Waxing poetic in Kraków

A few days ago, I had a moment on the balcony of our flat in Kraków. Let’s call it a balcony moment. It was late evening and there was just enough sun getting through to create a red patch in the clouds ahead of me. Our building faces a courtyard formed together with two other tenement-style apartment buildings. Tenement. I don’t like that word. It sounds derogatory and overly slummy, but I can’t think of a better word to describe big, long apartment buildings with a few gangly antennas littering the roofs.

Our flat is on the eighth floor, the top. Marek, a guy from the school and former resident, told us our floor used to be a bunch of artist studios. Now it’s not as glamorous. But for us, it’s the perfect place to chill before school starts. After three and a half months, we finally have a space that’s ours. As Martha said, we no longer have to get dressed up if we have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Luxury.

Our building is on a street called Racławicka. We’re north-west of the Old Town. Like most Polish words over seven letters (like most Polish words), it takes me one or two passes before I can say the street name correctly, and that’s only if it’s in front of me. If you came up to me in the streets of Kraków and asked me where I lived, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. I should write it on the back of my hand. Just the other day, Martha and I started labelling things in the apartment, right down to electrical plugs (wtyezki) and bread (chleb).

We bought a radio. It was Martha’s idea. She’s from a big family and needs some background noise in her place of habitation. When we got home, we couldn’t wait to try it out. Imagine begin excited over a radio. I’ve chatted real-time with friends on the other side of the planet and I’ve been broadcast over a live Web-feed; yet, I was stoked about the radio. It was as if it was 1969 and we were the first ones on the block to get a colour TV. The radio’s got short-wave. BBC is cool. Radio Canada International is comforting like Kraft Dinner. Unfortunately As it Happens isn’t broadcast to Europe. There’s a local radio station that’s hype. One day it was playing DJ Rob “The Nipple Tweaker” Warren’s record collection of seven months ago. Lots of good blips and bleeps. And Polski hip-hip too. There’s a female host who’s no Patti Schmidt, but she wonderfully mispronounces English artists and song names. It makes me wonder for the umpteenth time why it is that accented English from the Continent tends to sound so musical. Conversely, why is it my accent and that of other anglos has the same lilt as a lawn-mower meeting with a rock?

So, the radio featured in my balcony moment. Martha found the Chopin channel. I’m serious, All Chopin, All the Time. It was the perfect soundtrack. I could see a train heading towards the station Kraków Lobzow to the north. Birds cut paths across and over buildings. There were a few people walking down-below and the occasional car went down nearby the ulica Mazowiecka. It was one of those moments when you are hyper-conscious of where you are, of when you are. It’s not déja vu. That’s too surreal. This feeling is more cinematic. If you allowed yourself to get carried away, you might say the moment had meaning or participated in some wider reality. But these claims are too lofty. After all, this is only a moment.

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