Letterboxes. You wouldn’t think there’s much to say about a letterbox, would you? But they symbolise today’s observations.
Down in the lobby of our inner-city hostel, just like in all the other old buildings and new apartments in Poland, there is a stack of letterboxes. But in this block there are two; a brand spanking shiny new one, and an old one just as we remember having. Same colour even.
Out on the streets there are the old trams, and running alongside are new ones.
A before-breakfast-wander into the Rynek stuns me with cars parked around the entire square – it used to be so much nicer as a virtually car-free pedestrian zone. We return again after 10am, when shops have opened and all the cars are gone. YAY. Just the old tourist horse-n-cart…..and a few little motorised city tour carts……and people, people, people walking everywhere. In my opinion, this is a positive change, embracing the need to allow vehicular access to the area, but restricting it so that the special nature of the square remains.
Round the corner into ulica Szewska, thinking of old Pani Czernek, who used to sit on the concrete window ledge, begging….and there in blazing gold letters is McDonalds.
(First a sidetrack about Pani Czernek. She was old, short and fat. We were young and learning Polish, and she had all day to talk, so I would sit there on the ledge with her, chatting, learning, taking her some homebaking. Eventually she invited us to her home, because her bedridden-(and-never-been-washed)-for-many-years husband wanted to meet us. At the end of a long busride out of town, was her rundown smelly one-room-plus-toilet apartment. We went one Saturday afternoon, can’t really say we enjoyed ourselves, but she never stopped talking of our visit. A black armband soon told of her husband’s death; she cried as we sat in the snow together, contemplating her loneliness. She would cry again at one of my visits – the one when I would tell her we were leaving. By chance, one day I had been with her when Monk Artur had passed by. She was one of his “charges” and we had been introduced. She now had me write down our NZ address so that Artur could send us postcards from her – which he did. He also, of his own initiative, sent us a personal one to inform us of Pani Czernek’s death a few years later. That’s what I was thinking about as I saw the golden word). When we lived here, mercifully, there were NO big chain food outlets. None at all. At least, a little further up the street, our pizza shop (the only pizza shop back then) is still there now, still with its stand-up-at bar along one wall. It used to be crowded – you could hardly get in to the shop and had to wait a while to be served. Your pizza (flavour options: mushroom with ketchup or mushroom without ketchup) came on a real white ceramic plate that got washed when you’d finished and usually you stood there, holding and eating - not often was there a free spot at the bar or one of the few tables. There are over a dozen varieties on offer now, and all in two sizes. Surely we’ll have to buy mushroom if we eat there one day.
The old: an occasional bookshop, which you had to queue outside, waiting for a shopping basket to become available before you were allowed in to browse. Once inside, few books with illustrations, even fewer in colour, all but three in Polish.
The new: bookshops on every street, both new and used books for sale. Colourful books, picture books, scientific books, novels, translations, magazines, Polish, English, German, Mandarin.
The old: grey or tan-coloured concrete plastered buildings, often ornately decorated sculpture-wise (but dull, nonetheless). A small sign above a shop door advertising what is to be found within.
The new: a soft-hued rainbow breaking through the greyness, enough walls soaking up shades of paint to dispel the dowdiness. Out of every shopfront, a bright often-gawdy neon sign competing for your attention. Visual busy-ness.
If only the grey could have been painted over and the old signs remained.
Along the road from the hostel are some old-style shops with every saleable item carefully placed behind a counter. There’s also the old market, which looked newish to us until we wandered a bit further and came to the mall. How will the Babcias selling their traditionally-pickled gherkins or the young men with walnuts picked from their own trees be able to compete with the multi-milllion-dollar corporations represented in the sprawling expanse of glass and marble? Right now they still try, but I fear the old market, in spite of its upgrade (a fence around it, the addition of a few permanent stalls, a policeman to scare away the sellers, who shouldn’t be there – no, he wasn’t new, he was there two decades ago), will not survive. In the mall there are a number of large supermarkets where you can purchase Greek yoghurt, French cheese, Italian pasta, Mexican taco kits, English mustard…who, apart from the old folk wanting to cling to the old ways or those whose poverty forces them to the cheaper market, will go from stall to stall in the biting cold to make their purchases from a far more limited range? I would, and today I did, and I will as long as we are here. I appreciate being able to support the middle-aged lady (that would be the same age as me!), who wants to sell her homemade white cheese and special-recipe-Polish sausage. I will (and did) buy from the man selling just a few ears of sweetcorn, presumably grown in his garden plot. I will buy the free-range eggs someone brings in to town, and the berries picked from their own bushes. I am thankful for the opportunity to eat organic food purchased straight from the grower. But what will happen when those old people, my fellow shoppers, are gone? Change is undeniably inevitable. The old and the new, they stand side by side. But something will be lost the day the last market closes – a personal approach, a venue for small-growers/creators to sell their goods, a community, the opportunity to buy inexpensive unbranded organics, control.
Quote of the day:
Kgirl10 nonchalantly commented this evening, “I like it so much better here. It feels more like home all being in one room.”
I had to ask her, “Have you forgotten we have a whole house at home and don’t live in one room?”
But she knew what she meant, “Yeah, but when we were hostelling we were usually in one room and I liked that more than having to go between two vans.”
Our house is really going to feel very big, isn’t it!