Puste Stoły Były Przewlekłą Chorobą 26/08/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: Blessed Virgin Mary, cuisine, history, holy family, poland, tarnów, tarnovia hotel, travel, Victims of Fascism and War, walks, wandering, wooden church, Wątok, Świętej Rodziny
Church tourism creeps me out. I’ve wandered into places of worship, watched the faithful shrink from finger-waving docents, followed Giulietta Masina down the-can train in The Nights of Cabiria. It’s not the iconography or bloody history that makes my skin crawl, but the shawl wearing, tear-stained old ladies aggravating their rheumatism to pray. Is it worth the mockery of their devotion to gape at the architecture or feel the heat from a thousand candles burning away years in purgatory?
We scattered like roaches when grandmothers turned in the pews. Fresh incense choked the air harkening an impending mass and the only sound competing with our echoing footsteps was the cracking knuckles of an organist preparing to testify.
Tarnów is proudly the most religious city in Poland, an accolade awarded by virtue of claims to regular attendance. If the vacancy rate at Holy Family, seat of the largest local diocese, is any yardstick the statisticians have some confession material. The towering brick church, a turn of the century creation sown on donated royal grounds, may not rally the faithful for afternoon services but the parish has faith in the people. A wall of stained glass lays open all hours of the night, an impossible thought in San Francisco or Paris or wherever else sacrilege takes form in a handy rock.
If the plangent tolling of the shepherd wasn’t piping up a crowd where does everyone spend their time? We had sat in a pizzeria marveling at kernels of corn adorning our lunch. The waitress wasn’t sure what to do with actual customers, just the collection of aging men drinking half-liters around a picnic table outside. Gleaming floor-tiling suggested empty tables were a chronic condition. Whoever had bought set-dressings from Little House on the Prairie for their lifetime investment must be disappointed.
That’s not a fair reading of Tarnów’s pulse. Janice had taken me through a gap between buildings, across a poorly paved parking lot, and down a narrow stairwell. Behind Holy Family is the Tarnovia Hotel, a hulking Soviet inspired outpost of austere luxury boasting international cuisine (“restaurant with due ceremony”) and conference rooms. The only sign of life here was long decayed, a wall installation committed by some acid-casualty with access to the sweepings of factory floors.
No day-trippers packed the optimistic courtyard of the bus station, another hangover from communist times. The train station was bustling despite the building being mostly closed for renovations, but the park opposite its scaffolding was filled only by squawking birds thrashing in the trees. Why are they so upset? They knew it was going to rain, and maybe everyone else in Tarnów did too.
My tattered shoes swelled as we toiled onward past shuttered storefronts and cracked walls. Dripping commuters waited on a city bus next to the Victims of Fascism and War monument. Twisted bodies reaching for grey skies, a child crying into a pair of swords, unveiled on the 26th anniversary of the first transport to Auschwitz. If it were built today it would be about the Russians.
I insisted on seeing the local prison. Concrete walls and razor wire sucked sound from the atmosphere. No shouts from the exercise yard, no bulls patrolling the grounds– the caged windows of the towers looked empty. Down a one-lane road the complex gives way to storage sheds and a couple severe looking men with shaved heads. A girl standing outside some bungalows was shouting at someone or something not there. Janice said that when she took the bus to work in the morning she would see women and children lined up outside. We watched a couple guards coming on shift. No customers visited the window and door shop built into the front wall.
A man sat alone with his thoughts, sheltered from traffic by a copse of trees. That posture of torment is usually accompanied by drink, but here solace came as religion. Throughout the Carpathian range there’s a history of wooden churches which defy the model of medieval architecture; they look transported from lands of gingerbread houses and witches. Blessed Virgin Mary had been consecrated in 1440 and now houses an alter from the late 1700’s. There have been fires, there has been reconstruction, it’s been moved, the belltower wasn’t added until the 20th century– history works like that. The babushkas across town would have blended right in, but parishioners here were younger, better-dressed, seemingly carefree. There was no sneaking in for a peak– they might have invited us to join them.
Janice wanted to see the Wątok which cuts through one corner of town. Southern Poland flooded after a harsh winter and this creek was threatening to crest its banks. Levels had subsided, leaving trash and masonry and bricked up doors behind.
Back up to old town, past the basilica protected by the frozen grimace of John Paul II. He’s a national hero and, if the Poles have any say, up for canonization. Down boulevards towards concrete towers and the local Chinese restaurant. We chased off two tables and placed our order with a waitress dressed in authentic red synthetic-silk pajamas. Soy noodles that tasted suspiciously like beef broth, bamboo salad and… coleslaw. Which was complimentary. Surprisingly good, but only if you abandoned your pre-conceived notions of Chinese food.