Archive | deathless prose RSS feed for this section

Now the Polish summer is in full swing.

14 Jun

Though it’s only mid-June, all the charateristics of a Polish summer have started. At the moment, we’re enjoying lovely summery weather, and even lovelier strawberries, fresh from the fields. There have been walks in the centre of Bydgoszcz, past the old town square and on to Mill Island, and I had my first swim of the season, traditionally somewhere in the countryside in the Brda upstream. It was as delicious as those strawberries, though the water was cold. Back in Bydgoszcz, and I’ve had some afternoon-flavoured drinks with my wife and a few friends overlooking the same river in the marina.

We shot the breeze about subjects as far apart as the Greek crisis, to how Mill Island used to be in the days before they gentrified it. There was a patch of river in those days, according to one of my friends, where they used to compete to see who could spot the most condoms floating in the water. Now you wouldn’t even see half a condom, but you do see boats and great views.

I often mention Mill Island because it’s just one example of how this city is reinventing itself without losing the essential character of the place. People often don’t get the point of Bydgoszcz until they see it in the summer. The sunny weather highlights the cobbled central square and Dluga street, the Island and the river and various architectural gems, not to mention the parks, the flowers and the trees.

Fellini, Labiszyn and plainchant

11 Nov

The Romanian composer Georges Enescu wrote only two truly famous pieces of music, the Romanian Rhapsodies nos 1 and 2. In the first Rhapsody, the idea behind the music is that people go to a village wedding and get more and more merry from the drink until they are swaying. The music starts out happy but sober, and gradually it gets more and more woozy, until it drunkenly staggers about in an amiable way. Of course it takes a lot of skill from the orchestra to imitate the drunkeness musically. I think it was Rowan Atkinson who said the best way to imitate a drunk person is to pretend that you’re trying desperately hard to sound sober, but what I am going to describe was neither a Mr. Bean creating chaos as he goes, nor the sarcastic drunk father about to lose his daughter to a ne’er do well; this was entirely in the amiable spirit of Enescu’s village wedding. Labiszyn is a very small town South of Bydgoszcz. My wife, a friend and I turned up at Labiszyn’s large church because we wanted to attend a concert given by the extremely talented Collegium Vocale, a four-part group of singers who among other things, sing medieval and renaissance music, both sacred and secular.  The Mass before the concert  had over-run its course a little when we arrived, but this meant we were able to sample the beauty of autumnal leaves which had fallen all around the church, and enjoy the rather faint sun which bathed everything in a soft light. We went into the church and sat down.  We were greeted by a fanfarę of trumpets and trombones. Up in the organ loft the local brass band played patriotic Polish tunes well but woozily, sometimes sliding in and out of notes like a talkative church usher who has had a few vodkas. Because the band was in the organ loft, they were playing to the backs of our heads as we sat in  the pews.  It was exactly like a scene from a Fellini film;  merry colour ( a group of brassy angels, perhaps?)  adding earthbound pomp from on high to the proceedings. Enescu would have been delighted if he were still alive, and had he some  reason for coming to this corner of Poland. To be fair, this was delightful and well-enough played not to sound too drunk and not to descend into incoherence. This was then followed by the plaintive singing of Collegium Vocale, who seem to be on top from at the moment; their rendering of monk’s plainchant, was deeply moving, and took the scariness out of the hoodies shuffling along to their pews, which they might have evoked if they were more in horror mode. They also sang their medieval/renaissance psalms , not only to harmonising the notes perfectly, but making their different voices blend, a beguiling combination of beauty and austerity. At the same time, they sang warmly in the rather cold church. If anyone is in or around Bydgoszcz at this time, Collegium Vocale are giving other concerts. Warmly recommended.  As for the Labiszyn brass band, I have no idea where or when their next engagement is.