Most tourists in Wroclaw, Poland sadly, never make it to Nadodrze, a gritty area of often run-down, gray and battered tenements far from the city’s glorious market square and the sleek, new glass buildings that have sprung up around it. Although investment poured into other areas of the city, transforming them into trendy magnets for real estate speculators, Nadodrze has been largely overlooked and had retained much of its grim East Block appearance.
Walking into Nadodrze today, most outsiders would never guess that the walls of the area’s battered nineteenth century tenements hide an amazing collection of brightly colored paintings that transform the inner courtyards behind the walls into places of rich imagination, bold design and skilled creation, evidence of the great talent of local working-class people and the Roma community who helped create them.
These colorful inner-courtyards are the conception of Wroclaw artist Mariusz Mikołajek, who in 2014, along with other local artists, formed the Center for Cultural Backyard Animation (OKAP)with the goal of transforming the drab inner-courtyards into a bright space all the residents could take pride in. Creating the art was a real community endeavor and the participants included everyone in the area, seniors, children and untrained adults, who all took part in the project. They set up classes first for children and then for adults. Everyone was allowed to discover his or her own painting or sculptural abilities. The locals embraced the project, pouring large amounts of time and effort into its completion. The design of colourful courtyards in Nadodrze eventually covered many other other courtyards in the once-gloomy area.
The art decorating the inner courtyards is referred to as un-murals because the art there is often three dimensional. Ceramic figures, household items and other materials often protrude out from the walls. There is also an astonishing variety of scenes and images on the walls, adding to the wonder of seeing these fantastic creations.
The link below is for a virtual tour of one of the courtyards.
The colorful courtyards have helped the area to revitalize and the once forgotten area has now become a magnet for artists, Bohemians and students. Local residents speak with great pride about the artwork they have created. Nadodrze serves as a model for the transformative power of art to build a community.
On Sunday in Dublin on my travels I conversed (about more than directions) on three different occasions with visitors from the United States and found a wide range of attitudes.
BOSTON, LARKIN AND THE COPS
The first of these was with an elderly couple outside Kilmainham Gaol Museum. The man had “Boston” displayed on his T-shirt and I started talking about Dennis Lehane’s novel “The Given Day”, which is set in Boston and which I had just finished reading. They had read it, really liked it and told me it was the first of a trilogy to which I responded that I would certainly be looking for the follow-ups.
I talked about Lehane’s slant towards the cops as opposed to the revolutionaries and how of course my slant would be the other way but that in any case Lehane had not done his research on Larkin, who figures in the novel with other revolutionaries and radicals. Lehane refers to Larkin’s “gin-breath” but Big Jim was well known as a teetotaler, which I explained to them.
Then I talked a bit about the Irish Citizen Army that Larkin had founded with James Connolly and others, how they grew up out of the 1913 Lockout/ Strike and that Larkin had served time in Sing Sing prison later as a punishment for his revolutionary oratory in the USA.
I didn’t get the feeling that I and the two Bostonians were in agreement with my revolutionary sympathies but certainly did when it came to the workers fighting the Lockout in 1913. We parted amicably as they went off to enjoy some more of their holiday.
Encounter No.2 took place in Cornucopia, into which I had dropped for a cup of coffee.
I took my ‘Americano’ to a vacant table. The one next to me became vacant for awhile and was then occupied by an elderly lady who left her handbag open next to me. I advised her that was an unwise thing to do in Dublin and she remarked. in US accent upon the Leonard Peltier badge that I had been unconsciously wearing all day, so we talked about his case for awhile. She didn’t seem sympathetic to the FBI and expressed horror at the treatment of Peltier, now approaching his 40th year in prison for an act of which he was unjustly convicted.
The lady asked me for advice about literary events in Dublin and as she was, sadly, leaving the day before Culture Night, all I could suggest was a visit to Books Upstairs, where someone might be able to advise her. After I jotted down the address and a rough map for her, I left.
THE DEVIL AND THE TRUMPETTES
It was my intention to attend later that evening the Song Central session, on their first night back after their summer break. Song Central is a monthly gathering of singers and listeners upstairs in Chaplin’s pub, across from the Screen cinema. But I needed to eat first and so headed for a burrito in Pablo Picante, a small place serving Mexican food in Temple Bar (well, at the western end of Fleet Street).
Sitting eating my burrito and facing out into the street, I noticed passers-by pointing at the window and laughing. I could have become paranoid except it was clear that they were pointing to an image painted on the window further to my left. Then a late 30s or early 40s couple who in their style looked kind of to the Left maybe laughed at the image and took photos. The female whipped out a lipstick and wrote something over the painting, then had the man take a photo of her next to what she had written.
Curiosity had me now and after they wandered off, I went outside and saw that the painting on the window was a caricature of US Presidential candidate Donald Trump and underneath it the artist had written in big letters “DIABLO”. Of course, that would be because Trump wants to build a wall along the border with Mexico due to the negative impact he accuses Mexican migrants of having on the US, which Trump wants to “make great again”. And he has also impugned a US Judge’s ability to rule impartially on his case, due to the judge’s Mexican heritage.
The woman had scrawled something along the lines of “He’s not, we love him” with a heart sign on a part of the painting – clearly far from being Lefties!
I went back inside, got a serviette, came outside and rubbed off her comment, then back inside to continue my assault on the burrito.
Not long after, I was not a little surprised to see the woman and the man standing outside again. She noticed the removal of her comment and commenced to write again. I went to the counter to tell the staff what was going on and returned to find the woman inside, leaning on my jacket on the window shelf and working on rubbing out the painting from the inside!
My challenge on what did she think she was doing elicited the response that Donald Trump was going to be (or might be?) their next President and that the painting was disrespectful. I stood between her and the painting, telling her that we have free speech in this country (which is not strictly true but as the nearest weapon I could reach ….) and just kept repeating it. Then the guy came in and told me I had “no idea”. He kept repeating that and I kept repeating the “free speech” stuff, alert in case he took his case into the physical arena (and he looked fit, too). I also wondered what I would do if instead, it was the woman who attacked me. But they left soon afterwards.
Soon after, a member of staff (Mexican, presumably) went outside and rubbed off her comment, returning with a wry smile.
SINGING THE USA
At the Song Central session later that evening, post-burrito and post Trumpettes, the theme happened to be about the USA, songs from there or about travelling there etc, it being the anniversary of the “9/11” attack on the Twin Towers. If I’d remembered about the theme, I’d have learned the Allende song recorded by Moving Hearts, or brushed up on the lyrics of “Hey Ronnie Reagan” by Christie Moore. Because “9/11” ( in 1973) is also the anniversary of the CIA-instigated military coup in Chile, which over time claimed the lives of 32,000 people.
Interestingly, most of the song contributions during the night that referred to the USA (and most of them did, though people are not obliged to follow the theme), were critical of the US state, whether because of its endemic racism towards blacks and Latinos or its genocide towards the First People, or because of its wars. One song I felt pretty sure would be sung – and it was — was about the firemen on 9/11 running up the stairs of the doomed building while occupants ran down – a powerful song about the heroism of a section of public service emergency workers.
Luckily I could remember some US song material and sang “The Ludlow Massacre” and “How Can I Keep From Singing”, both composed in the US: one written by a revolutionary and the other adapted in the US by a progressive singer.
I had set out that day without remembering the significance of the date for the USA and yet throughout the day had a significant level of engagement with people from the US and, at the end of the day, with the terrible event itself.
On Tuesday, while taking a photo of the Trump caricature in the window to accompany this piece, another US couple began to talk to me. The man opened with: “The man IS a devil” (referring to Trump).
I remarked that Trump was not going to get elected but his role would be to make Clinton look good, then she could carry on bombing and invading countries if she got elected, no problem.
The woman told me they didn’t like Clinton either. They were from Boston and the man and his father before him had been union organisers. He was complained about the weakness of the unions nowadays.
We talked about cops breaking strikes in the USA in the 1930s and how the cops themselves went on strike in Boston during that period. He talked about what the cops are like nowadays against pickets and demonstrations, militarised ….