Wed 27 June 2012

And the city trip goes to… Lublin!

© Maciej RukaszThe winner of the citybooks competition has been chosen: An Vandermeulen impressed us with her submission about a treasured book lost and found, and will shortly head out to Lublin. (You can read the winning entry below).

The scores of competition entries surprised us, touched us, led us into daydream and made us laugh out loud. Unsurprisingly then, it wasn’t easy to choose a winner from among the immense diversity of motivations. Many submissions came from The Netherlands and Belgium, but participants from South Africa to Sweden, and from Austria to Georgia also featured in the mix. We received not only beautiful texts, but also poems, photographs and even a homemade podcast. Some people desperately needed to get away to relax, in order to conduct themselves ‘somewhat less indecently’, while others longed for a city ‘where I know nobody. Where I don’t know if I’ll survive.’ Above all, though, it’s a curiosity for unfamiliar lands that characterized the submissions we received.

I would like to go to…

The citybooks cities clearly appeal to the imagination. Venice came out on top as the favourite destination; a city full of romance, art, culture and architecture, but also one of childhood memories, a bridge of sighs, a world upside-down on a Middle Ages map, a missed chance, amongst a good many more reasons to visit the city. Likewise, Skopje, Bucharest, Graz and the exotic Yerevan attracted the many peoples’ interest. Do all Macedonians have a moustache? Will Graz inspire a flood of poetry? Does the hill of a marriage proposal still look the same? Is Yerevan really the uncultivated pearl of the east?

Not only single travellers and pairs took part: Utrecht appears to be a favourite destination for groups to discover Dutch culture, with the wall-mounted croquette dispensers featuring as a culinary highlight. Ostend seems to be the ideal destination for a reading holiday, accompanied by a Marvin Gaye soundtrack. And ‘why should one go to cities where everyone is heading to’ if you can also head for Sheffield? Who knows if, in following in Pascal Verbeken’s footsteps in Charleroi, you might not only find beautiful stories, but in fact pick up a ‘launderette love date’ to accompany you to the Off the Shelf festival? Or to Chartres, in search of the light with which the city advertises itself as, indeed, the city of ‘light and perfume’.

… Lublin!

Or… to Lublin, which also captured the travelling imagination of a whole host of people, as inspired by the citybooks of Arnon Grunberg and Mauro Pawlowski, the dream of a belated honeymoon, and most strikingly: to search for a beloved book that, temporarily, found its home there. And it’s with this last proposal that An Vandermeulen managed to convince deBuren that she needed, urgently, to go to Lublin!



In search of my Republic of Dreams

There is no other option than to travel to Lublin. To a city surrounded by yellow fields, a place for a magician on stockinged feet, a hostelry for my Republic of Dreams.

Summer 2011. I’m in Warsaw visiting Natalia Romik, a fierce Pole with whom I shared a bedroom wall during my Erasmus years in Berlin. Hearing another person cough through a flimsy partition quickly brings you closer together, and soon after we became best friends (Zubrowka, na zdrowie!). Natalia turned out to be one of the most energetic and absurd people on Earth. She had a remarkably hoarse voice that poured forth the most ghastly, almost unintelligible German.
Nonetheless, meeting each other everyday, encouraged by a basic need to communicate, we developed a kind of pidgin language. And I was just about her only friend, given that every morning she would smear an entire garlic sausage over a cracker and gobble it down with delight. What with her raucous tirades about Jews, gender studies and Polish poetry, she became a fearsome partner for conversation; her barked viewpoints thrust into the world from beneath a bright, orange-coloured hairdo. She rarely looked at you directly, because she always wore extravagant sunglasses, not that she ever saw daylight: she lived by night, a time when she could, like a silver nymph, dart along the Berlin wall and when the networking population ventured outside. (This is how she managed to flog her Polish poetry collection to some overawed, German publisher). And so we became best friends. Me, a total nitwit, sent into the world of Berlin with the Freedom-preaching woman at my side: my Republic of dreams made flesh.

Every week, Natalia and I send each other the latest news from our lives. A long time ago I received a strange message from her (translated into English from Bad German):

Dear An,

I have met the man of my dreams, Alek – a Pole with a Jewish mother. We discovered that I am also fourth degree Jewish. I have decided to convert so that we can raise our children as Jewish. I have been busy learning Hebrew with a liberal Rabbi for a while, in preparation for my conversion. Seeing as this is such an important moment for me, I’d appreciate it more than anything if you would be present at my bar mitzvah. It’s on the 3rd of July. I would be very happy to have you here in Warsaw a few days in advance, presumably the party will continue in Krakow during the Jewish Klezmer Festival.

Reply soon!

Alles gute,

Trains led me to Poland in the summer of 2011. I wasn’t alone: my great hero Schulz was with me. I read his Republic of Dreams on platforms benches and under leafy trees. Until I didn’t know where the Republic was anymore. Left behind somewhere, hastily and without care. The last I saw of her was in a church, during a Russian-orthodox mass, no less. Since then my Republic has been gone without a trace. Until I received an email (translated into English from High German):

Dear Madam,

I found your book in Warsaw. However, I myself live in Lublin. Now I live together with your book. I don’t read your language and so I cannot do much with it. I understand that you were rather fond of it; I can see that by the way you have underlined the sentences. I also understand that it’s a bit like German. Just as well you gave this address. If you wish, you are always welcome to come by at the address below.

Warm regards,

Jadwiga Kozmian

I need to go to Lublin, in search of my forgotten Republic. And for Jadwiga, I’ll buy flowers from laughing ladies.

So! Will you pick me?

Ann Vandermeulen


Translated from Dutch by Joe Snape


Photo © Maciej Rukasz


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