|Begins the excitement of Chapter 8 with a rush.|
Yesterday I bribed yet another young Pole to listen to me read Polish aloud, this time with tea and cake. Teaching Auntie Seraphic how to speak Polish is becoming a national effort. The sixth Edinburgh Uni student to fall into my hands met me outside Peter's Yard (a Swedish café) yesterday morning, and we exchanged bright remarks in Polish before we sat down to W Pustyni i w puszczy. I opened the book to Chapter 8--which I see I began on August 7--and began to read like this:
The night white-ned. The peo-ple had just seat-ed themselve on their cam-els, when suddenly they s-s-s-s-saw a des-ert wolf who-oo, with its tail hhhhh-idd-en under itss-sself, cross-ssed the ra-vine a hundred fee-eet from the car-a-van...
My teenage audience bore this patiently and, when the hour was up, reflected cheerfully that Polish was really hard. She has read and spoken Polish all her short life, and I strongly suspect there were no non-Poles in her Polish A-level class in England, for she seemed surprised by my linguistic struggle.
Noc bladła. Ludzie mieli już siadać na wielbłądy, gdy nagle spostrzegli pustynnego wilka, który wtuliwszy ogon pod siebie przebiegł wąwóz o sto kroków od karawany...
"This is very old-fashioned language," she had eventually said, and my heart dropped to my robin's-egg-blue flats. I have been kinda sorta hoping that my travels with Staś and Nell (porwane dzieci) would help me with chit-chat this October when I go to Poland for a wedding. Admittedly, this was only a half-hearted hope, for unless I meet someone who been to North Africa, I am not likely to be asking questions about camels, desert foxes, ravines, caravans and--the most exciting part of Chapter 8--sandstorms.
And indeed the wind was coming. In the distance it appeared like a dark cloud, which made itself ever bigger to the eyes and approached the caravan. It also moved around the closest waves of air and suddenly gusts began to turn the sand. Here and there it made funnels, as if someone had stirred up the surface of the desert with a stick. In some places were whirls just like columns, slender at the bottom and dispersing like feathers at the top. But everything lasted only for the blink of an eye. The cloud, which the leader of the camels first saw, came upon them with inconceivable speed. It walloped the people and beasts like the wing of a giant bird. In one moment, the eyes and ears of the travellers filled with dust. Clouds of dust hid the sky, hid the sun and darkness swallowed up the earth. The people began to lose sight, and even the nearest camels loomed as if in a fog. Not a leafy murmur--because there are no trees in the desert--but a roar of the gale drowned out the cries of the leader and the bellow of the beasts. The air stank with an odour that seemed like charcoal fumes. The camels stood fast and turned away from the wind, stretching their long necks down, so that their nostrils were almost touching the sand.
(I rzeczywiście wiatr nadchodził. W oddali pojawiła się jakby ciemna chmura, która czyniła się w oczach coraz wyższą i zbliżała się do karawany. Poruszyły się też naokół najbliższe fale powietrza i nagle podmuchy poczęły skręcać piasek. Tu i ówdzie tworzyły się lejki, jakby ktoś wiercił kijem powierzchnię pustyni. Miejscami wstawały chybkie wiry, podobne do kolumienek cienkich u spodu, a rozwianych jak pióropusze w górze. Ale wszystko to trwało przez jedno mgnienie oka. Chmura, którą pierwszy ujrzał przewodnik wielbłądów, nadleciała z niepojętą szybkością. W ludzi i zwierzęta uderzyło jakby skrzydło olbrzymiego ptaka. W jednej chwili oczy i usta jeźdźców napełniły się kurzawą. Tumany pyłu zakryły niebo, zakryły słońce i na świecie uczynił się mrok. Ludzie poczęli tracić się z oczu, a najbliższe nawet wielbłądy majaczyły jak we mgle. Nie szum — bo na pustyni nie ma drzew — ale huk wichru głuszył nawoływania przewodnika i ryk zwierząt. W powietrzu czuć było taką woń, jaką wydaje czad węgli. Wielbłądy stanęły i odwróciwszy się od wiatru, powyciągały długie szyje w dół, tak że nozdrza ich dotykały prawie piasku.)
Well, that was exciting, and why I manage to keep reading. In Desert and in Wilderness is nothing if not plot-driven. It is much more thrilling than Polish in Four Weeks, which reader Sprachmeister tells me he had some success with. However, Polish in Four Weeks is about a bickering boyfriend and girlfriend, and the girl's new suitor, and her roommate, and an Anglo-Pole named John, whose Polish relations think it is high time he got married. Although pretty interesting for a teach-yourself language course, this is not as interesting as being kidnapped by agents of a 19th century Islamic terrorist and carted across the desert on camels.
I read through three pages yesterday--Chapter 8 is finished at last--but I stopped so as to give myself time to catch up with the vocabulary, a slower, much more painstaking process. I was in the cafeteria of the National Portrait Gallery at the time, and I had two hours to kill before my pre-opera drink, so I went to Waterstones on George Street to read Rose Petal Jam.
I have longed for Rose Petal Jam for months and months, but always thought it too expensive to buy. It is a simply beautiful book--a superior kind of coffee-table book--full of memories of a happy childhood in Lower Silesia in the 1960s until the 1980s, and then of contemporary travels, interspersed with excellent recipes, gorgeous photographs and snippets of Polish poems. Apparently nostalgia is contagious, for as I sat there in Waterstones, gobbling the whole thing up while hoping the salespeople wouldn't notice, the book made me want to cry. Sentimental tears sprang to my Anglo-Saxon eyes. Am I getting old, or what?
And now there is a second volume, called Sugared Orange, which now I also want. Oh, dear me. But I will have to manage it somehow, for I feel I owe Beata Zatorska a few shekels. Authors shouldn't take advantage of other authors by reading their books for free. Libraries are one thing, but stolen hours in a bookshop quite another.