Judge not the nuance navigators

Photo: Liz Breslin
Photo: Liz Breslin
Unesco City of Literature residency writer Liz Breslin finds a way to cool off in Krakow. Or does she? 

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
I've discovered I can't write and read all day every day. To mitigate this, I've been out on wheels and feet, discovering the city and surrounds, though every time I get on my bike or start off on a parkrun, it seems all the words I couldn't find flood straight into my head. Stop. Notebook. Remember to look out behind. So many people. Rollerblades, skateboards, scooters. Last weekend I took the river track out to Tyniec Abbey and felt all Wanaka-homely with the number of triathletes whizzing past.

In other recreational findings, there's this place that some people in Krakow go to cool off in the summer heat. Zakrzowek Quarry. A lake, formed by the accidental piercing of the water table, surrounded by limestone cliffs, surrounded by wire fences. I can't, of course, officially say I've been there and seen it, because it's officially closed. It's been officially closed for years, and I've been unofficially told that the way in a few years ago used to be by purchasing a hundred zloty key to one of the padlocked gates.

But not any more because now it's officially, officially closed because more people died cliff jumping and the City has plans to develop it into a "sanctioned" recreation area.

Let's say, then, this is a made-up story about when someone did go there on a hot September day. A series of tracks leading to locked gates. One main gate with a policeman outside his van talking to someone outside a black car. Two cyclists being let out of the main gate say "there's no way in, it was an accident, they had to let us out".

About 150m away, a small open gate, bikes locked along the fence on the inside. A short walk down to a fence with a "danger: landslide" sign and a clear way to walk right around.

A shorter walk to another fence, a heavily padlocked gate, a big rock in front, another bicycle and more pictorial warnings: no people, no swimming, deep water, no diving.

On the other side, people sunning themselves on rocks, a Portishead song over tinny speakers, swimmers in the water. But how to get in? A grey-haired woman, carrying a lifeguard-style flotation device, climbs deftly up the rocks to the left and over the side of the whole fencing arrangement. She uncovers to her unbranded undies, dives in and swims out, little red life-raft bobbing behind. The someone watching this all, of course, wants to join in, so they climb, strip and dive, and it's refreshing and it's freeing. It's free.

Let's say this fiction is also a metaphor. In a week where the Polish Government has suspended Parliament (like in Britain, my Hungarian friend points out) and the international press is writing about their move towards dictatorship (like in Hungary, and the US, my Hungarian friend points out), there is much to ponder about the Polish attitude to rules and rulers - the fine-line game of getting on with what you want to do anyway. They've had some practice at this over the years.

The swimmer - let's say she exists - may have lived through permutations of war, communism, martial law, Solidarity, Catholicism, capitalism, tourism, totalitarianism, detotalitarianism and back again. She may, along with millions of other Poles, have watched Clergy last year, or this year's Tell No One, about endemic abuse in the Catholic church. She may be upset about how Church and State have reacted to these films in bold homophobic and Islamophobic terms. Is she complicit with the double standards enabling the regime if she wants to ignore the signs and go for a dip? Can you ever, as someone recently posted about aspiring politicians posting on the Upper Clutha Trading Post, "please keep the politics out of this"? Where does evasion end and complicity begin? When is a swim just a swim?

Let's say you think you'd do it differently. The growing trend in the cultures I'm most familiar with (as a white woman with great freedom and privilege) is to insist that the best way for all of us to address our oppressors is up front, in person, right now. Shout your viewpoint loud. Louder. It's your responsibility. Wear your heart on your sleeve.

Well, maybe. Also. Judge not lest ye be judged. Or more like, judge not unless you've walked a mile, and then some, alongside. Actually, just, judge not at all. Listen. These few weeks have shown me so many stories and histories where the importance of navigating the nuances of the if and the when and the how of any action cannot be overstated. And reminded me that I have a very limited understanding of what it's like to be judged by what I'm wearing on my sleeves.

Liz Breslin is in Krakow, Poland on a Unesco Cities of Literature writer's residency.


Thank you. I was vague and thought our sister city were Prague. To be Catholic and Polish in the thirties was to live in a fascist state. Britain defended, because it was Polish fascism, not German Nazism.

But, hark, NZ women over 55 singing Fleetwood Mac and teetering: "I see my reflection in the pardon whoops! faraway hulls.."