- February 7, 2013
January Uprising’s contemporary, Santy Anna and expanses of the seas
„Hot days and sleepless nights… Keep the ship’s head, »Santy Anna«! I can see now the Mexico gates, ornamented with the embroidery of the green mountains”. One who used to sail under the Polish Yachting Association’s flag sang this very popular and moving chanty. But none of the singers know that the polish version of the chanty dates back to the Vilnian Zarzecze and the next day after the beginning of the January Uprising on the Lithuanian territory.
On the 2nd of February 1863, on the next day after the beginning of the uprising, announced by the Lithuanian Provincial Committee the child is being born. The child is the son of the couple living in Vilnius – Antoni and Aleksandra from Obuchowicze Waścikim . In the St. Bartlomiej Church in Zarzecze the child is given the name Aleksander. His biography will have something in common with Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski: Aleksander also originated from the Eastern borderlands and devoted all of his life to the sea, under the flag unfamiliar to him. Unlike the great writer, he will not meet his father who dies in the uprising battles after several months of Aleksander’s birth.
No wind. Immensity of the tropical sea. Motionless sails, the sun at its meridian. Only in the evening and during the night there appears a breeze. The average three-masted schooner, a lot of them sailing on the Caribbean Sea, sails through black depths, slowly heading towards the ideal harbour. “Silver dollar like a glass in heaven. Keep the ship’s head, »Santy Anna«!” On the board a small crew sleep in the open air or dice, apart from the watch. Wheelman’s attention on the watch – lest the wind stops to blow, let it carry us to the Mexico gates.
It is 1880. Aleksander is 17. His first ship is called „Santa Ana” and he carries smalls between New Orleans, Florida and Mexico. He sails under the U.S. flag, but the ship’s name is Spanish. The name Anna in Spanish is spelt with one n.
During Autumn 1863, when Aleksander’s father dies, his mother moves with the baby to their relatives in Okielniki near Vilnius. Okielniki was the place in which Aleksander was growing up being dependent mostly on his uncle, whom he helped in the administrator’s work. He also helped his aunt in the household. Most of the time has Aleksander spent with his cousin Helcia Obuchowiczówna who was 8 years older and was taking a very good care of him. Their great friendship will last for the whole life.
The finances of the family are getting complicated. When Aleksander is 16, he goes to the America together with his another uncle and older cousin. There he confronts himself with the sea and feels happy with the life of a young seaman, full of adventure and exoticism. In the letter to Helena to Olkieniki Aleksander writes: “you would be happy if you saw how tanned and sinewy I am.”
On the schooner “Santa Ana” the crew sings happily about the Santa Anna. Is it important that the words are related to the sailing ship or even to the figure of Saint Anna the Righteous in a strange way. Since literally translating from English:
O! Santianna fought for fame!
And Santianna gained a name
All on the plains of Mexico!
O! Santianna had a wooden leg
Heave away, Santianna!
He used it for a cribbage peg
All on the plains of Mexico!
Cribbage is a game in which you use cards and wooden sticks on the special riddled desk. While Santy Anna… Only later will Aleksander get to know the Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876), known once as the Napoleon of the Central America. He was first fighting on the Spanish side against the independence of Mexico, then he became convinced of the idea of the independence and fought for it. General Antonio, as a president of the rising Mexican state was elected eleven times and overthrown another several times. The Spanish word “Santa” became in English “Santy”.
From the Caribbean Sea Aleksander goes to Canada where he joined the British naval college. Canada is at that time the dominion of Great Britain. Aleksander finishes school with second lieutenant degree. He sails on the hydrographic ship which heads toward north to the Hudson Strait, almost to Greenland. In letters to Okielniki he describes his service, icebergs, whales. In 1895, already as a captain Aleksander receives first leadership: on the patrol boat on the Great Lakes. He adores his first ship which he even describes in letters and in the diary. Aleksander publishes the article concerning the hydrography of the Great Lakes. Since oceans and unknown lands attract him much he decides to leave the navy and moves to merchant navy. He sails on the steamship to the ports of Chile and Australia. The diary is entitled ”I love great expanses.”
First World War is again focused on the navy. After obtaining the naval captain- lieutenant degree Aleksander goes back to the land, settles in Saint John’s – the capital of Newfoundland in which he works in the port’s administration. In 1923 he visits Vilnius and Okielniki in the reborn Poland – the country for which he was fighting and the country in which his father died during the January Uprising. After 44 years Aleksander sees Helena again. He translates “Santy Anna” into Polish for her grandchildren. One of his grandchildren is called Józef Łuszczewski who thanks to Aleksander begins the way which will lead him in 1940 to the Norwegian fjord Ofot on the destroyer’s board of the Polish Navy (ORP) „Grom”. The young non-com is famous among his companions for his saying „I love great expanses.” During the war he kept Polish translation of „Santy Anna” with him – only one existing manuscript received in the childhood. On the 4th of May 1940 during the days of the Narwik battles, together with the manuscript and bombed „Grom” he goes to the everlasting watch. The Polish text „Santy Anna” known today by Polish sailors is the work of two Warsaw poets from 1970s.
Aleksander Waścicki has lived for 80 years. His everlasting watch began on the 28th of July 1943. In the distance of 10 miles from Saint John’s there is a cape called Cape Spear, the furthest piece of land of both Americas to the east. There is a famous lighthouse there which Aleksander, as a worker of port’s administration used to visit sometimes. He liked to stay there for a longer while with the Atlantic Ocean in front of his eyes, its power and vastness of the great expanses. It was also the shortest way to the Mexico gates and the Caribbean Sea – Aleksander’s youth. And also to Vilnius and Okielniki – Aleksander’s homeland.
Tłumaczenie Justyna Wieczorek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Justyna Wieczorek the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.