The phrase, ‘love and romance’ is often linked in literature, as though one begets the other. I feel they are two entirely different states of being. Love is a deep appreciation and adoration towards people (can be a pet, but that’s more to do with ‘transference’) that are in our lives. Romance, however, is a fleeting feeling of excitement or mystery and a remoteness from the realities of everyday life.
I’ve been fortunate to experience deep love for partners, parents and mother-love for my daughter. I’ve had a few romantic experiences, too, over the years. One that sticks in my memory happened during February, not on Valentine’s Day, but pretty close to it and in a foreign country.
I had recently taken a teaching position in Warsaw, Poland. I’d only been in the city a few weeks and was barely getting my bearings. It was on a Saturday, and I had no work commitments, so I decided to explore the ‘Old Town’ or ‘Starego Miasta’. It was a lovely, atmospheric part of the city with medieval-looking buildings (completely rebuilt after WW2) and narrow cobbled streets.
February in Warsaw is cold. Properly cold with serious amounts of ice and snow. Not the ‘apprentice snowflakes’ we can have in the UK. Dry, bone-chilling temperatures that require you to wear at least five, thin layers and seriously heavy coats and hats.
Leaving my abode swathed in layers of woollens, a bobble hat and my trusty, sensible cagoule jacket. I caught sight of myself in a long mirror in my apartment entrance and tutted. I decided to look and feel more glamorous, so I quickly swapped out three of the woollens, cagoule and bobble hat for my swishy, grey cashmere winter coat and fur hat. I felt and looked like a nineteenth-century heroine. A smear of red lips and a spritz of perfume, I became ‘Warsovian’!
I spent a happy hour exploring the back alleys and side streets in the Old Town and was making my way towards the Rynek (large square) for a hot chocolate treat. I cut through a very narrow street that had a few artisanal shop fronts. As I walked down towards the square, I heard, then saw, a fiddle player sitting on a chair outside a record shop. It drew me in, siren-like, to browse the few record albums in boxes displayed outside the shop. The elderly gentleman was seated next to a gas heater, and as I turned to smile my appreciation, he returned my smile with the brightest gap-toothed grin and nod of his head.
He then shouted out something unintelligible, and a gorgeous, younger man came running outside.
This man smiled at me and then took both my hands before I could protest and started to dance with me to the older man’s fiddle-playing. It was so ‘left-field’ I decided to just play along. It was pleasant enough being twirled and spun around a deserted cobbled street.
Then in perfect English, this man introduced himself as Swavek; his grandfather had insisted he danced with the ‘beautiful’ lady. He then did the perfectly romantic Polish gesture of standing in front of me to say goodbye and kissing the back of my hand.
Frankly, I just swooned.
That episode ranks as one of the most romantic gestures of my life to date. Dancing over cobbles in the snow, wearing cashmere with a deliciously younger man!