Thursday, 8 May 2008

Poland 1: Art and the Sleep Debt

God I'm tired. I haven't yet been in Poland for 24 hours, and have hardly got started on the mountain of work that is a Lonely Planet research job, but I'm exhausted already.

Actually, the tiredness has very little to do with the work, and a lot to do with how I got here.

Flying between Australia and Poland isn't that simple. You'd assume that you could fly to an Asian hub like Singapore or Bangkok, and there'd be a direct flight to Warsaw from there.

In the bad old communist days, LOT Polish Airlines used to service some Asian routes, mainly for the status of being a world-spanning airline. But no dice nowadays... places like Warsaw have to be reached by European hubs like Frankfurt.

So to keep the trip down to two flights, I flew Melbourne-London via Qantas, then London-Kraków via Ryanair. Sounds simple, and the Ryanair flight cost a very cheap 1 pence (no kidding).

But... there were 12 hours between the two flights, and a city between the two London airports: Heathrow (west) and Stansted (east). To make the most of it, I decided to spend the intervening hours in the city. Having found the showers at Heathrow, I jumped on the Tube, dropped my backpack off at Liverpool Street Station's left luggage counter, then Tubed and walked to the Tate Modern on the south bank of the Thames.

I was a bit early for the pre-set rendezvous with my friend, playwright Ben Ellis, so I looked around for a coffee. Had to settle for Starbucks, but had a good chat with the Polish guy who worked there. Then I sat in the warm sunshine outside the Tate until Ben turned up.

There really is nothing so wonderful as a perfect sunny spring day in London, particularly as they're so unpredictably scheduled. The sky was a perfect pale blue, the coffee wasn't too bad, and the sunlight was sparkling off the scaffolding at a building site opposite the gallery entrance.

The exhibition was great: a collection of works from Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia. Amazing quantity and variety from the three friends, startling to see how far they'd wandered from the famous artwork I knew them for. There was no genre, material or style these artists wouldn't try. I'm glad I was in the right time and place to see it.

Then Ben and I met up with his partner Claire at Golden Square; sounds like the name of a Chinese restaurant, but is in fact an attractive open space between office blocks in Soho. The sun was continuing to do its stuff, bringing large numbers out to sit on the concrete paving of the square. Claire was mildly surprised that we only spotted one guy who'd taken his shirt off, this being the usual British reaction to an unexpectedly early bout of warm weather.

It was all good stuff; but the whole time, I was suffering from sleep deprivation. The Qantas flight had been full, so without a chance to stretch out in any way, I'd only slept for two hours. As a result, on the Ryanair flight I kept dropping off. I continued to microsleep on the train from Krakow airport to the city centre, and even as I was walking to the hotel everything seemed oddly distant, as if it were happening to someone else.

So even after a sleep last night, I'm still very tired. However, the weather continues to be exceedingly clement, and I know enough sleep will eventually sort me out. But I think next time, I'm getting a more expensive connecting flight directly from Heathrow to Poland, rather than spending the day in stimulating London, running up financial debts to accompany an enormous sleep debt.

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