I have only one wish in life: I would like a simple, efficient bedside lamp. Actually I have two wishes, but the second one is for a sitcom about former Arab dictators sharing a flat in Brixton (Hosni! Have you been eating my humus again!?), which would be much more difficult to organise. Or at least I thought it would be more difficult to organise until I actually started looking for a bedside lamp. I can’t find one anywhere.
There are two possibilities: either there are no lamps for sale in Krakow, or I’m looking in the wrong places. If the first is true, I’m going to start taking a lot better care of the lamps I have because they must now be worth a great deal of money. If the second is true, I will have to reconsider my prejudice that lamps should be sold in electrical appliance shops and address the possibility that they are, in fact, sold in gardening supply or hat shops.
I have made two extended trips to Galeria Krakowska in the past week, something that is almost as difficult to admit as it is to endure. On neither occasion did I find a lamp to buy. Home furnishing shops, the ones that smell of lavender and are impossible to extract wives from, do not sell lamps but they do sell endless varieties of candles and candle holders. Apparently, a return to burning wax or whale oil is currently the most accessible means of illuminating my bedtime reading.
The big electrical shop, a branch of Saturn, sells every imaginable electrical device apart from lamps and kilowatt range free-electron lasers. I toyed with the idea of buying a 48-inch plasma and playing a looped DVD of a switched on lamp with the brightness turned right up, but apparently nobody has yet released one – a gap in the market I will be leaping on.
The real problem, and this is not the first time it has become apparent, is that I still lack of proper sense of how Polish urban spaces work. Put me down in a British town that I have never visited before and I am certain that I could find a lamp or a fish and chip shop or a copy of a street map in minutes – I just know what kind of streets to look on for the right kind of shops. I’m sure there are lamp shops out there, but I have no idea what they look like or how to find them.
This is a genuine and annoying problem that previously vexed me when I needed to buy a roll of parcel tape (W H Smiths), but it is compounded by the weird transitional state of the shopping experience in Poland. At first glance, it looks as if Poland has all the shops you could ever possibly want. In fact, at the shiny new Galeria end of the market, there is a superabundance of a very limited number of types of shops and almost nothing else.
In Galeria Krakowska, for example, there are seven or eight jewellery shops, all selling essentially the same watches and earrings, at least 30 clothes shops, also selling barely discernible products, and a dozen electrical shops selling slightly different forms of iPhone and laptop. The rest of the space is taken up with a couple of mega pharmacies, a supermarket and a branch of Empik. That’s it.
I know this is also the case in shopping malls elsewhere in the world, but the problem in Poland is that the glittery Galerias have been laid down on top of a highly impoverished strata of existing shops. Outside of them there are a few absurd hardware stores, an extraordinary number of wedding dress shops, endless second-hand clothes emporiums, the occasional bicycle shop and nothing else. Trying to buy an interesting or original birthday or Christmas present is almost impossible. It’s either standard high-street tat that you could buy anywhere in the world, stained glass angels and humorous Jewish figurines or a spanner.
I suppose what I’m really moaning about here is the lack of a broad bespoke luxury sector to cater to the whims of pampered middle-class folk such as myself – giant Stilton wheels, hand-made Faroe sweaters and things of that kind. With that humbling realisation in mind, I’m off to Ikea where I’m sure they have numerous lamps that will cunningly cater to my supposedly sophisticated eye for good design and solid workmanship at prices that can only mean Vietnamese sweat shops.