You have to dream before your dreams can come true A.B.J. Abdul Kalam
On the Long Embankment
One night, sometime in the decade during which I turned thirty, I had a very vivid dream that has been stowing away in my memory to this day. In the dream, I was walking down a street that ran along the water’s edge. It was evening and the path was lit by intermittent lanterns. The water line was not far from my footfalls on one side. On the other side, there was a row of little restaurants illuminated with ambient light pouring through colorful glass. Lights were strung on the outside canopies. There was brightly colored glass, like stained glass, fronting the shops and restaurants in rose and amber tints. The water and colors were a deep part of the dream mood and symbolism. When I woke the next morning, a clear memory of the dream walk along this waterfront remained. It left me with a mysterious feeling of well-being. That place in that dream was a place, which I’ve hoped might actually exist.
In recent years, initiated into the art of the Google on the Internet, I have looked at photos and images of seaside towns, believing I could find a scene that conveyed the ambience of the dream. The closest that I could find were images of little seaside towns in Croatia, Wales and Ireland. Five years ago, while walking along a seawall in Cornwall, I thought I was on the verge of discovery but it did not feel just right. This quest is eccentric on my part, I know, but I’ve identified with Alice in Wonderland since childhood and I guess, that is my justification.
In December, Greg and I hopped a train to Gdańsk, a town on the Baltic Sea with a recorded history dating back to the 10th century. Our hotel was set in the old bustling warehouse area of the town on the Motława River (moe-t-waa-va). It was a handsome renovated warehouse with red brick walls and arched entries on a narrow uneven street. Renovation and building activity was in progress all around the area. Gdansk has been in renovations since the fall of Communism in the 1990’s, and before that, it was under reconstruction because of the WWII devastation.
We were both very excited to explore Gdańsk, which had been on our ‘list’ for a long time. An introductory walk that evening was mandatory. We wanted to see the main historic square lit for the Christmas holiday. Turning out of our hotel into a sharp clean evening, history quickly captured our imaginations in the construct of the small buildings and shops lining the road. We walked a wide darkened avenue for a few blocks. It was so quiet, no crowds, no tourists, no glaring streetlights, just a few cars. After several blocks of looking for Ulica Długa (translates to Long Street) as the hotel had directed, we spotted on a far-off median, a small dazzling outdoor stall. This booth was awash in bright flashing Christmas lights in the darkened street. To say you could see it coming from a distance was an understatement. The place was LED bright and abundantly twinkly in this moody historical area. The vendor, a woman, was selling Christmas lights. It appeared that every box of lights on display was plugged in and flashing along with multiple strings framing the roof and sides of the booth. We complimented her display, told her we were glad to spot her (there was no one else around) and asked for directions to the square. She was funny and upbeat, and said, in Polish, something like “Well a person has to do what he has to do to be seen and get by” and then directed us to a left turn further down the avenue. She was eager to explain that the name of the square was the Targ Węglowy (Ven-g-woa-viv), which translates to Coal Market. A town square named after coal; you know there must be a story there.
We walked a few more blocks, still feeling lost, and chanced a left into a dark cobbled street. All the buildings in this area reminded me of the merchant houses in Amsterdam or Hamburg: tall, narrow, timeworn and heavily ornate. As we walked towards what we thought must be the river, a massive red brick pantheon loomed into sight. It was very tall and overshadowed the beautiful little burgher houses like a dragon. I thought it might be a cathedral but the arched Gothic windows, though very tall were set with milky white glass, not stained glass. Because of it’s tremendous mass, this feature added a strange aspect. Nothing was lit here, there were few street lamps and the shadows made it seem exceedingly oppressive. We made a note to check it out in the daytime but as we wandered on, the church menaced behind our backs as if it were watching.
Turning into another narrow street, we were gifted with a captivating scene of old slender homes fronted with stone stairways and balustrades, heavily carved and ornamented with fantastical creatures. There were many glass-enclosed box-shaped display cases erected in front of each building. They were awash with soft light and raised on stands. The displays were a cacophony of beautiful amber carvings, jewelry, and stone. I love amber (see notes on amber).** Give me an amber ring over a diamond any time! Observing the honey gold amber pieces in the dim light was enchanting. The vendors on the street were closing shop for the day and the shops in the buildings were dark and shut up tight. We had a chat with a young lady vendor who told us this was known as the street of amber. We wondered at a little carved amber tree set on a rough piece of marble with tiny amber leaves hanging from the branches. She said it was a Tree of Good Luck (Drzewo Szczęscia). To me it looked like a beautiful little amber bonsai. I found later that this was a common souvenir from the Baltic but this was the first that I, a Polish girl grounded in the love of amber trinkets, had ever seen one.
The street of amber is called Mariacka Street (Mary Street). The imaginative beasts and gargoyles decorating the buildings were placed there to guard the inhabitants against evil. A practical use for these exotic stone creatures is as drainage systems. Some of the water drains out of their mouths, some is siphoned through their bodies to brick laid depressions on the ground. Gargoyle is a French word that means ‘to splash, gurgle, or spit water’. I looked up Mariacka (mar-ee-ahts-kah) in Gdańsk on the internet and found this: * “If the cobblestones on Mariacka could speak, they would tell you about the medieval times and the marshlands that stretched between Motława (river), and the wooden church that is said to have stood here, … they would tell you about the construction of the current temple, which dates back to 1343. … it is from St. Mary’s Church that the street takes its name. ” The red brick monstrosity is a temple called “St. Mary’s Church”. And it is the largest red brick structure in Europe. No kidding. I thought that was awesome.
We walked on through a high red-bricked arch, Mariacka Gate, and then through another arch, and there was the river crossing before us. I turned to the left and I was struck. I was standing in my dream place. Lantern light, cafes lit from within with amber and rose light, lanterns reflected onto a paved old walkway and in the lapping water. A string of warm, back lit, hospitable cafes with tables and chairs set outside under lantern light. Déjà-vu. I strolled along a little dazed: the quiet cafes, the peaceful moving river, a schooner moored and swaying, lantern light, wet cobblestones. This might really be my dream place because it was filling some deep spiritual cistern. It may have been the evening or the light and the water or the little antique bookstore clinging to the end of the row of cafes. It was dreamy. We did not find the main square that night even though it was just a hair’s breath away through another arch. Instead we enjoyed the ambiance and sat in a cozy cafe on the water’s edge and ate soup and herring (not Greg: he finds herring yucky). After, we leisurely explored the rest of the “Long Embankment”, as this walkway is called, we found we could return to the hotel by walking on the water’s edge.
In my lifetime, I’ve had some vivid dreams. Not the “hopes and dreams” kind of dreams but those you have when you go to sleep at night and slip into oblivion. Is it possible to find a place of your dreams? Can we dream the future? I think I have. And I fell in love with Gdańsk.
*Oktawia Gorzeńska A Walk on Mariacka Street http://veturo.pl/article/135/mariacka-street-gdans/
**Notes on Amber Usually … a golden yellow colour but can also be found in shades of milky white, red-orange, grey, black and very rarely violet. Amber is found mainly in the Baltic Sea, and is 40 to 55 million years old. Amber is superior in quality to any other resins. Nicknamed the ‘happy stone’ because it is said that amber helps with depression, etc. Asian cultures regard amber as the ‘soul of the tiger’. Amber comes from trees and therefore it shares many spiritual qualities similar to that of a tree. For example: trees are beings whose roots bury deep into the earth, and whose tops reach to the sky. This is like a bridge between heaven and earth; the spiritual and the physical. Sap is the lifeblood of the tree, that carries and transmits its energy. Thus: amber is seen to be the gemstone that can be used to ground spiritual energies into the physical body. This also works the opposite way round; if you are not feeling … (grounded) – amber can help you achieve this connection to the physical plane. from Jewelry Art: http://www.jewellery-art.co.uk/amber-gemstone-meanings.html