I’ve only been back for two days and figured I had better journal this experience before my memory plays its’ usual game of patchwork prioritizing.
Excuse the generalizations if you are one of those people who never do that, or find it abhorrent. I generalize and do it as often as possible. My mind isn’t structured not to do it.
I was not ready for Poland and I can wholeheartedly admit it. My experience with my music and storytelling has been similar to the itinerate bard of ages past who plied his trade under, often, questionable conditions in less than reputable venues. But, as my grandmother always said, “bills must be paid.”
The thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the level of popularity that the Craft of Storytelling enjoyed in Poland. My host explained that storytelling had not taken hold in the culture like he would desire it to, but everywhere I turned I experienced people who were passionate listeners. At every show we did, the audiences offered faces of intense interest and desire to gain something from the experience. We even had people follow us back home to engage in all night sessions of continued tale telling.
I, personally, seemed to be most popular with women, 70 to 85 or so. I kept having these very intimate conversations and getting approached back stage by elderly women with bright youthful eyes and tons of questions. As always, the children were reliable participants in the storytelling experiences, but I have to say that I found the adoration of the elderly something I could really get used to.
I had so many opportunities to listen to tellers, professional and non professional, that I often lost track of where I was or where we were going. I was listening or telling tales so often that, at one point, I even went out to perform with my clothing on “inside-out” and one sock on. I had been engaged in a conversation with an elderly man about the Warsaw Ghetto. This was prior to my time to go out on stage and I forgot to get dressed. His story was so intense that I felt ashamed at having to leave and go perform. It was fortunate for me that the old man waited. I spent quite a bit of time listening to his story.
I knew that diversity was not Poland’s strong suite but I didn’t know that meant .001% of other ethnicities lived there. I was told that there were lots and lots of people of color in Poland. I was told this often but either my eyes were deceiving me or I went a week without encountering another person of color. Why do I mention this you might ask? Well, I found myself reflecting on James Baldwin’s words and experience when he visited Switzerland and finished that seminal piece “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Baldwin found himself the “only” person of color in a tiny Swiss Village. So many of his words were resonating deep within me now that I felt as though I had completely fathomed his words so many years ago. For those who want to read Baldwin’s own words, the article was titled “Stranger in the Village,” circa 1955.
The people I encountered in Poland, “all” went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. The hospitality I experienced was akin to that which I’ve experienced when visiting family “Down South.”
There were those who stopped and stared as if they had never seen a “good looking, tall-drink of water” (I’m sorry, I can’t help but joke sometimes… it’s just me), but I found those people in the minority.
The food. Oh my God! The food!
Why aren’t Polish people enormous? Potatoes, potatoes combined with breads, cheeses and pork prepared in a million different ways. And yet, I witnessed some of the most slender people on the planet walking around. Everyone was eating this type of food. I couldn’t eat this way. I would’ve come back needing 3 seats on the plane. Someone has seriously got to answer that question for me. Why aren’t Polish people fat?
All right, I’m going to close this out. My host was the Storytelling Museum, which is being built as we speak by Michal Malinowski. It is one of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen. Maybe, in my eyes, its’ beauty has to do with its’ dedication to the oral word.
I felt like I had a brother in Michal. We sometimes stayed up until the sun came out talking through the night. Our taste in literature, art, cultures of the world and music ran parallel. Although we were running from one scheduled event to another unplanned event at break neck speeds sometimes, I found the opportunity to tell tales with him to be an extremely joyful experience. There was one time he and I were relaxing in a park after a long day of about 5 or 6 performances. There was a bar nearby. Neither of us drinks alcohol but Michal suggested we go to the bar. “Why would we do that?” was my question. His response, “Maybe the people in there want to hear some stories.” You see why I said like a brother to me.
Now this will sound like some kind of opening to a joke but it is true. Two storytellers walk into a bar (Michal and I) and approach the owner to see if he wants his patrons to hear some stories. The owner was so happy to have us walk into his establishment that he turned off the radio, television and quieted everyone for our impromptu performance. It was a first for me. I can’t imagine walking into “any” bar in the U.S. and taking it over with storytelling.
Hmmmm. Maybe there’s a revolutionary idea in there somewhere.
Dooni, dooni kononi be nyaga da.