Jamie Stokes: The Air Down Here
Ask people what it most important to them and they will invariably answer 'family,' 'health' or 'a good internet connection.' Nobody every says 'air,' which is odd since, without it, none of us would be able to delete more than a few spam emails before we expired. We take air for granted.
Air is so ubiquitous that evolution hasn't even bothered to give us the ability to see it. Natural selection has dictated that there is no value in checking the air is still there every five minutes, leaving our eyes free to do more important things such as looking out for tigers and checking our Facebook accounts.
Obviously, evolution wasn't aware that some of us would end up living in Krakow. Down here in Poland's second city, having the ability to see if the air is creeping up behind you with murder in its eyes would be extremely useful. The air here is trying to kill us. Not so much the air as the tiny particles of soot and burned petrol riding in the air, but the distinction isn't important.
According to the World Health Organisation, Krakow's air is among the most polluted in the world. That's a rare top ranking for Poland, but probably not one the nation will take pride in. The city authorities are well aware of this situation and even sponsor a website that cheerfully announces everyday exactly how hard the air is trying to kill us. The mayor has said that bad air should be 'banned' using 'more money,' which has the advantage of being impossible to argue with politically and the somewhat greater disadvantaging of not helping the situation in the slightest.
As a Cracovian, I feel it is my duty pass on some brilliant ideas I have for preventing the local air from assassinating us. As well as saving lives, these suggestions can be made into fun games for the whole family.
Not breathing too much
The main problem seems to be with outside air. We are constantly being advised to 'stay indoors' when the pollution is really bad, which is fine as long as you don't need anything outside your apartment that day, such as work, an education or food.
The solution is clearly to limit the amount of treacherous outdoor air we suck into our lungs. For example, you could try holding your breath for the short walk from the front door of your building to your car. Once you are safely in your vehicle, be sure to keep the windows tightly closed as you crawl past the dozens of brand new buses and trams that we have all paid for.
If you are forced to walk somewhere, take short, shallow breaths and avoid air-consuming activities such as talking, laughing or singing. This will have the added advantage of making everyone very miserable, so they won't mind dying 20 years early so much.
Playing wind instruments in the open air is highly inadvisable. Fortunately, there are few people mad enough to, for example, play trumpets through open windows from the tallest tower of Kościół mariacki. I'm sure we won't miss them.
It's no good sitting around complaining about air quality, Cracovians need to stand up and do something. I suggest all citizens take umbrellas up to the roofs of their buildings at noon each day and vigorously open and close them a few times. If we all did this at the same time every day, it would get the air moving and, hopefully, push some of it in the direction of Slovakia.
An additional advantage is that tourists will come from all over the world to see the new daily ritual in action. It will be a spectacular and life-affirming sight, as long as they remember to hold their breath.
This one is less a solution and more a case of finding the good in a bad situation. We are told that breathing Krakow's air for one year is the equivalent of smoking two thousand cigarettes. The opportunity is obvious. If the city authorities simply added nicotine to the air, we could all simply step onto our balconies and take a few lungfulls every time we felt like lighting up. The money we save from not buying cigarettes could then be spent on gas masks and lung transplants, providing a welcome boost to both industries.
* Jamie Stokes*