Our Town

Lodz was cruel and unusual. Singularly picturesque with its dilapidated buildings, dilapidated staircases, dilapidated people. Lodz had only been slightly damaged during the war so the town of my film-school days was, in fact, the pre-war town. And, because it stood just as it had before the war and there’d never been any money for repairs and townrenovations, the walls were all blistering, plaster was peeling away, crumbling everywhere. And all that was singularly picturesque. It’s not an ordinary town.

When I was still at film school, my friends and I often played a game which was very simple but required integrity. On the way to school in the morning, we had to collect points. If you saw someone without an arm you got one point, without two arms two points, without a leg two points, without two legs three points, without arms or legs, a trunk that is, ten points, and so on. A blind person was five points. Then, at school we’d meet at about ten in the morning for breakfast and see who had won. We’d usually all get about ten or twelve points, on average. If anyone got fifteen, he was almost sure to have won that day. That shows you how many people there were in Lodz who didn’t have arms or legs or who were mere trunks without both arms and legs. This was a result of the extremely backward, ancient textile industry there, where people were forever having limbs tore off. It was also the result of very narrow streets where trams went right up next to the building. You just had to take one inadvertent step and you’d find yourself under a tram. Anyway, that’s the sort of town it was.

It’s a town where, for example, there were notices in the trams which said that if you wanted to transport a cabbage-slicer, you had to buy two tickets. I’ve never ever seen a notice like that since—that there’s a special loofare for transporting a cabbage-slicer.

There was this guy in a park with a special machine which would give you an electric shock. You’d hold on to the negative charge, with one hand, and with the other a wire which was positively charged. And he’d turn on the power. The whole point was to see who could stand the highest voltage. How much will you stand? 120 volts? Proof of whether you were a man depended on whether you could bear 380 volts, for example. And not 120. A child could stand sixty or eighty then would let go immediately. But serious, fat men would hold on to 380 volts and say: “Okay, give me more.” But the guy didn’t have any more. He only had 380 volts.

There was a woman who lived right next to the school. The road near the school was quite wide in one place because there was a park there. It was, say, twenty-five meters wide. The old woman’s house was on one side of the road, opposite was the park. And where the park started, there was a public toilet where you had to go down some stairs if you wanted a pee. At more or less ten in the morning, that old woman would leave her house where she presumably didn’t have a toilet, and make her way to that public loo. She was, well, very old. She moved with great difficulty. She moved so slowly that it took her eight hours to get to that toilet. Sometimes seven. Sometimes six. Then she had to climb down the stairs. Afterwards, she had to climb up again and, in the evening, she’d go back home. She’d go to bed. Sleep. Then get up in the morning and go to the loo again.

—Krzysztof Kieslowski

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