I look at her, doubtful anyone will find this as interesting as I do. Yvette bounces up and down with excitement. I know why I am friends with this person, I think. Not for the first time.
Yvette answered an ad we put in the paper for a house mate in 1999. A dozen years later, she’s on my couch in Warsaw, and we’re trying to decide where to go on a road trip. I’ve ruled out Gdansk and Krakow, having been to each of them a dozen times already. Unluckily, that’s pretty much put paid to the standard tourist itinerary of Poland with one fell swoop.
Luckily, Wylatowo is still left in the mix, since it’s not on the standard Polish tourist itinerary. Mainly because there is nothing there. The odd stray alien excepted, of course.
Which is not to say that it’s not perfectly lovely. We arrive to find a huge lake, a big old wooden church, and at this time of year fields of green crops waving in the sun. (The perfect kind for leaving crop circles, in). But it’s small. We drive into town on the one main road. A moment later we realise we’ve accidentally driven out the other side. We turn around.
With that comprehensive tour of the town under our belts, it’s time to see if we can find the aliens. “Excuse me, we’re looking for the… flying saucers,” I say to one of the first people we see. It occurs to me that I really should have learned the word for crop circles. He smiles, but tells us he’s from outta town and suggests I might be better off speaking to a local. I feel faintly ridiculous, but at least he’s humouring us.
We head for the nearest fields, coming across a group of 13 or 14-year-olds on summer holidays. They’re standing by a pedestrian crossing, going up to it as cars come to make them slow down and then moving away at the last minute. I guess this passes for entertainment in Wylatowo.
“Um, do you know where the flying saucers are?” I ask them. They point to the largest nearby field.
It’s just where we were heading. Spooky.
“Can you actually see anything?” I ask, craning my neck.
“You can sort of see some indentations,” one kid replies. We all concentrate for a moment, but we don’t see anything.
We decide we’ll have to get closer, so we cross over. A sign announces ‘Ground Zero’ in Polish and German, I guess covering their bases in case the aliens don’t know Polish. Yvette and I take each other’s pictures by it.”We should have bought aluminium foil to keep the alien thoughts out,” I say, rustling around in my bag for something appropriate. I pull out my camera bag, put it on my head, and smile for the photo.
It reminds me we’re really in no position to cast aspersions on what others think is fun.
Despite our efforts, the Wylatowo crop circles are nowhere to be seen. We take a few photos of where they might have been and trundle back. On the way, we pass three men sitting on a park bench.
Polish people are, on the whole, a reserved bunch who are not much given to making conversation with strangers. But when one of them smiles at us, it’s all the encouragement I need to give it one last go. “Excuse me, do you know…”.
‘The piktogramy?’ one asks. Sometimes Polish turns out to be simpler than you think. I nod.
The words tumble out of them faster than I can keep up: “They are so symmetrical, people say they can’t possibly have been done by humans!”
“As soon as they come, these Japanese people turn up to do research. And this German professor from a university, too — he’s got a film with UFOs on it from here!”
‘The power goes out sometimes. All the lights, the electricity. And then it just comes back on again! Tell me that’s not strange!”
These guys are the chattiest Polish strangers I’ve ever come across. Maybe Poles in other towns just don’t have so much to talk about.
“Hey,” one of the guys cocks his head. “You’re not Polish, are you.” I confess that I’m not. “So, you’re not Polish, and you’ve come from nowhere, speaking Polish and asking about flying saucers…” he leaves the thought hanging. We all scratch our chins and ponder the unsaid.
“Where are you from, then?” he asks. “Australia,” I reply.
“Oh, Jesus and Mary, you really ARE from a different planet!” We all laugh.
“But how did you hear about this place?” asks another, clearly puzzled.
“It was in a guidebook,” I reply.
“Our little town’s in a guidebook?” they all look approvingly at each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prouder little bunch. I’m pleased to have been able to bring this happy news to them. From… wherever I’m from.
We wave them farewell and walk back towards the car. After all, we came in peace.
I may or may not be from another planet, but this sure is another Poland. A Poland far away from sophisticated, latté sipping Warsaw, where people would be far too busy — and cool — to sit on a park bench in the sun and exchange theories about UFOs with random passing strangers. A Poland where they’re pretty chuffed to find that the outside world has heard of them at all.
I didn’t find any evidence of whether aliens have visited Wylatowo. Actually, the main space cadets there seemed to be us.
But I do have more evidence that sharing a house can be fraught with danger. One moment, you’re answering an ad in a paper for somewhere to live. A decade later, you’re traipsing around Poland looking for aliens. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.