Lodz – day 3

December 14th, 2006

Thursday morning, Krzysztof had asked me to talk to his students about translation, so after breakfast (Ken was driven, screaming, from the hotel dining room by dirge-like music with a treacle-y flute and he breakfasted at the cafe across the street) we went to the university. The room was packed, and one of the students who had done a lot of homework on the internet introduced me in amazing detail. I talked to them about translation, and the way in which all writing is a kind of translation – transforming thoughts, ideas and experiences into text, with all its limitations. We discussed the way in which the translator of novels has a creative input that is rarely recognised (unlike the work of the person who translates a novel into screenplay, for example) and I told them about the translations row in the CWA which interested them a lot. These students, all potential translators, were puzzled as to why anyone should have found the decision to separate translations from books written originally in English strange.

Then two students, Kamilla and Edyth took us out sightseeing. We went to the Lagiewniki Forest first of all. There is a monastery there with an 18th century chapel that I wanted to see – last time I was here, it was shut. Krzysztof had organised a driver for us: Darius – who would stay with us for the rest of the day. We drove through the forest – even in winter, it is beautiful – and arrived at the monastery to find the chapel locked up. However, Kamilla knew the monks and we they let us use the entrance via the monastery.

The chapel was amazing – very beautiful and very ornate. In a side chapel, there is a wooden coffin which contains the miraculously preserved body of a saint. There is a notebook in the chapel where you can ask for prayers for a cause. I talked a bit to Kamilla about Catholicism in the UK. She was surprised and sceptical that married Anglican priests had been allowed to continue their priesthood in the Catholic church, and dismissed outright the concept of group confessions.

Polish catholicism seems still to very ornate and ritualistic – rather beautiful – and very prevalent. It’s strange for visitors from the secular UK to be in a country where religious observance is the norm rather than the exception.

After the monastery, we went to see the wooden chapels. These stand together by the side of the road, two small wooden chapels dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. The doors were unlocked – Edyth was worried that they might be locked up, but Kamilla just said, ‘This is Lodz’ and she was right. We were able to walk right in. They were tiny with wooden pews for maybe eight people. Each had a small gallery but with no access. People must hace climbed a ladder – there was no room for a staircase. In the middle of one there was an iron pump. Edyth, who had a country background, knew how to work the handle and pump water which was good to drink.

After that, Darius drove us to the Radogoszcz Prison, a building that used to be a factory complex but from 1939-45 was used as a prison and place of torture where the Nazis kept Poles deemed dangerous and Jews before they were shipped to Chelmno and Auschwitz. Tens of thousands of people were held here, many were summarily tried and excuted, others died from starvation or prolonged torture.

At the end of the war, the Nazis burned the prison down with the prisoners still locked inside. Some of the exhibits are the personal possessions of the prisoners, charred from the fire. And yet Poland too has its fascist movement and people who graffiti swastikas on walls.

We finsihed the afternoon at the Manufaktura – a lighter note. We said our farewells to Kamilla at Radogoszcz, but Edyth took us for a breif tour around the Manufaktura, which she had mixed views about. She said that it was damaging Piotrkowska, which was not a good thing for the city. In Sheffield, Meadowhall had the same effect on the city centre, but the centre is fighting back.

To be continued….