Julie Rafalski

Memory and Snow

The other day I was walking along Vincent Terrace by the Regent's Canal in the evening. It was a cold night and the wind carried a smell of burnt wood that instantly brought to my mind a dark snowy December night many years ago in Warsaw. On that night the sky and snow had given off a pink glow, reflecting the pink-hued street lights. It was the December during which the Soviet Union was dissolved. But on that day sometime before Christmas it was a quiet night and the snow made it quieter still. There was only a distant hum of buses on a main road. Warsaw buses that were introduced by the Hungarian company Ikarus. The Ikarus buses made a particular whirring sound and the doors were very noisy when they closed.

Polish News logo in 1991

As I write of this memory of the Warsaw snow before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I realise that it cannot be communicated with these words. Whatever I write will skim the glistening surface of the snow.

As I write this, on a train to Southend, the bare branches in the landscape outside zoom past the window, reminding me of the barren winter fields in New York state. Or are they fields on the outskirts of Krakow or somewhere near Aachen or somewhere in the middle of Norway? The landscape disguises itself, playing with my memory. Is it the landscape that tries to assume the form of other places or is I who am projecting other places onto it? I can't tell the difference. Memory and reality - what is the difference between them?