|I was falling down on the cobblestones laughing my head off! There are a tonne of buskers in Krakow's beautiful old town square, but I have never seen anybody brave enough to simply sing 1980's rock songs into the crowd with absolutely no accompaniment. Usually these folks have a guitar, or they're performing some sort of trick, or maybe they are part of a small band. Nope, this dude was completely on his own, dressed regularly, and holding lyric sheets in his hand and just belting them out. He's a lot braver than I am. Anyway, the reason I nearly died laughing is that he was singing the song "Urgent" by Foreigner, circa 1983. It was a big song when I was in high school, and I even remember the album because it had a giant number 4 on it (their fourth album) stylized to look like the four you see in the countdown at the start of older films (you know, the 10,9,8 etc...). Anyway, the reason it was so funny is because he really didn't know the English required to sing it, but he was still brave enough! The chorus is what got me. As he worked his way towards it, I was only mildly chuckling, but then he raised the volume about three fold and yelled out, "It gets so err-Ghent"! "It's err-ghent, err-ghent, just you wait and see, so err-ghent..." I was crying. I was laughing. I was crying so hard it made me laugh. I guess you had to be there, and know the song... Some of you out there will find it as funny as I did. I suppose the "g" cannot be pronounced like a "j" in polish or something like that.
This whole event was in direct contrast to the other main part of our visit to Krakow; namely the former concentration camps, which were not funny at all. I don't know too much about the camps themselves (well, we've all seen Schindler's List I suppose, and a lot of documentaries), and I am sure many of you readers can help clarify, but I found the visit sort of empty, probably by design I think. There is something about both Auschwitz and Birkenau, in the simplicity with which they have been preserved, that makes the experience seem completely devoid of life - which I think in a strange sort of way is exactly appropriate. And I heard something very scary from a guide I was eavesdropping on that I hope a reader can clarify for me. You see, most of the information at the camps refers to them as extermination camps, which they very obviously were from all of the collective evidence and testimony. However, the guide was saying that some groups in Germany will agree that the Nazi's created "concentration camps" but will not agree that they were "extermination camps". It is such a preposterous idea, especially to anyone who has been here. The other part of the experience that I found shocking was the lack of our ability to feel the place properly. For us, it was a bit like walking around in a memorial park. We did see a few folks in tears, etc., and I think that maybe you really only have a "right" to experience the place in an emotional way of you or one of your relatives was involved. Does that sound weird? I don't know. For me, the most important thing was contained in some of the written items posted around each of the camps ensuring that humanity never forgets what happened here. That and the fact that I have been witness to what is left. It is exceedingly difficult to understand how humankind could stoop so low in front of itself...
Back in Krakow, we continued to explore the extremely beautiful old town square (the largest in Europe at 200m by 200m they say), with it's many churches, and of course, the Wawel castle, former residence of many polish kings in the days when Krakow was the capital of the country. The castle and royal palace have many fine collections, particularly the tapestries, but the collections, although unique, cannot compare to the treasures the Russians amassed in the Hermitage or the Kremlin. You can obviously see who the victors were in most cases. However, in an understated sort of way, the polish treasures are quite fine, and the people seem to be quite proud of what they have and the city in particular. Krakow is certainly a gem.
In one of the museums in the royal palace, Kristine took particular interest in a painting of a nun. The nun was wearing long black robes, a crucifix, and one of those ruffled things around her neck. I have no idea what those things are called, but it dominated the painting because it was white, and the rest of the painting was very dark. I think it was painted in the 1600's. Anyway, as we stood there admiring it, Kristine said "What happened to her, was she in a car accident or something?" At first I didn't get it because I was thinking about the 1600's, and there were obviously no cars. But then I looked and I thought for a minute, hmmm, that thing does look a little like a neck brace. Can't take here anywhere cultured... Gonna have to clean her up a bit before we get to Italy.