Wednesday, 30 January 2008
My mother, then 18 years old, receiving her teacher training diploma from General Anders, Nazareth, June 1946.
Along with her family, she was deported on 10 February 1940 from her home in Wołyń (then eastern Poland, today in Ukraine). Along with around 140,000 Polish citizens rounded up and deported that day, my mother's family was transported deep into Russia and resettled in a labour camp. My mother was 12 years old at the time.
Having left the USSR with Anders' army after the "amnesty" granted by Stalin to Poles in August 1941, my mother travelled through Iran (then Persia), via Iraq to Israel (then Palestine). She stayed in the Middle East throughout the war, studying, and arrived in Britain in 1947.
Below: A sequence of maximally blown-up enlargements of the mystery aircraft that climbed rapidly from under our flight path and above the Boeing's one. The order in which they were taken was top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right. My guess is that the plane is either a Eurofighter Typhoon or a Dassault Rafale. The third picture (a blow-up of the photo above) shows the plane dramatically altering its angle of attack, a manoeuvre that a civil jetliner would be unable to perform.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
Right: Our garden from outside the kitchen window; compare to these the third and fourth shots from this post; below: garden from my bedroom window; compare to photos in previous post. (Note: I managed to stitch these two together into one panorama, impossible with those clouds!)
Above: The view from my room this morning. A touch of blue sky to lift the late-January gloom.
This is where our seasons have got to this year. The snows were brief and mild. Since mid-January, the daytime temperature has been well above average, indeed, I'd be surprised if this doesn't turn out to be the warmest winter in Warsaw since records began.
The blue sky in the two photos above has come and gone, greyness has rushed in. Planes coming into Okęcie are landing from over Ursynów (Runway 29), as they do when the wind is directly from the west, rather than over Jeziorki (Runway 33), when there's a prevailing north-westerly wind.
Saturday, 26 January 2008
There's much charm in these post-communist throwbacks; Warsaw would be a duller city without them. Click here for another old-school Warsaw shopping experience.
Below: A detail from the above photo, (click on image to see it full-sized). This is a good indication of the capability of the 5 MP camera built into the Nokia N95. Resolution and colour in shade and highlight are up to the task. The N95 makes an excellent back-up go-anywhere and everywhere camera for the photoblogger - as well as serving as a mobile phone and MP3 player. It is however slow and cumbersome in use - lots of menus, long response time. Not a problem for landscapes, it does mean it's not good for spontaneous grab-shots.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
Click here for official Polish Air Force communique (in Polish).
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Mindful of Moni's interests in making music and movies, it's worth mentioning two other January 23rd birthdays. Huddie 'Leadbelly' Ledbetter, influential blues musician whose songs have been covered by Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Nirvana and the Beach Boys was born 115 years ago today, and Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein, born 105 years ago today.
(*I'm reminded that poet Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński was born this day. But then he blotted his copybook by writing panegyrics to Sralin)
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
Back in the early 1980s, I observed a co-relation between the weather and movements on the London Stock Exchange. We had in the office an old Press Association news wire machine, printing out data all day long. When the weather was nice, the market indices had a habit of rising, and vice versa. The tendency was weak, but I'd guess that if you had to make a bet on which way the markets were moving just on the basis of weather, you'd get it right - consistently - 52 times out of 100. Add a bit of market insight to the weather data, and you could get 55 out of 100. Enough to make a small profit. If I had posited such a theory 25 years ago, I would have been accused of being a swivel-eyed, tin-foil-hat-wearing nutter; today, the link between economics and human biometerology has been noted.
Anyway, yesterday, the combination of 'Blue Monday' and dire sentiments on the financial markets led to what portal Money.pl called 'financial apocalypse'. The main Warsaw index lost 5.5% in one day, while shares in London lost 77 billion pounds in value. Less in percentage terms than Warsaw, but London's brokers are more experienced and have been through those situations when panic breaks loose, prices are in free-fall and they've already lost their clients significant chunks of their personal wealth.
In Warsaw, the fundamentals should have been good enough to keep the market afloat. Yesterday the IMF uprated Poland's GDP growth prospects for 2008 upwards from 4.2% to 5%. That really is good news. Yet the shares kept on tanking. It must have been the weather - "It rained and it rained. It rained both night and day. The people got worried; they began to cry. Lord have mercy, where can we go to now?" *
Dr Cliff should have noted that 21 January 2008 is Martin Luther King Day in the US, and that Wall Street would be closed. I watch with interest as to what will happen on the world's financial markets today. Here in Warsaw, it's still raining. Below: ul. Poloneza, submerged.
* John Lee Hooker, Tupelo
Sunday, 20 January 2008
Before taking the shot (right) of the reeds, I first have to remove several polythene bread bags, an empty jam jar and several beer and vodka bottles.
By late-March, the reed beds will be full of the sound of mating frogs and toads, while overhead black-headed gulls will circle and screech.
In 2003, the summer had been so dry and so long that the reed beds dried out altogether, dry enough to walk through, and causing a population catastrophe among the local amphibians. Since then, we've had wetter summers.
The only real sign of winter in Jeziorki's wetlands could be found here at this pond, frozen solid - thick enough for me to stand on. At the edges, the ice had melted, but the middle was still entirely sound. This is puzzling, as the temperature has not dipped below zero for over a week now. Ice has disappeared from all other standing water other than a thin crust on some puddles.
Look at these photographs and ponder. They were all taken less than eight miles from the very centre of Warsaw - the Palace of Culture. Can you imagine such landscapes in West Ealing (eight miles from London's Centre Point?) Or Winchmore Hill? Or Norbury? Or Newham (all equidistant from Centre Point)? That, for a London boy, is the attraction of Jeziorki.
Above: On my travels I came across the carcass of a dead fox. It seemed to have been dead for some time. Of what did it die? Hunger, hypothermia, predator attack, road traffic accident, rabies or just old age? I expect to return in some months to find the bones picked clean. So does nature recycle itself.
However, the UK is currently suffering an even more extreme weather anomaly, with a record high temperature (+15C on 20 January in Great Malvern)
I passed a couple of scarecrows in a field between ul. Trombity and the railway line. Both seemed very expressive; the anthropomorphic headless grey blouse, rising wraith-like from the soil, seeming to shield her eyes from the light, the three bottles dangling from the arm of a crucifix, two more lying on the ground below, like a boozer's grave.
It is not for me to say whether these scarecrows are effective at keeping birds off the crop, but I must say they do add interest to the Jeziorki landscape.
The weatherman on TVN Meteo last night predicted that the rest of January would remain unseasonably warm, but that a cold snap could be expected in early February. That remains to be seen.
Saturday, 19 January 2008
As always, alcohol and caffeine are dropped. I've had days when my liquid intake has been nothing but caffeine and alcohol - coffee in the morning, lunchtime beer, coffee in the afternoon, beer/wine/spirits in the evening. The one balances out the other. Too much alcohol leads to a headache. And headaches are relieved by caffeine. Remove just one from the equation and problems occur. As Danny the Dealer says in Withnail and I, "Why trust one drug rather than the other". Apart from that one double espresso I drank at the Radisson hotel in Kraków last Wednesday, I've now stopped drinking coffee. Result - near-permanent low-level headache. Still drinking alcohol though - today, some Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
I have discovered, though, that the green tea I've been drinking to gently come off caffeine is actually quite rich in the stuff, though not so rich as the two heaped tablespoons of Lavazza Crema that go into my caffetiere each morning.
A word about Lent's duration. The prescribed time is 40 days, yet it is actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The reason is that the six intervening Sundays are not days of fasting (Sundays are still celebrations of The Resurrection). I do all 46 days. It's one eighth of the year. And having done this for the past 16 Lents, I can assure my readers it's a worthwhile effort. Indeed, after the extensive libations of Yuletide, the body quite craves the quiet of Lent.
The time of year is no coincidence - historically, Christianity's main fasting period was ideally placed to occur during the hungriest time of year in the northern hemisphere; when winter stores are running low and there is still several weeks before the first fruits of the season appear.
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
Right: The Mały Rynek (little market place). Below: Corner of Mały Rynek, ul. Stolarska and ul. Sienna (pron. She-EN-na, and not as per the Italian town). Midday winter sun catching the pastels nicely.
Left: The Ratusz (city hall) tower in the Rynek Główny (main market square). Behind it are the Sukiennice (cloth halls)
* It would get down to 4.04 to the pound in August.
Above: the junction of ul. Poleczki and ul. Pulawska. Traffic heading into town is not yet chock-a-block; by 8 am it will be.
Above: Ursynów's main drag, al. KEN, looking for all the world like some remote Russian city within the Arctic Circle on a winter's noon. Note the cycle path (behind the green pedestrian traffic signals) - it has not been cleared of snow and ice, while the footpath next to it has been. "Makes sense," I thought. "Not really the kind of weather for cyclists" - just then...
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Monday, 14 January 2008
Today, in the office, I'm suffering a slight headache, tension in the back of the neck. I've had my white tea, I'll have another, but when all around me are sipping coffees and the aroma has pervaded the office, I could really, really do with one. That's the nature of addiction. Exercising the will not to do something once a year is a tough thing to do, but it works.
* Lent starts this year on Wednesday 6 February and lasts until Easter Sunday, 23 March. More, much more on the subject of Lent in coming weeks.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
Walking down the track, you get to a set of points where the train changes direction and the trucks are pushed backwards onto the ramp. As is visible from the shiny rails, the ramp is in regular use these days. Warsaw's building boom ensures that regular consignments of aggregate are brought in by train (environmentally friendlier than doing it by road). Five years ago, there was no sign of life on this little industrial spur off the main Warsaw-Radom line. Below: The ramp's sidings. Four of them (of which only one is ever used). A lot of the rails could be pulled up and sold for scrap, but then the place would lose its charm. The main line runs in the background, Warszawa Jeziorki station is behind the trees in the middle distance.
I walked across the fields to the rampa na kruszywo, crossing a frozen drainage ditch.
Now, although last night's minimum air temperature did not fall below zero (indeed at 22:30 in the centre of Warsaw it was +6C!), there was ground frost out in the suburbs.
The ditch stays in the shadow all day long, so the ice here was still thick enough to walk on (below).
However, around the corner, a few days' worth of late-afternoon sunshine managed to peek into the ditch, melting the ice and leaving three distinct layers between where the water once was (below).
Saturday, 12 January 2008
I get the feeling that this year we won't get a real, harsh dose of winter weather, like the one that visited Warsaw in January 2006, when night time temperatures plummeted to -26C. I also recall 1997 - my first year in Poland. In early February there was an unseasonable warm spell which led to the Las Kabacki forest being packed with walkers and cyclists. Mosquitoes swarmed and bit, nature came to life early. But winter returned. Indeed, there was still snow on the ground that year as late as mid-April. [And later came the floods.] I'd bet, however, that 2008 will not be like 1997.
Friday, 11 January 2008
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Right: A classic view (if I may say so myself) of the Kościoł Mariacki seen from ul. Szpitalna. Kraków's a beautiful city any time of year.
Monday, 7 January 2008
And it's not just roads but footpaths too. Above: Two mums making the most of the well-cleared and gritted paths that criss-cross the Rydz-Śmigły park between Solec and Powiśle.
Sunday, 6 January 2008
Above: A southbound EN57 Elektryczka on its way to Radom from Warsaw. Below: A row of screens protects the main Warsaw - Katowice/Kraków railway line from drifts.
Saturday, 5 January 2008
The photo above is a multiple exposure of five consecutive departures from Runway 19. The traces left by the airliners' lights look like contrails from USAAF bombers over the Third Reich.
With prevailing winds blowing from the north-west, it's more usual for planes to be landing over Jeziorki, so it's generally quieter in respect of engine noise. Having said that, with double- and triple glazing, one tends not to notice after a while.
Technical note: Each exposure was between 40-60 seconds, aperture f6.3, ISO 100, focal length 40mm (around 60mm for 35mm film equivalent).
Wednesday, 2 January 2008
Today, January 2nd, the day here is Warsaw is actually over six minutes longer than December 22nd, the shortest day. It does not seem to be so, because the sunrise is now actually two minutes later than at the Winter Solstice, rising today at 07:47. Indeed, today marks the year's latest sunrise. We've gained eight minutes in the evening, which no one notices, as most people are at work at half past three anyway.
In a month's time, in early February, the day will have lengthened by an hour and half, with an extra hour's daylight in the evening (sunset at half past four), and half an hour in the morning (sunrise at quarter past seven). That still means leaving and returning home in darkness.
By the spring equinox (22 March), the day will be 12 hours long, having gained four hours and 22 minutes - sunrise and sunset both at quarter to six (two hours earlier and two hours 22 minutes later respectively). A few days later, the clocks go forward, one feels spring in the air. But that all seems a long, long way off. It's still dark and cold.
[Caption for the rest of my readers] Another light dusting of snow has fallen on Warsaw. This morning it was -5C. Past the end of ul. Trombity, where the railway line cuts ul. Kórnicka, an engine pulls a solitary wagon through a wintry landscape. The snow scene, trees and train puts me in mind of Jan Lenica's illustrations from Julian Tuwim's poem Lokomotywa - I shall make it a quest to replicate them.