My partner Ewa and I visit Poland for Christmas every year. My partner Ewa is from Katowice so that is our home base. During our summer visits we explore mountains and villages, but at Christmas it is mostly family.
However during Christmas 2016, after 4 months of living in Madrid, our new home base after many years in London, Ewa and I decided to leave Madrid a little earlier and stay in Krakow before Christmas.
There is some good magic in Krakow, especially in Kazimierz. Our of our favourite spots was Alchemia Club. Alchemia is the Polish word for alchemy (as you might have guessed). At the time I was deeply immersed in the art and writing of Leonora Carrington and alchemy plays a big part in her surrealist practice, including the transformation of food. Dali is also famous for surrealism and food of course, but there is perhaps a different magic at play with Leonora Carrington, a kind of feminine sacred, the kitchen as a place of magic and transformation rather than the banality of “feminine” chores. I could relate to this transformative practice in my own art. The transformation of the banality of the everyday. A few prose poems from this nomadic journey in Kazimierz are published over at Reality Beach. The words themselves acting, hopefully, as a kind of alchemy. An engaged interaction between the physical and imaginative worlds.
Although, maybe the so-called everyday is already magical and we just to have see it for what it is, wild and untamed and full of potential. That’s not to say, of course, that certain environments, as stimulants or aids, cannot help us see this wild reality more clearly.
Ewa and I spent quite a few nights at Alchemia Club. It has a magical old world bohemian feel. The square with Alchemia, Plac Nowy, was a dangerous area after 1989 with the transformation of Poland from communism to democracy, but the area has since been transformed. It has 19th century buildings with a new “hipsterish” vibe. While I am usually allergic to hipster areas, with their overpriced cereals and gentrification in East London, my former homebase, there is also something different about Plac Nowy and Kazimierz in general. It hasn’t been completely sanitised and sterilised. Perhaps the gentrification/colonisation is slower in Krakow. There seems to be a good balance of old and new, not just an area for the moving capital of the upper middle class and very wealthy, at least for now.
It is hard to define authenticity. Authentic art and authentic environments. How can we define them? I did not feel authenticity in Las Vegas, the place I immigrated to in America, and lived until almost the end of my high school years, but I do feel it in other purpose-made environments, with their simulacrum of the old. Maybe it is partly to do with how well the artifice is made. All art is of course artificial/artifice.
Alchemia has a shabby chic feel and it feels real. The bohemian cafe by day and concerts at night, with some incredible experimental jazz and electronic music. It has a primitive feel and it is useful, at least for me, as an aid or stimulant for nomadic travel. The other pubs in the square also have some good spots for absinthe/ the green fairy. In the middle of the square, with its ancient horse stands, there is late night zapiekanka. Our visits to Plac Nowy felt magical every evening, with a lot of fog covering the streets. We couldn’t see our hands in front of us at times and kept running into a German couple asking for the post office even though it was after midnight. We found out halfway into our stay that the fog was really smog, high level pollution, typical of Krakow during this time of year, but somehow it didn’t take away the magic, at least as a temporary nomadic visitor. There really is an old world magic to the place, even with some of the hipster vibes.
Do you ever feel like something is directing you, moving you towards places? Of course, this could be an illusion. We like to create meaning after the experience. It could all be a coincidence. My immersion in the alchemical art of Leonora Carrington and Alchemia in Kazimierz. Maybe we can put ourselves in a certain state of mind for these kinds of magical moments, these alchemical transformations in our lives.
(Ewa in Alchemia Club. Picture: Marcus Slease)