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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter I: On the Adriatic


Adriatic, Dalmatia, Istrian Peninsula, Laurana, Cherso


The inclusion of this chapter, about the author's childhood on the Adriatic is irrelevant to the direction of the book - exccept to confirm it as a loose collection of essays and sketches under chapter headings.

Further reading

None - rhetorical chapter

Chapter I: The Text

The first seven pages of this chapter have been destroyed. The author began by describing the history of the Mediter-ranean, on whose shores he spent many happy moments of his childhood and youth.

It was a story of the sunny, ports of the Levant, the Peloponnesus, Sicily or the Adriatic, with its unknown rocky cliffs and rugged shores, where the foot of the tourist has never trodden. There was word of the little-known to geographers secret, islands of Dalmatia, of which there exist legends born thousands of years ago, which tell of happenings incredible, yet true. There was word of ruined temples lost in the oleanders, of grottos in inaccessible bays, of walls covered by signs which no one can read to-day. And of the people who lived and still live there.

These people, who grew up among a forest of coloured sails, brought up and often born on the decks of the heavy, apparently clumsy boats, breathing the air full of ozone, the smells of tarred ropes, fish and frying oil, are members of a strange race, which owes its origin to thousands of years of wanderings of many tribes, nations and even whole races.

These people are rather amphibious creatures. They only live temporarily on shore. 'The real substance of their lives, its element and aim, the point of all their interests, is the sea. They know as does no one else its blessings, as well as its terrible anger and blind lust for destruction, before which even stony resistance gives way. For them there are no secrets in the waves nor under them. Living for the sea, they live by it. They are fishermen and sailors. Each of them from early youth lived his odyssey, not less rich than Homer's, thus their tales told during the "siesta" on the pier, where the sun is baking and one must seek the shade of a bale of goods, ring with truly homeric vigour and poesy. In them truth sounds like a fairy tale, and fairy tales are true.

I was a young boy living on the Adriatic, on the southern shore of the Istrian peninsula, in a place called Laurana. One of the local fishermen, a certain Beppo, the owner of a boat in which he took summer visitors for trips, often took me fish-ing with him. It was he who once showed me an enchanted bay not far from Medwea, just at the foot of the local Monte Maggiorc. I always have the feeling that it was in that bay that I was really born. It was well hidden in the reddish cliffs, and did not admit Philistines. From the high track cut in the rock one had to let oneself down into the abyss by nearly perpendicular sides, thrusting one's nails into scarcely visible cracks, creeping along basalt ledges well eaten away by the salt. Then one could rest by the water on a naked slab of rock, thrown down ages ago by some specially rough autumn storm. On the slab there was a small iron cross, eaten away by rust, memori'al of someone long forgotten, someone who too daringly tried to discover the secret of the emerald bay.

Near the slab' the water was deep, extraordinarily clear, always calm, for it was sheltered from the waves coming from the open sea by a sort of granite peninsula running well out into the sea. The valley on the bed of the bay spread in a half-circle of golden sand and silver. To right and left of the watery horizon rose black stones, their tops reaching almost to the surface, of the water. They were completely over-grown with clumps of dark sea-moss. Among the faint green of the litter the flames of red darted here and there, the prickles of sea-urchins stuck out, the pink bodies of starfish and the tangled strings of sea-grass twined.

To this valley, never visited by man, came fish. And what fish! They swam in from the greenish distance. Some moved slowly between the bottom and the surface in deep contemplation, others, violently moving their enormous gills, rooted in the sand, yet others appeared suddenly and unexpectedly, stayed for a moment motionless as if amazed, with bulging eyes, and 'again vanished without a trace, as though the wind had blown them away. Coloured or trans-parent, gold and silver, thin or chubby, mild or threatening, armed with sharp spines on their fins or soft and billowy as gauze, all, all that the eye of man has discovered and named in one of the hundred tongues of the Mediterranean, they all came to my bay.

How often, stretched on the rocky slab at the foot of the cross, have I lain in wait for them tor hours together, only to forget completely about my rod. My gaze was caught by the most beautiful of all beautiful scenes, my eyes feasted on colours in comparison with which the most fantastic images of earthly painters become only faint smudges of colour. I know well that it was there that those fish,' by some secret rite of the sea-bed, cast over me the powerful spell of water.

From that time life without water, without the wide wind-swept spaces of the sea, without the freedom of the fishhawks and the liberty of the mackerel, has seemed to me dull and colourless. Even then, though I was always close to it, breath-ing the air of its salt freshness, my longing for something even fresher and more deeply blue became so intolerable that I would escape from home and go to the fishermen. With them, while still almost a child, I spent many days and nights in the shelter of the great, coloured sails.

Till once, when I was lying lazily on my back in the boat, not far from the island of Cherso, where Jason long ago hid his golden fleece, I thought how good it would be if the shores of that island, instead of baking in the burning sun in a desert of granite red with iron ore and crumbling away, should be full of pines and firs. I dreamt that it would be good if the headlands and bays gleamed silver from birches and alders, and if, in the waves tranquil as oil, blue as corn flowers, our ashtrees and limes reflected themselves. But, alas! On the jutting rocks stood only a few lonely oaks and prickly aloes, while a little farther inland a few olives held out their twisted arms to the heavens.

Then suddenly, for the first time, I felt a stranger in that blessed land, whose rich light and shining hues left me, no longer mine.

For the north, that is none the less my land, and the chill northern air is the only breath for my lungs. My sun is not like that fiery torch hung in the infinite Mue of the south. My sun soaks in the dawn mists and in autumn paints the long threads of floating gossamer.

My sun is as shy and fresh in the spring as a daisy bud, it dresses the cherry-orchards in white, and often hides itself timidly behind veils of vapour. But when it lets down the long streams of fine weather, when the birdcherry bursts forth, when the limes buzz madly, when the fields are drowned in pink clover, or the guelder-rose brightens the dark pine woods during the autumn ploughing it binds more firmly, and weaves more powerful spells, than marble dreams in oleander groves. And though herein the north the moonlit night sky does not rouse such passion, and the stars do not whisper so sweetly to the strains of the mandoline, yet night is elegant and royal in the chilly moonlight, when the fields are shrouded in mist and hoar-frost still whitens the earth.

The silver disc, winging from willow to willow, gives the thirsty leverets clear dew; at sight of it the roedeer hold their breath and stretch out their long necks, seeking on 'the amber circle the signs of the coming summer.

When that summer comes and the moon is hidden in clouds, the world quivers from the rigours of the August shroud. Through the air thick as oil, steamy, filled with the scents of herbs, creeps a thunder storm. It is yet quiet underfoot, the moss is silent, when beyond the forest the heavens shake from the red lightning, and through the trees runs a shiver of anxiety. When the mists melt and the flush of dawn fades, slowly raising the sun to its zenith, the beams gather round the trunk of an alder fallen into the water of the lake. Beneath this trunk, in clayey lairs, hide grotesque crayfish fattened on carrion. Among the underwater branches and strings of bubbles threaded by long-legged spiders, among the depths filled as if with shining quicksilver more fish: large, small, broad as the palm of the hand or slender as the spindle of a spinning wheel, and all silver. Somewhere yet further away, between the decaying reeds and the remains of splintered planks of a forgotten Jetty, rests the dreaming body of a rapacious pike. In his flat skull weave thoughts gold and silver like the water around him. And above, beyond the shore, across the meadows, a faint blueness wraps the dark forests.