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Chapter 4

 

The Ghosts of Baszta

It was the dead of winter, the roof was snow-covered and everything appeared to be ok inside and out. The only major concerning issue I saw was that the tower’s door was not easy to locate. The building was attached to the block-long remains of a medieval red brick fortress wall, that stood between the building’s entrance and the adjacent street. There were several means of reaching the door, the closest passage that customers usually chose requiring walking through a parking lot on the opposite side of the building, that was property of an office building next door. Surrounding the rundown courtyard were tenement apartment complexes and a large red brick building consisting of many small stalls and kiosks inside, where independent vendors sold mostly groceries and flowers.

Other much more obscure passages meant locating walkways through the tenement buildings and crossing the courtyard, which had poor illumination at night and was rather treacherous during the cold months, when it was often either ice-covered or riddled with puddles punctuating a muddy terrain. Only later would I find out why it was no less of a hazard to walk through during the few months of warm weather.

One could readily see where an opening in the medieval wall had once existed, which was very close by the tower’s door, but it had long ago been cemented shut. This didn’t seem, however, to be such a concern because there were always quite a few customers, when I had visited, as one. The tower had built its reputation as a rather secretive romantic hideaway and had long since been discovered by many of the locals. Still, I was concerned about tourists and other visitors coming to town, who might have difficulties locating the tower’s door. My plan was to post signs with arrows pointing to the passage through the parking lot next door.

The contract stipulated that I would be given the first three months to pay the rent at a reduced fee of one-third of what it would normally become, which seemed to be enough time to do the necessary work to prepare for customers. My start up budget was not very large but all that seemed to be necessary was to paint the walls, buy new furniture, lamps, candles, drinking glasses and other kitchen utensils. The kitchen that existed was the size of a very large closet and the only food offered by the prior owners amounted to snacks, such as peanuts, olives, cheese and crackers, which was suitable for a wine bar. My plan for food was to offer microwaved burritos, with a simple recipe I had perfected, that any student worker could instantly learn to prepare. It was impossible to find any Mexican food in Poland that tasted anything like Mexican and it wasn’t even easy to find anywhere in Europe. Of course, I’m not Mexican and the “Mexican” food I was accustomed to can be better described as “Cal-Mex.” However, I grew up around Mexicans cooking the food and I certainly knew a lot more than the first guy to open a “Mexican” restaurant in Wrocław, that was in business already for around ten years and was wildly popular. He actually once said to me, “A burrito only has to look like a burrito.” After all, what did most Poles know about the unique flavors of Mexican cuisine? Until he visited my restaurant, he had never in his life tasted a corn tortilla. He knew nothing about salsa, Mexican peppers, never heard of Chipotle. Another “Mexican” restaurant opened that served vodka margaritas. Most importantly, Poles loved to party in an ambiance decorated with serapes and sombreros.

This was going to be a fairly painless move and a fun and exciting adventure, or so I thought. With such a simple operation, I would be enabled to continue doing my work as an artist, video filmmaker and composer and pursue my work on the side.

Instead, it all came to a screeching halt.

The first thing I did was search for furniture, look into leasing a business car and I hired two glass artisans I saw selling handmade glass trinkets in the town’s market square, to create uniquely textured windows. The purpose was to distort the unappealing view of the ugly tenement buildings outside, which were incongruous relics of the communist era, juxtaposed beside an ancient structure. I had devised this concept back in Los Angeles, to artistically make use of various types of textured window glass to obliterate eyesore views.

Bathroom window in Los Angeles

Back home, I utilized glass of a wide variety of textures to create such effects but since there was nowhere I knew in Poland, which sold such glass, I conceived a means of having it artistically custom made.

The windows were small, hence not much light came inside. Worse, the prior ownership actually covered some of them with dark paint, presumably as their own dirt cheap means of blocking the view of the ugly neighborhood that surrounds the ancient brick tower. Three of the windows on the top of three floors consisted of artificial stained glass, which actually looked quite nice but because I had spent many years previously working as a stained glass artist and as formerly editor of a magazine about glass art from around the world, it was rather sacrilegious, in my mind, to co-exist with imitations of the real thing inside of a historical building that had survived for centuries. Also, they blocked much of the available sunlight emanating from such small windows throughout the building.

Handmade textured glass, window seen on top floor of the tower

It was even more important, to my way of thinking, to allow in as much light as possible, while hiding the visually incompatible views, in a climate where bright sunny days are preciously few. After glass sheets were cut down to size to fit each window, the panes were placed inside of a kiln and melted in high heat on top of a bed of a soft, powdery substance that was textured by hand with organic swirling shapes.

One month after signing the contract and just after the beautiful glass windows were installed, the first, of many horrors awaiting, reared its ugly head, when the snow on the top of a steep pyramid-shaped red tiled roof melted and water poured down one of the interior walls of the top two floors below the attic.

Water drenched wall and old ventilation pipes, 2005

The attic was so tall that two floors could have been installed inside. However, the steep pyramid-shaped tile roof had no insulation. Thus the space was useless for more than storage that was subject to freezing cold winters and the attic became a hot house beneath the terracotta tiles baking all day in intense sunlight each summer.

Uninsulated roof seen from inside the attic and unknown found painting

A metal stairway on a corner of the top floor, that was almost as steep as a ladder, led to a heavy metal trap door, which had to be lifted and shoved aside to enter a space that was loaded with junk that had been left behind by the prior owners. Among what I found was a painting of a naked zombie-like couple and a mannequin that was painted white, with old ragged clothes draped over it. I was rather spooked upon this discovery, for there was a myth that the tower was ghost-infested.

A few years later, an article appeared in the Guardian, on the day before Halloween, entitled, Wroclaw, Poland’s Ghost Town. The the author, Alex Webber, visited me and his article concluded with the following:

Over wine, I chatted with the Californian owner, Frederick, an artist turned restaurateur. “I’m convinced this place is haunted,” he said. “The ghost is known to the old regulars, back when this place was decorated with lots of antique sewing machines. One night all the pedals and wheels on the machines started whirring and spinning on their own.” Just as he finished his sentence, a picture clinging to the wall thumped to the ground.

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