Making me happy is not the hardest thing: Let me travel. Show me something – anything! – that is beautiful. Make me sing. Bring me to one of my Places of Desire. Teach me something about the world. Or get me to anywhere where there is water.
Any of these things will put a smile on my face and love into my heart. Being in Gdańsk, or really in Trójmiasto – that is the Tricity area consisting of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia – has made it possible for all the things on the list to be given to me at once. It can be really overwhelming.
It is cold this time around in Gdańsk – not that it was exactly warm when I came in November. As I walk from Happy Seven Hostel (easily one of my favorite hostels in Europe!) toward the Long Market, I wrap my scarf around my face to keep the cold from gnawing its frosty teeth through my skin. My own warm breath clings onto my scarf in tiny ice crystals. The pavement on Długie Pobrzeże, the waterfront street, is slippery and wet, frosted with a not so thin layer of ice on top of the snow. The sky is blue and shiny. The air is fresh. It feels like the first day in the world. As carefully as I feel I should tread here, my eyes are as though fixated on the outlook I am facing and that I love so much.
There is the Motława River, glistening in the sun. The sillhouette of the Żuraw, the old and mighty city gate, stands still and black and mighty before the sun. As I approach the water, I see that it is frozen over slightly, and covered with half melted snow, and the tracks of swan and seagull feet paint pretty pictures on the surface. I walk towards the sun, and the light tickles in my eyes – the only party of my face that isn’t covered to be kept warm. Eventually I turn back, and I see this:
Sunlight is suffusing the houses with its wintery morning light. It is not actually a warm light, but when it hits the red brickstone, the houses look like they were shone upon by an August summer sun. It is the red brick stone that savours the warmth of yet brighter and warmer days. I love the material more than words can say.
On a different day, I take the SKM to Sopot. I have been here once before. Almost 20 years ago. My memory of it is very faint, but it exists. It was summer, the August of 1993 to be precise, and I remember the beach to be very white, whiter than any I had ever seen. The sky was misty, and there were lots of white birds I suppose must have been seagulls – „No,“, said my mom when I related this memory to her once, „they were swans. Lots of them. I had never seen swans on the Baltic Sea before.“ I remember the Grand Hotel dimly – grey and big and mirroring in its slightly run-down morbidity many tales of former grandeur.
What will it be like to go there now?
Through Sopot’s downtown, I make my way to the pier. In summer it actually costs money to go there. I find this in tune with the very chic, elegant spa-town feel of the main street. I am not saying that it isn’t beautiful. I just tend to feel a bit displaced when I encounter somewhere like this. Everything and everyone looks so gorgeous and tidy, and it makes me very aware of my jeans being torn and my hair being messy, and I’m practically waiting to slip and make a perfect slapstick fall that passers-by will sniffily pretend to have not seen. I’m missing an edge, because Sopot’s picture-book perfection is making me queasy. And then… then I get to the water.
There are swans and seagulls in the water. Fog is all around, but the horizon still marks a fine line between skies and earth, between eternity and the material world. The Grand hotel in the distance is white and shiny and I cannot believe that it is supposed to be the same place my memory held. I know that soon the look of the majestic and wealthy world class hotel will have replaced my old and faded image from the early 1990s that still exists in my head. I grieve upon that knowledge for a moment. I liked the unrestored Grand Hotel. It told a whole life story. This new one has nothing to do with me in all its phenomenal beauty. Incredible that we, a family of five, could afford to stay there 20 years ago. My mom and I found old bills in a photo album, dinner there for the five of us cost some 140,000 Zloty – in today’s currency rate that would be 35,000 Euros. Times change.
My eyes go back to the water. The ocean is the same in an elegant place like this as in any other. My Baltic. Its waters connect so many places I have seen and loved. Skagen in Denmark, where Baltic and North Sea meet. Greifswald, my German college town. The Curonian Spit in Lithuania with its fir tree forrests and white sandy beaches. Latvia’s Riga and Estonia’s Tallinn, the lively and individual Baltic capitols. It calms me to think of these places.
On this weekend, there is also a quick visit to Gdynia’s beach. It is of beauty that is beyond my capacity to describe but in two words: Olbrzymia Cisza. In Polish that means: Gigantic Silence.