In 2004, I made an unintentional tour of ex-communist Eastern Europe. It was my first visit to Poland and I spent the majority of my time in Krakow. My stay happened to coincide with Pope John Paul II’s first visit back to his home city in many years. In preparation, Krakow abstained from drink for three whole days before his arrival. The party went underground, down winding damp stone staircases, through heavy doors and arriving in medieval bunkers far beneath the cobbled market square. Through the haze of smoke and head banging, I couldn’t help but think about the last time these bunkers might have been occupied.
The day after The Pope Mobile rolled out of town, I paid my respects at Auschwitz. The terror of the approach – vast tracks of nothingness, flatness, pine and train tracks: the disbelief of how everyday life carried, and continues to carry on around this time capsule monumentalizing terror and genocide forces each of us to carry with us and keep a safe hideaway for those who need shelter.
On that same tour, in Budapest, I visited Statue Park, filled with the enormous remnants of Hungarian communism and dictatorship. Again the flatness of the approach, but now on the horizon there is a group of five-storey-high Lenins gathered in stagnant conversation. I arrived in a metaphorical waiting room for ideology where I stood on Marx’s middle toe and made a rough sketch of his concrete head looking up from below. In a way I was astonished that the place existed, but perhaps that is the Irish condition, so many reference points to our colonial past are long bombed, burned or buried.
Why did Budapest keep them? The cynic might say to charge tourists money to stand on Marx’s middle toe. I can only surmise that someone had the foresight to consider that maybe there could come a day for their repurposing – to platform the works as historical reference points to begin to talk about our today. To begin from the beginning again and reinvent the good parts.
In Barcelona Sants Station, the words light up big, bright, golden and good –DESTINO-Questioning my tá sé Spanish: destination or destiny, or both? And what happens when one has to wait, still awake from the night before and you find yourself in a train station, waiting to go to Marseille at stupid o’clock – one can only look up.
In the mid to late nighties, recently released from a five year incarceration at a Catholic boarding school, I sought out the sleaziest, most debased town in Europe – and went to make my home in Rimini, passing through Milan on the way. My young and impressionable self fell heavily for Milano Centrale, perhaps because it was the first destino I reached on my own. For many years after, I referred to it as my favourite building in the world and would ask anyone travelling through Italy to visit the station and whisper reminders softly to its concrete walls.
Ten years later, full of European history and architecture, I found myself back in that station. I looked on the structure again and was appalled. What had my young eyes seen that drew me in? Had I not noticed the signature references to Italian Fascism, even subconsciously?
Sit and wait.
Where is the waiting room?
And then, on Platform 3 the flash mob erupted – good and gold – a DIY 90’s rave intact with boom box, neon, headbands, whistles and tracksuits.