There is a small town in Poland and a big port in Europe, that carries with it the burden of being the happiest, most desirable place to live in that country any time there is a public opinion poll about it. And yet, if you do ever visit it, you are bound to be disappointed – as there is not much waiting for you other than endless piles of concrete and the cold, northern sea. So what is the secret behind its unquestionable allure? I don’t know.
I am talking of the place I grew up in and a place I hold dear to my heart as well – Gdynia. Even though I have never been a modernist at heart and a concrete jungle is the last place I would like to live, I would nevertheless move back there within the blink of an eye, given the right circumstances. Maybe it’s the sea. Or my childhood sentiment. But there is nowhere else I could consider my place more, even though I have lived in some gorgeous parts of the Earth since I moved out of my parents’ place.
It is taking my boyfriend back home with me that always reminds me how truly unappealing Gdynia can be. Although it is, weirdly, a tourist destination (the sea again!), there is hardly anything there to see. And everything you can see is, well, gray. And it is windy there, ALWAYS, and although the summer can get very hot, if one lives there, one lives through the snow-less winter of the awkward too warm for snow too cold for happiness.
Seeing my hometown through my boyfriend’s eyes can really point out all its flaws. But I was also not exaggerating the allure Gdynia holds over many many people. For reasons that even I do not get, although I am slave to the same lover, it is one of the most popular places to live in Poland; and Poland, trust me, is not an ugly place at all. Many times, you would not believe how many, I have been asked by people living nearby if there is something in the water in Gdynia because everyone seems so happy about being there.
Just another great mystery of life, huh?
Yes and no.
Sure, I will never know, probably, what it is about Gdynia that I love so much, same as I will never be able to take off the childhood tints off my memories when I think about it. This part of the story shall remain a mystery.
But there is a second part, a more universal one. It lies in the distinction between a subjective and an objective point of view, or, if I could have it, between allure and beauty itself.
I have always been a firm believer in the good vs liked division, and, to be honest, I feel like 99% of Internet arguments spark out of a lack of understanding of this principle. Or, maybe, being stubborn about denying it. Because whether we want to admit it or not… We like plenty of bad things.
Trust me, I read all 10 parts of The Princess Diaries and I was a responsible adult (ekhm, 18) at the time so I really REALLY have no excuse.
But as much as I had fun reading The Princess Diaries, I could never say they are well written books. They aren’t. They suck on every level imaginable. The plot is stretched, full of holes and twists everyone can see coming for miles. The characters are clichés right and left. The grammar… My mum, being a teacher and all, would die seeing all the mistakes, let alone knowing that kids read them and learn from them.
Yet I loved every single second of them.
It works both ways though. There are plenty of books, films, places I simply cannot stand although I do understand how conventionally they should be appealing to me and how well crafted they are. Venice is at the top of my list of places I cannot stand although I understand why people love it. Oscar Wilde is on top of my list of writers I find boring, although I know he is very skilled and I can point out all the fantastic things about his work.
These things may be the most ingenious works of human minds in the history of the world yet, for one reason or another, they will never speak to me. They may as well not exist. In my heart, they are as good as dead, really.
Because allure comes from the heart. Not the blood pumping organ, obviously, but what we are used to referring to as the heart: a vast collection of features that make us us and define who we truly are. And the quality of things we are experiencing is only a tiny fraction of all the factors that can influence it.
People spend their whole lives studying brains, and genomes, and philosophy trying to figure out why we like what we like; and I envy them sometimes, because this sounds like a very interesting life path to take, way more interesting than looking at cold, mostly profit-driving data. It is not a mystery I will solve, that’s for sure.
All I can call for is: embrace it. Embrace what you love, no matter how silly it may be. Embrace what you detest, no matter how highly prized it is by others. Taste can be trained, sure, it can be altered and refined, but sometimes…
Sometimes it is the ugly duckling that deserves our love the most.