The Krakow Diaries

75 days in Krakow. On a literary grant from the German Kulturstiftung der Länder. In the Guesthouse of the 16th century Villa Decius, with 10 other writers from Poland, Germany, Belarussia, Ukraine and Georgia. Beautiful city. Nice Krakovians. Fun nightlife. Beautiful women. And in the guesthouse: Meetings of the minds. Too much vodka. Good friends. One of the great pleasures of my life.

Day #21: Saturday, Oct. 7: A Tale of Two Flies

They come in pairs. You get one, the other one keeps quiet for a few minutes, out of sight, until you think it's gone. Then it starts up again. Buzzing. Whishing.

They act like the own the place. They like alight on my computer screen as if to tell me: "We're not afraid of you. Got ahead, do something about it."

They never buzz off in a corner somewhere by themselves. They always have to be where I am. They have a way of buzzing around the fringes of my attention. They alight on my arm somewhere or hand or cheek, lightly, almost lightly enough to ignore, but not quite. Just to alert me to their presence. To whisper to me: "We're here. We're here. We're here."

When it's dark, I try doing the "come into the light" trick. I turn off the lights in the room and open all the windows and wait a while, hoping they will get bored by the dark room and go off to investigate the street lamp outside. And when I close the windows in the dark and turn the lights back on, for a moment I believe it has worked. No buzzing. It feels alone. I sit down to work and I feel that I can enjoy the work at last, but just as I'm ready to concentrate, they're back. Buzzing. Landing. "We're here. We're here. We're here."

Once in a while I am able to kill one. I use a knotted-up white towel. I got one yesterday and was so happy about it that I put its corpse on a tissue paper on my desk. One down, two to go. They always come in pairs. I waited for the second one to land on a vulnerable spot. Soon I'd be free. But after a while, I noticed that there were two of them again. They're like in the Roman army: As if a soldier falls, his spot is filled immediately. But how did it get in? I glanced at the corpse of the dead fly on the tissue on my desk. It was gone.

Day #20: Friday, Oct. 6: It's Not My Imagination


I woke up this morning, went down to the breakfast room and discovered that Katja is gone now, too.

Day #19: Thursday, Oct. 5: Ten Little Intellectuals


Life at the Guesthouse of Villa Decius is getting mysteriouser and mysteriouser. I'm beginning to think I've arrived in a situation that may end up being threatening to my life.

It's slowly becoming clearer and clearer that there is more to the mysterious Laryssa than meets the eye. Every time I try to corner her, panic invades her eyes and she slips past me and behind locked doors, avoiding my questions. The proto-Austro-Feminist-Communist Erica is clearly hiding something in her past. There's a strange nervousness to her laugh when I innocently mention the never-resolved crimes of the elusive group of militant feminist terrorists who called themselves "Maenner her jetzt!" Erica would have been in her twenties when they were active. I believe now she's in some kind of witness protection program.

Then there are the post-Hegelians. When I arrived, there wasn't a single post-Hegelian in sight. Now, they're everywhere. Did you see that comment a few posts back? Crawling out of the woodwork with their freindly, probing ways and vaguely threatening intellectual puzzles. I know jiu jitzu and karate, I have the CIA handbook on my harddisk, but how do you protect yourself from a post-Hegelian?

I haven't seen the Ukrainian novelist since his reading a week ago. The White Russian poet can no longer be seen lounging around the kitchen listening to his own poems on CD. The Polish novelist Mirek has disappeared. When I ask where they are, someone says, "Oh, they're around," but before I can ask for specifics, they change the subject.

One by one, everyone is disappearing. The unnatural quiet in the house is getting eerie. When we talked about it the other night, the Ukrainian novelist Tanja made a crack about Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians": One by one, the people on an island begin disappearing. Is that what's happening here in this very house? Since she made that remark, I haven’t seen Tanja.

This morning, as if to belie my fears, Mirek showed up. He smiled unnaturally and said he had been in Warsaw, though I hadn’t asked yet.

But there was something strange about him. Something… changed…

Day #18: Wednesday, Oct. 4: Novel vs. Non-Novel

We had another knock-out-drag-out fight last night – Katja, Erica, Nicolai and I – about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. (This was before we went to a horrible all-out-self-gratifying-middle-class-we- listen-to-jazz-mushy-New-Age-Wagnerian-concept-jazz-funk concert – see photo). Anyway, during this discussion, I claimed – rightly so – that non-fiction is superior to fiction because it shows the world as it is (give or take a little for perception and honesty of the writer), whereas fiction can say whatever the hell the writer feels like saying, and the more I know about writers, the less I feel like trusting what they have to say.

There was some disagreement. Erica said, "Yes, but fiction depicts what is inside us." She hasn’t heard yet that Freud has fallen into disfavor. (Erica is conflicted on this issue – she is writing the story of her family and is waffling between writing it as fiction and non-fiction. As a novel, she could more easily play with the chronology. I am trying to talk her into making it non-fiction, and I almost had her there when she discovered that I am thinking about writing as novel and now she doesn't believe anything I say anymore. I suspect it doesn't matter whether she writes is an autobiographical novel or a non-fiction memoir, it will be her second bestseller.)

But I ask: Why is it we are so fascinated with what we feel "inside" and are so disinterested in what's really going on in the world? If we're going to discuss the human condition, let's at least try top bring a minimum of objectivity – not to mention research – into it.

There's an old novel dictum that says, "A character (and a human being) is not what he says or feels, he is what he does." The same goes for the human race: We are what we do. If you want to know us, don’t listen to what we've been talking about for the last 2000 years, look at what we've done. If Hitler had ever written down his stream of consciousness, it would probably have made him look really good. No, this "fiction helps us learn who we are inside" stuff I don’t buy. Show me what we are on the outside first.

Needless to say, I was able to convince no one. So I immediately sat down and wrote this stream-of-consciousness blog. That'll show 'em.

Day #17: Tuesday, Oct. 3: The Villa Decius Guest House is Quiet

Quiet has settled over the Villa Decius Guest House. I don’t see anyone anymore in the breakfast room. Or in the halls. Or in the laundry room. I don’t hear noises, the slamming of doors. No one is sunning themselves on the back lawn or drinking tea and gabbing out by the front fountain. Maybe the others all have important places to be and exciting things to do. Maybe they are all hidden away in the house and I don't know it – perhaps they have partied too much on the weekend, seen too many friends, explored the city too much, and are now retiring to the stillness of their cubby-hole rooms.

Is the house empty but for me? I sit here alone in my well-lit room, surrounded by books to read and notes to take, in the quietness, and think about how far away I am from the ones I love until a satisfying melancholy comes over me. Strange, because it is satisfying at the same time, like the exhaustion after a day of hard but successful work.

Most likely, everyone else is doing the same.

Day #16: Monday, Oct. 2: Geeks Are The Same All Over The World


....as witnessed by this photo taken of the nerds hanging around Ye Olde Lord of the Rings Shoppe in the top floor of the Galeria Kazimierz.

Day #15: Sunday, Oct. 1: They Really Sing


Chili and Vodka Night at the Villa Decius was a real eye-opener. It's amazing what you can learn about your fellow intellectuals under conditions such as these (chili and vodka) that you can't learn elsewhere.

It didn't surprise me that Katja and Tanja danced.

It didn't surprise me that the Elusive Laryssa Andriejewska offered not only a toast but an unknown Ukrainian drink she set on fire (then doused).

It did not surprise me that hip post-modernist Polish novelist Mirek Nahacz (on the right, talking to Nicolai) had country music on his laptop and just happens to be one of the only people in Europe who loves "The Sot-Weed Factor" by John Barth as I do...

Nor that German poet Nicolai Kobus' brand new book of poetry is looking spectacular...

Nor did it suprise me that both Big Intellectual Bears - Ambrosi Griszikaszwili the Georgian Translator...

...and Andrej Khadanovich the White Russian Poet (you can read his poems in German translation here) - both showed up with vodka from home (in Andrej's case it was 56.5/103 vol.).

But I never thought I'd see the day when all those stories you hear about Slavs suddenly breaking into song were absolutely true...

Here's the proof:

(You can also go directly to YouTube: (Click here.)