Friday, 31 August 2007

Last ride to work, summer 2007

Once the school holidays began, I'd ride my bicycle to work whenever I could. On Monday the school run begins again, three weeks later we'll cross the Equinox, nights will get longer, days colder. But this week, I managed three round trips to work, each of at least 36km. Cycle path nearly all the way - from home, through the Las Kabacki forest, into Ursynów, along al. KEN, then Dolina Sluziewiecka, Belwederska (the quiet stretch pictured above), past Lazienki park, down Agricola, and on to the office. If not too tired on the way home, I'd do a longer run through the forest; beautiful at this time of year, sunny, not too hot.

But that's it for 2007 - back on the bike commuting (hopefully) late next June.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Greenhouse sunset

The word 'greenhouse' today is associated with carbon dioxide and global warming, but down Jeziorki way it represents a dying way of life. Back in the 1970s, private market gardeners were allowed to run their own greenhouses to help supply Warsaw's growing population with fresh produce (that the inefficient public sector couldn't). 'Badylarze', the pejorative term of the time for the market gardeners, built greenhouses on the city's rim and burnt old tyres, bunker oil and unsold copies of Trybuna Ludu, and got rich producing tomatoes and carnations the year round.

These days, their businesses have to compete with growers from across the European Union. Many market gardeners have gone bust, their greenhouses lingering idle until the land gets sold for housing development. That's where the serious money is to be made round here these days.

This evening I snapped this greenhouse on ul. Trombity, one of dozens in Jeziorki, under a splendid sunset. How many will remain in five years time?

Where have the trees gone?

"Woke up this mornin', got those 'what's happened to that forest outside my bedroom window' blues". What once looked like Birnam Wood marching on Dunsinane* has gone, the self-sown silver birches that formed a line in a field between ul. Trombity and ul. Sarabandy have been cut down. To make way for what? Arable crops? Housing?

* Note for my non-native speaking readers: A reference to Shakespeare's Macbeth

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Don't the moon look lonesome, shinin' through the trees?

Total familiarity. Walking home this evening along ul. Karczunkowska, I might as well have been in Ohio, Kentucky or Minnesota sometime in the 1950s. The full moon sky, the scents of late summer, the landscape, suburban houses on the edge of town... Atavistic resurgence in its fullest, made manifest in its familiarity.

At times like this, I feel I have lived before, I live now and will live again.

"Don't the moon look lonesome, shinin' through the trees" - a line from about a hundred and one blues songs. Above photo: 30 sec exposure at f3.5.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Heron over ul. Pozytywki

I've seen it before, but it has always proved elusive. Today, while walking around the pond by ul. Pozytywki (lit. "Music-box Street"), I caught this grey heron hovering over the water before flying gracefully off to the west. Perhaps the two anglers sitting by the pond had put it off competing for fish. The lump under its throat is its retracted neck, which bends into an 'S' shape for flight.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Late August cultivation

Where others use lawnmowers, here in Jeziorki we use tractors. Looking out east from our garden, I get a strong deja vu thing about 1950s America again. Only the satellite dish makes the scene look contemporary.

Neuroscientists will say that deja vus are all just a matter of electrical impuses in a certain part of our brain. I don't buy that. My flashbacks are too consistent in terms of time and place (just had another one in the kitchen). USA, 1920s to 1950s. Here in Jeziorki, these flashbacks are triggered with magnificent regularity and intensity, which give me a strong suspicion that indeed, I am living a blessed afterlife, right now.

Friday, 24 August 2007

"...said the spider to the fly"

Today I found this splendid specimen outside my bedroom window. Overnight it had caught a fly, which it was cocooning in silk prior to digestion. These large garden spiders, called 'Krzyzaki' in Polish on account of the cross on their thoraxes, are prevalent in late summer and into the autumn.

Last night's electrical storm (small pic below) hit Jeziorki hard. At quarter to four I was awoken by a flash of lightning instantly followed by an extremely loud thunderclap.The lightning was bright enough to illuminate my room through the curtains. I jumped out of bed to grab my camera, went for the light switch - nothing. Electricity was out in the house and indeed in all our neighbours' houses. Power was restored to Jeziorki by 10 am.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Another summer storm

Woken up by one early this morning, recording another one late this evening. A powerful electrical storm made its way north skirting Warsaw's western fringes. This shot was taken half an hour after sunset. The wind was blowing up fiercely, hence the blurred outlines of the trees in this 30 second exposure. During that time, I counted up to seven separate flashes. (Below:) Our estate waiting for the storm to hit - photo taken some quarter of an hour earlier.

Kórnicka in transition

A set of photos for the local history book; ul. Kórnicka is being transformed from dirt track to civilised, asphalted road. The kerbstones have been laid. Next will come the roadstone, the rollers, then finally the blacktop. Everything must change.

[Update - 26 Aug: No blacktop for ul Kórnicka, only paving stone. Not as durable, but calms traffic better, giving the impression of being a drive rather than a proper road.]

[Update - August 2008]: ul. Kórnicka gets five speed bumps along its length.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

New housing

Looking east from our neighbouring village of Zgorzala, across fields of cabbage and wheat, another development of new terraced and semi-detached houses is springing up. Bit by bit, the suburbs encroach. Note the starlings congregating in the high-tension wires; a similar sight to this one (click through).

Saturday, 18 August 2007

By bike to Czachówek again

Eddie and I set off for Czachówek from home on our bikes. After half an hour, we were in Jazgarzewszczyzna, a village, which at 17 letters long, has the longest single-word place name in Poland (above). Trying to find a more direct route than the one we took last time, we strayed too near the railway line south of Piaseczno and found ourselves cut off by rivers and fishponds. Below: Eddie looking for a way out of a trackless field.

Finally, after about three hours, we arrived at Czachówek Poludniowy for the train home. Next station is Czachówek Górny, which overlooks the abandoned station at Czachówek Srodkowy (below). To the east was another station, Czachówek Wschodni, now also abandoned.

Friday, 17 August 2007


Back home to ul. Trombity after three weeks in the UK. The seasons are moving on; life moves on. The field of oats next door has been harvested, the day is shorter by over two hours. But this happens every year.

More ominous in terms of civilisation encroaching on our NIMBY* heaven is the imminent tarmacking over of ul. Kórnicka at the north end of ul. Trombity.

What until last month was an unpaved, pock-marked dirt track - muddy in autumn and spring, dusty in summer, axle-deep in snow in winter - will now be a proper road. Rat-running commuters will be using our road as a short-cut between ul. Karczunkowska and ul. Baletowa. C'est la vie.

UPDATE - September 2008. This has indeed happened. Each morning, just after 07:30, there's a queue of ten to 12 cars at the top end of ul. Kórnicka waiting to turn into ul. Baletowa.

* For my non-native English speaking readers, 'NIMBY' is an acronym - 'Not In My Back Yard'. Progress by all means, but not at the expense of MY lifestyle.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Starlings on the wire

This evening while visiting our local hypermarket, Eddie remarked on the vast number of starlings perched on the high-tension power cables crossing ul. Pulawska. In the distance, not visible in this shot, was a dark cloud of starlings circling over the police barracks that lie south of the hypermarket.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Armed Forces Day parade, Warsaw

Today, 15 August, commemorates the anniversary of the Polish victory over the Bolshevik army at the gates of Warsaw in 1920. This day is now a public holiday, and a celebration of the Polish Armed Forces. Along with friends we braved the heat and the crowds to see the parade, which trundled fitfully along Aleje Ujazdowskie towards the presidential palace. Lots of stop-start activity, exhaust fumes, waiting, wailing infants, fainting old folk. But a crowd-drawer. Main battle tanks, rocket launchers and armoured personnel carriers passed tens of thousands under a hot August sun.

Above: Assault and transport helicopters, jet fighters and trainers flew overhead at low level. While there was an air of popular pride in the armed forces among the crowds, the same cannot be said for the politicians. Below: President Kaczynski takes the salute. His presence was met with subdued boos, comments such as 'no spitting' and 'Kaczor'. Not quite the respect accorded to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as she takes the Trooping of the Colour. Nor does it say much about the chances of Kaczynski's PiS party in the forthcoming general elections.

The day was a chance to visit the Army Museum and stroll through Warsaw taking in its history. Below: Eddie standing by a pair of 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns from the Polish WW2 destroyer, ORP Blyskawica. Eddie's grandfather Tadeusz was the Artillery Officer on board the ship; he would have commanded these very guns.

After the parade, we walked to Ochota to dinner at our friends, who by coincidence live on the same street as my father did before the war. Along the way, we came across this commemorative plaque (below), marking the spot where my father's Home Army unit, Batalion Odwet ('Vengeance'), began its fight during the Warsaw Uprising.

Although the day's events generated plenty of enthusiasm for today's Polish armed forces, my thoughts are with our parents' heroic generation and the hell they went through. For the sake of our children and subsequent generations, I pray that Poland never suffers war ever again.

Left: Eddie and Sabina on their way back from the parade.

UPDATE, OCTOBER 2007: PiS indeed got a drubbing at the ballot boxes.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Where am I? In the village

Am I in Italy? This is Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate folly near Porthmadog. It was here that cult 1960s TV series 'The Prisoner' was shot. We were lucky to visit on a blue-sky day when the strong sunlight creates a truly Mediterranean feel to the place. Click here for link to video directed by Nick Morris for pop group The Times, shot at Portmeirion.

The day was sufficiently beautiful for me to take hundreds of photographs that do justice to this splendid folly. Below: View of the village from the estuary of the River Dwyryd. In the lower centre of the picture is the Stone Boat, a famous Portmeirion landmark.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

I must go down to the sea again

The beach at Porth Oer, the finest on the entire Llyn Peninsula. Sheltered, safe and sandy, we went swimming here. Below: an RAF air sea rescue Sea King helicopter flies over, reassuring swimmers, surfers and canoeists that help is at hand if needed.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Mountains or sea?

Poles traditionally ask each other whether they holidayed in the mountains or by the sea, the two being at opposite ends of the country. In North Wales, you can do both. On the same day. Above, the view from the top of the highest peak on the Llyn Peninsula, Yr Eifl (564 m above sea level). If that seems low, bear in mind this peak is but two kilometres from the sea.

Above: The view from the top of Carn Fadryn (371 m), the highest peak at the western end of the Llyn Peninsula. Below,Warren Beach, between Abersoch and Llanbedrog. We have been blessed with good weather this week!

Poles have spread everywhere across the UK. We kept on bumping into them in the most unlikely places. Below: Even here, at the summit of Carn Fadryn, there are signs of their presence.


Penrhos, a former WW2 Royal Air Force base, has been home to Poles since the end of the war, when it became a resettlement camp. It is still home to many elderly Poles; many more have ended their days in this corner of North Wales.

Left: The commemorative cross that stands outside the chapel in Penrhos. Erected over 60 years ago, the cross itself is made from the roof struts from a hangar that stood nearby.

Below: Some of the barrack buildings at Penrhos, as spick and span as they were when under military command. Now used to house holidaymakers rather than maritime patrol bomber crews.

There's something about this former airbase, the barracks, the layout, which triggers in my those anomalous memories - flashbacks, which suggest a strong familiarity with airbases, maybe from a past life. Something draws me here, year after year. It's not the Welsh landscape; I experience that old, strange-yet-familiar feeling here, on the site of this former military airfield.

Below: The cemetary in nearby Pwllheli. Wondering around the gravestones of local Hugheses, Evanses, Lloyds, Williamses and Joneses, one eventually comes to the quarter where hundreds of Poles are buried. The headstones tell a consistent narrative; a typical one - born 1890 in Kolomyja, died 1985 in Penrhos. Legionista, Wirtuti Militari. Zostal na wygnaniu, zmarl na wygnaniu. Legionista - he'd have fought in the WW1 and/or in the 1920s war against the Bolsheviks. Virtuti Militari - Poland's highest military decoration. Został na wyganiu - he ended up in exile. Zmarł na wygnaniu - he died in exile. The saddest ones were those that did not live long enough to see a free Poland.

"If I should die, think only this of me
That some corner of a foreign field
Is forever England", wrote Rupert Brooke in 1914.

The Polish section of the Pwllheli cemetary is indeed forever Poland. Click on the image to see individual graves.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Penrhos, the place we love

Back to the place we love; our 14th visit here in the past 16 summers. Right: The view from the hill between Penrhos and Rhyd-y-Clafdy, the highest peak in the distance is Carn Fadryn, which dominates the western end of the Llyn Peninsula.

Looking the other way from the same hill is Yr Eifl (below), one of a group of dormant volcanic peaks that dominate the eastern end of the Llyn.