Chopin is still playing...

Milena Kindziuk

She is an indefatigable promoter of our national culture and tradition. Her entire literary output is simply a 'breath of Homeland'. She is a custodian of the entrenchments of our national remembrance and tradition. 'She is a custodian of what should be at the first place in every Polish heart', Rafal Skapski, Chairman of 'Kultura Polska' [Polish Culture], said about Barbara Wachowicz.
When Barbara begins her speech at meetings with readers the packed hall falls silent. And she speaks, speaks, speaks... about Maryla Wereszczakowna, the greatest love of Adam Mickiewicz, who 'is twinkling like mist over the Switez Lake' or about Delfina Potocka, beloved women of Zygmunt Krasinski, who was 'the great romance of his life' whereas his wife Eliza Krasinska was 'only a mortal woman suffering the pains of a wife who was not loved'. And one can see that Mrs Wachowicz could continue her stories forever. She recalls the atmosphere of those days, the lots of the heroes. And her readers are under the impression that they have entered the world of great writers. 'She has a great gift', Ryszard Przybylski, a literary critic, thinks, 'because she feels the essence of the historical panorama and thanks to that our great dead men of letters enter our lives. They speak to us as if they were just close to us'.
Therefore, a meeting with her is always an event for the school or town that she visits. And that's why, young people eagerly come to meetings with Barbara Wachowicz and then they send her thousands of letters.

With her daily prayer she learnt the invocation

Barbara Wachowicz's love for literature has been since her childhood, which she spent in her beloved Podlasie. She grew up there, reading the beautiful verses about Soplicowo. While learning daily prayers she learnt the invocation to 'Pan Tadeusz' [Master Thaddeus], she sympathized with the heroes of 'Dziady' [Forefathers' Eve] part III, who were transported in covered sledges to Siberia, she followed the lot of the heroes of Trylogia [Trilogy]. For her history was within hand's reach. 'The wisest friend grandma Anna' led her to those places where the earth called those who were buried in it. 'Once my grandma took my brother and me to the forest. Suddenly we saw a glade and a large wooden cross with the inscription 'In honour of the brothers who died for the Homeland in 1794'. Our grandma told us to kneel and kiss the soil in front of the cross. I remember that the soil was sun-warmed and smelt nice. It was the place under the cross in Maciejowice. She told us, 'The Cossacks wounded Tadeusz Kosciuszko here'.
Barbara Wachowicz tells about her grandma Anna, 'She brought me up so I can repeat Slowacki's words 'I feel winged by your love and if I have some poetry in my heart it is from you'. When she was passing away, after having lived 99 years and 9 months, her mind and heart were bright, she asked me about the book concerning Kosciuszko...'
She dedicated the book about Sienkiewicz to her grandma
Her agnate grandfather Konstanty Wachowicz introduced her to the world of national heroes and national history from her childhood. In the evenings he used to play the piano. The lads, wearing high officer's boots and forage caps with eagles on them, surrounded him in the flickering flames of the fireplace. The words of the songs 'Hej, strzelcy, wraz, nad nami orzel bialy' [Hey, riflemen, all together, the white eagle is over us] or 'Bywaj, dziewcze, zdrowe' [Farewell, lass, take care] floated.
The family house taught her that the great thought of the Romantic epoch was not only crazy, insurrectionary, gloomy and tragic but is also very important today. 'Are Mickiewicz's words not bitterly valid: 'What does it mean to betray? To betray is to leave an idea that is hard to fulfil, it means to give up the tiresome duty for material benefits that are visible and easily caught'.

She reminds us of dignity and honour

She regards remembrance of the past generations as indispensable. She says, 'In 1981, during some meeting, Cardinal Wyszynski told us a story: he gave the grandson of a famous Polish physician a Bible with his dedication, recalling his grandfather. The man was surprised as he had never heard of his grandfather. The Primate told him, 'The transmission of historical events to the young generation is a moral commandment'. I remembered the words', Wachowicz says.
Jerzy Zelnik describes her, 'Basia has a passion for research; she treats her work as a mission; she is fully dedicated to what she is doing at a given moment'.
Prof. Stanislaw Makowski, Faculty of Polish Studies at the University of Warsaw, thinks that the writer tirelessly reminds us of the existence of the national heritage, dignity, honour, i.e. the values that form our national identity and which are treated in the times of globalism as old-fashioned, parochial relics. When she won 'Vox populi' in the contest called Master of the Polish Language she referred to John Paul II's words, 'If Homeland is our home the language is the roof that protects it'. In the field of perfect Polish Barbara Wachowicz was also awarded the distinction of the listeners of the Polish Radio Programme I, which was Golden Mouth Chrisostome'. She received a record number of votes, i.e. 50% of all votes sent to the radio studio from Poland and the world.
She began her work as a journalist for 'Zycie Warszawy' [Warsaw Life] and wrote an article 'Reymont's Lipiec today'. Then she prepared a documentary cycle about the Polish cinema based on the stories of Mieczyslawa Cwiklinska, Jadwiga Smosarska, and Elzbieta Barszczewska. She has also written several dozen screenplays. She made a television cycle 'Women of their lives' about the beloved women of Mickiewicz, Norwid, Krasinski, Slowacki, Kasprowicz and Sienkiewicz. Afterwards she began writing books. The most famous books include: 'Malwy na lewadach' [Mallows on Levadas], 'Marie jego zycia' [Marys of His Life], 'Ty jestes jak zdrowie' [Thou Art Like Good Health] and 'Dom Sienkiewicza' [The House of Sienkiewicz]. In 1993 she received 'Srebrny As' [Silver Ace], reward of the Polish Promotion Corporation for preserving the national tradition. She graduated in journalism from the University of Warsaw and in film history and theory from the State Film, Television and Theatre Higher School 'Leon Schiller' in Lodz.

Tracing great Poles

Barbara Wachowicz thinks that who wants to get to know a poet must follow his footsteps. She managed to follow Mickiewicz's footsteps in Wilno and Nowogrodek, Slowacki's footsteps in Krzemieniec and Zeromski's footsteps in the region of Kielce, Sandomierz and Podlasie. She says, 'This landscape remained untouched in whole enclaves: one can stand over the Switez Lake and look at it with the poet's eyes. That's why, she regards the years of those journeys as the most wonderful days in her life. She got to know the farmers, teachers, doctors, fishers of the Bug River Valley, the youth from the Kielce villages and from Podlasie. She met all generations of Poles over the Niemen River and the Wilia River following the paths of Mickiewicz, Slowacki and Orzeszkowa. Therefore, the past interweaves with the present on the pages of her books. As she claims the co-heroes are those who 'today live in the lands of the great whose footsteps I follow'.
The record tour, in the footsteps of Kosciuszko in the U.S.A., has a unique place in Barbara Wachowicz's journeys. It is 20,000 km long. The result is a book that has over 500 pages and is entitled 'Nazwe Cie Kosciuszko' [I Will Call You Kosciuszko]. She travels everywhere with a camera. She says that her books will be damaged without pictures. Thanks to the photos she took during all her trips she had photo exhibitions dedicated to the great Poles. Her work is the exhibition 'Kamyk na szancu - opowiesc o druhu Aleksandrze Kaminskim i jego bohaterach' ['Kamyk' on the entrenchment - story about Scoutmaster Aleksander Kaminski and his heroes]. She is famous for her friendship with scouts. In Barbara's life there were moments that she was totally preoccupied with love for scouts and she dedicated them all her time. Her friends spread an anecdote: There was a phone call. Someone wanted to speak to Barbara Wachowicz but her husband answered 'My wife? I have not got a wife. My scouts have my wife'.
Her husband, known screenwriter Jozef Napiorkowski, is dead. They were thirty years together. As Mrs Wachowicz says, 'that love was friendship, confidence, mutual understanding and presence. Sometimes it seems to me that he simply left and will return soon...' Now the men of her life are only: Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Norwid, Zeromski and Sienkiewicz. Currently, Barbara is living in Warsaw, surrounded by them. Her small apartment, like herself, is in violet: violet flowers, vases, frames, doilies, and ballpoint pens. The black coffee we are drinking is served in violet cups. Even the ice creams are violet. Since violet is the favourite colour of Barbara Wachowicz. Called 'Violet Lady', she has been associated with violet, which is a dominant element in her clothes.
One day Jerzy Waldorff put it this way, 'Basia, when I read your books I think to myself: this is indeed some withered bookworm that spends time in libraries and archives. But when I look at you I say: this girl must spend all her time in some hairdresser's, cosmetic studio and dressmaker's. She is totally in violet, her dresses, veils, boas, gloves, only her hair is gold...'
'Violet is a symbol of humility and faithfulness' Wachowicz says.
Fr Janusz Pasierb wrote, 'In her rendering the past is not only 'a little further' but completely close: Mickiewicz has just left, Kosciuszko will return soon, Chopin is still playing...

"Niedziela" 46/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: