Here in Poland, tomorrow is the beginning of a new school year. That’s a brutal landing back on earth for all us summer-addicts who work in education. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we hate our jobs or don’t want to go back to work; it just means we don’t want summer to end.
The word paradise comes to mind when thinking about summer. Maybe it’s because it’s the only experience we can enjoy of that blissful middle ground between heaven and earth. Like the paradise of Andalusian beaches, for instance?
Ah, yes! All those white-washed mountain villages; heat hazes that make you feel high, cicadas ensuring you’re never lonely, tapas bars on sleepy plazas … More than once have my family and I been caught out by the unsuspecting hours of siesta that the locals live by, when everything is suddenly shuttered without warning – and we, the idiot tourists, are left to fend for ourselves: trudging around those sleepy plazas and cobbled side streets, trying for all we’re worth to find a place that’ll be open to serve us at least some cheese and bread, if not a full-blown, mouth-watering paella. So maybe not quite paradise, but not far off.
Or how about the paradise of Kyrenia – that enchanting little harbour town on the northern coast of Cyprus, where the rugged mountains spill right into the Mediterranean sea, and St Hilarion’s castle looms from its lofty position amid the clouds, making you totally understand why Walt Disney used it as his inspiration for one of his fairy tales productions. Was it Sleeping Beauty?
Almost everything seems to be sleepy in these balmy medieval pueblos that the locals happen to be lucky enough to be born into. It’s not fair! Just a snap of God’s fingers, and there the locals are, haphazardly finding themselves located in one of our planet’s beauty spots! Why can’t God send us a questionnaire at the moment of conception, giving us a choice of our birth place?
To all candidates of the womb: please tick your preferred place of birth:
a) some sleepy village in the Mediterranean
b) some frozen village in Siberia
c) some rich economic zone in Canada…
And so on and so forth. Who knows, maybe some people really would choose Siberia? Snow-acolytes and suchlike? Polar bear lovers? Or is it Greenland where the cuddly white monsters dwell?
So here’s another paradise – how about beauteous Montenegro, with its perfect cocktail of everything I love: soaring mountains, cobalt blue seas, yet more sleepy medieval villages and fairytale castles, but this time with the added beauty of vast pine forests climbing up those steep mountain slopes, like in the Tatra mountains of southern Poland. My own territory. In southern Poland we’ve got mountains a-plenty, together with castles and pine forests and breathtaking scenery – that is, once you get away from all the highways and traffic and hideous billboards.
So why not holiday closer to home, you might ask me. Easier, quicker and cheaper, right? The trouble is – well, for starters, there are all those bloody billboards I just mentioned, each one of which I could quite happily dynamite, if only I knew how. And then there’s the weather, which, although more sweaty in degrees than Aberdeen or Oslo, nonetheless can’t compete with all those randomly lucky countries south of the Slavonic border.
But come to think of it, isn’t the act of getting away the main point of summer holidays, rather than the actual place that you get away to? Isn’t it supposed to be all about escaping from what you’re used to, whether it be industrial pollution and heaving traffic and bad-tempered locals, or the everyday surroundings you’re quite frankly bored out of your brains with, even if they do happen to be exquisite? Because at the end of the day, even if a place in the sun is beautiful, if you’ve been lumped with it for umpteen years then that defeats the whole object, right? Or is my logic drifting askew?
So let’s not stray too far. Let’s get back to the summery, mythical isles of Paradise. Why can’t they be with us throughout the year? And if they really can’t, then why can’t they at least be with us on an eternal cusp of summer’s end, meaning it’ll never end? Or is my logic sailing away again, out there atop the capricious Mediterranean waves, skidding upon the foam, defying time restrictions and the laws of gravity and reality alike … I mean, what is reality, anyway? Maybe all our holidays are just a dream?
Anyway, this summer vacation has neither been a dream nor a paradise to me, considering I have been precisely … wait for it … NOWHERE! Just Kraków, my home town with its narrowed cobbled streets and twelfth-century market square and magnificent cathedrals and cosy cafes and leafy parks. The trouble is, I’ve known them all rather a long time now, so none of those Slavonic wonders feel like paradise anymore.
Where have the summer holidays fled? Where has Paradise fled? Have they married each other and buggered away on a honeymoon until next summer? If so, then can someone please ask them to hurry up and come back ASAP?