Life is chaos. It’s a cacophony upon which we try to impose a sense of order, often for the sake of our own sanity.
When I read the excerpt below, I was unsurprised to find my father had ended up a Londoner by accident, not design. It was through another series of accidents that he met my mother, that I was born in London and that now I’m writing these very words.
Some people struggle to accept that we primates stumble through existence. They insist that everything is controlled and planned out. One of the gloomier versions of this type of worldview is that everything is manipulated by some shadowy ill-meaning cabal, often labelled as the Illuminati or New World Order. The most famous suspect for this melodramatic role is the Bilderberg Group, an annual conference of top politicians and business people.
Why do I mention all this? Because the Bilderberg Group’s founder, Jozef Retinger, actually appears in Marek’s account of his initial stay in London. I find it amusing that my father’s reflections on life’s randomness feature a man associated with global machinations… – AZ
It was 1935. I was sitting in Paris on a scholarship from the Ministry of Religious Faiths and Public Enlightenment (what a marvellous name – it evokes the Duchy of Warsaw). When the scholarship ended, I thought to myself that before returning to Warsaw, where Hulewicz had offered me a professorship in his own planned private school of fine art named after Waliszewski, I’d hop over to London for a week, just to see the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery and some other English collections known to me through word of mouth.
So I exchanged my last francs for pounds and on the first day of January 1936, I came to land upon that sheer, one-of-a-kind, chalk coastline, against which yellow waves were driven by a winter storm.
London greeted me with thick fog. It was bitterly cold and strange. Nobody knows how strange after Paris…
No, I thought to myself, I’ll never be able to stand a week here. I’ll run around the galleries in three days and keep moving. This was many years ago.
“Why have you come here exactly?” Jozef Hieronim Retinger asked me bluntly, as he sat by the chimney at Feliks Topolski’s, the one address that I knew. His eyes, black as a cockroach’s, were obscured by thick pince-nez which caught the gleam from the fire in a mischievous and unkindly manner.
And if it wasn’t for the girl with a cheeky smile who I met in Café Royal…
If I hadn’t gotten lost in Soho while she her disappeared in the morning along with my wallet, my return ticket to Warsaw and my passport…
If it wasn’t for a world war, Hitler and the Apocalypse…
I would almost certainly be living in Poland today – assuming, of course, I hadn’t bitten the dust on some global battlefield or rotted in some pit of a mass grave.
It’s a matter of randomness… Or a matter of fate.
But after that, it’s not clear how a year passed.
The next thing I remember it was Christmas Eve 1937, the fallen wet snow turning to mud on the cobbles. Oxford Street, like a huge canyon, became lost in an indistinct gloom. A ceaseless procession of people and cars. And at the mouth of this canyon, at Marble Arch, a frost-bitten newspaper seller with a bundle of Daily Workers under his arm was chanting: “Don’t forget the men of the International Brigade fighting in Spain tonight…”
(This post’s featured photo of a foggy Tower Bridge is a CC image by MsSaraKelly)