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Travelogue B3

November 5, 2014

My nights are spent in a bedroom in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter, not far from Ulica Szeroka. I was informed that, after decades of planning and revitalization, the quarter is now hip and in bloom once again. The Jewish population remains remarkably small, having never returned after the war, and, so I was left to divine, only empty synagogues and full cemeteries attest to the fact that this was and perhaps still is Kazimierz.

The bedroom is rather high-ceilinged. The ceiling begins some four meters above the same patchwork floor as that seen in the bookstore. The ceiling and walls meet in a sinuous line on two sides, opposite one another, for the ceiling is made up of three troughs and two crests. These crests are marked by two black stripes, which divide the ceiling into roughly equal thirds. During my first nights, I thought these stripes to be paint. Their glossy appearance certainly suggests as much. Yet, on closer examination one dawn, I found that they are instead two dark wood ceiling beams of which only the bottom faces are visible. The luminosity of these faces proves the deceiving factor.

Two almost floor-to-ceiling rose drapes slouch before the doors opening onto the balcony. The glass panes are prototypically Eastern European, I was told. Two long panes occupy two-thirds of the doors’ height, and a single pane occupies the width of the top third. The balcony itself is situated on an inner courtyard, in what appears to be the conjunction of the rear sections of several buildings. My balcony faces a dozen others of similar design, on which are strewn certain possessions of their inhabitants. Being several days before Christmas, small firs and assorted ornaments stand out amidst the clustered cabinets, bicycles, cleaning supplies, empty glass bottles, which may have once held vodka or juice or some other liquid, difficult as it is to determine which from this distance, drying racks, panes, casements, and the occasional intrepid smoker.

The room bristles with wood trim, rather light in color, perhaps pine, in contrast to the deep black of the ceiling beams. The doors, sink, bed-frame, the cabinet hiding the water heater, the dresser are all in this same wood. With no small delight, upon arriving, I discovered that the dresser holds a sink, of which the basin forms a perfect rectangular prism. The tap lets forth only cold water, perhaps a fitting reflection of the dark blue tiles lining the space between sink and mirror. Its drawers are cut to fit around the piping inside. A series of holes at different levels and wooden bulwarks secure to the dresser its dual functionality.

The floor is in the same wood, as well as the trim along the base of the walls. Only after a few days in residence did I take notice of the fact that every wood piece, save the dresser, is unvarnished. Perhaps the finishing also doubles as waterproofing.

To the right of the dresser/sink, in the corner of the room stands the door to the bathroom, the walls of which are decorated with Bolesławiec tiles, blue designs on a white background, a style popular in northern Poland. In my week in the apartment, I counted eleven or so such designs, which depict interlaid series of circles, lines, leaf-like forms, and gentle curves. I became particularly fascinated with a one tile that holds a number of framed squares, the centermost of which is divided into quadrants by a simple cross, tipped like a cotton swab. In each quadrant stands an identical figure oriented towards the center; it resembles either a leaf or an isometric view of a bird in flight, depending on my temperament.

On the floor, in the corner to the right of the doors opening onto the balcony, leaning up against a wall, a poster advertising a Warhol exhibition sits framed. The poster consists in a photograph of a man pressed against a woman’s back, his tongue extended toward her ear along with the requisite information concerning time and place. The photograph is flooded by a pale green, and the figures’ outlines have been approximated by Warhol with a thick marker, the tongue the only source of unorthodox color, a warm red.

The decorations are otherwise spare. This left me each morning, pressed beneath heavy blankets, between these white walls, to take in passively the dawn light from the courtyard.

The doors do not completely or resoundingly close, a fact which invites me to leave them always open. It brought to mind an essay on surrealism I had read the year previous in which Walter Benjamin waxes hopeful on the revolutionary life and, in a pleasingly abrupt digression, recalls an experience of his own in a Russian hotel.

In Moscow I lived in a hotel in which almost all the room were occupied by Tibetan lamas who had come to Moscow for a congress of Buddhist churches. I was struck by the number of doors in the corridors that were always left ajar. What had at first seemed accidental began to be disturbing. I found out that in these rooms lived members of a sect who had sworn never to occupy closed rooms.”

I recalled something of the revolutionary intoxication that he goes on to mention as I made a short circuit of the apartment, wending my way through the openings where closed doors might otherwise bar the way. Again before the door to my bedroom, I noted that it has two panes of frosted glass and a third pane, this of clear glass, which is set in the top third of the door. When closed, it echoes the door to the balcony, which directly faces it.

A globe lamp on the nightstand is the best source of illumination, leaving just enough light for me to make out my reflection in the mirror above the sink. The mirror is vaguely hexagonal. It bulges out at the sides and is concave at top and bottom. Its surface is spotted but otherwise fine. Like all mirrors, it opens out into another room beyond the wall, something that has fascinated me since childhood. As I stood there looking at my too wan face, I recalled Browne’s discussion of the belief held by the people of the English countryside that, on death, “the spirit of one body passed into another; which they wished might be their own” and wondered whether the medium of such a transmission might not be akin in some way to a mirror. I tried to picture for an instant just who might, in time, stand on the other side, in that other room, to receive my own.

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