The world became impossible for me.
Everything was like a malicious caricature.
My family and my social ‘sphere’ were overbearing, pampered, soft. Society, the nation, the state were my enemies.
The army was a bad dream. Ideals and ideologies were empty phrases. And I myself was the worst, the most artificial and pretentious one of all. Every word I uttered came out wrong, and every gesture was contaminated.
God had somehow disappeared from view: It wasn’t exactly that I had ceased to believe, so much as faith no longer interested me—I had stopped thinking about it. Because of this, my isolation was rendered complete.
“How splendid was that year of 1918!”
I was still too young to appreciate the entire beauty of the First World War’s finale, so very much more instinct with poetry than the ending of the Second World War. It was a kind of emotional awakening to a new life filled with promise, an obliteration of monarchs’ thrones and stiff collars, moustaches and mistaken beliefs about ‘honor,’ freedom of the body mixing with freedom of spirit, the rout of frock coats and patent-leather shoes, a great relaxation of young people welcoming their era, a great wind of liberty as women’s knees appeared from under their skirts.
“The abolition of men’s facial hair”
In that time rich in changes, one of the most significant transformations was the abolition of men’s facial hair. Not just beards, but mustaches too disappeared. This was a huge, powerful change, given that a man with a beard or a mustache is an entirely different sort of person from a clean-shaven man. I’m inclined to think that the consequences of this alteration were immeasurable—in art, in morality, in customs, in metaphysics even—if not hard to understand.
I’ll never forget the shriek my cousin gave when she saw my father walk into the apartment completely clean-shaven—he had just left his beard and mustache behind at the barber’s, in keeping with the spirit of the times. This was the terrified scream of a woman whose deepest modesty had been offended. She couldn’t have made more of a commotion if my father had been utterly naked. And in fact she was right, for it truly was shamelessness of the first order, that face of my father’s, hitherto covered in hair and now for the first time scandalously exposed.
“At Café Ziemiańska”
Every evening around nine I’d head out to the café—the Ziemiańska, which was popular in those days. I would sit at a table, order a ‘small black’ coffee and wait till my café companions gathered.
A café can become an addiction just as vodka can. For a real habitué, not to go to the café at the designated time is simply to fall [en] In a short time I became such a fanatic that I set aside all my other evening activities, including the theater, movies, and my social life. It must be added that a Warsaw café, and the Ziemiańska in particular, was not like other cafés of the world. One entered from the street into darkness, a fearful haze of smoke and stale air, from which abyss there loomed astonishing faces striving to communicate by shouts and gestures in the ever-present din. The aquiline features of various schöngeists, in other words intellectual aesthetes, fraternized with honest, round, peasant mugs from the country that had arrived the day before from Lublin or Lwów province; there were also wily faces of shysters from the suburbs, and occasionally one glimpsed the walrus mustache of a country squire—for this was a café of poets, and poets are born everywhere, like vermin.
Polish Memories [Trans. Johnston]