‘Because I am the embodiment of Polish National identity, I will tell you two stories: one Jewish, one Lithuanian.’
This is how Malgorzata Litwinowicz began fifty-minutes of storytelling on a grey Wednesday afternoon at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Her tales, interwoven with her own biography, emphasised that we are all part of the same fabric of humanity, and, therefore, are able to ‘feel at home in many identities, stories and songs.’
Despite, the majority of the audience being English speakers, Litwinowicz was able to effortlessly communicate in Polish, making the audience laugh, recoil and applaud. She held us spellbound with a German fable about a wise man from Chelm who discovers that once you leave home you can never go back. He reveals that what was once known and familiar is, through new experience, transmuted into the unknown, a feeling that will surely be all-too familiar for students.
The second tale, a Lithuanian fable about a beautiful girl who falls in love with a serpent king, used the power of language and the tool of Litwinowicz’s own body to convey utter heartbreak. Tapping her feet, swaying her hips and drawing out long sibilant ‘S’ sounds, Litwinowicz pulled the audience down the river with her and into the serpent kingdom.
This time, the story was not a fable; the moral of the story remained ambiguous. Rather, Litwinowicz’s storytelling was rich with emotion; her harrowing repetition of the Serpent Kings words ‘Not now. Don’t go. Stay with me forever.’ filled the audience with a collective sense of dread. The beautiful bride would never see her king again!
As the fable came to a close Litwinowicz stretched her body to represent four trees – ash, oak, willow and fir, respective representations of wisdom, strength, resilience and joy in the face of great tragedy. Once Litwinowicz bowed and exited the stage we were left dumbstruck. As I left, I recoiled at hearing myself speak English words: Litwinowicz left us so entirely spellbound that I almost expected to hear her beautiful Polish instead.
Where Snakes can Sing: Stories from Poland
Scottish Storytelling Centre
The Scottish International Storytelling Festival runs until 31 October
Photo credit: Lindsay Corr