Poland, theater

Day of the Blessed Mother of Herbs

August 15, 2011

Dear Milo,

I didn’t realize today was a Polish national holiday until I left the house. My favorite Piekarnia Familia was closed, as was every other piekarnia (bakery) on my walk to the theater. It was too quiet for a Monday, and the people I did see on the street were walking slowly, holding their children’s hands, taking photographs, or carrying little bunches of flowers and plants tied in green and yellow twine.

I still had to get some work done today, though, even though it was a holiday, because I’ll be taking the bus to Jelenia Góra tomorrow to spend some time (just a day or so) with the surrealist theater company Teatr Cinema.

Teatr Cinema resides in an enormous, mysterious house in the mountains near Michalowice, about 20 minutes from Jelenia Góra. We visited them for one night in 2009 as part of the US Artists Initiative, and I’ve wanted to go back since then. Their work gave me a brief taste of a unique aesthetic–comic theatrical surrealism–that I haven’t seen anywhere else before or since in the theater. Their spectacles are inspired by visual art; their director sees himself, in part, as a painter or creator of visual images who works with human performers.

The TC website says “The actors call their performances “a revolt of imagination against the routine reality”.” Humor. Bowler hats. Very movement-dependent, but not pretty-pretty dance movement; awkward human movements, almost involuntary. Almost no text, although they once (at the very beginning of their work) did a piece based on Edward Lear. Perhaps I will be able to describe it better after I go.

Although the text-independent aesthetic is pretty distant from my own, I connected to the strange isolated beauty of the place, and the romanticism of packing up your theater company and moving to the mountains. It’s very much something I might have dreamed of doing when I was younger. The enormous house where they live and work is like Wuthering Heights, if Wuthering Heights had puppets peering down at you from between the stair railings and clown masks in the windows, and could sleep 30 theater directors in small wooden beds without breaking a sweat.

The last time I was at the mysterious house of Teatr Cinema, we arrived at night and ate hand-made pierogi until all hours. I spilled red wine on a white sweater within seconds of being there. I kept the sweater–slept in it–and every time I looked at the stain, I thought about the place. I’m really looking forward to being back there.

So, in preparation for the trip, a day of errands that could not be put off. I spent all last week organizing and writing and revising documents, and now I had to send them on their way. Picking up documents at the theater (K. came in even though it was a holiday), tying up all kinds of SOTG-related loose ends with K., sending more documents to Warsaw at the post office (strangely open, despite everything else being closed), navigating the bus station (much, much easier than navigating the train station was, last year) buying my ticket for tomorrow.

When I got home, I looked up the holiday. Something for everyone on August 15. Not only is it Assumption Day (that would be the Virgin Mary’s Assumption, for those of you following along in your…er…), it’s also the Day of the Blessed Mother of Herbs (hence the bunches of flowers)—but it’s also the commemoration of the victorious Battle of Warsaw (“Miracle on the Vistula”) against the Bolsheviks in 1920. I never would have known about any of this if I hadn’t come to live here.

What you lose in efficiency by working, studying, and creating art abroad for any length of time (this article about the logistical perils of artists’ residencies hit home for me–some days, it’s a puzzle to even get a single page printed, or send a letter) you don’t “make up” in any way. It’s a new place, and you have to get used to it, and until you do–if you ever do–you get less done. But you do get to be surprised by people carrying flowers on a Monday.

Into the woods tomorrow–I’ll be back at the end of the week, and then I’ve got to make my way to Warsaw over the weekend. The blog will probably be dormant until after the 22nd.