Łódź: The empty, ugly arsehole of Poland

Fuck me, these blog posts are jumping all over the place aren’t there? Like an unhinged kid’s toy, I’m out of the box and on a haphazard journey, writing about Berlin after I’ve been in Japan and then venting sanctimonius pretentiousness about an Oscar frontrunner before I even begin to detail what happened in between Deutschland and Nippon. And I’ve not written about sex or drugs or obscure rap for months. Well, the trip continues today as we shift back to early December and a brief return to Poland…

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As cabin crew prepare for landing, the metallic blades cut through those dreamlike bundles of ephemeral condensation. Then the dream gives way to reality and a vast grey aesthetic unfolds across the landscape, momentarily interspersed by the subtle distraction of light drizzle. This sort of palette is usually reserved for use by a cinematographer making the most of their craft. Yet, in spite of the tannoy announcements and the habituated waiting, this is no film set. I’m back in Poland, the land where I feel welcomed by the dour death scent of cigarettes, the place where I can get real with the mundane magnificence of Soviet realism, the setting for a whole manner of bleakly comic dialogues that are alive and sharp and surprisingly energising in their depressive duality.

Why Łódź-ou want to come here?

Fittingly enough, I arrive in Łódź, the home of Polish cinema, where Kieślowski, Polanski and Wajda all perfected their trade. And one of the first things that strikes you about Łódź is the manner in which nobody can quite believe that you, a tourist, are actually there. A brief exchange of messages with an old housemate now living in Warsaw reveals that “Łódź is the ugliest city in Poland, even though some say it has a vibe.” Likewise, a Couchsurfing meet begins with an extended discussion about how it would have been much better for me to visit Poznań, as “there is nothing to do in Łódź.” Even the cafe toilets are adorned with inspirational messages, such as: “What did you expect from Łódź? Like…nothing?!” In this situation, I only have myself to blame. After all, it was just a couple of months back that a friend from Gdańsk provided me with the wonderful quote: “Poland is just like an ass. And in the middle of it – there is a hole. And this hole – it’s Łódź exactly.”

Mushrooms, Moomins and tracksuits

Admittedly, when you’ve been primed with such overbearing negativity, it’s difficult to approach a town with anything other than the grey wolf of disappointment howling sweet ‘there’s-nothing-heres’ in your ear. In my quest to find something – anything – I unearthed a few truffles.

First up, there’s a cracking short Polish silent film from 1902 in which some elaborately dressed men land on a planet, enter a mushroom cave and then find out that the mushrooms are actually fantastical other-wordly lifeforms that are bent on attacking them. I couldn’t tell you what this film is called, but it’s located in the basement of the Łódź Museum of Cinematography, just past some museum attendants, who again, look at you very strangely when it emerges that you’re a non-Polish tourist. Also in the museum is a brilliant section devoted to the history of Polish animation. Notably, there’s plenty about the Łódź animation studio Se-ma-for, which created the original stop-motion Moomins series in the late 70s.

Next, a humongous shout to Pan tu nie stał, a Łódź designer inspired by retro Polish visual icons and words. I could spend all afternoon browsing their t-shirts, full of vintage animal stamp prints and Stanisław Lem’s slowly receding hairline. Instead, I satisfy myself with a cosy patchwork jumper and a disco polo patch, complete with authentic uninspiring late-90s typeface. If you happen to be in Łódź, Warsaw or Kraków, definitely check out this shop. And while we’re on the subject of fashion, I can’t neglect to mention Elektryczny Węgorz, a homegrown Łódź musician with superb tracksuit aesthetic.

In true Łódź style, I’ll leave you with an animation from local director Balbina Bruszewska (starring the aforementioned and suitably tracksuited Elektryczny Węgorz). Contrary to popular Polish belief, there is something in Łódź

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