Here’s a question nobody, not even Steven Hawking (A Brief History of Time) nor Erich von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods), can answer: how large is the universe? How can it be infinite if it's simultaneously expanding?
I decided the only scientist worth his salt who could posit a viable theory of time and space would be none other than Polish astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543). Unlike the alchemists who were so popular in his day, attempting unsuccessfully to turn base metals into gold and unlock the secret of eternal life, Copernicus risked heresy to search the heavens in order to astound the established order and figuratively bump the earth off its axis.
Proposing a heliocentric model of the solar system—wherein the sun was the center of the universe rather than the earth as ancient Ptolemaic wisdom held—Copernicus changed the Weltanshaung of the entire world. By delaying publication of his masterwork De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere) until the year of his death in 1543, Copernicus avoided pissing off traditionalists who could dump spiritual mavericks in cold dungeons, dunk them in wine barrels, gouge their eyes out in inquisitional iron masks, or expand them on racks like Stretch Armstrong™ the rubbery action figure.
I arrived in the hometown of Copernicus, Torun Poland, on the wrong day. The gray angry sky threatened rain. The clouds were the color of colostomy bags. Still, I ditched my vehicle and clambered over the cobblestones (usually the sign of a historic district), until I reached the Hotel Kopernik in the New Town, careful to remain a bearded stranger to the overhelpful and inquisitive management.
Nearby in New Town Square, I ate at what some boldly claim is the world’s oldest restaurant, the 15th-century Gospoda Pod Modryn Fartuchen: kielbasa sausages, borscht, and pivo polska pilsener. The magical atmosphere is enhanced by the fountain, a bubbling brood built in 1914 to commemorate Torun’s version of the Pied Piper legend. The peasant Janko Muzykant drove out a plague of frogs released by an ornery witch with his melodic fiddle music.
At last ogling Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), I avoided the closed planetarium and plowed on until I stood near Old Town Hall, face to face with a stately stargazing statue of Copernicus (known as Mikolaj Kopernik in Polish). The sculpture seemed to move slightly as I studied it. I asked my burning question then imagined him smirking, but I got my revenge later by biting off the head of a piernik, a Copernicus-shaped gingerbread popular with dirtbag tourists and friendly locals alike.
I wondered what it would be like to live in the Hanseatic League port town of Torun as a fabulous knight errant on the fabled Vistula River, surrounded by Touch Gothic architecture, redbrick churches and revisionism. I went gaga over the Cathedral of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, built from the 12th to 15th centuries, which features the 7,238-kilogram Tuba Dei (God’s Trumpet), the 2nd-largest bell after the one in Krakow’s Wawel Castle.
Finally I visited what is (conveniently) believed to be the former residence of Copernicus (whom I nickname Copper). It's an ancient MTV-like crib, now housing the Muzeum Mikolaj Kopernika. Unfortunately, this was not the highlight of my trip. Nice taste in art and furniture, Copper, but where are your tools of the trade: cool telescopes, fiery alembics, forbidden books, and jarred homunculi?
Fast forwarding, I plopped down at a lively club with no apparent name, where I began conversing with two Polish students who posited with surprising hubris, “Maybe things were better during Communism? Now, there is no work for us!”
A terrifyingly-handsome blond German, resembling a cross between Billy Idol and Sting, interrupted: “I could not help but overhearing. Ven I lived in East Germany under Hoenicker, I vas a guard on the Berlin Vall. Ve had orders to shoot anyone who trying to escape.” The ex-Stasi secret policeman looked sadly into his suds, suddenly resembling a medieval Teutonic Knight. “Things are wery wery better now I think.”
He seemed to be the philosophic product of German Romanticism—a cant Kant. How could these cats have trusted Marx in the first place, holed up in a London flophouse, burning with revenge for the bourgeoise who made fun of him. Marx famously quipped “Religion is the opium of the people,” but any import-export specialist (an international euphemism for chronic unemployment) knows that opium is the opium of the people.
I later discovered that all my musings on Nicholaus Copernicus had been scooped by Dava Sobel in her excellent book A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.
I further theorized about the secret of international time travel—moving faster than a photon. So, I once again boarded the relativistic time-lapsed train out of Torun. Safely on board the machine, I imagined I glimpsed that Hermés-heeled mercurial heretic Copernicus in the maelstrom of smoke and mirrors, fashionably cloaked in a plush Renaissance robe, holding up an antique globe and (yes) laughing at me. This aint over yet, Copper, not by a longshot.
John M. Edwards is a writer and photojournalist. He has traveled five continents with experiences ranging from surviving a ferry sinking off Siam to getting caught in a military coup in Fiji. His writing has appeared in CNN Traveller, Entertainment Weekly, Salon.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Islands, Matador, World Hum, BootsnAll, and other publications. He received five NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Awards, two TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Awards, and three Solas (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He edits the Rotten Vacations anthology.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Friday, April 11, 2014
Let me send a big hug (and a small harmless grope) to the many authors and readers who came out last night to hear my presentation: Travel Writing That Matters. We kind of rocked the house, didn't we? Those of you who snatched up all the copies of my books within minutes not only showed your support for fine literature but enabled me to get home last night without having to offer sexual favors to a passing trucker. My gratitude goes beyond words.
After the presentation, a comely lass named Anne (who is of Irish/German extraction like myself but appears to have combined this recipe much more deliciously) asked if I could post a transcript of my remarks. So, can I get a post up rapidly for Anne? Damn straight! Brace yourself lassie, cuz I don't know how big this post of mine may get. Here's what I said last night, along with references to the excerpts I read for those playing along at home:
Sunday, April 6, 2014
On Thursday from 5 to 7, I'll be gettin' drunk for humanity. You should too. I'll be speaking to the authors' club at the lovely Posada de la Aldea in San Miguel de Allende (shown here) about how travel writing promotes cultural awareness and human rights. There will be wine. Come for the literary conversation; stay for the booze. Imbibe for a good cause. Drink until comparing the heft of a James Joyce novel with a nearby woman's ample breasts seems totally appropriate. It's okay, because you're doing it for the children of the future. If breasts weren't as interesting as books, there wouldn't be kids in the future.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
“Oh look, the birds are so fonny!” said an olive-eyed senorita and groovy Gallego art student wearing an auburn cloak from a nearby university. I did not agree.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Russell Crowe's Noah epic won't open in most countries until this weekend, but I just saw it. So, Sacred Ground Magazine can now give you the real scoop on this astonishing and controversial film. Don't think this movie isn't for you. Noah dazzles the eyes with the wonder of creation, quickens the pulse with the mortal struggle of combat, and tickles the mind with the questions of where humanity comes from and where we're going that every non-ape walking upright should consider during their brief stint on earth.
The ancient Jewish chronicle and sacred book of Genesis makes an astounding claim. It suggests the Creator of the world gets heartbroken and disgusted at the vile things people do to nature and each other to get what we want. It asserts that a sad and pissed-off God hit the reset button on the planet. The film is based on this primordial apocalyptic text: the original disaster story. Move over Titanic.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Away from the urbanization of Spain’s Costa del Sol along scenic Highway 44, I arrived in my “Europe by Car” leased vehicle via Marbella to Ronda, one of the beautiful villas blancos (white villages) in the Andalusian countryside. This improbably fantastic cliff-side nest persists on the Quixotic verge of imagination, surrounded by gangly storks, much like waking up inside a Magic Realism novel or even a Brothers Grimm fairytale.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Today, we go back into London for my first full day of sightseeing. We do a lot of walking, take tons of pictures, and stop to eat lunch indoors when the rain comes down too hard for us to be out. We see the Thames, House of Parliament, several monuments, parks and gardens. I feed pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They come right up to you in hordes, very uncomfortable and creepy, Hitchcock-esque, but funny.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
|Winter sky from the High Line by GL Kraut|
Monday, March 3, 2014
Do you consider travel lit to be fluffy vacuous text about beaches and restaurants inserted as space filler into photo spreads? Or semi-literate dispatches from youth skipping a year of university and showers to backpack the globe with mummy's ATM card? ("The Holocaust Museum was totally fun and spiritual but a little depressing because they don't have a vegan menu.") Would you be interested in reading or writing travel that promotes cultural understanding and defends human rights? Here's an opportunity. On April 10th, author Lyn Fuchs will make a public presentation at the San Miguel Literary Sala entitled "Travel Writing That Matters." You don't wanna miss it.