Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lublin and rain

I told Kevin as we drove that had my Romanian friend come with us - he was detained in Bucharest by affairs - he would have wanted to stay out late drinking. Kevin said that in that case it was a good thing he didn't come with us and I felt a great sense of being middle aged. The truth is that this no longer appeals to me either. How did this happen to us?

I had wanted to visit Zamosc since a Pole told me in 1990 on the railway platform in Plovdiv that Cracow was far too touristy and that I should visit Zamosc. All tourists hate other tourists just as all egoists hate other egoists. I have asked many people since then who lived in Poland about Zamosc and all said that they had never been there but always wanted to. Finally today, after 24 years, I made it.

And it is beautiful indeed, built by an Italian architect in the 16th century and undamaged by wars. It's small enough, tiny in fact, to be easily ruined by tourism but it hasn't been. It's still full of useful shops except in the main square which is cafes. One senses that though the architecture is Palladian the wide open spaces of the Ukrainian steppe are close and we are in the far East - the far East of the early modern period. 



Kevin has a great number of strongly held opinions, as an Englishman should so long as they are reasonably original. One is hatred of pigeons. He admires the great beauty of Zamosc but the cruel nails with which architraves are dotted to deter pigeons are what most appeal to him. 

But the real surprise was Lublin, where I am staying, enjoying a nice inexpensive central hotel, the Europa, the oldest hotel in the town and one of the oldest in Poland. Kevin has gone on now somewhere and I am chilling.

Lublin is a, by me, unexpectedly glorious discovery, where I shall linger three nights. Yes it is touristy but very few tourists compared to Vilnius or Cracow, with which it invites comparison. Still the old town is the usual array of Irish pubs and tourist restaurants. On the other hand outside the city walls there is also much to see that is old and beautiful and has not become a museum. There are a lot of wonderful baroque churches.

It has a similar gate to Vilnius's.

But next year I shall escape tourists altogether in Albania, Georgia or Armenia. They have not been transmuted into tourist industry plant. 

Crimea, though I am sure it is discovered and touristed, would also be fascinating.

When Poland ceased to exist in the 18th century Lublin was taken by Austria but it spent the century after 1815 in Russia and it does not have the Germanic feeling of Central Europe but something more northern and eastern. Its history after 1939 was tragic of course. The town had been German and Jewish but the Jews were wiped out, the Ukrainian and Polish guerrilla armies suppressed and Stalinism imposed.

I began today with a delightfully dark sky, drizzle and a very good Polish breakfast indeed. Black bread which I couldn't find in Ukraine. Wonderful roulades. I recommend the Europa for food. Indeed I love Polish food, which is wonderful. But how can a cuisine which involves copious amounts of dumplings, pancakes and meat not be wonderful? The same goes of course for Ukraine and Russia.

What a wonderful country Poland is - Catholic, gallant, aristocratic. As an Eglishman former great powers speak to me - Poland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal. If only Poland and Sweden could be great powers again in place of Russia. Although actually Sweden is far too socially liberal and Poland is moving in that direction too. 

If only Poland could free Europe from rule by the generation of 1968. But it won't happen. I suppose that is the role for which Vladimir Putin is positioning himself. And so many people I speak to assume that he must be right because the EU the UK and the USA must be wrong. The truth is I feel that the social conservatives are the KGB's new useful idiots,

Rain continues today, not too heavy, which for an Englishman feels right in August and a tremendous liberation. Towns are always at their most beautiful and most characteristic in the rain and rain cools everything down and makes it pleasant to don my linen jacket. I am always happier for practical and philosophical reasons when wearing a linen jacket. I am free. The sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy myself.  I can relax.

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