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 #56: Saturday, Nov. 11: Razzy Dazzy

The service isn't all that great, the cocktail menu is about 400 pages but has no whisky sour, the jazz band kept playing the same song in about a thousand different versions and you have the vague feeling of a tourist trap...
But I still loved the Razzy Dazzy Jazz Club, which Dominique and I visited with Katja (who snapped these photos). The tables have lamps, and they are set up on terraces that decline toward the stage, with a huge bar in the back and a balcony (where we sat, looking down).
It looks like the Cotton Club or one of those Jazz clubs in the old movies, where Benny Goodman or Billie Holiday played. One of those classic places that just don’t exist anymore. Ah, but they exist in Krakow, don’t they?

Day #55: Friday, Nov. 10: Back to Krakow... But Not Alone

The next morning I woke up in a coffee shop in the Frankfurt/Hahn airport with no idea how I go there...
...and THIS staring in my face.

Day #54: Thursday, Nov. 9: Fiction or Non-Fiction, Part 2

Fiction or Non-Fiction, that has been the question for the last few weeks.

We took a chance. My Beautiful German Frolein and I wrote up three book proposals – two non-fiction and one novel. I won’t say what they are about, but one non-fiction was in the style of my first book Driving Through the Dark Ages / Nibelungenreise, another non-fiction was in the style of Planet Germany, and the fiction is a comic novel set in Germany. There is another novel here in my room in Krakow but it's not ready to propose yet.)

Since we have no credentials for fiction, we were very aware that we didn’t have much of a chance with the novel. Even my Sly and Cunning Agent told us she didn’t think it would work.

But when I flew to Frankfurt to talk to my publisher and editors, something strange happened.

We sat around at first in the office then in a restaurant and chatted. I noticed that the publisher, Scherz Verlag, happens to publish Robert Little, whose son recently made a big splash with his first novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I asked: "Does anyone know how much the German rights for that book eventually went for?"

Someone said, "Probably about 650,000 euros."

My heart nearly stopped. That's a lot of money.

Later, at dinner, the real discussion got underway. The publisher asked this question: "Why do you want to write novels?"

I wasn't ready for that question, so I blurted out: "Because I'll never get 650,000 euros for a non-fiction book."

They said, "Exactly. We want the novel."

My heart nearly stopped again. So now I am, alongside My Beautiful German Frolein, a novelist. They took two books: the neo-Planet Germany non-fiction title and the comic novel about Germany. Not for 650,000 euros, and not for any price even vaguely near that, but it's a beginning.

About four in the morning I found myself in my hotel room with my Sly and Cunning Agent. She called My Beautiful German Frolein (an now co-author) to tell her the good news. And I stood there thinking:

1. I have to get to the bus in one and a half hours.

2. I can’t believe this is really happening. I've worked for this and wanted this and waited for this and doubted that this will ever happen since I was fifteen. And now it's really happening.

3. How the hell do you write a comic novel?

Day #53: Wednesday, Nov. 8: The Camelot

Day #52: Tuesday, Nov. 7: The Real Smaug

If you're a friend of dragons tales, Krakau has a great one:

It seems a cruel mean dragon named Smok (what a coincidence - Tolkien’s dragon was named Smaug) terrorized the town for many years (though frankly, to judge from the Smok-souvernirs on sale for tourists, that dragon looks pretty snuggly and sweet to me). Finally a cobbler’s apprentice named Krak figured out a way to kill it. He took a sheep and stuffed it with spices, sulfur and salpeter and set it up at the mouth of the cave. The next morning the dragon quickly devoured the sheep, and when the horrible contents of the sheep hit his stomach, the dragon desperately tried to quench his thirst by swallowing half the Vistula River – the dragon drank so much water, in fact, that he exploded. For his reward, Krak received the hand of the king’s daughter in marriage and a large part of the kingdom, including the city now called Krakau.

This legend reminds me a lot of one of the earliest legends of the Southern Rhine German town of Worms, which also celebrates a craftsman, as opposed to a strong-arm action figure, as the hero. Worms is connected to the legend of Siegfried the dragon-slayer, who, in the Nibelungenlied, slays a dragon not in Worms but in the North somewhere. But Worms has its own dragon tale (the word “Worms” may come from “Lindwurm” or dragon), which I will try to reproduce here without referring to the original text:

The dragon terrorized Worms until the residents built a wall around the town and never left it, appeasing the dragon by throwing a virgin over the wall every morning. Finally a trio of blacksmith brothers came up with an idea. They put together a suit of armor that had spikes and sword blades sticking out from it at all angles. One of the brothers got into it, then they dressed it up in a dress like a girl, and threw him over the wall in the morning when the dragon showed up. Without hesitating, the dragon devoured it. Now the blacksmith was in the dragon’s belly and he started kicking his spear-point feet and waving his knife-blade arms, cutting up the dragon from the inside and finally killing it.

I love that story, it’s the most imaginative dragon-slaying story I know. But there’s another interesting thing about it. First, the oldest record of the tale is written in a Jewish book from the old Jewish quarter. Second, there is a similar story in ancient Greece. That brings the question to mind: where does the story come from? Did the Jews in Worms hear it from the Germans, or did they bring it with them when, generations before, their forefathers wandered into Europe from the Mediterranean to set up trading posts? Could it be that one of Germany’s oldest myths – perhaps the Siegfried myth itself – came not from the Germanic tribes, but from the Jews?

Day #51: Monday, Nov. 6: Ghost Messages

It's been a week now since Katja was murdered, and strange messages have begun showing up. Random photos on my camera, I can't explain where they came from.
Like this one above. I don't remember taking this, but the caption is "Art by Katja." And how about this one? Is it a photo, or did some strange... essence simply imprint itself upon my camera's thumb drive?

Then this morning everything got worse. I swear, I was not in the kitchen last night. Not only that, before i went to bed, I emptied all images out of my camera. But when I turned it on this morning, I found these photos:

Katja is here. Somewhere. Somehow. I just have to find a way to make contact with her.

Day #50: Sunday, Nov. 5: The Stuff of Krakow Part 1

There's a lot of stuff in Krakow.