Sunday, 12 September 2010
Wlodek - a Prince of Polish London
I had no idea when I first thought of writing a blog that I would be spending so much time writing about the final departure of so many of my friends.
So much else should be happening in my life.
Presumably it's the privilege of my age and I had better get used to it.
And yet I cannot pass by a true Prince of Poland, Wlodek Lesiecki, teacher, choreographer, youth leader, administrator, amateur historian, dancer, musician, poet, and a father of a fantastic family. He died following a tragic accident during a wedding in Poland. He had been he at the height of his capacities and in the best of health. The suddenness of his departure left us all stunned. So full of life and yet with so much in his life fulfilled. In a sense one wondered what more he could have achieved. Yet everything he touched he succeeded in; so even "more of the same" would still have been a gift to the world. That energy of his could have gone on and on; each time we saw him or "Mazury" it give us more pleasure and more pride in having known him.
Many women loved him with his faultless manners, powerful frame and his handsome rugged features. Some have confessed to me that they would attend a Tatra dance event just to watch him get onto the stage and introduce each dance.
Wherever he went his gentlemanly but manly presence was instantly felt. The epitome of reserve and good taste and yet capable of immediately galvanising a room with his comments and his stories. Well versed in Poland's history, traditions and culture he impressed even Poles in Poland with his mastery of Polish folk lore even though he had lived his whole life in London and visited Poland only on holidays, or on tour or when researching.
His Krakowiak especially was a proud and masterly dance, elegant, skilful but without the frivolous hopping and skipping exercise, bereft of all meaning and dignity, which you would get from other lesser dance troups.
I saw him at his best on two recent occasions - when he chaired the 11th November Independence celebration in Trafalgar Square in 2008, and then in April this year, when he supervised the open air vigil in Trafalgar Square as 3000 Poles watched the funeral cortege of the late President Kaczynski and his wife on a telebeam screen. In both events, one upbeat, and other sombre, he performed with a masterly command that reflected the mood and wishes of the crowd. He was totally in tune with those attending and was as popular with the older generations and his UK-born Polish peers as he was with the newer arrivals from Poland.
Last year he joined the select body called Polonia Aid Foundation Trust which distributes funds to worthy Polish causes.
I last saw him at Aqualate, Ted Juhre's palace in Shropshire, where he had come with the Mazury dance troupe to entertain that great matriarch, Celina, on her 95th birthday. He laid on a resplendent dance performance including a extraordinary gypsy dance that I had never seen before and which, he told me with great pride, had been choreographed by one of his daughters.
I thought I knew him well, especially as he lived in Ealing, was a year younger than me, his father was friends with my father, he attended the same saturday school as me, the same university (Sussex) and later taught at Gunnersbury School which I had once attended and of which I was later a Governor. He was a bloke's bloke but also every inch a gentleman in his dealings with women. He was true Polish patriot and a true romantic, but did not make a meal of either trait. These qualities fitted perfectly into his natural reserve and politeness behind which there was an outgoing extrovert personality ready to emerge when the occasion required.
But when I attended the funeral mass this Friday at Ealing Abbey, amongst a 1000 strong throng of silent crying well-wishers, I was still amazed at how much I did not know about him. I listened to the long celebration of his eventful life by his son and two daughters. It was wonderful to see three children so proud of their father and yet so immersed in his life that they were able to convey to us the essence of their father in all its wealth and variety. None of us could really add more. I wish my son were able to understand what motivates me and what I have achieved as well as they were able to. Listening to them, I learned of his deep interest in history and capacity for research, his knowledge and collection of song sheets and costumes, his sudden announcement to his tutor of his engagement to Basia which saved him from expulsion from Sussex University, his love of sculling, his use of chess pieces to choregraph a new dance, his celebratory dance with Princess Diana (post Travolta, I believe).
Above all his poetic skills amazed me. The poem about the snowdrop was extraordinary in its simple beauty and in the depth of its emotion. It was a song celebrating life as well as death and a paean to his beloved Basia. I cannot remember a line from Keats or Wordsworth that affected me so much.
I feel his life's work is not wasted in any way. His friends and family are quite capable of carrying it on, if not with same originality and panache. But who knows?He needs no standing monument; his dance troupe, his musical arrangements and his poems will be his monument. And hopefully his children's loving memoir can be published as a book along with his poems and photographs of him at his various functions.
I have re-read my interview with him which was published in my book "Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour" and it reminded me of his participation at the Lord Mayor's Show in London as a Polish 13th century hobby horse. Again he had been able to explain the traditions with great gusto to the British TV camera crew.
My thoughts go back to April of this year. We had stood together for quite some time watching the funeral of the Polish President in Trafalgar Square telebeamed to Trafalgar Square on April 18th. He had just been interviewed for BBC television and had introduced Foreign Minister David Miliband and Deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes, to the crowd. We had watched with silent admiration as young Poles kneeled in the Square to participate in the mass, concurrently taking place in Krakow, which they were following intensely on the giant screen, and we had remembered the friends we had both lost in that senseless loss of life in the woods surrounding Smolensk airport. We remembered former President Ryszard Kaczorowski, a true gentleman from a past age, and the no nonsense parish priest at St Andrews, Bronek Gostomski, with his cheeky smile, and the former diplomats such as the prickly but able former Consul General Janusz Kochanowski and the polished and effective former Polish Ambassador Stanislaw Komorowski, with whom every Polish lady in London, whether married or single, had been in love. We swopped anecdotes about them.
One rather grotesque one that I remembered was when Wlodek described his meeting with Komorowski, then the Deputy Defence Minister, at the unveiling ceremony of the Polish Armed Forces Memorial at the Arboretum in Staffordshire the previous year. The two ran into each other at adjoining urinals prior to the reception. Though they knew and liked each other well and had not met for several years, unwritten protocol required that they should stand silently next to each without acknowledging each other's presence. Then they moved almost simultaneously to adjoining wash-basins as they washed and dried their hands. The ablutions over, they were finally able to turn to each other, shake hands and make a formal greeting. How very gentlemanly!