Monday, 25 February 2013

The past and the ultimate present - history in Krakow

One way of letting go of the headlong rush through life, ears blocked against The News (which is that Life Ends...) can be a spot of history. The long perspective. Does this work for you? I find it does, whether it's on a geological timescale, or simply, our human history.

The Long-Suffering One and I are off to Krakow for a short break. I understand it to be a lovely old town, full of fine buildings. It was the capital of Poland in late medieval times. It is stuffed with history, big history and little stories too.

Poland, I have discovered (shameful ignorance about it until now) has just a bit more history than it might have wanted. Read it for yourselves, if you are interested. I'll just mention the Tartar hordes, Napoleon's plans for the nation - they died at the gates of Moscow - the peace settlement of 1815 that obliterated Poland (nation states, who'd trust 'em, eh?) and of course the truly unbearable horrors of the Second World War. Schindler's Ark. 

I don't think I shall go to Auschwitz, which is nearby. I know what happened. I've seen the photos. My generation was very much brought up under the shadow of WW 2. I don't think I want to visit even the tidied-up remains of hell on earth, ultimate desolation. 

I shall certainly go to Kasimierz, the Jewish quarter that was emptied into a ghetto not far away. Which in turn was emptied....

One has, somewhere, to honour the ghosts and the echoes, and give thanks.

Poland feels now, I hope, that it is in the middle of a tremendous renaissance, because for 30 years or so it's been a truly independent country, only the second time(1919-1939) for centuries it's been a nation.

Despite the horrors and the complexities, just acknowledging the generations rolling through a city that is visibly medieval will, I hope, yield that framing, proportionalising effect that can help us live in the now. 

This next picture includes the bags and bundles the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto were forced to leave behind as it was emptied.

We have been so lucky. Let's treasure this moment of ours.

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