I’m not sure if I’m praying or just sitting

There are plenty of churches in Warsaw; I usually sit for half an hour at a time, thinking about God, and Mary, and what I’ll write in my next column

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 01:00

I’ve been in Warsaw for a week now and I’m having a great time. I walk everywhere. I get up in the morning and have an orange, and a cup of Lipton’s lemon tea, and off I go, through the maze of apartment blocks, down the big avenues where they’re digging up the street to put down new metro lines, around by the skyscrapers.

Into the shopping mall beside the train station, where there was a fire emergency yesterday and everyone had to evacuate the building in a matter of minutes.

I was in Marks & Spencer, handling a pair of socks, and I saw the staff running, so I dropped the socks and flew out of the door.

When I get tired I go into a church. There are plenty of churches here, fronted by mighty bronze sculptures of Christ, or of John Paul II or some other great hero. Usually there’s a respectable scattering of devout Catholics on their knees in the quiet interiors, with heads bowed before the high altar, or at some small side altar dedicated to the Virgin.

I usually sit for about half an hour at a time, thinking about God, and Mary, and what I’ll write in my next column.

Although I’m not sure if I’m praying or just sitting, in the Buddhist sense. Or maybe I’m just daydreaming. But it calms me down.

When I come out into the sunlight my anxieties have dissolved and I am able to enjoy a tomato soup for lunch, and walk through the parks and down towards Constitution Square, where hoi polloi probably enjoyed watching parades on May 1st in the old days.

Klara’s apartment
In the evening I stretch on the sofa-bed in a small apartment belonging to Klara. She is a student of economics and she moved out when I moved in. I don’t know where she went, but she hangs out with a long-haired boy. They both arrived at my door on the second day of my stay with an extra blanket because I texted her to say that I was cold with just one duvet.

There is a transistor radio on the shelf but I don’t use it because there are two condoms sitting behind it and I don’t think she left them there for me.

She probably forgot them and if I thought about them they might draw me into prurient speculation regarding the nature of her relationship with the boy, so I just pretend they are not there, and I ignore the radio altogether.

In the evenings I polish my boots. It’s a ritual I have always enjoyed when I am alone for long periods of time; an expression of hope in the morrow.

In Ireland I wasn’t doing much walking for a few years. Living in Mullingar with a Jeep under my bottom didn’t help, and when I went back to Arigna I found the hills very steep and I got lazy.

And, of course, the windmills along the Miner’s Way in Arigna slice through the silence of nature just like mechanical saws.

They are dragons that suck all emotion out of the landscape and wither the imagination, and tower over little birds and hares like the infrastructure of some triumphant secular cathedral. The great thing about Poland is that the churches are still open.

Last week I was thinking a lot about Pope Francis and the interview he did with La Civiltà Cattolica, in which he began by describing himself as a sinner. I could imagine some boiled eggs not being digested very well in certain Episcopal palaces as the Lord Bishops of Ireland read that document.

I suppose Francis is a bit like Mikhail Gorbachev. He is trying to poke his finger into the Iron Curtain of ideology to see if it will budge before the wind of history tears the entire edifice down like a house of cards.

Warsaw was torn down in the war. “The city must disappear from the face of the earth,” Himmler said. Ninety per cent it was flattened and 60 per cent of its citizens perished.

Watching video footage in the Warsaw Uprising Museum brought tears to my eyes. But to walk about outside, along new avenues of bright shops, is wonderfully uplifting.

And even sitting in an old church that was reconstructed from the rubble that was left by Nazi barbarity is a humbling experience.

It makes me feel more human as I wander around the shopping arcades among all the young people with their mobile phones and fancy white jackets, and, of course – one would hope – an adequate supply of condoms.

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