The smoke that thunders. A tide rises before our eyes and falls beneath our feet. I stood too close to the edge. Queen Victoria never saw it, Mosi-oa-Tunya. What victory was that, to draw a line on a map? I presume they stood too close to the edge of their civilisation, they looked down too far. On the horizon the Zambezi approaches its fate, shrouded in vapour.
I can see the bridge across the gorge. Connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe. Bungee jumps for 50 US dollars. I could fall off the edge. A rope will snap me back to earth. I look into the eyes of the man selling me a wooden giraffe for 50 Zimbabwean dollars. I look past him to the horizon of scrubland. I take the giraffe home and call it Cuthbert. Now it stands on my window sill, missing an ear and half a tail, it watches me come home each evening.
Othello died here. His tower is featured in the guidebook. Though there’s no mention of the shut up cafes bearing his name or the scrubby grass moat blocking the entrance. This is a place beyond the beaches and souvenir promenades. Somewhere in this city, grandeur lingers. Maybe in the still golden warmth of the sandstone relics, their spires decapitated and their carcasses pecked of glass and paint. Or in the hulking cathedral, red flag flying and carpeted to face Mecca, a shell of faithful worship remains.
Drinks in the main square amidst the evening glow. I forget to decant the Turkish coffee carefully into my mouth, almost choking on the sandy sediment. Isn’t Cyprus coffee identical? And the Cyprus Delight in the same icing-sugar-filled cardboard boxes. Bitter sweet.
We didn’t visit Auschwitz, the posters were too bright. Instead we wondered around the Wawel: The grassy hilltop castle where Polish kings were crowned and buried. Squares and courtyards connect the gothic to the renaissance to the living city below. Then we got lost on a bus to the salt mines. Caverns carved beneath the earth, a cathedral replete with salt-crystal chandeliers. And after climbing the city bell tower we sat and ate ice cream in the expansive square, watching the horses and people go by.
Go to Krakow, enjoy Krakow! And if you visit somewhere else, nearby, that makes you weep, so be it. But here lies the sovereign city of a once oppressed state, balmy amidst the sunshine. And beautiful with the memories of its people.
Early Sunday morning. A cathedral, a service, Catholic, in German. A Bible, closed all trip, open at Ecclesiastes. I understand nothing, almost a word, Jesus, Kirche, Friede… they’re shaking hands, an elderly woman approaches me and offers the sign of the peace, “und auch mit Sie.” I have partaken in a communion. I leave the white shadows, enter into the sunlight, my hair is still damp from a rushed shower. I have understood enough.
The sky was pink at sunset. We laughed at the Lederhosen and gobbled Mozartkugeln and re-enacted The Sound of Music. The Alps were a train journey. I packed my Bible away again and hoisted my back pack and told my friends I was ready to go.