Toruń, Poland – November 2007
Legend has it that Nicolaus Copernicus was presented with a copy of his soon-to-be-published, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, on his deathbed. He emerged from his coma, looked at the culmination of his life’s work, and then drifted away.
Also legendary is the surliness of the staff at the Dom Mikołaja Kopernika, the museum that’s housed in the birthplace of the Renaissance mathematician. After many months in Poland, I’ve learned and come to understand the cultural reasons why Poles are frugal with their smiles. I no longer take it personally. If and when they finally offer a smile, it’s genuine and you have a friend forever.
A stocky, dark-haired man in a crisp white shirt and blue blazer stalks visitors from room to room. His glare spares no one, not even the young boy who listens intently to his father. We are all potential thieves and vandals. I linger at the exhibits of the astronomical instruments. I feast my eyes on the ancient maps of the world and solar system. Copernicus was the first to present the theory of heliocentrism, which sparked a scientific revolution. The center of the universe was no longer the Earth, but rather the Sun.
The museum also features an exhibit about the famous Toruń gingerbread. I pass on this in favor of buying a small bag of heart-shaped gingerbread at a shop near the main square. I sit on a bench and lift my face to the veiled autumn sunlight. The gingerbread frosting squeaks against my teeth as I chew. My brain hums with the thought of how much our universe has expanded since the time of Copernicus, and how much more remains to be discovered. I’ve read about theories of parallel universes, wormholes, and the universe as a hologram. When I think of formulas and equations, my mind grinds to a halt. It doesn’t stop me, however, from contemplating the infinite.