One evening I decided to go out to have something to eat. I went to a restaurant called Magia in the Old Town. I was the only guest. I felt awkward about the fact that the staff could have gone home early if it wasn’t for me. I ordered a steak. Then I went for a walk. The city was completely empty. I thought I was on some desert.

Interview with Arnon Grunberg, Dutch writer living in New York, who came to Lublin invited by the citybooks project.

How did you get yourself expelled from secondary school?
I wanted to become an actor and I decided that I didn’t need school. I just dropped out. I was a complicated teenager.

What do you mean by that?
I wanted to be smarter than my teachers. I knew everything better.

How did you get interested in becoming an actor?
My father took me to see a lot of Chaplin movies. I was fascinated by the kind of acting you can see in silent movies. I tried to get into an acting school but I failed.

And you became a clerk?
I worked at the Yellow Pages publishing house and opened my own publishing house after some time. I kept experimenting with different jobs. Finally, I took up scriptwriting.

You also started writing books. What is “Blue Mondays” about? And why are Mondays blue?
A blue Monday is a day when you can’t finish what you started. On a blue Monday you have the right to leaving your work undone, to some flash in the pan.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen too often.
It can’t happen too often. If you have too many blue Mondays it means you’re letting your life slip through your fingers.

“Blue Mondays” was a great success. Why did you decide to publish the next novel under a pseudonym?

I did it with my fourth book. I was already an established writer and I wanted to see if people would buy my book if it were written under a different name.

To what result?
Great. It was a bestseller and I won an award for best debut novel. I had to reveal my real name in the end.

What is the book about?
It is about a student of philosophy who believes that he is the owner of the world smallest penis.

Your play “Our Pope” is quite notorious in Poland.
In 2007 I visited Krystyna Meissner, the director of Teatr Współczesny in Wrocław. I was offered to write a play for them. I spent a month in Wrocław, spoke to many people and a lot of them talked about the pope, even though I’d never asked about him. I wrote the play. However, the theatre decided not to put it on stage. They did not like it. I wrote a play about how the Poles perceive the pope and faith. I was in Wrocław two years after his death. They were telling me about his illness, his suffering, how he died. I did not want to write a play about the pope, I wanted to write a play about Poland.

Did Krystyna Meissner tell you why she refused to put it onstage?
She did. I got an official letter from her. She wrote that the beginning is really good, but the ending is full of stereotypes through which I make fun of Polish people’s faith.

How does the play end?
It ends in prison. There is a scene with an insane prisoner who believes that he is the new pope.

On your blog you mention there are plans to stage this controversial play. Who decided to take up the challenge?

I’ve spoken to Witold Mazurkiewicz from Kompania Teatr. We are discussing it at the moment and I am waiting for their final decision. The play is ready. If we carry this project out, the premiere will take place in October.

You are in Lublin as part of the citybooks project. Had you heard of our city before you got invited?

No, nothing. I got off a plane in Warsaw, took a taxi to the station, caught a train. It was getting darker and darker.

Your first day in Lublin?
I checked into my hotel. It was late. I decided to go out and have something to eat. I went to the Old Town and entered a restaurant called Magia. I was the only guest, which was quite uncomfortable because I felt that the staff could have gone home earlier if it wasn’t for me. I ordered a steak. Then I walked around a bit. The city was completely empty. I thought I’ve ended up on some desert. It got much better in daylight. Finally there are some people around.

On your blog you write that you have a thing for waitresses. Where does that come from?
When I enter a restaurant in a new city, the waitress is the first person I talk to. There is something very erotic about them. Maybe it’s a combination of the uniform and the good food they serve you. I’m also intrigued by waiters; they behave as if they were in charge and you were serving them.

So would I find a number to one of Lublin waitresses in your notebook?
I wish I could say yes. I have a girlfriend, so I didn’t have the courage to ask for any numbers.

I've heard that the Hangman’s House intrigued you?
Yes, because I was looking for some unusual places. I went to Długosza Street, but no one was able to direct me to the house. It’s a pity. I liked the bugler who plays from the top of the Town Hall. I visited the castle, where I saw more guards and employees than visitors. I was really impressed by the Chapel with the Byzantine frescoes. I took a ride with a trolleybus on wheels.

You took a trolleybus to go to Majdanek. What did you make of it?
It was also quite empty. The most shocking part of the experience was that you are on the buss passing some housing estates and suddenly the space opens into a square on which so many Jewish people were killed. With the barracks, keepsakes, documents. I like the fact that they did not try to change too much there. They preserved the place as it was. To help us remember.

Majdanek is visited by people from around the world including young people from Israel. Sometimes their behaviour can be quite shocking. They visit the barracks in solemn silence only to go back to their hotel and trash their rooms. Is there anyway to explain that?

I can only compare it to the vandalism of the football fans.

And what do you have to say about the anti-Semitism in Lublin. A dummy bomb at the doorstep of Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, the director of the Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre Centre, drawings of a hanged Star of David that can be found around Lublin, Internet full of anti-Semitic comments. Where does all the hatred towards Jewish people come from?

I’m very surprised to hear all that. I really don’t know what to say about that.

What will you remember from your visit?
I will keep Lublin in my heart. I think I could live here for a while.

Arnon Grunberg
Born on 22 February 1971 in Amsterdam; called the child prodigy of Dutch literature. Despite his young age he has won recognition in Europe and overseas. His books were published in 20 countries.

Citybooks
A project of long European tradition run by a Flemish institution Vlaams-Nederlands Huis deBuren. The form of presented art has evolved over the years (from traditional radio sessions, through CD recordings, to the contemporary multimedia form with files, clips and recordings available online). The idea of the project is to promote towns that have a noticeable cultural and social potential by preparing their “city book” that will introduce them to fellow Europeans as places of unique atmosphere, characteristic culture and active inhabitants with a lot of potential. The artists invited to take part in the project in Lublin are writers: Andrzej Stasiuk, Mauro Pawlowski, Witold Szabłowski, Arnon Grunberg and Maud Vanhauwaert; a filmmaker Piotr Miłkowski and a photographer Maciej Rukasz. The works will form a “book of the city” that will then be made available on the citybooks website.

From an interview with Arnon Grunberg by Waldemar Sulisz, Dziennik Wschodni, 11.03.2012