Saturday, 29 September 2007

Flamenco sketches

A two-day training event brings me to Seville, a city that has enchanted me like few others. Seville has a North African feel to it, legacy of its Moorish past. Narrow streets, houses with courtyards featuring fountains and shade; orange, plantain and palm trees, are unusual sights for Europe. Indeed, I'm brought to mind of Spanish California and its missions.

Our international group stayed at the Casas del la Juderia, a fascinating complex of former Jewish houses clustered together to form one charmingly idiosyncratic hotel (above), where the porters need maps to find your room. Below is the hotel's rooftop swimming pool. The hotel is in the centre of Seville's old town, a short walk from the principle attractions.

From the hotel, after work, our Spanish hosts took us to visit the city's main attractions, followed by dinner and flamenco. Because Sevillanos have their siesta in the late afternoon, social life does not kick off until after 21:00. We got to the restaurant at five to nine - it was still shut. We were first to eat and first to leave; the locals carry on promenading around the town until well past midnight (the Spanish walk - el paseo). The old city centre was remarkably clear parties of drunken lager louts; inland Spain attracts a better class of tourist.

Because of the city's noctural lifestyle, few Sevillanos were up at seven am. Plus, we are six degrees west of London, ( 37°23'13.21"N, 5°59'13.17"W - indeed further west than Land's End) and yet are still on Warsaw time - so sunrise was not until quarter past eight! This is city that goes to bed late, wakes up late, and has a couple of hours of kip during the day to make up for it.

An interesting feature of the city is its use of colours which beautify the buildings under the harsh sunlight and diamond blue skies. Alongside the whites, the other colour that predominates is albero, yellow ochre, evident in the picture second from top. It is also used in the house (below) to accentuate the white facade.

Work prevented me from seeing more of the city than I did, but in the few short hours I had to wander around, I fired off 140 photos.

And it was hot. At 17:30, as we stepped out of the railway station, it was +36.5C - body temperature. Two days later, in London, it would be +11C and drizzling. One can see why three million Brits have left the Miserable Grey Little Island in recent years to live on the Continent.

I must indeed return to Seville. A city like this needs plenty of time to appreciate the history, culture and local traditions.

Across the European Union

Last week, I travelled to Seville on business, flying from Warsaw to Munich, on by plane to Madrid, then by fast train to Seville.

Flying into Munich, I snapped this suburban landscape which immediately reminded me of Jeziorki - except that the fields are wider, everything's tarmacked over and orderly. Yet the semi-rural nature of the landscape has not been lost. Sensible town planning is the answer; let's hope that Jeziorki will develop in a similar way and not turn into sprawl.

Onwards from Munich and over the Alps; I'm getting a geographical sense of the European Union quite different from my usual Warsaw-London-Warsaw hops. The Alps are a formidable barrier to land travel from north to south. From the air, picturesque peaks, but imagine crossing this lot from foreground over to the most distant mountain pass on foot or with pack-animal, as would have been the case before the 19th century.

Approaching Madrid from the air, I can see what is meant by the word terracotta - literally 'cooked earth'. The Spanish soil is scorched by the September sun; the landscape is quite alien to a citizen of northern Europe.

(Below:) The journey from Madrid is by high-speed train, the Alta Velocidad Espanola (AVE). An example to Poland of what can be acheived in terms of transforming a nation's transport infrastructure through political will. The train covered the 470 km from the Spanish capital to Seville in 2 hrs 20 mins, arriving 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, averaging 200km/h. By contrast, the 300 km from Warsaw to Kraków currently takes 2 hrs 45 mins - and that's one of Poland's better railway services!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Equinox: summer ends, autumn begins

Just after half past six this morning, the sun rose over the Las Kabacki forest. Just over four hours later, the sun crossed the celestial equator as we move from summer into autumn. Above, the last sunrise of summer 2007. Below, the first sunset of autumn 2007, just before half past six this evening. Both pictures taken from our attic. After sunset, the air still smelt of summer, as if that season did not want to fade away. A few trees are changing colour; otherwise the onset of autumn has yet to arrive. I shall be travelling to Seville and London this week - interesting to see whether autumn will be there to greet me on return to Jeziorki next Saturday.

Twice a year at Equinox, just after 10am, the sun shines through the round attic window directly onto the bathroom door. A nice alignment.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Potato harvest-time down south, Jeziorki way

All of old (rural) Jeziorki is a-buzz with the activity of potato harvesting. Tractors are out, field hands are out, everyone's gathering in those spuds. Above: A wagon train of bagged spuds trundles down ul. Trombity, headed for market. Below: Potato harvesting in progress on ul. Nawlocka. The blue machine is slowly towed down the field, with three people sorting the potatoes as they emerge from the soil.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Road to Luków

What a ride! I had to deliver a business presentation today in Luków, a town in the north of Lubelskie province, 120km from Warsaw. Under a near-cloudless sky, the road from Garwolin to Luków was almost devoid of traffic (above). My favourite bits of road are those that wind through forests, with double white lines separating the two-lane blacktop (below).

The journey home was magickal. The sunset, landscape and road, took me back to another time, again to 1950s USA. Below: Leaving Luków, around 6pm. Replace the VW Golfs, Nissan Almeras and Renault Kangoos with Oldsmobiles, Plymouths and Desotos and there it is!

About half an hour later, the sun went down. Listening to Miles Davis 'Kind of Blue' (tylko!), the ideal aural accompaniment to twilight travel, in particular the tracks So What? and Flamenco Sketches.

I am at one with the universe.

Serenity reigns. A beautiful moment.

(Above:) Near the town of Wilchta. (I needed to double-check the roadsign - no, not Wichita.) A long exposure gives an exaggerated effect of road-rush; in reality I was driving quite slowly. The road at twilight is indeed an inspiration.

"Radio relay towers, c'mon lead me to my baby." Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen is the soundtrack to driving after nightfall. Just before the town of Osieck are these radio masts. What are they broadcasting? Wolfman Jack? Pappy O'Daniel's Flour Hour? The romance of the airwaves lingers on in the imagination.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Parcels at twilight, parcels at dawn

A regular early evening visitor to Warszawa Okęcie is UPS's MD-11 N276UP, caught by the last rays of the setting sun. One of the biggest aircraft to use the airport on a daily basis, so big indeed, that I have to zoom out from 200mm to frame it. Above: Planes look best on approach; flaps out, spoilers extended, undercarriage down. The sunset colours this aircraft beautifully.
Below: The same plane in January 2008, shortly after a dawn take-off from Okęcie. Note the different colour temperature between the two photos, cool dawn, warm sunset.

March of Progress

Driving to the office this morning from a meeting, I got caught in a traffic jam by ul. Postepu (literally 'Progress Street'). We're three and half miles (just under 6km) from the city centre and the same distance from Jeziorki. Warsaw is spreading south at a tremendous rate. A quick look on Google Earth ( 52°10'47.98"N, 20°59'47.84"E) shows a hole in the ground, a site waiting to be built on. Soon, this will be brand new, class 'A' office block.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Endless summer

This morning's weather forecast was for cloud, rain and thunder. Leaving the office for a business lunch appointment just before 1:00 pm, the weather was still perfect. So a walk across Lazienki Park was in order. The park was still basking in a seemingly eternal summer; lunchtime strollers, foreign tourists, students with their books, and of course strutting peacocks and cheeky squirrels posing for the passers-by. The air smelt of pine resin and high summer. Just look at the greenery in the picture above; no trace of impending autumn.

It was still fine as I returned to the office (27 degrees on the car thermometer), but by 4:00 pm the sky had turned black, rain was pelting down like stair rods and loud cracks of thunder rumbled through the air. Is summer over? I'm certainly counting on some fine weather by the end of the week for my road trip to Luków (some 60 miles from Warsaw) on Friday.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Return to Zamienie

Last autumn, Moni, Eddie and I discovered the inner secrets of Zamienie, the former vaccine plant to the east of Jeziorki. We trespassed our way into it, looking through the various buildings that still await the developer's demolition teams. The place still has a faintly sinister air about it. Note the rows of poplars planted around the perimeter to keep it safe from prying eyes. It was built in the late 1940s; local legends tell of biological warfare production, although these rumours have not been substantiated. Above: The two stable blocks that held cattle from which the vaccines were produced. We investigated these last November, before and after the roof tiles were taken off. The buildings contained stalls, hay, and labs. Since then, little has changed other that the buildings have weathered. The far end of the field, visible behind the second stable, has been fenced off (bottom right of Google Earth map below). The map was made in spring 2002; since then much new building has gone on in the area (within white lines). Soon it will be the turn of the vaccine plant itself to yield to development.

Looking at Google Earth at ( 52° 6'44.89"N, 20°58'22.13"E), with the 'Geographic Web' feature enabled, you can see two photos from last autumn uploaded via Panoramio.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Wrapped around the axle

Driving to work yesterday, the pot-holes, ruts, boulders and other obstacles on ul. Poloneza finally took their toll on our Nissan Micra's underside. The exhaust pipe broke and was bent back with such force that it wrapped itself around the rear axle. A trip to a local garage soon had the old exhaust pipe replaced.

Number one, the birch

The silver birch, my favourite tree, is a characteristic feature of the Jeziorki landscape. This tree speaks directly to my soul. By coincidence, my aunt, Ciocia Dziunia, has a painting of a stand of birch tree in her Wroclaw living room (painted by her son-in-law, Marek), while my brother, also Marek, has a painted a reproduction of Gustav Klimt's Farmhouse with Birch Trees, which hangs in his Derbyshire living room. (Above:) Local silver birches found on ul. Dumki (left and centre) and on ul Trombity (pictured right, at sunset). As can be seen from the first two pictures, taken today, summer greenery still prevails; I'm still awaiting the first intimations of autumn.

(Below:) Earlier this month, Eddie and I drove out towards the Belarusian border, by the River Bug. Near the town of Koden, I photographed this magnificent forest full of silver birches.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Late summer spiders webs

From my bedroom window this morning, I spotted dozens of large spiders webs being woven in the field behind our house . The interesting thing is that all of them were in a similar stage of construction; the centres were not yet complete.

This suggests that across this large field, all the spiders simultaneously decided that now is the time to start making their webs, and that they all worked at a similar tempo. I could see no web was yet complete and could see only one that was notably behind schedule.

Week before equinox

Today is just over a week before the autumnal equinox. A bright sky woke me up early, in time for a perfect sunrise. The sun has been rising further and further south along the horizon since the summer solstice on 21 June (below). In a week's time (23 September, actually), sunrise will be at around 06:30, sunset at 18:30. All over the world, the day will be (roughly) 12 hours, long, night time the same. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, via the equator.

[I feel the need to mark the passing on 12 September of Bobby Byrd, James Brown's long-serving sideman, who features in most of the Greatest Man Who Ever Moved's great cultural gifts to mankind. "Bobby - the groove is so great" (Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing) "Byrd - we've got an outtasight tune comin' up" (Escape-ism). Without Bobby Byrd, James Brown would not have left us the heritage he did.]

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Here come the planes

"This is the hand, the hand that takes. Here come the planes. They're American planes. Made in America. Smoking or non-smoking?" (Laurie Anderson, O Superman, recorded in 1981).

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Of roadworks and detours

Like much of Warsaw these days, ul. Pulawska, the main artery running south from Warsaw, seems to be suffering from perpetual roadworks. Its being widened from four lanes to six. Various diversions have been in place since May. Getting to the local hypermarket means an interesting detour through what used to be a massive collective farm growing tomatoes in greenhouses. This is now derelict and awaits development into a huge housing estate. Once built, ul. Pulawska will have to bear the extra traffic that would come from several hundred new houses and flats. Will three lanes in each direction be enough?

Objets trouves

While out walking around Jeziorki, we often stop to pick up interesting things we see along the way. At home, I have a small gallery of objets trouves gathered on our local walks; old medicine bottles, ceramic tiles, nuts and bolts that have fallen off passing trains, old playing cards, rusty cutlery. Today I chanced upon the skeletal remains of what looked like a hare (?) while crossing the railway line. I arranged these on a sleeper, a miniature memento mori.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Zgorzala contrasts

Zgorzala - the first village outside of Warsaw when you leave Jeziorki heading south. Today's walk reveals the following contrast; a huge haystack (in the UK hay is neatly packaged in round polythene bales), behind it new houses springing up.

Although we're well into September, it still feels like late summer rather than early autumn. I've not yet felt that feeling of aware, the Japanese term for the first intimations of the onset of autumn. In London at this time of year, I'd scoot off up the North Circular in search of that particular atmosphere that early autumn brings. Here in Warsaw, to date I've yet to feel that climate. "It's not over!" Spring starts later, summer ends later.

Coal train running

The third, unelectrified, track that runs through Jeziorki, is a freight-only line linking the goods siding at Warszawa Okecie with the power station at Siekierki. Trains using this privately-run line take wagons full of coal one way and return empty the other. In summer, the coal trains tend to be short; in winter they are up to 40 laden wagons, pulled by more powerful locomotives. [Caption for anoraks: Polish Fablok-built SM 42 2956 in PCC livery hauls a rake of 20 coal wagons from W-wa Okecie to Siekierki via Konstancin-Jeziorna; Saturday 8 September 2007, 18:21 CET. Below: Russian-built TEM2 065 at the head of a 40-wagon train headed for Siekierki, Sunday 16 September, 17:26 CET)]

The changing face of Jeziorki

(Above:) ul. Kórnicka after being laid with paving stone. It now guarantees us a mud-free journey from home all the way to ul. Baletowa - but the school run still includes ul. Poloneza, a long, unmade road that's muddy and rutted and impassible at the worst of times. What we've lost is atmosphere.

is ul. Kórnicka before it was 'civilised' - this had an entirely different 'spirit of place' that harked back to 1930s USA. That atmosphere has gone for ever. (How many folk singers does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to change it, four to sing The Old Light Bulb.)

To the left in both photos is the local football pitch, bordered off from the road with old car tyres.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Burnt by the sun

Returning from a business trip to Kraków (standard journey - home - station - station - taxi - meeting - taxi - station - station - home) by rail, I caught the low evening sun through the train window, somewhere south of Warsaw. The strange result (caused by double reflections) reminded me of the ball-lightning scenes in the excellent Russian film Burnt by the Sun. No doubt someone out there will be able to construe the pictures as crop circles in the process of formation.