturbing about seeing modern military uniforms, of any nationality, in Auschwitz. And I am much saddened that we still have no other recourse with which to deter violence than the kind of militarism which the IDF embodies. And we all know how effective said deterrence is, these days.

Every scrap of evidence is annotated with some statement countersigned by some authority verifying its authenticity, or the residue of some horrifying chemical, or the affidavits of several verified witnesses. The cellars are rank with stale air. Row upon row of brick blockhouses. Papers, labels, badges yellowing under glass. Long walls lined with mugshots of Jews. There is a room packed with human hair.

That afternoon I rejoin my castmates in Krakow, much shaken and sorely tried. That evening was probably our worst performance the entire tour, due to mounting exhaustion, continuing language difficulties and the relentless pace. I will write more on Krakow my next posting; I now write from Berlin, where I shall be for the next two days before finally returning home. Missing al lthings familiar,


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