7 Unusual Polish Love Stories
#language & literature
default, Simona Kossak with Agata, a lynx featured in the film 'Saga Prastarej Puszczy' ('The Saga of the Ancient Forest') by Bożena and Jan Walencik; photo, center, Simona z rysiczką Agatą, hodowaną na potrzeby filmu Bożeny i Jana Walencików, fot. Lech Wilczek
The classic ‘Disney’ model of a love story is deeply rooted in the imaginations of societies around the world today. This concept of love, however, neglects stories that simply don’t adhere to this format.
As such, many other forms of love – even those as obvious as love of life, country and art – are effectively pushed to the margins. It’s a pity, as there more precious gems to be found here than in all of Disney’s fairy tales.
On the Trail of Polish Fairy Tales
In Poland alone, there’s the jazzman who left his medical studies for music, the introvert who enjoyed talking with animals, or the pair of poets who could hardly breathe without one another – and there’s more where these came from.
Krzysztof Komeda – The Jazzman Who Didn’t Become a Doctor
Krzysztof Komeda, one of the fathers of the Polish jazz school, was on the road to becoming a laryngologist – but he chose to devote his skills to art instead. As a result, film audiences can enjoy his famous musical theme from Rosemary’s Baby, directed by Roman Polański.
Nowadays, Komeda is a point of reference for many young musicians, considered to be a great authority and one of the most popular jazzmen in the world. All of this is thanks to love, if not the most conventional sort.
The Beksińskis – A Difficult Love Between Father & Son
Portrait of Tomasz Beksiński, from the book ‘Beksińscy. Portret podwójny’ (‘The Beksińskis. A Double Portrait’) by Magdalena Grzebałkowska, photo: Wydawnictwo Znak
Tomasz Beksiński, fot. Wydawnictwo Znak
Recognised as a genius, Zdzisław Beksiński was one of the most controversial Polish painters of all time. His style was wild, almost as if his inspiration came from the beyond. The range of emotions and topics displayed in his work spans from fear and loneliness to sadomasochism and nightmares.
The painter’s son, Tomasz Beksiński, had more in common with his famous father than we might expect. Aloof and fascinated by vampires, he found a place for himself with the Polish Radio. His broadcasts as part of its ‘Programme III’ were widely appreciated, by his colleagues and his listeners alike.
In her review of Beksińscy: Portret Podwójny (The Beksińskis: A Double Portrait), Aleksandra Lipczak summarises their story:
The Cursed Paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński
The younger committed suicide, and a few years later, the older was murdered.
Where is the love, you might ask, in the Beksińskis’ story?
It remains unspoken and untold. The father commented on his son's suicide in a cold and distanced way. Just one day after his son's death, Zdzisław Beksiński wrote to a close friend of his son:
Well then, it’s nothing. If you want some more details – let me know. Warm greetings to all.
Despite this reserved attitude, neither Beksiński was complete without the other. They were inscribed in one another like geometric shapes. It was a cold love – one as difficult in life as it was in death.
Simona Kossak – The Girl Who Talked With Animals
Simona Kossak loved animals. This feeling in her was inevitable, as she grew up surrounded by them at the manor of the renowned Kossak family. The men in her family were known for their passion for horses, specifically painting them. Simona, in turn, preferred her animals in three dimensions, rather than on canvas.
As a consequence, Simona elected to live in the middle of Białowieża National Park, taking in wild animals as her housemates. There was her favourite raven; a wild pig she rescued, raised and called Froggy; and a lynx that acted much like a cat. People were frightened by Simona, but she was never too keen on their company anyway.
Nikifor – Crazy for Watercolours
Nikifor has returned to cultural consciousness thanks to Krystyna Feldman’s great performance in My Nikifor, directed by Krzysztof Krauze. Nikifor was a Lemko, raised in extreme poverty, and marked by significant physical imperfections that alienated him from society. Some people treated him like a doormat, others, as a local attraction of Krynica.
My Nikifor – Krzysztof Krauze
Walking with a limp, silent, and somewhat illiterate, Nikifor signed his works with crooked mirror images of letters. He found love in pieces of paper and old boxes of watercolours. His work marked the beginning of Polish primitivism – today, Nikifor is Poland’s only representative in the Louvre. Enamoured with the landscape of Krynica, he captured its beauty on canvas.
Konstanty & Natalia Gałczyński – A Poet & His Muse
Before writing A Song of The Soldiers of Westerplatte (and finding a place on the high-school graduation exam in Polish literature), Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński fell in love. He loved truly, faithfully, and unconditionally. The object of his affection was ‘Silver Natalia’, as he called his wife – a writer herself, and a translator of Russian literature.
The poet declares his love for his beloved Silver Natalia in many poems, such as Years I Have Loved You (Już Kocham Cię Tyle Lat):
Years I have loved you, stay
Locked in a night and a song.
Maybe eight have gone away,
Maybe nine – I may be wrong.
Everything faded in twilight, confusion,
You and me, we’re both entangled somewhere
You must be revolt and surrender, and illusion
And myself, I am your beauty and your hair.
Translated by M. Gałczyński, www.kigalczynski.pl
They met on a Sunday morning in May 1929 at the popular Ziemiańska Café. Lucjan Szenwald, also a poet, introduced Gałczyński to Natalia. Gałczyński was so amazed by her that he asked her to stand up, looking at her constantly. Shyly, he expressed himself: ‘It's because your face is so small and your eyes are so big. They are so deeply blue, as if they were made of enamel’.
The Vices and Virtues of Versemaker Gałczyński
Gałczyński spent the following week sitting in the café, hoping that Natalia would visit once again. Unfortunately, this never happened, so Gałczyński got her address from Szenwald, paid a visit to his chosen one and never left her again.
The Gałczyńskis’ love survived the storms and dramatic separations that took place against the backdrop of great historical changes in Europe. When Gałczyński was kept in a German prison, his friend wrote a song with the refrain:
Oh, Natalia, oh Natalia, our whole battalion desperately loves you.
This was not a fairy-tale love, but one of pure poetry.
Wanda Rutkiewicz – Love on Top of the World
Wanda Rutkiewicz, Pakistan/China, 1982, during the K2 expedition (the peak in the background), photo: Archive of Jerzy Kukuczka / Forum
Wanda Rutkiewicz was born in 1943 – and just two decades later, she began climbing eight-thousanders. The climber tirelessly devoted her life and soul to the mountains, becoming the third woman in the world, and the first woman from Europe, to conquer Mount Everest. She was also the first woman ever to summit the K2.
People called Rutkiewicz wild and fierce. She fought for women’s independence in the field of climbing by rejecting men’s domination of the sport.
She died in 1992, while summiting Kangchenjunga. Her friend and companion, Carlos Carsolio, had passed her on the difficult route and reached the mountain’s summit before her. Rutkiewicz had to go back and wait out the night, so as to make another attempt. Despite having no camping equipment, she spent the night at 8,200 metres. It remains unknown whether she reached the summit, as her body was never found.
Elżbieta Dzikowska & Tony Halik – Explorers of History
This couple is known mainly for their 1967 discovery of the last capital of the Incas – the holy city of Vilcabamba, located in the today’s Peru. Before Elżbieta Dzikowska and Tony Halik fell in love, however, they discovered their shared curiosity about the world.
Dzikowska and Halik preferred to keep their relationship private. Before they got together, Dzikowska had already been married for 17 years. Halik, on the other hand, was married to ‘love of his life’ – a nurse named Pierrette Courtin – whom he met during World War II, while he was serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. But life had other plans. It turned out that Elżbieta was the only one, and not the Frenchwoman who dressed Halik’s wounds.
180,000 Kilometres of Adventure: One Polish Cameraman's Hunt for the Perfect Shot
Ultimately, the couple produced about 300 documentaries from around the world. They popularised science and an anthropological approach to ‘the other’. When Halik passed away in 1998, Dzikowska carried on their work, focusing on interesting spots in Poland. She never gave up her love for the world, although the love of her life had passed away.
konstanty ildefons gałczyński
Originally written in Polish, Feb 2016; translated by AS, Jun 2018; edited by LD, Feb 2019