Sunday, 31 October 2010

1,000 posts: Best of Jeziorki

Well, this is my 1,000th post since I got blogging in April 2007. So, to celebrate, some of the best pictures from the first thousand. This post is dedicated to my most enduring readers, my parents; Bohdan and Maria Dembinski, of Ealing, in West London. May they enjoy the next thousand, and then some more!

Lesson no. 1 from the past three and half years - always have your camera with you. Below: a blazing bus, ul. Puławska, June 2008. Full story, more pics, here. Good pictures sell. I got one onto the front page of Gazeta Stołeczna the next day.

Another public transport mishap that got into the pages of Gazeta Stołeczna, commuters abandoning a broken-down train outside W-wa Powiśle station (below); January 2010. Story, pics here.

Meteorological phenomena up next. I had never seen a mammatus cloud formation in my life, so when these showed up over our house, in April 2007, I ran out to snap away. Awesome, literally.

Jeziorki's had its share of extreme weather since I started blogging, but no event affected local residents more than the Great Corpus Christi Flood of 2010.

Here's ul. Puławska, water from one side of the six-lane highway to the other. People living on our street just six numbers further down were flooded and without electricity for six days. We stayed dry and were without prond for a mere 36 hours. Stories here (Pozytywki and Puławska), here (Trombity and Kórnicka), and the storm itself (here).

My favourite photo from these past 1,000 posts is not one of mine, but from Rysiek Szydło, over in Warsaw with his infra-red camera (below). This is the far end of ul. Trombity. More from this ethereally sublime series of photos here.

Blogging Jeziorki over the past three and half years, I'd say the biggest single change to the neighbourhood has been the dismantling of the aggregate loading ramp (rampa na kruszywa) on ul. Karczunkowska. This splendid and unusual feature, 12 metres above ground level, was a local landmark.

Above: the line running down from the ramp. Mysiadło in the distance on the left. Below: the unloading ramp itself, looking north. Aggregate would be dropped from wagons onto heaps below for trans-shipment to building sites by road.
The ramp has been levelled with the ground for a Spanish property developer, who had intended to build hundreds of homes on the site. So far - nothing. The global recession put a stop to that. "Grass triumphs. And I must say I'm rather glad," to quote John Betjeman, however, the ramp's gone and we'll not see its likes again.

The other big development story - this one more positive - is the commencement of work to build at least a part of the Warsaw southern bypass (Południowa Obwodnica Warszawy), the S2, and the link to it from ul. Sasanki, the S79. Work got underway in September 2009 and proceeds at a rapid pace despite a long snowy winter and flooding this summer. Below: in January this year, work started on viaducts linking Sasanki to the new southbound expressway.

Back to April of this year, and the numbing state of shock the country was in after the Smolensk tragedy. I blogged my reactions to how I felt Warsaw was reacting to it (here); my blog was -flatteringly - turned into a pop video by director Nick Morris (embedded below):

Post-Smolensk, political passion ran high; the most-commented post on my blog to date was this one about the fault-lines in Polish society, which ran to 21 comments.

The saddest event in our own lives was the passing of my father-in-law Tadeusz Lesisz in September 2009. His obituary was carried by the The Times, the Independent, the Liverpool Daily Post and The Scotsman. His funeral is recorded here.

Interestingly, the most-visited page over the years has been my translation of Julian Tuwim's Lokomotywa (here). Illustration from the 1958 book with the poem (below) by Jan Lenica...
...And my own homage to the above illustration, taken in January this year in the woods north of Czachówek (below).

Readers of W-wa Jeziorki are mainly situated in five countries, according to the recently launched Blogger Stats; 41% from Poland, 29% from the US, 17% from the UK, 4% from Canada and 3% from Germany. The remaining 5% are from the rest of the world.
These, then, are my own personal highlights from the past 1,000 posts - have I missed anything?

Unto the graves

The All Saints' (Wszystkich Świętych) holidays coincided with the time change, giving us an extra hour's daylight in the morning. This and perfect weather gave us the opportunity to set off early to Kozienice, to visit my wife's family grave. This small town, 50 miles south of Jeziorki, is where her paternal grandparents are both buried. Below: Moni, my wife and Eddie by the grave.

A plaque on the grave commemorates the four sons of Franciszek and Wiktoria Lesisz. Only one survived the war. A story that headstones across Poland recall, literally, millions of times.

Edward and Feliks, murdered at Katyń. Edmund murdered by the Gestapo. Tadeusz survived the war to live and die in exile.

Elsewhere in this one cemetary in Kozienice, I saw similar stories.
'Murdered at Katyń', 'fought with the RAF', 'died in exile'.

Poland still needs another generation to get over the demo- graphic and cultural loss that the WWII wrought on the nation.

Above: The house in Kozienice formerly owned by the Lesisz family. It was here that Franciszek and Wiktoria raised their nine children. (Wiktoria's sister, I am informed by her Canadian granddaughter, lived in Warsaw on ul. Emilii Plater 23, next door to where we're having our blogmeet on 20 November!)

Above: The weather was as perfect as could be hoped for. Daytime high today was +15.7C. Golden leaves contrast with cloudless blue sky. On the way back (before noon), the traffic pouring out of Warsaw was heavy. We encountered a huge traffic jam in Góra Kalwaria, which at 8 am was almost empty. Good to go early and come back early. The entire nation seems to be out visiting graves today.

As night falls (sunset now is at ten past four!), I take camera and tripod and walk to the cemetery in Pyry, the nearest one to Jeziorki. The graves are carpeted in light. Against a clear sky, the visual effect, amid the silence, is entirely profound.

I make my way to the soldiers' quarter, where fallen AK (Home Army) insurgents based in the Las Kabacki forest are buried. The rock also commemorates prisoners from Pawiak prison executed in the forest by the Nazis.

Below: orderly rows of concrete crosses mark the graves. The votive candles placed several to a grave show how today, more than 66 years after the uprising, the soldiers are still in the memory of the local people.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Why didn't I read this before?

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, as pertinent today as it was when it was written in the late 1930s, is a book that somehow managed to escape my prior reading. How this happened, given that a) I studied the Great Depression as part of my History 'A' Level course, b) I did Comparative American Studies at University and c) I have been fascinated by mid-20th C. America for as long as I can remember, is beyond me. But then I only watched Citizen Kane and The Wild Ones recently too.

It was Moni who persuaded me to read it, quite amazed that I've not read the novel before. She'd just finished it; a battered Pan paperback from 1978 (left). Given that the last three novels I read were all her selections - and I enjoyed all three - I had no hesitation. An absolute must-read.

The novel is set in the Great Depression and tells of the Joad family, sharecroppers from Oklahoma, forced off their land by the bank that owns it because of a succession of crop failures brought on by the dust storms. The land is in flux; the small farmer being replaced by agri-industry; one man and a tractor doing the work of twenty men each feeding his family.

The description of the dust-bowl clicked with me immediately on a spiritual level, bringing to mind dreams and flashbacks I've had of 1930s Kentucky. Interestingly, the later California settings did not have the same emotional effect.

Steinbeck's depiction of the hand-to-mouth existence of the sharecroppers, the circumstances of their birth, their lives, their deaths (so often needless, nearly always premature), resonates throughout pre-industrial mankind. The Joads' displacement mirrors that of the peasants being thrown off the land for more profitable sheep farming in Industrial Revolution England; it is a process more slowly taking place in Poland today as smallholders' children move to the cities in search of more profitable labour than tilling their tiny fields.

The Joads migrate to California, where the work is meant to be plentiful and the climate benign. They arrive to find far more dust-bowl refugees than jobs waiting for them, ruthless employers exploiting the desperate hungry families. After a spell in a government camp with showers and flushing toilets, the Joads move on in search of work and inevitable exploitation, and then come the floods. Steinbeck captures the language of the Okies, the simple humanity within the family unit trying to hold together through hard times, and contrasts the strength of Ma Joad with the occasional fecklessness of the men-folk.

Arousing fierce criticism when it was published on account of its critique of American capitalism, protected by gun-toting deputy sheriffs and farmer vigilantes, The Grapes of Wrath does have a heart-felt message about the people banding together to stand up to the system. Proto-collectivism or basic human urge to defend one's tribe?

The book's impact in popular culture was immediate; John Ford's film version appeared in 1940, the year after the book was published. Folk singer Woodie Guthrie's synopsis of the plot, Tom Joad Pt 1 and Pt 2, appeared that same year on his album Dust Bowl Ballads. Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad released in 1995 dips into the legacy of the book, the film, and the songs, reminiscent in style to Nebraska, one of my all-time favourite albums.

Afterword: It's been two weeks since finishing the book. I'm now well into Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, a gripping read, yet I'm not connecting at all with 1856 St. Petersburg. Grapes of Wrath is still on the window ledge by my bed; I look at it and smile as though it were an old familiar friend. The Joads had also become friends to me.

Commuters jammed on dawn's byways

Regular readers will know that for much of the time in Jeziorki you can walk around for hours without encountering another human being. This peaceful state is replaced each weekday morning by a traffic jam of out-of-towners seeking an alternative way to work to ul. Puławska. For years now, Puławska in the morning is a solid jam all the way from Piaseczno to Al. Wilanowska, where traffic finally eases. So cars from Piaseczno, Lesznowola, Magdalenka and all points south snake in through Zgorzała, their drivers taking every short-cut possible to avoid standing still, like rivulets of water running around rocks on their way downhill.

Above: ul. Trombity, close to our house, just after sunrise. A steady stream of cars is progressing down our street. Speed bumps restrain impatient drivers' latent idiocy, while at the other end of our road, a half-kilometre-long jam awaits these cars.

Below: Those who don't turn off onto our road have a half-kilometre long jam on Karczunkowska to get to Puławska, for a further 7km of stationary traffic.

Living in Jeziorki, we have alternatives; the city centre is within striking distance of a fit and determined cyclist, and the train service is reasonable. But I do feel some sympathy for those living further out, beyond the reach of Warsaw's public transport network.

A few months ago I was talking to the owner of a terraced house in Mysiadło, just outside Warsaw's boundaries. He bought the house at the height of the post-EU accession boom, for 1.1m złotys. Now he's looking with his wife to move to a larger house, further out, in Magdalenka. The estate agent they talked to said they could expect to sell their house for 700,000 złotys - a prospective owner would have the negotiating power to haggle 100,000 złotys off the 800,000 złotys asking price, she said.

Why have the prices of houses in Warsaw's outer suburbs fallen so dramatically? Apart from the general state of the market, it is jams. People living on the capital's fringes are having to spend three hours a day in a car make a straightforward financial calculation; how much is that time worth?

Warsaw's property market is opaque. In England, everyone knows to the nearest £5,000 how much their property's worth. This is because estate agents' windows are full of pictures of houses inside and outside, prices clearly marked. Local newspapers are stuffed with illustrated ads of houses, conveniently grouped by area and price. At dinner parties, Brits will swap tales of that house across the street that's "just like ours, but with a smaller garden that's just gone for half a million". Poles have little clue as to how much their property is worth until they actually try to sell it. In London, a house is advertised as selling for, say, £595,000 freehold. In Warsaw, property prices are expressed in zlotys per square metre - if at all.

Out of curiosity I looked in one estate agent's window in Nowe Miasto, clearly aimed at tourists. Lots of photos of interiors of flats - nearly every price tippexed out. Total lack of information. Only one property had a price shown - 13,500 złotys per square metre for a 52.2m flat. How much? Well, I make that 705,000 złotys. How much is ground rent? Doesn't say. Where's the flat? Only the vaguest indication.

Poland's estate agents are, by and large, not very good. Because they try to extract a fee from both buyer and seller, there's a good incentive for both parties to avoid a costly intermediary. Buyers would spend all Saturday driving around Konstancin or Magdalenka looking for that house in the estate agent's photo with the blue roof and the wooden swing in the front garden. So the estate agent doesn't show a photo or say where the property is. Instead, tens of thousands or ads are dumped onto the internet, most of them no longer current ("Ah... that house has just been sold... but we have dozens like it...").

Until the property market becomes more transparent and Warsaw's commuting issues are at least alleviated, we are all condemned to jams and overcrowed public transport.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Welcome to Warsaw

Returning home after a business mixer via Dworzec Centralny (Warsaw's central station), I notice that the refurbishment of the platforms is now underway, with Track 4, Platform 2 and Track 5, Platform 3 now closed off for building work. Across on Track 3, a night train to Moscow via Minsk is boarding. The entire station smells characteristically of coal smoke, as the Russian trains still use it for carriage heating.

Below: Some Russian graffiti on a column on Platform 3. I have no clue what it says; it may well be obscene, or existentialist, or love-lorn, or all three, and probably vodka-fuelled. Any reader care to have a stab at what the Master of Warsaw Central* has scrawled here?

I am reminded of a communist-era joke. A Parisian is heading by train to Moscow. A Muscovite is heading by train to Paris. By mistake both alight in Warsaw. The Muscovite looks around in delight: "Ah! Paris!" The Parisian looks around in disgust: "Urgh! Moscow!"

* A reference to The Master of Paddington, whose famous statement "Far away is close at hand in images of elsewhere" was for many years daubed on a brick wall on the approaches to London Paddington station. Now long gone, immortalised by Peter Simple in his Way of the World column in the Daily Telegraph.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Is Poland going soft?

Yesterday doing the weekly shop at Auchan, I happened upon Iza and Aleksander, wife and son respectively of regular Jeziorki commentator Adthelad. Little Aleksander, now two and half, has featured on this blog before (here and here). I asked the wee monsieur what his current interests were. His mother replied "Dinosaurs and dragons" (smoki). We entered into a conversation about the Smok Wawelski.

"What did the smok eat?" I asked Aleksander.

"Baranek" (a lamb) he replied.

"What was inside the lamb?" I asked.

"Sól" (salt) he replied.

Hmm... A variance from the legend that I once learnt. The Wawel Dragon was indeed baited with a dead lamb, though stuffed with sulphur rather than with salt. I can understand that whereas Polish children of yore would associated sulphur with meat preservation, pesticide and other agricultural processes, this substance is entirely alien to small Poles today. Anyway...

"So what happened to the smok once he'd eaten the lamb stuffed with salt?"

"He drank water... lots and lots of water."

"Good! And what happened next?" I asked, expecting the answer "He exploded".

But no. Mum answers this question and says that the smok then left Kraków for good and now lives in the Amazon river along with his friends, the crocodiles...

I was saddened by the way this legend of the founding of Poland's ancient capital has been sanitised for today's toddlers.

This morning I was discussing this with Marzena, whose younger daughter is of a similar age to Aleksander. Marzena said she was finding the same thing with the children's stories that she was reading to her children. Shortened, deprived of their emotional force and watered down to the point where they were barely recognisable, these modern-day versions of Poland's founding legends disappoint the parents who buy the books, she said.

The way previous generations of Poles had learnt the story was far more bloodthirsty!

The smok, who dwelt in a cave on the banks of the Vistula near Kraków, lived on a diet of young maidens, who were regularly sacrificed to him to prevent him wreaking destruction all around. [Moral: appeasement as a strategy is ineffective.] When all the maidens but King Krak's daughter had been fed to it, the King offered a prize of her hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the smok. And so it befell a poor young cobbler's apprentice to come up with the idea of stuffing large volumes of sulphur into a lamb's skin and then leaving this for the smok to eat. Which he did, leaving him so thirsty that he drank so much river water that in the end he exploded, showering Kraków with body parts of dragon.

I hope that one day Aleksander will hear the full, unabridged version of this quintessentially Polish legend, and that Polish legends will not be further watered down in years to come. A nation's legends are part of the glue that hold it together down the centuries.

Here's the legend as retold on the BBC's Travel pages:
The [Wawel] castle has been the residence of Polish kings and queens for five
centuries, and there's even a Dragon's Den - the damp cave beneath a line of
turret fortifications is said to have housed a firebreathing beast that
terrorised local residents in the city's early days. The ruler, Prince Krak,
offered his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever could kill the dragon. Many
died trying before a young cobbler struck upon a scheme to stuff a sheep with
sulphur and leave it outside the animal's lair. When the dragon ate it, he
became unbearably thirsty and went to the river to drink - and the water caused
his stomach to swell until it exploded. The dragon died. And the cobbler? He and
his princess lived happily ever after.

I wonder what readers think? Is it better to wait a year or two and give children the unadulterated tale, bloodthirsty as it is? Are rapacious publishers, trying to get picture books of Polish legends (centuries out of copyright) sold to ever-younger age-groups, taking care first to tone down the emotional impact on sensitive toddlers? Should national legends be protected to prevent them from being watered down? Comments please...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A slow farewell to my Nissan Micra

The Micra's current przegląd techniczny (Polish equivalent of MoT certificate) expired yesterday. I cannot legally take the car out onto the road. Should I have the local garage look over it and get it fixed for another year of careful motoring?

Sadly, I feel that the dear, faithful Micra has reached the end of its road. Although the engine's fine (we had a nice run to the rubbish recycling depot in Łubna), brakes, gearbox, clutch etc - rust is attacking it from all angles, and the car's Achilles' heel - its electrics - are ropey. Both are the direct result of the state of Warsaw's roads in winter. Salt used to keep the asphalt clear of ice rusts the undersides of the car body while salty water sprayed up into the engine bay plays havoc with the alternator and wiring. I fear the cost of repairing bodywork and electrics will run into a couple of thousand zlotys; not worth sinking this much into keeping the dear Micra roadworthy.

Loaded up for its last journey

Although the car was running well yesterday, driving it in bad weather does not engender confidence. The windscreen wipers wipe sloooowly, the headlights fade, the radio loses volume. I think back to the times when it has conked out. Plus, the car has not, in six years, ever gone more than 20 miles from home. Fear of a breakdown is one reason, but more pertinent is the fact that the steering wheel's on the wrong side, which makes overtaking slow-moving agricultural vehicles an impossibility.

I feel great sentimental attachment to the car. It was bought in May 1993 when Moni was not four months old. My father, Moni and I went to the Nissan dealership with Moni in her carry-cot. I had decided on the cute and thrifty Micra after doing the research, but needed to see if the carry-cot would fit into the boot. It did, so I bought the car. It will be very, very sad to see it go. We have had so many adventures together.

And to replace it? Another Nissan Micra. The current shape will be replaced an entirely bland and character-free Micra Mk IV in the New Year, so my thinking is that there will be great bargains available on the Mk III Micras from the 2010. Currently the base three-door car starts at 39,000 złotys with a 2,000 złoty discount - though my guess is that dealers will be offering much greater incentives to clear the old-shape cars from their showrooms come January.

Between then and now? I shall continue cycling until the snow comes; I feel no personal shame in using public transport, especially with a quarterly travel card giving me unlimited use of buses, trams, Metro and local trains for a mere 2.10 złotys a day.

Until the new car is bought, the Micra will sit in the drive, I'm sure it is aware of its sad fate.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Autumn colours locally

Another day of outstanding natural beauty to revel in! Hardly a wisp of cloud from dawn to dusk, a daytime high of +12C, southeasterly wind.

Left: A full moon setting over ul. Trombity met my gaze as I opened the bedroom curtains this morning. It's just gone seven.

Once the household chores are completed, I take two short walks around the immediate vicinity of the house, to catch the autumnal atmospheres of Jeziorki.

Above: ul. Nawłocka, looking across to houses backing off ul. Trombity. The potato fields have been ploughed, a fallow field of mugwort immediately behind.

Above: Looking towards the northernmost end of ul. Trombity from the footpath to the tracks. Bushes with rosehips on either side of the path, which local people gather at this time of year.

Above and below: Despite three weeks with hardly any rain and much sunshine, water levels in the wetlands between ul. Trombity, Kórnicka and Dumki is still high, and still impossible to traverse Dumki without wellingtons (which I notice have become all the rage in town). Notice the solitude and tranquility that Jeziorki affords. Just nine miles from the centre of Warsaw.

A smell that's an integral part of this season - smoke from bonfires wafts across ul. Kórnicka. Owners of summerhouses (działki) are spending the last weekends before the frosts set in sweeping leaves and burning them.

Walking along, I become aware that each autumn does have its own character, formed by the particular weather patterns of the year. When the leaves turn gold, and how intensively they do so, and when they start falling, is determined by rainfall, watertable, sunlight and winds. Last October was characterised by an early snowfall on the 14th.

And 2008 was characterised by warmth as well as sunlight, temperatures on the last Saturday of October hit +19.8C. If I can use the word in the context of a mere four years' observation, October 2007 was more like the average October I have come to expect in Warsaw.

Strolling homeward past another stand of birches looking splendid against a deep blue sky in the strong sunlight. I feel profound gratitude for being able to sense the wonder of the turning seasons. Consciousness is our greatest gift.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The hammer of darkness

One more working week before the clocks go back, and then no more leaving the office before dark for five months. A deeply depressing thought. Yes, there will be those wonderful sunny days of winter (such as this one, this one and this one), but here in Warsaw there will just over be seven and half hours of daylight in late December (compared to nearly 17 in late June).

But having the annual cycle of darkness and light makes you cherish that light, makes you welcome the impending and inexorable return of spring, and with it longer, warmer days. Living near the equator, where seasonal fluctuations are less marked that in our more northerly latitudes, one can get blasé about the sun (and the effects of its lack on the psyche).

Above: ul. Buszycka, just after sunset. The last dying rays illuminate the clouds; a full moon is rising. You can't hold on to what's naturally fading.

When you have a bad day, be sure that a good day will come. And when you're having a good day - remember, darkness is only just around the corner.

Could Boethius have devised his wheel of fortune living on the equator?

Left: ul. Buszycka, looking quite un-European.

My talented daughter!

Moni's first proper attempt at directing and shooting a short movie. Edited and co-directed by her schoolmate Alan, it's a promo for her school's theatre festival, which takes place at Liceum Kochanowskiego on 26th-28th November. I'm amazed at the quality.

The settings are immediately familiar; the Warsaw Metro, the Central Station, Powiśle.

Moni's also writing a short play for the festival. My daughter is an improved, female version of me, who outshines me by far. Huge potential. I have no talent with the moving image or music; I limit myself to the written word and photography.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams II

Drivetime, just before the clocks go back. The saps are sitting in their cars, frustrated by the endless jams. The cyclepath is empty; crank up and go, shooting from the saddle. This is good.

Above, the car wash on Al. Generała Władysława Sikorskiego. Below: traffic not moving a whole lot faster on Dolina Służewiecka.

Below: Dramatic sky over Ursynów. Approaching junction with Al. Jana Rodowicza "Anody".

Below: The cyclepath crosses under the main road and emerges on the Ursynów side, with a 600m hiatus between the tunnel and the path running down Al. Ken.

Below: Ursynów by night - Al. Komisji Edukacji Narodowej (KEN). Cyclepaths as good as they get; divided from traffic and from pedestrians by low hedgerows. Let's have more.

See original post Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams from April 2008 which inspired this post.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Of sausage and drains

I had a real fright this morning. Opening the mailbox I found an awiso from the post office, addressed to both my wife and myself, that there is letter awaiting collection. Why the fright? Usually letters addressed to both of us come from one source - the tax office. Well do I remember those Days of Fear in September 2005 when I received a summons from the tax office. What was the problem? The suspense was unbearable. It is entirely possible to unwittingly commit a heinous tax offence in Poland either because you've misunderstood something (przychód -'revenue', 'income'; and dochód - 'income', for instance) or because of a variance between your tax adviser's interpretation of the richly opaque tax law and that of the local urząd skarbowy. (As it happened, the issue here was that I'd accidentally written down our total income in box 115 rather than box 114 of our annual PIT-37B tax return form.)

At the post office, I took my ticket for the queue and waited, amusing myself as two elderly ladies traded insults (one had got her ticket from another elderly lady and thus found herself ahead of her interlocutor in the queue). Chamka! they yelled at each other. Fifty minutes and five ticket numbers later, it was my turn to collect our post. It was....not from the tax office!

It was from the Department of Architecture and Building for Ursynów District, Warsaw City Hall. Telling us... telling us... Well, here's a literal and direct translation of said missive.


Of the institution of proceedings

On the basis of:

Article 61 para. 4, art. 10 para. 1 and art. 36 of the Law of the day of 14 June 1960 year, of the Code of Administrative Proceedings (unified text in the Journal of Laws no. 98 from 2000 year, position 1071, with amendments); art. 50, art. 53 of the Law of the day of 27 March 2003 year about planning and town planning (Journal of Laws no. 80 from 2003 year position 717 with later amendments).

[Still with me, readers? Now, take a deep breath and try reading the following sentence without pausing for another breath.]

[I] i n f o r m [you],

that on the motion of the Urban Enterprise of Waterpullings and Canalisation of the Capital Town Warsaw Joint Stock Company filed on the day 14.09.2010 year with an amendment dated 05.10.2010 year, administrative proceedings were instituted in the matter of determining the localisation of the investment in the public cause for the investment depending on the construction of a sewerage canal Dn 0,2m, along with the accompanying technical infrastructure on ul. Trombity on the stretch from ul. Karczunkowska up to the property on ul. Trombity 20 and in the pedestrian-driving traffic route (up to the properties on ul. Trombity 18) foreseen for the realisation in the District of Ursynów in the Capital Town of Warsaw on the following plots...
[there follows a list of plot-, rather than house-, numbers]

This classic example of Polish bureaucratic gobbledygook gives me cause to thank the Plain English Campaign that this kind of stuff does not appear in the UK and pray for a Plain Polish Campaign along the same lines. There is a need here for Gricean Maxims (1. Be truthful - well this probably is; 2. Provide as much information as necessary, but no more - this is overload. Is anyone going to refer to all those old laws? 3. Be relevant - see above and get to the point. 4. Be clear - this fails totally. A total of 116 words in this single sentence including 17 subordinate clauses.)

What does this mean? In a word, drains! After eight years living here, there's finally the distinct probability that at some undefined point in the future, we will no longer need to use a septic tank which needs emptying every two weeks. Jeziorki edges ever closer to civilised norms.

The dwellers of the southern end of ul. Trombity now have seven days to make their comments on the plans, which are publicly available for inspection at the Architecture and Building Department, room 306, Al. KEN 61, from Monday to Thursday, between 12 and 3pm. In other words, we have 12 working hours in the middle of the working day to make our comments. Well, at least the blockers can't block.

The prospect of being finally connected to the city's sewerage network reminds me of a stanza from John Betjeman's In Westminster Abbey:
Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.

I am also mindful of the impending local elections. The clear calculation that voters will be more likely to support the incumbent if progress is occurring around them. The cynical part of me thinks 'electoral sausage'. The rational part of me is delighted that we seem to be closer to civilisation. All I need now is a letter informing me that ul. Karczunkowska will be getting a pavement soon.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Shot from the saddle

A no-excuse-for-not-cycling day today. Taking the cycle path over the junction between ul. Puławska and Dolina Służewiecka, I snap the enormous traffic jam that stretches all the way back to the outskirts of Piaseczno. Poor, poor saps sitting in their cars. Just compare the roadspace needed by a bus carrying 80 people and 60 cars carrying the same number.

Further on down the road: ul. Puławska is clearer by the time we reach ul. Dolna. Here, the cyclepath disappears for a while. Functionalist mid 1930s architecture lines the street.

And onto Al. Ujazdowskie, passing the office of the Council of Ministers (below), presided over by the premier. The cyclepath here is wonderful.

Below: almost there, having descended down ul. Agricola, I cut across the Ujazdowski park, under the Zamek Ujazdowski. Weather perfect this morning, invigorating, tingling the senses. Much more pleasant than cycling in the height of summer.

Don't know how long the weather will last; by mid-morning it had clouded over, I cycled home on a gloomy grey overcast evening.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The autumn sublime in Jeziorki

Another utterly gorgeous day. This October must be shaping up to be the sunniest on record - or at least in my 13 years living in Warsaw. A day of such beauty can not be resisted; after lunch, I take sunglasses and camera (and polarising filter!) and head off.

Above: halfway up ul. Trombity. The sun is low but still strong, an chillly wind from the south-east kept the daytime high down to a mere +8C. Three-layer weather for walking.

Above: across the tracks, between W-wa Dawidy and W-wa Jeziorki. The overhead wires emphasise the flatness of the countryside.
Above: Warsaw-bound Koleje Mazowieckie double-decker train on its way from Radom has just passed W-wa Jeziorki, the first suburban station within Warsaw's boundary.

Left: the fields between ul. Karczunkowska and Mysiadło. Some are full of cabbage awaiting harvest; others are lying fallow, others have just been ploughed; others are full of weed - mugwort or wrotycz, and goldenrod or nawroć.

Below: two new houses set back from ul. Trombity, seen from ul. Nawłocka. Marvel at the crystal clarity of the sky; not a single cloud.

May this weather continue as long as possible. The dry spell has now lasted 16 days interrupted only by a spot of rain on Friday morning.

Right: nearly home. On ul. Trombity, a small stand of silver birches by the road by the pond, shimmering like iridium under the deepening blue sky. The day has not been wasted; time has been gainfully spent in communion with nature's beauty. My soul is at peace.

Poland's Thatcherite disciples?

To Kraków yesterday for the annual conference of Conservatives Abroad, which attracted British expats from around the world all of whom supported the Conservative party in the UK.

They came from the Middle East and America, Germany, Benelux and of course Poland, but mostly from Spain and France, where the largest numbers of British expats are to be found (mainly retired and well-off I might add). There are over three million British citizens living outside the UK (more than 5% of the population)* and the majority are natural Conservative voters, socially conservative but economically liberal.

The biggest single political issue for this group (into which I count myself) is our inability to vote in UK parliamentary elections. Poles (and indeed most other nationalities) have it much easier. If you are, say, a Polish citizen living in London when a parliamentary or presidential election is called, you merely need to register at the Polish embassy or at your nearest consulate, and then turn up to vote there. British expats need to fill in either a proxy vote form or apply to vote in a postal ballot. Their votes go to the constituency in which they last voted.

The Conservatives Abroad conference moved that the UK system be changed to one whereby British citizens resident in a foreign country can vote directly at their embassy. This would certainly get me to vote (the current system is far too bureaucratic and inconvenient).

Despite having lived in Poland for over 13 years, I have a close bond with the UK, having family and friends there. I have an stake in the British economy, with a London house, and my company and state pension one day coming from there. So the right to vote is important to me.

Had I been able to do so, I would have voted Conservative in the May elections, though the system of expat votes going to the last UK constituency they voted in would have meant my vote going into Ealing North, which in any case was won by Labour with an increased majority.

The Conservatives Abroad conference was also notable for the presence of MEP Michał Kamiński from Law and Justice (PiS). Mr Kamiński (below) is the chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the European Parliament.

And here's my problem. The Conservative party is a member of this grouping along with PiS. Although I could not find anything to disagree with at all with what Mr Kamiński had to say last night (nor indeed his fellow PiS MEP Adam Bielan who I had the pleasure of sitting next to at dinner), PiS as run by Jarosław Kaczyński is way, way off the spectrum when it comes to my own political tastes, for reasons I explained here.

* See graph at bottom of this page. There are more British citizens living abroad than citizens of any other OECD country!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Apparently nothing, nothing apparently.

To Kraków this morning for a political conference (more tomorrow). In the meantime, two photos to show that last Tueday's tragic road accident that left 18 dead has not taught anything to Poland's hell-bent drivers.

Similar circumstances. A straight stretch of single-carriageway road (between Radom and Kielce). Fog, not long after dawn. An ill-judged attempt to overtake. It looks like the driver of the Audi (below) suddenly realised he was not going to make it. The driver of the van had to swerve so violently that the front offside wheel came off (it was fifty metres further on down the road.)

It is a sad but tragic fact that this very day there are 180-200 Poles alive, eating, breathing, planning their lives, who won't be alive in two weeks' time because they will die in car crashes, culminating in the All Saints' Weekend when half of Poland will take to the roads to visit their families' graves. The roads will be busy, slippery with leaves, maybe icy; most cars will not have yet changed to winter tyres, the clocks will have gone back so it will be dark earlier. But still too many will be driving way too fast.

The national 'weekend without [road] victims' (Weekend bez ofiar, 6-8 August), widely promoted in the media, was a flop. 44 died over those three days.

What have we learnt?