I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Past Remains

The Past Remains

Piotr Florczyk
City of Lions, by Józef Wittlin and Philippe Sands, Pushkin Press, 176 pp, £12, ISBN: 978-1782271178 Several years ago, my friend and I headed east from Kraków. It was June. Daisies dotted the meadows. Gusts of wind shook the fawn wheat. The farther east we travelled, by one bus and then another, the hillier and more undeveloped the countryside became. Crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border, the frontier between the EU and what remains of the so-called Other Europe, three hours later via a pedestrian walkway allowed us a degree of immersion denied to tourists who fly or take the train. The local Ukrainians we passed support themselves by cross-border trade. Because there are limits on how much vodka and cigarettes they can bring into Poland per visit, the women – most of the “ants”, as they are called, are women – make multiple crossings every day. I have often since thought about this border spectacle, the way Ukrainians make the journey to earn a living while Poles and other tourists – on our trip we met young Americans who studied in Kraków – think of it as an adventure. Propelled by imagination and curiosity and nostalgia, they head for Lviv, formerly known as Lwów (Polish) or Lemberg (Habsburgian), the city that continues to figure prominently in the iconography of the Polish borderlands. Vilnius may have been lost for good, they nod, but in Lviv traces of the old Poland can be seen everywhere. City of Lions, which presents for the first time in English a classic essay by Józef Wittlin (1896-1976) alongside an essay by Philippe Sands, allows us to make both types of crossings simultaneously. It is a walk down memory lane, a meditation on time, politics and remembrance, as well as highbrow touristy bric-a-brac. Eva Hoffman, in her preface, mentions the steady rise in popularity of Prague, Budapest, and Kraków as tourist destinations, suggesting that Lviv should be included on the same itinerary. Shaped and ultimately undone by its multicultural and multilingual populace, not to mention its various rulers and colonial powers over hundreds of years, the city appeals to visitors longing to immerse themselves in a place where historical and political landmarks appear out of nowhere at the end of many a cobbled street or alley. Of course it isn’t just tourists who dwell in memories and sensibilities of the past. Wittlin, who had spent a total of…

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