Monday, February 4, 2013

Polish Memories: Łazienki Park

Łazienki: the Palace-on-the-Water.  My favorite memory of two weeks in Poland is the day we spent
wandering around Łazienki Park.  It was a day more like myself: the weather was impish and in-between-ish, the bus ride short and our decision to hop off at the Chopin monument, impetuous.  We entered from the side with the great gray statue of Frederic Chopin: he drew us in at the first.  He sits there, a giant among beds of roses, but not in bloom... ghosts of summers past and concerts past linger in the air, roses and dusk and warm nights full of the maestro's nocturnes... and Chopin's memory too, presiding there over it as the Colossus in the corner.  The statue is romantic, and foolish as romance is apt to be: what emotion the reminder of a man's genius or talent can stir, what worship the human compels to himself when he is young and strong and beautiful to his own eye.  And what foolishness to worship so: and yet we do, as the cat his own cattiness, the baby his own cleverness, the lovely girl her own loveliness.  We are hopelessly vain creatures.
The park reaches it's arms out to draw you in, if you are a kindred spirit and wood-ish sort... my own worship rarely turns to the rhythm of man's genius, is far more tempted by the growing thing.  Chopin though, of all the figures standing in brass and stone commemoration, frozen larger than life and perhaps weary of too-largeness, who can say, drew my own yearning- for music flows like blood through the veins of all men, and the composer speaks with the language all times and tribes can understand.  And beyond him, and the hum of favorite melodies and softnesses of resolution and gentled fervor my fingers too remember (for no one who has played a piano or keyboard at all can forget certain of the masters' melodies and harmonies)- beyond him, as I said, the woods began and ran away, calling with bending paths beneath the boughs.  
Mr. Tumnus?!
 Through the woods we saw oh! so many wonderful things.  Winter left its leafy brown bed and tangy, woodsy smell all round.  A bit of green peeped out of the leaves, in clusters of the ivy so perpetually associated with oldness and romance.  The grounds were some old estate, but the history of it all is forgotten to me, in what it is: you see, it is about as much wild as A.A. Milne's Hundred-Acre-Wood, and about as docile as a dandelion.  We chanced first upon a building which was an old orangery and theater, and next upon... what I think was an art museum. But they were ruins too (some of the buildings, artificially so).  Pert squirrels, with bright eyes and tufted ears, dodged and dove in the leaves.  They must have been magical for I felt no natural enmity with them, and I always sense primal warfare rising in me when I watch or even think of squirrels in the cities here.  Songbirds fluttered lightly about; especially the ever-friendly chickadees, and tufted titmice, which I believe I distinguished.  An elderly gentleman stood alone in one path and fed them from his hand beneath the trees.  I knew him for a friend then, for I have done the same and the sound of those wings and the grip of those delicate claws are more poignant than faeries.  I know.  I think of the old gentleman still as my friend.
Grandmothers we saw not a few; wheeling children in "prams" up and down the lanes, chatting congenially, each with the round apple-like face of the aged Pole.  Further on, deeper in, we found the Palace-on-the-Water: over a small lake thinly sheeted with black ice, where the waterbirds were skiing, and statues where crows and pigeons played, saluted to the grand neoclassical residence, perfectly symmetrical and still perfectly beautiful.  On the far side of the lake an artificial ruins stood, an amphitheatre and temple of Diana, as I think    
it was; but by the water's edge one could see a bit of the nose of a rowboat, overturned and dreaming of sunny weather, and in need of a bit of paint.  Funny mixes of wild things and domestic plantings abounded.  Weeping willows graced the far end of the lake.  Peacocks and peahens promenaded joyously below some fir trees... I think perhaps they were hemlocks... and the bridge over the narrow place arched it's back lazily to the steely winter sky.
The place magicked the heart right out of me.  I could have spent many pleasant days there, though as so often with the loveliest moments, I had only one to spend.  How many countless lords and ladies and heads of state had dwelt there or stayed there, I cannot remember... I remember the two statues of the fauns, with their elbows crooked around lamposts, and ducks swimming up a miniature canal; I remember sporting with the squirrrels, and cavorting with ducks, and- I rather forget how we left.  And if that were not proof enough of the witchery of that day:

Somehow we were not in Łazienki any longer, and the long blue dusk was growing, and there was a little rain and noisy buses, and I had to use the bathroom somewhere and (because there are not general public bathrooms in Europe as there are here: one pays for the privilege of the privy) we found ourselves through the back door of a bakery and a restaurant, in the Belgian embassy by a trick of fate.  It was a very nice bathroom, and the kind person who led us there reassured us it was all right. ;)

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