KAMILA DZIERZAK AN INNER JOURNEY OF REDISCOVERY
Kamila Dzierzak seeks to build new futures out of her attachment to local forms of cultural heritage.
My dad used to always say that my grandparents’ life is suspended in time, interrupted and kept in a loop that only started and ended in the 1980s. At their home, you won’t find an internet connection, furniture, or any decorations that haven’t changed dramatically since they were designed by a local carpenter in the communist era. Their little pantry is always filled with seasonal snacks, handmade preserves, and pickles. The human connection takes the forefront in the house, as it’s always open to visitors, ready with food, hospitality, and funny anecdotes from the past! Going to my grandparents’ house is like moving back in time, with no internet connection, noise or disturbance, and suddenly a true human connection reappears!
Although the door is always locked to keep the temperature low, everybody in the family knows that it’s the best place in the house. During weekends, one can always find a freshly baked cake that invites passersby with a robust smell, and, on any average day, there is an impressive selection of nuts, veggies, and traditional fermented treats. Depending on the season, the assortment changes, but always impresses with its wide selection and the overall nicety. My grandma is a master of local food markets, she takes her time to select the best supplies but also to exchange some words with the local trader. Time is not an obstacle, it’s a resource that is well spent to handpick the right vegetables and fruits that, at a later point, will proudly decorate her pantry, inviting everybody to grab a bite!
It might seem like a trivial thing—a pantry, what’s really new or interesting about it? Back in the day, it was one of the most common spaces in the house, always ready for storing essentials needed for different seasons.
Growing up close to my granny and her house pervaded by the aroma of homemade food, I struggled to find the same quality and balance once I moved to the so-called developed Western countries. The supermarkets always seemed half-empty and half-irrelevant, packed with fake-looking products far from the culinary archetype I was used to. The cooking experience could never live up to the skills, knowledge, and experimental nature my granny has. I gave up regardless of how much I tried, jumping into the easy, fast, and convenient Westernised lifestyle of takeaways, tomatoes packed in plastic, and eating every possible product I wished for all year round. In my working life, I have been putting time and consideration into exploring possible futures and lifestyles. This has led me to wonder, why couldn’t the future be more like the past I knew?
There is one special shelf filled with handwritten recipes in my granny’s kitchen. Some look beautiful and are treated with respect, others are a bit faded with spots of ageing here and there. Actually, the ones looking worse and less carefully maintained are the ones used more frequently and are big hits with the family. The repertoire of dishes never stays the same at my grandparent’s house, even though they cherish the traditions and keep the old recipes protected, this is also space for experimentation and freestyling. My granny is the best at getting inspiration from all that surrounds her, whether it’s a 5 zł magazine, a cooking show on TV, or a neighbour bragging about her last culinary achievements. Isn’t that the way to go? A responsible blend of old and new, a hybrid of the past and the future, cherishing a generation’s heritage with a dose of virtuosity and novelty?
PICKING FRUIT AND STORING IT IN THE BIG FREEZER
Every activity has its own assigned lifecycle. In September, we pick walnuts and dry them for the coming Christmas to be used in cakes and desserts. In July, raspberries are picked and they are either frozen in recipients with a special handwritten label or transformed into an energising raspberry juice that will be stored for the fall flu season and chilly winter afternoons spent in front of the snowy windows. Nature is visibly present in each activity, as it is orchestrating not just the time, but also the whole purpose behind everything we do. It’s simple, yet ancient knowledge that seems so easy to cultivate, yet once detached from it, such rituals become invisible. Why couldn’t the future bring more nature into our daily lives, that would mirror the actual lifecycle of everything that exists around us?
I’ve gotten to know plenty of family members through photography. Due to the historical struggles of Poland, many family members emigrated to different regions, to France, to the USA, to Denmark, and to Germany. Some of them I never got to know, some of them died long before I even opened my granny’s photography box. I still remember the stories, though. They live inside of me, maybe at times faded out and with less vibrant details, but still, history stands still through the snapped portraits. How long will it be able to survive? Is my knowledge strong enough to pass it on? Or will it be even relevant for the generations to come? Do they even realise how much gold the past holds?
CRYSTALS FROM THE WEDDING
When entering the house, it is impossible to miss the big drawers filled with beautiful yet unapproachable antiques: porcelain and crystals looking proud, yet a tiny bit dusty, revealing their lack of use. Such objects are beautiful relics of the past. Given to my grandparents as a wedding gift, they remained untouched for most of their lifes. One would wonder what their actual value is? Or, alternatively, have the principles of functionality changed so dramatically in the last decades that these objects are no longer of use nowadays? The heritage is still waiting for its bright day, when all five granddaughters (myself included) inherit the items to decorate our grown-up homes of the future. A few pieces have already found their way to Copenhagen and Warsaw, so traditions might not yet be lost if we put the slightest effort into embracing them!
The house is always open, you don’t have to knock twice, before the door will warmly open, being greeted by a smiley face. Openness and connectedness to the family seem to be ever-lasting values at my grandparents’ house, where everybody is always welcome... or rather welcome with a feast and never-ending talks. No matter the language one is speaking, there will always be the universal languages of food, hugs, and smiles. My cousins arrive unannounced, always full of ideas about what they would like to do together with the family. Aunts come by to rest and have a small nap in the midst of family clutter and my mom passes by to try the newest flavours of the pantry. No matter the purpose of the visit, every single person is greeted genuinely, with much attention and love. There is no disturbance by digital screens and their notifications, and my grandparents are always willing to dedicate their time fully to the present moment. Time seems to have a different tempo once you pass the doorstep of the house, and in their household time is always well-spent.
GARAGE—NO ITEM IS THROWN; EVERYTHING’S REPAIRABLE!
I think my grandpa has made it his own personal mission not to throw out anything since 1960! His garage is full of old-school paraphernalia and dusty objects gathered at different life stages. There are a few amazing watches from Russia from his time working on the gas pipe, winter boots from the time of communism, because as he says, “They still work pretty well”, and many different machines that he must have accumulated all these years.
My grandparents have never moved from their lovely house. Since marrying in 1971, they have given their spirit to the home that will hopefully be passed on and cultivated by the generations to come, along with all their treasures, hidden gems, the unique atmosphere, and love! Each one of the elements makes sense because of my grandparents. I can’t really imagine how this house will function without them. Not only because of their wisdom but also because of their incredible ability to share and give to others, which in the modern world seems to be on the verge of disappearing. Why couldn’t our future be a bit more like the past?
WHAT FUTURES CAN I BUILD?
While pondering over the past and present of this remote home that I had the pleasure to get attached to, I can’t help but imagine the future that I will contribute in building—will it resemble, at least slightly, the reality I was given to experience at my grandparents’ house? The feelings of authenticity, connectivity, and festivity seem essential for creating a future that will last and that, in the long run, will remain sustainable. I’m positive that the traditions that once belonged to the past can come back to life with regenerative energy. That not all is lost, if we collectively engage in dialogue and conversation, that shared interests and collectives modes of thinking and understanding become the tools of our generation.