Monday, 31 December 2007
1) Polish women are prettier than English women
2) British drivers are more considerate than Polish drivers
3) Polish smoked meats (wędliny) are tastier than British cured hams etc.
4) English cheeses are incomparably superior than Polish cheeses, yet are unavailable in Poland
5) All Polish dogs are called either "Hodge" or "Hodge Two".
Sunday, 30 December 2007
This year, ul. Sarabandy definitely has the edge over the rest of Jeziorki in terms of the density of its outdoor lighting. Not a single house is devoid of external Xmas illumination. It's a shame that there's been no snow - that would really make the neighbourhood look wonderful.
As I wandered around with my tripod and camera, it occurred to me that our local power supplier, Vattenfall, is sponsoring the Xmas Lights photo competition run by Gazeta Wyborcza. Of course! The more of these lights are on outside people's houses, the greater their electricity bill!
It would, however, be hypocritical of me to criticise, as I get through as much electricity heating our sauna for an hour as the average Jeziorki householder would use illuminating his front garden for the entire night.
Driving down ul. Trombity, the density of external illuminations was slightly lower, but still over two-thirds of houses on our road had lights outside.
Saturday, 29 December 2007
[English passenger] "... of course, Heathrow is so much bigger than Okęcie..."
[Polish passenger, incredulously] "SO much bigger?"
The phrase (pronounced in Polish 'soł macz biger?') has become a family catchphrase. With its four terminals, a fifth coming on-stream very soon, a third runway and sixth terminal planned, Heathrow is indeed massive in comparison with our local airport. Waiting for our flight back to Warsaw this afternoon, I watched plane after plane coming into land, with a 90 second interval between landings. At any one moment, I could see four planes stacked up the final approach.
Below: Heathrow - A Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340 comes in to land as a BA Boeing 757 taxis to its gate.
Right: Flying out of Okęcie before Yuletide, I snapped this forlorn view of a LOT Boeing 737 standing on the apron. The majority of planes are boarded via stairs after passengers have been bussed to the apron from the terminal. We still await the formal opening of Terminal 2 for departures. I've long forgotten when it was originally due to open or why its opening has been delayed for so long.
Thursday, 27 December 2007
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
We were heading out of London on the M1, on our way to a Yuletide feast at Cousin Hoavis's, when a police car with flashing lights and wailing sirens brought all three northbound carriageways to a stop. "Excuse me, officer, why have you stopped all the traffic?" "Well sir, this gentleman in the black Porsche 911 has inadvertently executed a 180 degree turn and slammed into the crash barrier with such force as to wrench the rear offside wheel way out of alignment." Now, as is visible from the photo above, there's a gentle curve on the road, and the 911 does have a tendency to swing tail-out during extreme cornering, in in situations like this (with a 50 mph/80kmph speed limit in force) there's no excuse whatsoever to be driving at such high speeds and executing such violent manouevres as to bring about an accident like this. The outcome I'll leave to the magistrate's court and the insurance company.
Friday, 21 December 2007
As a result, Poland's borders with its EU neighbours (Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania) have disappeared. Cars, buses and trucks can cross into these countries without even slowing down. Theoretically, it will now be like driving from England into Wales, or from Florida into Georgia. In practice, border patrols will be able to flag down and spot-check vehicles with foreign number plates. Police will be able to continue cross-border pursuits up to 30km (20 miles) from the border.
Gone are signs like this one on the Polish-Czech border that I photographed in early May. Although it says STATE BOUNDARY CROSSING FORBIDDEN, already by spring this year there were no border guards posted at any of the checkpoints.
Above: A different picture however, on the Polish-Lithuanian border (at the end of the this road) in July this year. It was still being guarded by a patrol of well-armed Polish and Lithuanian border troops.
Old border controls still apply to airports until 29 March.
Still in place, and subject to more rigorous control, are the borders with Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, Belarus and Ukraine. Once infamous for letting stolen cars from western Europe pass on through to markets further east, the European Commission has taken tough measures to ensure these borders are impervious to crime, smuggling and human trafficking. On three visits to the Bieszczady (south-east Poland, by Ukrainian border), I could see brand new equipment - Land Rovers, Honda scramblers, night vision kit, in use with the Polish border guard units. By the Belarusian border, the number of expensive cars on German, Belgian, Danish or Italian number plates heading east at high speeds has dwindled to a handful of genuine tourist vehicles.
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Another nice thing about the place is that when the dry-cleaning comes back, it's marked not with a small piece of paper stapled into your clothes, but hand-written strips of cloth tied to belt-loops (left).
The whole shop, inside and outside, could be somewhere in Scandinavia or northern USA in the mid-1950s; I'm getting those past life vibes once again!
"Let me have a Three Musketeers, ah... and a ball point pen there... a comb, a pint of Old Harper, couple of flashlight batteries and some of this beef jerky."
Sunday, 16 December 2007
My mother writes that everyone over the age of 13 was working at the lumber camp chopping down trees, while she, as a junior, would rise at 5:00, join the queue for food, buy bread (brown loaf - 1 rouble 20 kopeks, white loaf - 2 roubles, 10 kopeks), and oily, watery soup with noodles (41 kopeks a bowl). At 12:00 there'd be lunch followed by another queue, then washing and mending clothes, and more yet queuing at 6:00 pm.
The camp, she writes, was surrounded by endless forest; it consisted of four barracks, mess hut, offices, bakery, baths and a de-lousing hut. There's kipyatok (hot drinking water), a place for sharpening saws and axes, a well, a summer club; a school and a nursury is being built for children from the age of three months to three years so that their mothers can go to work.
There were 400 people at the camp. My mother writes that she weighed 38 kilo, and as thin as a mosquito. She signs off apologising for her handwriting, as she's slowly forgetting to write in Polish (the schooling in the camp being in Russian).
Their labour camp, Spetspos'yolok 17, was over 20km from the nearest railway station, a place called Punduga, north of Kharovsk in the Vologda Oblast.
My aunt on my father's side survived Auschwitz; also well into her eighties, she receives a federal state pension from the German government. German Chancellors over the decades have wept openly at Warsaw's Umschlagplatz. Germany has atoned for its sins. But Russia? Not a bit of it. Kicking off WW2 in unison with Hitler, invading as many countries between September 1939 and June 1941 as Nazi Germany did, Russia still claims to be the victim. And my grandfather, a Polish citizen, is no doubt claimed as one of the "26 million Russian war dead". Alongside millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Moldovans, Transcarpathian Ruthenians and Karelian Finns forcibly turned into Soviet citizens after the start of WW2.
The weather seems to have finally turned wintery. The frost held all day and there was a light dusting of snow - enough to make the gloomy late afternoon landscape interesting. Above: ul. Sarabandy. It's less than an hour before sunset, and we're a week before winter solstice. The sky is so overcast that aircraft on final approach to Okecie are still invisible as they roar directly overhead.
Above: At the crossroads - footpaths and drives to the right, to the left ul. Dumki makes its way (below) between a marshy pond and a small stand of birch trees before joining ul. Trombity. The smell of wood smoke is in the air.
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Earlier this year, I witnessed an inebriated 30-something career woman in smart skirt and suit falling face-long onto the concourse at Charing Cross station, tripping on her heels while tottering for a train. The contents of her handbag scattering all over the floor, mobile phone parting company from its battery. She was too drunk to stand up. A very sorry sight. Or a gaggle of teenage girls swigging white wine from the bottle on a District Line train at Ealing Broadway - drunk and aggressive.
Maybe I'm being a hypocritical male - no one bats an eyelid when Pan Ziutek boards a Piaseczno-bound 709 the worse for drink - but there's something rather shocking about a nation's womanhood behaving in this way. Britain is somehow a country losing its way.
* Quote from Jonathan Wood, publisher of cult literary annual Through The Woods.
Friday, 14 December 2007
"Piccadilly 1972: Taking a turn off mainstreet, away from cacaphony and real-life relics, & into the outerspaces myriad faces & sweet deafening sounds of rock'n'roll. And innerspace...the mind loses its bearings. What's the date again? (Its so dark in here) 1962? Or twenty years on?....." (From the sleeve notes to the eponymously-named first Roxy Music album*)
Although the old tiles have been replaced at the busier deep-tube line interchanges, the originals can still be found on many Bakerloo and Piccadilly Line stations. A longish wait at Regent's Park (reason: defective train at Oxford Circus) gave me the opportunity to photograph one of four station name signs. Note variations in apostrophe usage! Shame on those Edwardian tilers!
* The sleeve notes of Roxy Music, by the band's publicist Simon Puxley, struck me (and still do) as the perfect accompaniment to the songs' ambience... And in full...
piccadilly, 1972: taking a turn off main-street, away from cacophony and real-life relics, & into the outer spaces myriad faces & sweet deafening sounds of rock’n’roll. And inner space … the mind loses its bearings. what’s the date again? (it’s so dark in here) 1962? or twenty years on?
is this a recording session or a cocktail party? … on the rocks, please … where’s the icebox? … oh! now! that is … so cool … (there’d been rumours, of course, nothing certain, but the suggestion of truth). musicians lie rigid-&-fluid n a mannerist canvas of hard-edged black-leather glintings, red-satin slashes, smokey surrounding gloom … listening to the music re-sounding, cutting the air like it was glass, rock’n’roll juggernauted into demonic electronic supersonic mo-mo-momentum - by a panoplic machine-pile, hifi or scifi who can tell? Wailing old-time sax, velvet/viscous, vibrato/vicious or ensemble jamming (& more) … synthesised to whirls and whorls of hardrock sound … mixed/fixed/sifted/lifted to driving, high-flying chunks & vorticles of pure electronic wow - gyrating, parabolic, tantalising (oh notes could not spell out the score).… fantasising: phantomising: echoes of magic-golden moments become real presences … dreamworld & realworld loaded with images (of a style & time & world of - celluloid artefacts? heart-rending hardfacts?). Monaural and aureate fragments sea-changed & refined to pan, span the limits of sensation … leaves of gold, crossing thresholds & hearts. Saturday nite at the Roxy the Mecca the Ritz - your fantasies realized … & are they still? & is this the end? (or the beginning?) &, so help me, so many questions? & are the answers naked to the eye - or ear? or are they undercover?
Thursday, 13 December 2007
On my way to Wembley Park underground station, I passed a warehouse, which was once one of the palaces built for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. John Betjeman visited the site too, then used for storing theatrical props, originally used for an exhibition of church art.
I had a disappointing flight from Zurich to London City Airport yesterday. I managed to get a window seat, at the back of the plane, an Avro RJ-100, which has shoulder-mounted wings that afford an excellent, uninterrupted view of the ground. The plane's wings were sprayed with de-icer at Zurich. On take-off, the de-icing fluid, synthetic urea, bled off the wings and along the fuselage as soon as the plane started climbing, freezing over as a thin semi-translucent film that blocked any photography. And the views would have been stunning. The approach into London City is quite spectacular. After wheeling around north Kent, the plane makes it turn into finals over the Houses of Parliament and the dives steeply into what was the quay between Royal Albert and King George V docks. And the weather - cloudless sky - and time of day - shortly before sunset - I'd have got some fabulous aerial views of the ground, had it not been for the obscured window!
Tuesday, 11 December 2007
This is a sequence of snaps from the Nokia N95; the jolting, dirty, slow and halting nature of the morning commute come across well. I took the first two snaps, Moni the remaining one.
As is visible from the pictures, there's very little traffic coming this way. It plays hell with cars' undersides. Our brave little Nissan Micra, hand-carved from a single billet of titanium, can take it. Occasionally, the exhaust system can come adrift, or - as happened twice - the car bogs down in deep mud or snow. Otherwise, this route to school and on to work is infinitely preferable to standing in three lanes of stationary traffic on ul. Puławska.
Monday, 10 December 2007
Saturday, 8 December 2007
While living in London, I'd have the rare anomalous memory (most usually while in 'vacant or in pensive mood', to quote Wordsworth), but never triggered by landscape. Here in Poland, these events occur almost daily. Why is that? Why has moving to another country suddenly caused me to have far more of these flashbacks than before?
It all seems so familiar. This is not from my childhood. Why does landscape have such an impact on me? These flat rural lands around Warsaw have this profound effect on my consciousness, whatever the season. Could it be genetic? After all, my father's family has been rooted in these parts for centuries. But it's a 1950s, not 1920s feel that I'm continually picking up.
I feel that my blogging of Jeziorki is creating a marker, setting down a beacon for the future, that I may in some incarnation to come, return, and by doing so validate the truth about man's eternal soul. Below: As I look at this photo, spirit of place comes vividly to life. This is where I've been, this is where I am.
Outside Zgorzała on (yet another) building site, I found this wonderful example of a 'barakowóz', or literally a barrack on wheels. Towed from site to site, these provide builders, who are often from far-flung parts of Poland, with living quarters while they're working. In the distance on the far, flat horizon is the radio tower at Raszyn.
Just around the corner is where Warsaw ends and Zgorzała begins. The sign on the left bids farewell to the Lesznowola municipality. The photo (below) neatly encapsulates the mixture of old and new that is Poland today. The roadside cross, the discarded cabbage leaves, the racing readymix concrete truck, the logistics centre in the background and the new - but already dented - local authority sign elegantly made but bearing the medieval crest of Lesznowola.
The housing estate (below) being built on the western edge of the old vaccine plant is growing apace. What is still lacking is a tarmac drive to the new houses, either from Zgorzała or Nowy Podolszyn. General Mud has not yet given way to General Winter. Vehicles trying to get here are in severe danger of ending up axle-deep in mud. As I was taking this picture, I was asked by a woman who was looking around the estate with her husband and son: "Sir makes pictures for newspaper?*" Brusquely I replied "No. For self.*" I'm fed up of people in Poland assuming that because I'm touting a decent camera I must therefore be a photojournalist out to catch a juicy story, an estate agent looking for business, a tax inspector or secret service man prying on the nouveaux riches etc. - rather than the simple explanation - an artistic soul snapping spirit of place.
I would guess that within 12 to 18 months this estate will be complete, gated, connected to the main roads and populated by 120 or so people with their 180 or so cars, all adding to the morning jams on ul. Karczunkowska and Pulawska.
UPDATE late September 2008: The buildings in the top two photos have since been demolished.
* Literal translation to emphasise the question's impolite intrusion upon my privacy.
Friday, 7 December 2007
Once I'd dropped the children off today, it was off to Warszawa Centralna to catch a train to Poznan to address a conference. In the train, my soul was heavy; the weather unseasonably warm and rainy - global warming has taken hold. Below: Between Kutno and Konin, the Wielkopolska landscape from the train window brings to mind winter in Kentucky. All that's missing is white fences and some horses.
A few thoughts on Polish state railways, PKP's InterCity business. Inconsistency is the all around. On a train to Kraków the other month, there was an electrical socket for laptops between every seat in the second class compartment. Two weeks ago, the first class compartment didn't offer 0ne. Today, there were no electrical sockets for laptops anywhere on the Poznan train. The table-top lamps in the restaurant carriage had funny sockets (one round pin, two semi-circular pins) to stop anyone from plugging in their laptop. The message to business travellers, therefore, is mixed. If you want to work on the train, you may be in luck, or else, you may not.
A similar picture relates to alcohol. You cannot buy beer (other than alcohol-free) on the Kraków train. You can buy beer, whisky, vodka and cognac on the Poznan train.
Mixed messages to customers are a bad signal. PKP InterCity needs to adopt one policy on these issues and stick to it.
By late afternoon in Poznan the skies cleared and the sun emerged, soon to set. Before then, two buildings caught my eye as I walked back towards the station. It pays to look up when walking through a city. (Above, left:) A fragment of the neo-gothic Church of the Holiest Saviour* (Kościół Najświętszego Zbawiciela). (Above right:) Pegasus, the winged horse, atop Poznan's Opera House (Teatr Wielki im. Stanisława Moniuszki).
My train home, the Berlin-Warsaw express, arrived on time, a few minutes after the photo above was taken. It arrived in Warsaw 65 minutes late. No real reason given other than rumour and hearsay. "A person under the locomotive at Konin." "A crash on a level crossing ahead involving a minibus - 30 casualties." "An electrical failure." Of course, the real reason was not communicated, leaving us guessing. I felt sorry for the two passengers in my compartment with connecting trains to catch in Warsaw; their anxiety was growing by the minute as the train stopped and started the remaining part of the journey.
* The English translation implies more than one Holy Saviour. Indeed more than two. If there were only two, it would be Holier Saviour.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
The placename 'Bialystok' I always associate with Mel Brooks' comedy The Producers - the Zero Mostel character Max Bialystock - his dim Swedish secretary answering the phone with the words "Bialystock and Bloom", or Max trying to sound posher by reinventing himself as "B. Ellie Stock".
Driving back to Warsaw this morning, I was put in mind of the road to Lublin, similar in atmosphere, though with heavier international truck traffic - much of it en route from the Baltic states through Poland and off to Germany and beyond. (Below:) Now and then, the sun broke through, but generally the early December gloom prevailed.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Wikipedia's eclectic list of December 3 births makes me think that birth date as determinant of character is rather specious. Would have been a time when commonality due to birth date would be to do with a mother's nutrition during pregnancy (autumn-born children's mothers would have had access to better food than spring-born children); but not any more. "It is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions', said Kent in Shakespeare's King Lear. The stars? Phooey!
Birth order seems to be more deterministic. First born children are on average taller, and have higher IQs than younger siblings, while younger siblings have sharper elbows and are readier to take risks. Discussing this on Saturday at Eddie's birthday party with his friends' parents confirmed this in seven out of eight cases!
Sunday, 2 December 2007
Polish State Railways (PKP) pays a high cost for social mistrust. Travelling by train in England with my son last year, I marvelled at the contrast between how ticket collectors work in Poland and the UK. The British guard asked politely me to show my tickets, and seeing that I had two, thanked me and moved on. He did not inspect them close-up as they do in Poland. He did not ask to see any proof of my son's educational status or age. His bosses work on the assumption that if someone's got a ticket, there's a 99% likelihood that the correct fare has been paid. Ticket inspection is about protecting revenues. The guard's after people travelling without a ticket. In Poland... Prosze o bilet! The ticket is inspected thoroughly. Any legitimacja entitling a traveller to discounted fares is checked thoroughly. When travelling with my son and I'm asked for his school legitimacja, my response is: "There is compulsory education in Poland [obowiazek szkolny]. Parents who do not send their children to school are imprisoned. The fact that I'm here and not behind bars rather suggests that my son does go to school. So why the bit of paper to prove the obvious?" The upshot of over-zealous ticket checking on PKP is that ticket inspectors do not focus on revenue protection.
Our line out of Warsaw, run by Koleje Mazowieckie, is an excellent example. At all the unmanned stations between Warszawa Zachodnia and Piaseczno, passengers are requested to board the train at the first compartment of the first carriage to buy their ticket. The guard writes tickets out manually. Our regular ticket - "One adult, two children, three bicycles, from Warszawa Jeziorki to Czachowek Poludniowy, return, coming back today". The guard needs to check the number of kilometres between the two stations (18), check my children's legitimacje, work out the tariff (family discount, excursion discount), tot it all up and write out the ticket longhand. The ticket will cost something like 13.67 PLN, and he's always short of change, so he's fumbling through his pocket for tiny coins worth a fraction of a penny. By the time he's written out the ticket, the train has passed two intermediate stations. From the back of the train (which is also packed rigid), where passengers can travel safe in the knowledge that no guard will ever have time to control, scores of people hop on and hop off, knowing there's little chance they'll ever be asked to pay.
Because revenues are not collected, management thinks no one's using the trains, services are cut back to save money, trains are cut from eight carriages to four, recently to three. And all because the most elemental thought process has not been carried out. Why are tickets checked? To ensure that passengers have paid their fares. Not to control society. It's a social mistrust thing. Over-checking costs. Management distrusts its ticket inspectors, controllers control controllers, the cost of revenue protection is out of all proportion to the revenues actually collected.
Saturday, 1 December 2007
The matter of why these two images were so familiar to a three year-old boy living in a West London suburb is integral to my life-long quest to find answers about what I call Anomalous Memory Events that have been regularly occurring throughout my life. Viewing these pictures as a child triggered the earliest such anomalous memories that I can remember.
What I felt at the time was a total connection with the picture; I'd been here before, I can associate totally with the atmosphere, the look-and-feel of the places, even though I know I had never been there in my lifetime. And how could I have. Continental Europe; snow, steam engines. This is not the suburban London in which I was growing up.
The picture above came to mind a few years back when we visited one of our favourite places, a village called Augustówka, ( 51°58'58.81"N, 21°31'11.96"E, low-res on Google Earth) standing at the junction of three railway lines. Walking through the forest in winter, snow on the ground, I 'saw' the above picture just as I'd seen it in the book; the effect was like looking at a viewfinder image through a viewfinder - a sudden flashback of memory to a memory of a memory from outside my current lifetime. I need to know why.
If you've just Googled this page, let me tell you that this is one of the most popular pages on my blog, visited more often than my in-depth review of the Nikon D80 digital SLR camera. So here, just for you, is my translation (humbly offered as the best in the English language!) of Tuwim's Lokomotywa:
The locomotive’s standing at the station,
Huge, heavy, it drips perspiration –
It stands and wheezes, it groans and gnashes
Its boiling belly stuffed full of hot ashes:
Arrrgh, what torture!
Phew, what a scorcher!
Panting and puffing!
Hissing and huffing!
It’s barely gasping, it’s barely breathing,
And still its fireman more coal keeps on heaping.
To it were coupled wagons of iron and steel
Massive and heavy, they weighed a great deal
And crowds of people in each one of these,
And one’s full of cows, another of – horsies,
A third one with passengers, every one fat,
Sitting and eating sausagey snacks.
The fourth was packed with crates of bananas.
The fifth one contained – six large grand pianos.
In the sixth a large cannon, cor! what a whopper!
Each of its wheels chocked up right proper!
The seventh, oaken wardrobes and chairs.
The eighth an elephant, giraffe and two bears.
The ninth, fattened pigs – no spare spaces,
The tenth full of trunks, baggage and cases,
Wagons like these – another forty remain,
Not even I could tell what they contain.
But if one thousand strongmen gathered right here,
And each one would eat one thousand burgers a year,
And each one strained with all of his might,
They couldn’t shift this colossal weight.
Suddenly – WHISTLE!
Suddenly – bustle!
Steam – eruption!
Wheels – in motion!
Slowly at first, like a tortoise just waking
Strains the engine, every single joint aching.
But it jerks at the wagons and pulls with great zeal,
It turns, and it turns, wheel after wheel.
It gathers momentum and takes up the chase
As it thunders and hammers and speeds up the pace.
And where to? And where to? And where to?
Straight on!By rail, by rail, by bridge, now it’s gone –
Through mountains and tunnels, through meadows and woods
It’s rushing, it’s rushing to bring on the goods,
It’s knocking out rhythms like banging a drum
DUM-buDUM, DUM-buDUM DUM-buDUM-DUM!
It’s gliding so smoothly – no effort at all,
No engine of steel, just a little toy ball,
No massive machine, all panting and puffing
But a plaything of tin, that weighs next to nothing.
From where does it, how does it, why does it rush?
And what is it, who is it, gives it a push?
That makes it go faster, all thrashing and hissing?
It’s steam’s scalding power that keeps moving this thing.
It’s steam piped from boiler to a piston that glides
Back and forth pushing rods that turn wheels on both sides,
They’re striving and driving, the train keeps on bumping,
‘Cause steam keeps the pistons a-pumping and pumping,
Producing a rhythm so pleasing to some:
DUM-buDUM, DUM-buDUM DUM-buDUM-DUM!
(copyright Michael Dembinski 2008)