A Kraków Literary Journal: Reading a Rainbow

by Michael Downs

The sun shies from Kraków these days. For most of three weeks, we’ve awakened to fog, then lived under clouds until the sun has set. Worse, because we’re so far north the sun rushes out of the sky, tucking itself away early. Today, it will give up by twenty-to-four. It didn’t rise until almost 7:30. Hours are gray, days are gray, weeks are gray. A colleague here calls this the Fall Depression. It’s a good time to sit in a café with a cappuccino and a book.

One of three flights on the Rainbow Stairs

It is also a good time to remember a sunnier day and a rainbow. Not so long ago, a friend asked if we’d join her for a walk to discover Kraków’s Rainbow Stairs. This is an outdoor staircase that climbs (descends?) a hill for some three city blocks, one rainbow hue at a time. Recently, city-funded literary enthusiasts chose quotations from Krakowian writers and artists and stenciled them in black paint, one every few steps.

It was our friend’s birthday, though we didn’t know that at first. Scotia is a literary translator whom we met at a literary event at Kraków’s most renowned English-language bookstore, Massolit. Her most recent book, out this fall, is a translation of a story collection called Doctor Bianco and Other Stories by Maciek Bielawski. She’s Canadian-American and has made a life in Kraków for more than two decades.

She’d decided a visit to the steps would make an excellent gift to herself. Her gift to us was that she translated the quotations. And now, because I didn’t write down her words, I’ve translated a few steps, and that in turn is my gift to you.

Nie ma rozpusty gorszej niż myślenie.
There is no debauchery worse than thinking.
– Wisława Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature (1923-2012)


Potęga zdań nie ma nic wspólnego z sensem i logiką ich budowy.
The power of sentences has nothing to do with the sense and logic of their construction.
– Joseph Conrad, born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924)


Włóczenie się w niepokoju ulicami, które odpoczywają, jest rzeczą dobra, prawie religijną
Wandering when anxious through the streets is good – almost religious.
– Leo Lipski, who drew from his time in Soviet labor camps for his literary work (1917-97)


Nigdy nie wie się, co poradzić z tym krzykiem, który odzywa się w nas samych.
One never knows what to do with the scream within.
– Czesław Miłosz, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1911-2004


Jeśli piekło istnieje, na pewno jest skomputeryzowane.
If Hell exists, it must be computerized.
– Stanisław Lem, science fiction writer, with works translated into 41 languages (1921-2006)



                              To nie czasu nam brakuje, tylko skupienia.
                              It is not time that is lacking, only focus.
                              – Adam Zagajewski, poet, novelist, essayist (1945-2021)








Zakochani dzielą się słońcem.
Lovers share the sun.
– Agnieszka Osiecka, poet and song lyricist (1936-97)