How life in Poland has changed since those far off days. The charm and unique flavour of the country is slowly leaching away in the affectionate embrace of the EU.
Nikon F 2 on Fuji Film
A Yellow Sleigh for the Departing Guests
|The author reading in Niedzica Castle. The rooms are furnished with genuine Polish antiques and Turkey carpets|
|Domestic chores in the Spisz|
|A village in the Spisz region of Poland|
|Naive polychrome in the Church of St. Elizabeth, Spisz, Poland|
|'Zosia' (real name Barbara) in the 'Ghost Room' on the eve of the Millennium Ball at Niedzica Castle, Poland|
Snow fell from the trees in a muffled hush. The night was silent, clear and minus twenty degrees, the moon full and the sky hectic with stars. The air was like cold steel to breathe. I lit the cigar and watched the smoke drift listlessly in the air above the rugged walls and ancient windows. Entrance to the castle is gained through an oak door banded in iron strap-work strengthened with massive studs. Feeling restless and in need of air, I heaved it open and wandered out onto the frozen carriage ramp. An arch loomed above, bearing the device of the Hungarian Horvath family, owners of the castle from the eighteenth century until the communist takeover after the Second World War.
After my return to the dining hall suddenly at 2.00 am the heavy tapestry curtains of the entrance hall were flung wide and three flaming piglets were wheeled in on silver trolleys. Cheers filled the vault as carafes of vodka glowed once more on the tables. Portions of the succulent meat were carved with a flourish.
A disembodied voice emerged from the recess of the driver’s fur-lined hood. I could scarcely reply from the surprise of hearing a human voice cracking the silence.
Pale blue light reflected off the moonlit snow, limestone crags and wooden cottages as we bowled along, each sleigh a pool of warm light, the occupants laughing and chattering as sparks from the bitumen torches flew onto their clothing and lodged in their hair or fur caps. The torches blew wildly in the wind and suddenly we were racing. Passing and re-passing on the narrow icy road, the faces of the occupants bathed in light were gleeful, urging the driver on to even greater efforts, the excited horses’ hooves slipping, sparks from the torches speeding in long trails now.
For details of my book on Poland in both English and Polish
A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland
(Granta, London 2008 and Czarne, Warsaw 2010)