A Gorol's First Gwarki
''You've never been to Gwarki? You're lucky!''
That's is what I heard many times from my friends and family in Tarnowskie Gory. Well, they didn't all say ''You're lucky'', some said ''You have a luck'', which is technically incorrect but had the same message – don't bother going.
The problem is I know Tarnowskie Gory so well, I lived there for two and a half years, got married there to a local girl, I spend nearly every holiday I have back there, but my dirty little secret was that in seven years since I had my first Polish beer in Galeria I had never been to Gwarki.
Still, I wanted to. When I lived in Tarnowskie Gory as an English teacher I was always back in Britain for the summer and when I moved back to Britain permanently my visits to TG were never in September. My wife Weronika was born and raised in the town and even she wasn't particularly enthusiastic about Gwarki, but it was something I wanted to see. It's not that I heard it was so amazing or wonderful, but I knew it was important to the town and the town is important to me so I had to go sooner or later. It took me six years to finally see the silver mine and I didn't want to put off Gwarki any longer. Anyway, what was the worst that could happen? If this festival was so bad I could just get drunk in the Rynek. Then my wife told me beer was banned from the Rynek during Gwarki. I began to have second thoughts about this holiday...
I arrived back in town on the Monday before. There seemed to be a small problem with the town centre – Krakowska Street looked like a bomb had hit it. There was sand and mud everywhere and it was a real pain to walk down. I didn't think it would be ready for Friday but Mrs Williams was certain it would be. It had to be. The main procession went down there. I was very worried that Krakowska would not be finished on time, but luckily I was able to calm down in Galeria thanks to my old friend Tyskie.
From my old friend I then went to my old enemy – Krakow. We went to England's newest city to visit Mrs Williams' friends and I was able to catch up with two other Krakow's residents in the form of former Golden Gate teachers John and Dave. We met in the Rynek and, while I would have been happy if we went for a walk by the Wisla or to a nice cafe to drink tea, one of them suggested going to a pub so we did that instead. I must take the time to say I saw both of these guys soon after they first landed in Poland, shy and naive like me before them, and now they have both taken the country as their home I am both very proud and very jealous of them. Anyway, as us GGTG veterans sat chatting, the subject of Gwarki came up. Dave would be back in TG for it too as he had to help out and work hard at his girlfriend's family bar (and Native Speaker sanctuary) Galeria during the festival rush. It would also be Dave's first Gwarki. John had been to Gwarki before and warned us it really was nothing special. They then began to talk about a recent sausage-dog festival in Krakow, where sausage-dogs were dressed as Mexicans and Smurfs and they all walked around the Rynek. I sat and listened and thought Gwarki had to be better than this sausage-dog thing!
By Friday we were back in TG and I was wandering around the Rynek whilst all the market stalls and the stage were getting set up. Krakowska still wasn't ready but that didn't seem to be a big problem. The town centre was buzzing with life and I can't remember seeing it so busy. Already Gwarki was bigger than I thought it was. I carried on walking for a short while but because I didn't want to buy any sugary nuts, cheap jewellery or toys I went back to my family home in Ohio and waited for what excitement the night would bring.
I had a wonderful time on the first night of Gwarki. I didn't see any band, go on any ride or even go near the Rynek. Instead I spent most of it upstairs in Kurna Chata catching up with old friends who had used the festival as an excuse to come to town and socialise. I finished the night in Galeria with Dave, who was drinking and not working, before going back to Ohio.
Gwarki was already a success in my eyes and I hadn't seen any of it.
On the Saturday it was to be the big Ania Dabrowska concert. I spent the day in Ohio and planned to have a peaceful walk into town by myself in the early evening and to take in the atmosphere before meeting up with others and going to the concert. But there was a slight problem – the rain.
It rains in Britain, everybody knows that. It rains a lot but it is light rain for an hour or two nearly every day. You can still do things in this rain. In Poland the rain I've seen is violent and lasts for hours. Or even days. God was angry that Saturday. I don't like hats and I hate umbrella-ella-ellas so it was all coming down on my head like bullets from a gun. I should've turned around and gone back to Ohio or found a shop to wait inside, but I got to the point where I thought I could not possibly get any wetter so I just angrily carried on. It was ridiculous. As I got closer to the Rynek I saw families going to their cars or walking home with their umbrellas and raincoats and there was me looking like a used teabag.
Of course, by the time I got to the Rynek the sun was out and there was no more rain. I was wet and angry and went to the first place I could think of to make me feel better – Galeria. I knew that because of the rain I was going to get a cold or flu so I entered Galeria, like a fat fish, and ordered the best Polish medicine for flu that I knew. Not Fervex, but Herbata z rumem. Dave was there as I drank it. He was doing a little bit of painting that he claimed was work.
I spent most of that evening with my brother-in-law Pawel. Because I live in Britain and he lives in Poland, when we are together usually one of us is on holiday and the other is working. Because of the concert and Gwarki itself we were going out for the evening, just the two of us, for possibly the first time ever. The concert wasn't going to start till later so we went for a walk around the Rynek and then somehow, I don't really know how, we ended up in Galeria. Dave was there working hard...on drinking Tyskie and chatting with us.
Pawel and I then walked into town with our future-brother-in-law Dawid and caught the end of Ania Dabrowska. I heard her doing 'Ordinary World' by Duran Duran and that was about it. The Rynek was full of people and it was a good place to be. I was actually glad there was a beer ban because God knows what kind of idiocy there would be if everybody was drunk. I felt hungry and was looking at the menu at a food stall for quite a long time. Dawid thought that maybe I needed some help with the language and kindly offered to help me order whatever food I wanted. I politely told him that while I'm not fluent in Polish I have no problems in ordering food! I had a kielbasa and a really enjoyable night with my brothers-from-different-mothers.
I couldn't go home and go to bed that evening. Instead I had to go to the airport. The original Mrs Williams was coming....my mother! My mum is half-Polish but had only been to Poland once before I moved to TG. She now looks for any excuse to come over. And she loves Rolady.
I had heard that the last day of Gwarki was normally for punk-rock. My 59-year-old mother isn't the biggest punk rock fan in the world. But then people tried to tell me about the procession in the morning. I didn't know anything about this. Something must have got lost in translation because all I heard was – 'there's a procession and there are people in fancy dress'. Now really, that doesn't sound particularly good. I had images of sausage-dogs dressed like Smurfs and Mexicans in my head. So anyway, we went on the sunny Sunday morning to see this weird procession. And it was superb.
I was impressed. It really was much better than I thought it would be. I expected about twenty fat kids dressed like, well, Smurfs and Mexicans, walking up a road and waving at their parents on the pavement. Instead it looked professional and well organised and was a journey through history. I even saw my old friend and Golden Gators bassist Andrzej Karch in there on his motorbike. I stood on the side of the road near my new nephew Mikolaj, while his father Pawel explained the history of the old Polish cars and motorbikes that went past. I saw the Mermaid car. Wow. The only low point was when a school had a presentation of all the countries in Europe and some little kid had a disgusting Liverpool FC shirt on. I commendably resisted the urge to throw something at this kid and enjoyed the rest of the parade.
When the parade finished we went for a midday walk around the Rynek. I could not ignore the truth. I just don't know that many people in the town anymore. When I lived there and for a few years after I was quite well known around town. I was the 'English guy'. Everywhere I went there was somebody to wave to, or nod to, or have a chat with. It used to make Mrs Williams Jnr angry - she had lived all her life in TG but whenever we went somewhere I was the one getting waves and hellos instead of her. Well, now I was walking around the Rynek and not really recognising too many people. Or being recognised. It's a bitter pill to swallow when you realise life goes on when you're not there. There must have been about six 'English guys' since me. But now instead of the waves and hellos of people I barely knew, I was walking around Tarnowskie Gory with my family. My wife, my in-laws, my nephews, my mother. I didn't feel too sad.
We went home that Sunday afternoon and I thought Gwarki had ended, but I was told about the evening's fireworks that we had to go and see. The next thing I knew I was in a dodgem car with my nephew Nikodem, trying to crash into all the other cars on that bit of wasteground between Krakowska and the Cultural Centre. Then I somehow ended up in Galeria. Like a frog who always returns to the water he was born in, I always go back to the site of my first Tyskie. Dave wasn't there, he had gone back home to Krakow...he was probably tired because of all the work he had done. But I shared a few beers with my old boss Rafal, Dawid and my father-in-law Henryk. Henryk and I had never really gone out drinking before so it was nice to spend time with him like this. We all then went to watch the fireworks from the Rynek. They were fantastic and Mrs Williams Snr enjoyed them very much.
In fairness to everybody who told me Gwarki was rubbish, I heard from lots of people that this year's Gwarki was much better than other ones in the past. People said they put more effort into this year's procession and it was generally an improvement. So I'll give the benefit of the doubt to all the people who told me I was 'lucky' that I had never been before.
However if you went to this year's Gwarki and thought it was bad then you don't really know how lucky you are. I can't think of a town of Tarnowskie Gory's size in Britain that has such a festival over 3-days that brings such interest and attention. It gave me a reason to spend time with my friends and family like I never had before and it showed me a different side to a town I thought I knew inside out.
It turns out I didn't know Tarnowskie Gory at all. And I can't wait until my next Gwarki.