Translated from the Polish by Piotr Gwiazda.
Grzegorz Wróblewski, excerpts from Kopenhaga, translated by Piotr Gwiazda. Copyright © 2013. Used with permission of Zephyr Press, www.zephyrpress.org.
“Times have changed,” my aging contemporaries whisper anxiously. As we get older we do not get any younger, Henry Reed once said. The longer I think about it, the more I’m convinced they are right. Our mail carrier has been replaced by a teenager with a tattoo on his forehead that says Garbage – “Version 2.0.”
There are few old people on the streets of Copenhagen. The elderly are kept inside retirement centers and nursing homes. They die far from the world of healthy people. Far from the mobile people, productive people, people who make changes, make decisions… You very rarely see a person past seventy. Recently I was listening to the so-called Children’s Radio. Children discussing old people: Old people stink, they dress funny, have unfashionable hairdos. Old people stink, they dress funny, have unfashionable hairdos? And no grandpa or grandma to buy you ice cream? Natural selection. Usefulness or uselessness within the system. Cold pragmatism. No feelings. No humanity. (Children learn it from their parents who in turn learned it from theirs.) Welfare state.
Inside the retirement centers, professional staff: the elderly drink Gevalia coffee, play checkers tenaciously. No one dies on the street here. Death is taboo.
Two of the world’s leading murderers, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, have returned to Phnom Penh. Of course they expressed contrition. (There was plenty to apologize for!) There was also this cosmic commentary… Nuon Chea turned out to be (unexpectedly) a lover of animals: Of course I am sorry, but not only about the loss of human life. I am also sorry about the death of animals. People and animals perished together, just because we wanted to win the war. Khieu Samphan summed up the matter more succinctly: Let’s forget the past and concentrate on our country’s future.
Date palms on Plaça Reial. (In Barcelona children still get slapped in the face.) Prostitutes and toothless Catalan lottery vendors dreamily stare at the streetlamps of Master Gaudí. Will he be made a saint? (Associació pro Beatificació d’Antoni Gaudí is assiduously collecting signatures.) The local idiot Federico presents me with a dead parrot. (Here everyone ends up like this!) I open another bottle of sparkling wine. Assimilation? Am I going to move permanently to the South? The next day – to the edge of the world? I wake up in Copenhagen again. Rain, the sound of ship horns, smoked mackerel… Everyone has their own “decor.” A weakness for pickles or for the paintings of Tadeusz Brzozowski? You’ve got to fight it. Mix drinks, destabilize the mind. Yet even then you always return to the starting point. The Master Plan; your hard-wired appetites; people you are going to meet; death.
What if even in the afterlife you have to know foreign languages? Since I have already suffered so much trying to speak Danish, make sure to assign me to the Polish zone…
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