Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Katovice's out of the bag

Poland and Katovice. These names have had associations for me for some time as being Koos's domain. It was a world I only knew from his photos, a world seen from his own unique perspective. But this weekend I entered his world and found my own perspective, and I have to say I was totally charmed.

The weather helped 'of course' (as the Poles love to say). The whole weekend was cloaked in soft golden sunlight and a warmth that had me wishing I'd taken an entirely different set of clothes. But there were other aspects too which surprised me and endeared this 'most horrible' of Polish cities to me.

For a start, it isn't horrible at all. Never having been to Poland's gems, Krakow and Wroclaw, I had no yardstick with which to beat Katovice, and while yes, it is old and in many respects crumbling, it has a faded, and indeed, shabby elegance that I like much more than places that have been restored out of their intrinsic character.

But even that wasn't it; because what makes this city is its people. My first impression was of a lively, buzzing atmosphere. A city full of open, friendly and very decent folk. A city where there is little or maybe even none of the hostile atmosphere that normally seems to come with such industrial areas.

Take this little hoodie for example. He looks like mischief waiting to become a menace. Well, maybe in some respects he is, but the reason he is squatting on the floor here is because when I got on the tram, he immediately got up to give me his seat. No questions, no hesitation, just instant courtesy. And that's what I met everywhere we went. Smiling faces, softly spoken with ready exchanges and good manners. It seems that even if they live in graffiti covered hovels (as many do), there is still a strong core of decency in their behaviour that makes for a very happy feeling in the environment.

Still, perhaps the highlight of the weekend for me, apart from some riveting tram rides, was the amazing beauty of the celebration of the All Saints feast day. I've never thought of cemeteries as being lively places. Well you wouldn't, would you? A contradiction in terms, in fact. Not so in Poland. The end of October and beginning of November is a period of three to four days when almost the entire population, including all generations, come together as families to honour their departed loved ones. The Poles flock to the numerous graveyards with flowers, candles, brooms and gardening tools. Together, they make a ritual of cleaning the grave stones, decking them with a profusion of flowers and lighting the myriad lamps made from multi coloured glass. The grave stones glow with polish. The crysanthemums glow with rich colour and the lights gleam in the gathering dusk giving comfort to the souls lying beneath them. It is extraordinarily touching to witness, and Koos and I felt very privileged to have been there.

Unfortunately, my photos cannot tell the whole story, but I hope they give some idea of the rare beauty of this occasion. If you go to Koos's Flickr site, though, you will find some of his magical images there too.

Apart from this, the weekend was made special too by the positively riotous tram ride we took on tram 27 which seems to duck in and out of secret passage ways, behind people's gardens, up banks and through semi-rural countryside on its hopelessly wiggly rails. Then there were the old mineheads, which I always love, and the walks in and out of a gloriously sunny and balmy city.

I have the feeling this was just the tonic I needed before settling in for the inevitably wet and windy winter that we have here in the north. It feels that way, anyhow, so my thanks go firstly to Koos for introducing me to his special world, and secondly to Katovice itself for being such a welcoming host on this moving and celebratory weekend.


  1. I see my own visual impressions here again, but put into words. That's one of your great talents, Val!
    Thanks for coming over to Katowice to see what it was about - and for enjoying it so much!

  2. You guys make me wonder about Poland more and more...maybe one day Mr & Mrs Billinghurst will have a look in the land of "djenkoeje". Thanks for sharing these great photo's!

  3. Koosje, the appreciation is truly mutual :)

    Simone, it's worth the journey. It really is. I think you and Stu need to try both Belgium and Poland now!

  4. Modest as you are about your own pictures, I think they reveal that you enjoyed what you saw. Photographs taken without interest for or liking of the target tend to become lifeless, and your pictures are very far from that.

    As for your definition of Koos' pictures of Katowice as magical, I fully agree there.

    Koos' pictures have made me want to visit the town and now your pictures and story only increase that desire. Shabby, crumbling elegance and friendliness sounds like the perfect combination for me.

  5. I love the photos, Val!
    The little imp sitting on the floor of the tram - how sweet. It's nice to know that common courtesy is, well... common. I like to hope it's more common than not.

    You have a good eye. The little girl with the flowers in the graveyard is lovely. What a thoughtful pose.

    I am so glad you got to go, too, this time!


    ps I've lost your e-mail in the big crash - would you be kind enough to give me your address? You can just e-mail me and I will pull it from the internet webmail. Thanks! :)

  6. Maria, thanks. I do like taking photos, and I am interested, but it isn't my passion the way it is for Koos and you. I'm glad, however, that my story and Koos's photos have inspired you so. I really think you'd like it very much indeed.

    Dale, I was so impressed by that little guy. Common courtesy is not as common as I would like in our part of the world, so it was a real pleasure to see it there in one so very young....hoodie in training and all!
    Email coming..or rather going but coming to you :)

  7. Great reading about your travels Val, along with the wonderful photos! I so love the Day of the Dead ritual, such a beautiful way of remembering loved ones!

  8. The little girl with the flowers could be Jenny. Every time I look at it, I see her!

    Also, I cannot believe a train actually navigates those tracks...


  9. Hi Val,
    what a lovely travelogue you've shared with us. I love both the picture sets I've now seen from you and Koos, and am so glad you got to share such a lovely trip together.

    I find the grass growing between the train tracks quite charming, and must admit that I am a frequent cemetery visitor in foreign cities. There is something so unique about them.


  10. String, the Day of the Dead is one of the loveliest ceremonies I have ever seen. It was so very moving.

    Dale, the little girl touched my heart. I can well believe she would make you think of Jennie, and yes, it is amazing how the trams get around without falling off the tracks, but they do! Daily, hourly and very punctually too!

    Anne Marie, thanks for your kind comments. It is a country that lends itself to the lyrical I think. I want to write more about it, but don't have the time at the moment.

  11. Thank you for these delightful images and text. I hope we can capture a 'watery' Poland when we get there in a couple of years to touch the emotions in the same way. Get in touch please. xx


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