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  • Polish (Poland)
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It's worth reading Hrabal

In the past, you couldn't just buy a book – you had to somehow get it. You would stand in lines, look for them in street markets, bazaars.

EC1 Arrtraction Railway Journal:You have managed to create a unique, extremely well recognisable brand based on a social mission. Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy (The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity) is an unprecedented phenomenon in Poland. In Łódź, we are trying to start a social movement around the New Centre of Lodz, which is a great project that will totally change the city, We would like to make use of your experience and ask for some advice on how to turn Łódź on. What would you start with?

Jurek Owsiak:Experience teaches that it is easier to get to people in our country when the world is talking about us. So when the world says that we are ‘the best’ at something, the locals will say: ‘Wow, it's worth having a look at.’ Łódź has a great location in the centre of Poland. It undergoes incredible changes and has a good basis for it. Nobody wants to keep the unattractive places in Łódź but, as far as I remember, there are still many such spots. If the inhabitants agree that the term manufacturing Łódź (Łódź fabryczna), which I suppose lost its validity at the time of the dusk of great manufactures, can be changed into the modern vibrant Łódź, then there is a chance of success. But the idea needs to be promoted around the world – I know it from my experience. We also need to present Łódź in places where people are willing to learn about new ideas. You are welcome to visit Przystanek Woodstock, where we show such places as The Princes Czartoryski Museum. We teach people how to visit museums, how to create them, what to feel in them. Modern museums, such as The Warsaw Rising Museum, have shown that it's worth making them in a totally different way, against certain traditional norms. It turned out that for both very young people and adults this museum is something extraordinary. This place guarantees strong emotions. Łódź needs very good, bold marketing which will attract people who will find interesting things to do there. Apart from tourists who come to see things shown in catalogues, things they know because they have been promoted around the world, people come to this city because there is nice atmosphere, there are good restaurants and many places where you can sit and relax. Piotrkowska Street is such a place which, as I remember from my visits to Łódź, used to be vibrant with life into the small hours. It should be maintained and developed. Any kind of brainstorming and bold ideas will always promote people and situations. Of course, money and decisions are needed not only on the level of local authorities but also, and most of all, on the level of the whole country. We need to persuade the country that it's worthwhile that places connected with history in Łódź are revived. They should be revived not only by films, such as Wajda's Promised Land, but revived by something very modern. Lofts (apartments in former manufacturing plants) are a good example of this – they are extremely popular in every part of Europe where in the city centre, or nearby a city, there used to be huge manufacturing plants. It passes the initiative on to people and they make a great use of it. Business revives and dies, so if we let people open and close down all kinds of places where they can have some tea, coffee, beer or a chat, it's important that they know they are free to do what they want. We need to tell people: ‘come to us and make a culture business’ and this motto will cover all ambiguities, it will mean a business connected with culture, but also a nice and pleasant one. If a theatre wants to come to Łódź and they know that the city will help by renting rooms or at least by finding people who will renovate them, or by lowering the taxes, then it is really possible to attract creative people to Łódź. I'm exaggerating a bit, but maybe if for every published book writers got a reduction in the rent price, they would like to come here. Artists look for spacious studios where they could work, but they are often overwhelmed with ordinary formalities, such as taxes. Perhaps it's better to attract people before we build walls because after all it is people who make the city, they get married to it and they will want to stay there. I think that you should create a friendly image of the city which would invite to visit it and make no problems. This is what I wish you – openness and courage.

When it comes to Kobro City - The New Center of Lodz, we have started from a draft of a library in order to spread the idea of Łódź in the world and build a unique library hosting books which have changed the lives of people invited to the project. The concept of the library is associated with EC1 jeans – we give them as a token of gratitude for giving 5 books for 5 in Lodz, we dress the ambassadors of Łódź in them. What do you think of it?

-I haven't known anything about these trousers. If I had known about them earlier, I would have sent you 10 books to get two pairs. It's good that you leave it for the very end and the initiative to give books must come first. It's very difficult because these books should come, in a way, from the bottom of my heart. I have a lot of books, I read a lot. I’ve decided to send books which are not the books I’ve read recently but which have had a very strong influence on what I do. In the past, you couldn't just buy a book – you had to somehow get it. You would stand in lines, look for them in street markets, bazaars. Now, I can buy books even on the Internet with my order delivered to my door. Your idea is great especially because these books are loaded with all the time that has passed: the cover has some tears, folds, the pages got yellow. And of all of a sudden, I hear that they are going to become exhibits. An exhibit is valuable when it is well presented. It's the case with your box for these jeans – it is beautiful, designer and thus it gets the value of an exhibit. Together with the jeans, it makes a whole, something is going on. A printed book tells only the story of the writer, but a book that has been read tells us about a person, about their particular story, short or long. The idea is great, because many times I have been asked to give a list of set books for young people. I said ‘no way’ – they would kill me if I told them to read books that I like. I would tell them to read Vonnegut, who, for me, is the funniest writer in the world, or Heller, Hrabal, they are also very funny. But then these authors would turn into something obligatory, damned, and hated. It will be better when you see these books as an exhibition. I suppose some of these books have gone out of fashion, for example Rolland’s Colas Breugnon. When I was younger, it was a set book among my friends; you just had to read it. Maybe nowadays it is not so popular, but perhaps the exhibition will inspire someone to read it. When I was looking through that book, turning its pages, I was wondering whether I would still like it if I read it again now. I read it when I was a teenager, and it left a certain mark on me which I can see to this day. That's why it is important that people read books, that they read at all, that they find those 5 books they are going to read. Unfortunately, I believe that the Polish society is getting backwards in this respect. A thoughtlessly read newspaper is everything we read. People don't fancy reading books, which fade on shop shelves. Of course, there are good and bad books, and it always has to be like that. I hope that books in your library, even if they are behind a pane of glass, will make people notice that reading is worthwhile.

Who would you tell us to go to for those 5 books?

- To my acquaintances, friends. I can highly recommend my best friend - Michał Lorenc, who makes film music and is a person incredibly torn by disputes about life. He also reads a lot and I am curious what he'd propose. I would also tell you to go to one of the best Polish poets - Wojciech Waglewski. We rarely consider a man who writes music and sings his own lyrics to be a poet. Just take a look at Wojciech Waglewski and Adam Nowak from Raz Dwa Trzy, who fortunately has published his volume of poems thanks to which we can see that he's a real poet who not only writes poems, but also makes beautiful music for them. I love this volume of poems, I often hum it. I have no talent for singing, but everyone can hum, so I hum. I'd surely tell you to go to this guy. I'd also tell you to go to Michael Lang, who organised Woodstock in 1969. He writes books and was our guest at this year's edition of Przystanek Woodstock. Forty years after the first festival, we organised a special, ceremonial concert. I'm very curious what American literature he might have read when we had such limited access to it. I don't mean such authors as Steinbeck or Hemingway, but for example Jack Kerouac. His novel On the Road was the number one book for people who were hippies, but it was introduced to Poland very late. Even if it was available earlier, its edition must have been very limited. I read this book, which was a manifesto of the Beat Generation, people who promoted a totally new kind of culture in the1950s and 1960s, only as an adult. What has Michal Lang read? Has he read Peter Pan or Vonnegut, or quite the contrary – Tolstoy? I would tell you to ask those people, but I will gladly ask our friends from what we call the Academy of Finest Arts at Przystanek Woodstock for their proposals of the five books. What would be the choice of such people as Stanisław Tym, Leszek Możdżer, Janusz Kochanowski (Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection) or Tadeusz Mazowiecki? I know that you already have five books from Lech Wałęsa. But what would Kazimiera Szczuka, Monika Olejnik or Tomasz Lis choose? Or musicians such as Kasia Nosowska from Hey? If I meet these people and they tell me you haven't contacted them yet, I will tell them about this project with pleasure. Recently, I have met Nigel Kennedy, I invited him to Przystanek Woodstock, and he accepted the invitation. And right then I might have taken the English version of your card out of my pocket and say: ‘it's a request, please contact EC1 Lodz and choose your five books.’

And what about EC1 jeans? Are you going to wear them? We'd like to make a subculture around them. Those who put on EC1 jeans, working clothes, get down to work... Because they are a legend of freedom and of textile, cotton Lodz in one...

- Of course I'm going to wear them, I wear clothes. If I like them then I wear them until they are all torn. I'm not a man who pays attention to the newest trends and I'm not a faddist who buys things as soon as they become trendy. When I get used to something, I wear it for a very long time, for example cargo trousers. And these jeans remind me of very remote times and designer jeans which then you could buy in the PKO bank, which made many people laugh. They would usually cost USD 7. Today, you can buy jeans that are already threadbare but in the past you had to work to get such an effect. The first three months were very painful for us because we had to wear trousers which weren't stylish at all. We had to prove that the fabric could wear through and was bought for American dollars. Then, we would wash them and it would turn out that we could wear them for a long time and they were the most classic jeans you could get. Jeans have undergone a huge transformation into, for example, the ugly trend by which I mean the so-called Turkish jeans, or the shapeless Polish jeans called ‘szariki’, which only pretended to be real jeans. But they were made on the basis of the original jeans made by Bernard Lichtenstein, who designed Wrangler jeans, which have an absolutely classic cut. As if it hadn’t been enough, he also designed jeans especially for those guys who throw lassos and toss them about on bulls. Then, there was a trend of flared jeans, skinny jeans, various badges, and decorations which I hate and consider to be hopeless. And the torn jeans which pretend to be worn off that some musicians like so much. You just need to put on a golden chain and a signet ring and then it makes a whole but that's profanation of jeans. And I'd like to remind you that jeans were invented a very long time ago, I guess Levi Strauss designed them as working trousers. But in the 1950s, James Dean showed that jeans can be an element of your everyday outfit. Well, he played a country boy but by wearing jeans he introduced them to the higher spheres of the society. The 1950s were the beginnings, but even dozens of years earlier jeans played the role of labourers' and prisoners' clothing. Here, we had those donkey jackets in the same role. Later, Lichtenstein turned to the classic style, he didn’t overdo. And later there were all the types of jeans anyone may want, which is a normal part of fashion. I will wear EC1 jeans to see if their quality is the same as the quality of traditional jeans or if they are just a fake, if they deserve to be a token of EC1 Łódź. I will simply check if you can wear them on your ass comfortably and for a long time.

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