Sunday, 26 February 2017

Cracow

Cracow is an old city. It was the seat of a bishopric from around 1000 AD, and although it suffered in the Mongol invasion of 1241 (about which more later) it remained the capital of Poland until 1609. When the kingdom of Poland was obliterated in the partitions of the late 18th century, the city escaped the fate of being incorporated into the Russian empire, which was suffered by most of the country: instead it spent the 19th century as part of the less oppressive Austrian empire. In the second world war it was the seat of one of the most unpleasant of the Nazi leaders, Hand Frank, who headed the so-called "General Government" of occupied Poland. In recent years the city's most famous resident has been Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who was Archbishop there from 1963 to 1978, before becoming Pope as John Paul II.
   
Cracow, along with Prague, has the distinction of being one of the very few major cities in central Europe to escape major damage in the Second World War, and in consequence has a wealth of splendid old buildings. I am describing just a few of them.

  The Old Quarter of the city is enclosed within what were once the fortifications, but are now a strip of parks called the Planty. In the centre is the market area, the Rynek Glowry, where we find the Cloth Hall. This dates form the 16th century, and is now full of stalls catering for the tourist trade.

The square contains the tower of the old Town Hall,
also St. Adalbert's church, the oldest in Cracow,
 and a statue of the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz.

     Many fine buildings line the square 


The church of St. Mary is at the north-east corner.

The story goes that when in 1241 the great Mongol army (which had swept across Russia, destroying Moscow and Kiev) approached Cracow, a bugler on the tower started to blow a warning, but was killed by an arrow through his throat before he finished his call. A truncated bugle call is still sounded from the church in his memory.

I found this splendid character busking outside the church..


There are many fine churches in the centre of Cracow. This is the baroque church of Saints Peter and Paul.

South of the Old Quarter is Wawel Hill; the site of the cathedral and the royal castle.

The cathedral is dedicated to St. Stanislas, an early Bishop of Cracow, who was murdered in 1079.


In the cathedral you can see the magnificent tombs of the 16th century Kings of Poland.
and a spectacular altar dedicated to St. Stanislas himself

This is the courtyard of the Royal Castle

In a cave below the hill there lurks a fiery dragon!

Kazimierz lies to the east of Wawel Hill. It was founded as a separate town by King Kazimierz the Great in 1335. The Jewish population of Cracow was moved here in the late 15th century. The area contains several synagogues, including one named after Rabbi Moses Remu'h
The cemetery next to the synagogue was largely destroyed in the Second World War, and a wall has been constructed from fragments of the old tombstones

Kazimierz was made famous in the film "Schindler's List". Some of the old streets and courtyards are still there.

Schindler's factory is commemorated only by a small plaque, which is not easy to find, but there is a large memorial to Cracow's murdered Jews outside the town.

If you go on a package-holiday visit to Cracow, you will probably find that a day trip to Auschwitz will be included; but it will be stressed that this is voluntary, since of course many people would find it distressing. Auschwitz is an hour or so's drive from Cracow. I have written about it elsewhere on this blog. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Anne Bronte

Having watched the recent television play about the Bronte family, I decided to read "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", by Anne Bronte.
   Anne was the youngest and least-known of the three Bronte sisters. She died of tuberculosis at the age of just 28, but during her tragically short life she wrote two novels; completing this, her second, shortly before her death in 1849. At the time it was considered rather shocking.
   The story is set back in the flamboyant, amoral age of George IV, twenty years before the time it was written. The "tenant" of the title is a mysterious and reclusive lady, apparently a widow, who has rented a tumbledown house in desolate moorland. It turns out she has run away from her abusive husband, and is concealing her identity for fear that he should take away their infant son, whom she has brought with her. Most of the book is her account of an unhappy marriage.
   Her husband, Mr Huntingdon, is nothing like those other memorable Bronte men, Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Instead he is portrayed as essentially a very weak character; unable to resist the temptations of alcohol and gambling, responding with childish petulance to any setbacks, and forever criticizing his wife and shouting at the servants. Easily bored with country life, he disappears to London for weeks at a time (presumably for a dissipated life of booze, cards and women, though Anne does not tell us), or invites his dissolute friends to stay at his house, despite his wife's disapproval of them. At the same time, we can understand why he gets irritated with her, because she is very "preachy" at times: I'm not sure whether Anne intended to give this impression.
   The structure of the novel is a bit clumsy (at a crucial point of the story three important male characters all have surnames beginning with "H", which is confusing!) and the ending is too sentimental, but even so it's an impressive achievement for such a young writer. One has to wonder, though, how on earth the Bronte sisters - maidenly daughters of the parsonage - ever conceived of such remarkable male characters!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Trumpery

TRUMPERY: Showy and worthless stuff, rubbish, ritual fooling. (French: Tromper; to deceive)
       (Chambers' Dictionary definition)