Kraków According to Małgorzata Lebda
14 October 2022
I must admit that I haven’t been able to enjoy Kraków much in recent months. Other commitments, mainly writing, took me away on short and longer trips.
Text: Małgorzata Lebda
I’ve also been making the most of my days in Kraków. I gravitated to tried and tested places, familiar topography and beauty. I’ve lived here long enough to find plenty of my own walking, running and cycling paths, and I’d like to write about them here. I think of this geographical guide I construct in this piece as sweet spots. They are places which allow me to be close to nature while remaining in the city – places which follow a natural line to reach beyond the tumult.
It’s at its most beautiful at dawn or sunset, when I navigate around it during my daily run. There’s something inspirational in this open space, perfect for watching the sky stretching above. Winter on Błonia reminds me of winters painted by Julian Fałat, while looking at the Kościuszko Mound brings to mind the series of landscapes by Stanisław Wyspiański inspired by the view from his studio. But the space is also perfect on a hot summer’s day – stretch out on a blanket in the middle of this “field”, next to a patch of wild flowers, breathe in deeply (through your nose!), and recite Krystyna Miłobędzka’s verses: “nothing more, nothing less / the perfect golden cloud for a grey evening” (from I am).
The line of the Rudawa as it flows west from Błonia is hypnotic. I’ve run, walked and cycled along it in all weathers at all times of the year. I think that perhaps I have tamed it. It is a sister to the great Vistula – Rudawa may be inconspicuous, but it plays an important role in the landscape. I just love days when its surface glimmers, twinkles like pale gold. It can be spectacular, like last spring when I emerged from Lea Street hoping to run alongside the Rudawa for about 15 kilometres. As soon as I set off along the river, storm clouds started gathering in the sky. I carried on, telling myself what I always tell myself: it will pass over, it always passes over. Reader, it didn’t pass over. Darkness fell and the downpour soaked me to the skin. A bolt of lightning, one of the last of the storm, must have struck the bank or the water, and the crack boomed along the river. And that’s how I crushed my 15km record, powered by the elements. I was totally immersed in what I was doing – as suggested by Christopher Ives in his book Zen on the Trail.
When I’m not running around the Błonia or along the Rudawa, I head to the enchanting Wolski Forest. I have my favourite paths, tested for various activities. I like it best when it’s humid on an overcast day or just before a downpour. If it’s not winter, the soil emanates heat, the leaves are steaming, the forest reminds me that it is a living, organic being where things happen which cannot be explained by biology, chemistry or physics; but you can describe them in a different, poetic language, like the Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer: “There’s a tree walking around in the rain / it rushes past us in the pouring grey. / It has an errand. It gathers life / out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard. / When the rain stops so does the tree. / There it is, quiet on clear / nights waiting as we do for the moment / when the snowflakes blossom in space.” (from The Tree and the Sky, trans. Robin Fulton).
It’s true that I tend to gravitate to water and all things aquatic. After my Vistulan adventure last year, when I ran its entire course of 1113 kilometres from the source at Barania Góra to where it reaches the Baltic over 28 days, my attitude towards this organism (which is how I always describe rivers, especially the Vistula) is very special. It’s a mixture of admiration, respect, fascination and affection. I accompanied the river on several levels: there was activism, there was physical effort, and there was what I’d been hoping for: effort of the imagination and the literary and poetic output that follows. Each encounter with Poland’s longest river as it meanders towards the sea cleansed my mind and brought inspiration – hardly a surprise given the popularity of rivers in literature. I’ll give two examples. The British poet Alice Oswald has created a poem full of digressions, intertwining prose and poetry, woven from conversations and sensory experiences along the small river which weaves its way through Devon where she lives, named after the river Dart. The other example is Claudio Magris and his erudite, moving essay Danube which follows the course of Europe’s second largest river as it flows through ten countries. The river serves as a narration, a story, an experience.
Małgorzata Lebda – author of six volumes of poetry and winner of the Gdynia Literary Prize 2019. Her most recent collection, Mer de Glace, was awarded the Wisława Szymborska Prize and nominated for the Silesius Poetry Prize. Her books have been translated into Serbian, Italian, Ukrainian, Czech and Slovenian. Scholar, columnist, cultural animator, ultra-marathon runner. She is currently working on her prose debut. She lives in Kraków.
The column was published in the 3/2022 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.
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