Tuesday, March 2, 2010

B. Townscape

Time now however for some concrete certainty. Or what at least has the appearance of something solid and undeniable. It must exist, for it can be touched. What after all could be more tangible than piled up wood and iron and sculpted stone with the knitted certainty of steel girders beneath? And so I turn to the Townscapes. The Ratusz towers above me like an Italian wedding cake. Figures move with skaterly care over the frozen glaze of the Market Square. Icy lanes clench and unclench behind orderly Prussian-seeming façades, releasing handfuls of scuttling figures that appear for a moment and then disappear again, leaving tracks in the snow as irrefutable evidence that they were not dreams. There are no apparitions from the collective unconscious in these paintings.

But perhaps we should look again. Here in the Square in the days before Christmas stands an exhibition of sculpted ice statues. They have begun to melt. Saints and angels and Santa Klaus and…look closely now: among these slumped figures melting away outside the Museum of the Wielkopolska Uprising, are these perhaps soldiers, and in Polish uniforms? Fallen, and melting away, melting away, perhaps as quickly as time and history melts away; in the same imperceptible way that the brief years of freedom between two wars melted away in yet another Polish tragedy. And who are these hatchet-faced figures creeping at midnight through Stary Rynek? And why the strained anxiety in the face of the watching woman? The old-fashioned iron trams clank along iron tracks ringing a bell for another age. The sound is eerily reminiscent of the clanking of other less peaceful iron behemoths which filled these streets in that week in June 1956 when I first became acquainted with Poznań. Things are not quite as they seem. Walls have ears. They have memories too. And the winter holds the city in an icy grip. It is not the first icy handshake it has known.

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