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Krakow Diary (1)


“This siddy is so….PRIDDY!!!” The mother and daughter eating their breakfast next to me are Californian. They start to weigh the pros and cons of a trip to the salt mines with reference to the salt content of…tequila.

The historic heart of Krakow is indeed very beautiful: baroque buildings, park spaces everywhere, narrow streets discouraging traffic. But it feels lived in, rather like the first district of Vienna.

On one corner of the historic main square, Rynek Glowny, there is a famous cellar, Piwnica pod Biranami, the cave of the rams (picture above). Over a beer, Witold Wnuk, the founder of the jazz festival and its director since 1996 explains the significance of this place. After 1956, the Russians decided they would stop trying to suppress artistic endeavour. And the place has kept going ever since as a cabaret and music venue. “In those difficult times this was the oasis. Everyone of significance in the culture of Poland had some connection to this place: Roman Polanski, Krysztof Penderecki, Andrzei Wajda: they were all here. And it’s where Polish jazz was born- Krystof Komeda, Tomasz Stanko….”

The cellar in which the music is played was stiflingly hot. Joana Asia, a singer from Gdynia was giving strong and musical renditions of standards in very good English with a proficient quartet -which definitely needed the towels and water they were brandishing. But elsewhere in the warren are more comfortable places, and during the jazz festival it’s buzzing with conversation and interesting folk. I passed Joe Lovano on his way out of the bar, and was introduced to Maria Schneider.

Yes, it’s a happy place, but I don’t lose that inherited sense of the urgency, the imperative, the burning flame of those who value culture in Poland because they know what a fragile plant it has been.

This idea is reinforced by a book I found yesterday: A Defense of Ardor by Adam Zagajewski. He describes hearing Mozart among the British Chiantishire crowd: “Why couldn’t the affluent audience appreciate this wonderful performance? Does wealth always diminish our enthusiasm? Why didn’t this ardent performance of Mozart meet with an equally ardent reception?”

So many questions. Time to just enjoy the weather.

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