On Lem’s Pericalypsis

perfectVacuumIn the foreword of that joke book that is Perfect Vacuum, where its author, the Polish essayist Stanislaw Lem, reviews a series of nonexistent literary works (they reside only in the universe of his boundless imagination), the prologue writer tells us that, with this, Lem tries to give life to — or perhaps get rid of some of his overabundant ideas, considering that he has much more literary projects than biological lifespan to accomplish them. Thus, by the resource of ‘reviewing’ a few novels that, attributed to equally fictitious authors, he would’ve written himself were his life to last longer, he at least can offer to us the thought arguments or plots, along with the possible, suggested controversy or debate the hypotetical lecturers of the nonexistent books might have come up with. By the way, and for icing the cake, by the end of the foreword we are hinted to suspect that this, too — the foreword itself — is, in turn, Lem’s own craft, and not another person’s. Quite a feat of literary juggling.
Perfect Vacuum is an excellent work; a display of dialectic dexterity, intelligence, logic, and fantasy in equal measure with imagination, all of which at some passages has made me swoon.
And because I have so much liked it, I’m quoting here four of such paragraphs; not necessarily the best, but in any case remarkable ones, most of all considering the decade (the 70’s) they were written, which should suffice to give us an idea of Lem’s amazing clearvoyance and prophetic dowry. All four quotes belong to Perycalipsis, one of the book ‘reviews’ featured in the volume. Continue reading “On Lem’s Pericalypsis”

The traveller’s autumn

Two days after autumn equinox; twelve hours between sunrise and sunset; fourteen hours of daylight, and dwindling. Temperatures around fifteen Celsius. The season has arrived with on time showers — though it’s sunny today. Location: Kostrzyn, a town on the east shore of the Oder river, border with Germany. Behind me, Gorzów Wielkopolski with its antisocial dwellers; ahead, the monotonous German perfection. But I must confess that, for the first time, what with the Lithuanian devil on wheeels and the Polish heart of darkness, I feel relieved and happy coming out of the Eastern Block into more civilized Europe. Continue reading “The traveller’s autumn”

Gorzów Wielkopolski: Heart of darkness

It is said that, when the Polish came to Landsberg for repopulating the town, they found the empty dwellings as had been left by the germans when hastily evacuated them: furniture, belongings, pantries and even –in some homes– the meal in the plates at the table; as if a ghost town whose dwellers had suddenly vanished. Thousands of Germans had had to flee in a hurry at the approaching Soviet troops.

Gorzów Wielkopolski, antes Landsberg
Gorzów Wielkopolski, formerly Landsberg

Indeed, at the end of WWII the jointed governments of USA, URSS and UK, self-righteously redrawing the European borders in the Potsdam Conference, decided to generously gift Poland with a strip of German territory from which its inhabitants had been kicked out. In this strip of land was, among others, the town of Landsberg. The Polish renamed it as Gorzów Wielkopolski. Continue reading “Gorzów Wielkopolski: Heart of darkness”

Upon the trodden track

Here and there, through the layer of clouds, a few sun beams shine on the land, cheering up the countryside. Behind me, noise of passing cars and lorries. I’ve pulled to the shoulder for a moment, right after leaving behind Vilnius’ outskirts, and take the day’s first notes. I’m heading Marjampole for merging into the E5, one of the most important highways in our Union, neck of land between–so to say–continental Europe, on one hand, and the Baltic & Scandinavia on the other; the only route–and bottleneck–linking those two halves of our common space. At both sides of the isthmus, there lies the no-go zone, hostile and barbarian land: Russia-Kaliningrad to the west and Belarus to the east. Continue reading “Upon the trodden track”

Christmas Eve among bums

It’s Christmas Eve. A big full moon, very round and white, shines on the pure black of a Polish night. I drag my Christmas loneliness, on an empty stomach, along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok. What am I doing here? Nothing exactly. It’s just that — I’d like to have supper by the warmth of people, like everyone does.
But all shops and restaurants are closed. Not even the Turks open their kebab kiosks today, so I’ll have to return to my hotel room without dinner — and most of all without company.
Suddenly, the sound of some distant music comes to my ears, and thither I turn my steps. Three musicians are playing their instruments under a small marquee, and alongside them, warm food and hot tea is being handed out by a group of volunteers. Lots of bums gather around, filling up their bellies, then having seconds, and then again ask for one extra portion, so they can take it away to their slum dens.
I come closer and look over the counter to the nice-smelling food. I have some qualms, though, to profit from the destitute’s food, which is not meant for me. But upon turning my back for going away, a smiling lady welcomes me: ‘¡zapraszamy, zapraszamy! Jest barszcz, prosze pan‘. A bit ashamed of myself, I take the cup she hands me, full of hot borsh, and there I finish off the tasteful broth among the beggars. Suddenly I feel I’m one of them; they’re my kindred; for, what’s the difference between us? Sure, I could pay this food and they can’t; but the fact is, here we are, all together in the same place, homeless people sharing an unexpected Christmas Eve that the Church has brought to us: merry music and good traditional Polish homemade food: borszcz, pierogi, bigos, herbata
Indeed, this charitable little event is organized by the Catholic Church. Not by the social powers, nor by the always-complaining mobs, nor by the so-called ‘solidary’ groups or parties — leave aside by the anti-Christian trendy movement; no. Those, all of them, are now actually celebrating Christmas Eve with their families. Only the Church cares for us and sets up this munificent counter; the much criticized and opposed Church.
I talk to the lady in charge. I’d like to give them a few bucks I have in my wallet, to contribute, to reward at least the warm food, the hot tea, the music and the nice atmosphere; but she wouldn’t dream of taking my money: this is for free–she says–; but if you feel grateful you can thank the Lord. Ah, madam!, that’s exactly what I can’t…
Eventually, I walk back to my hotel. Sauntering along the cold and deserted streets of Bialystok, under this bright full moon, I’m just another vagabond returning to his den; a vagabond who has just spent Christmas Eve among his kindred.