Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Snow-free November

Well, that's November gone, and no snow.

Let's look back over this blog at when Warsaw experienced its first snow... (this is where blogging proves its worth as a form of popular record). We can see - well, not too anomalous. Having said that, there are rumours, whispers, from the south of Poland of an impending drought. Indeed, I can't remember proper rain since the second half of August. And people are talking about a warm (+12C) Christmas - will we get show this December? We did last year and the year before...

2010: 28 November (I missed it, but on my return to Warsaw on 29 November, it snowed and kept on snowing). December was snowy - in the UK too!

2009: 14 October (!!!) An absolute anomaly, the more so that November proved snow-free. However, the second half of December saw heavy snowfalls

2008: 22 November. Snow stayed around for a few days; December was not snowy at all.

2007: 14 November. It didn't settle for long, returned briefly a week later; December was pretty much snow-free too.

A final word about this year. Many's the time I've heard about it snowing (during communist times) on the May Day parade; white shirtsleeves and blouses with red neckerchiefs - and snow. Yet this year, it snowed on the evening of 3 May - free Poland's celebration of its Constitution Day. Bizarre when I think back - eight o'clock in the evening, it's still light outdoors - and there's the garden covered in snow.

This time last year:
Krakowskie Przedmieście in the snow

This time two years ago:
Ul. Poloneza bisected by S2 roadworks

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Unashamed City of Dreams gorgeousness

Once again - a crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams. Look at how Zlota 44 (between the Palace of Culture, right, and Złote Tarasy, centre) is rising to find its place on Warsaw's skyline.

Two exposures - one (top) exposed for the ground, the other, for the sky. HDR (high dynamic range imaging) would allow for the capture of an image that incorporates the best of both pics.

Follow the Zlota 44 saga back over the past three and half years - here (Yellerbelly) and here (Scatts). Both guys know what they're writing about. See the building when it was no more than a hole in the ground.

A propos of dreams - my dreams are getting increasingly hybrid. One character that pops up in them frequently is my brother/son; an amalgam of my brother at Eddie's age and Eddie; neither and both. And the dreams are more often than not located in an amalgam of modern-day Warsaw, 1960s/70s London, and 1930s-50s USA. Such were the dreams I dreamt last night.

This time last year:
I'm so glad I'm living in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
Candid photography

This time three years ago:
Archival photos of the Rampa in action

This time four years ago:
Red sky in the morning...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

And end to the Entitlement way of thinking

There must be some kind of way out here
Said the joker to the thief
The first lines of Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower* spring to mind as I watch the world teeter on the brink on economic meltdown. There must indeed be some kind of way out of here, but it's not going to be pleasant. A face-off between young protesters and their banker foes will not, however, produce any roadmap as to the exit route from the crisis.

I can sympathise with the voice of a generation whose prospects are getting bleaker by the day, the Occupiers of Wall Street or London or Spain's Indignados and other groups of protesters. My problem with them, however, is that they have no solution to the problems besetting the global economy; all they can offer is a generalised list of woes that anyone can pick up from reading the papers.

Problems. Take the eurozone crisis. We all have a good idea of what would happen if, for example, Greece were to replace the euro with a new drachma. A run on the banks, capital flight - wealthier Greeks taking suitcases of euros out of the country to havens safe, printing new banknotes and minting new coins, making adjustments to bankomats** and vending machines, re-pricing all products in all shops. And the economic fall-out - suddenly, Greece would be the cheapest place in Europe to holiday, but, as the Greeks don't actually make anything, everything they need to fit out hotels and restaurants has to be imported from a prohibitively expensive eurozone.

We don't know what course of action to take. Keep the Greeks in, or push them out? Pain one way, pain the other. Greeks? Who's next? The Italians? A problem one order of magnitude greater. Then who? France? Germany? Britain? The USA? China? Contagion! Panic! The Great Depression, all over again. Just 80 years on.

Let's look at the root causes. I go back to Student SGH's brilliant essay from early last year, in which the anonymous author looks at the two main drivers of the market, Fear and Greed. He postulates that it was not so much Greed that sank the markets, but Lack of Fear. Now, I'd also like to add another root cause, namely Entitlement.

When anybody thinks "it's my right (to get money from the state for doing nothing/for leading a bank into failure)" then you know that Absurdity has got the upper hand. Entitlement-thinking leads to sub-optimal performance in the market place. Mnie się należy.
  • Because I'm the child of wealthy parents, I deserve an iPhone 4S for Christmas.
  • Because I'm a single mum, the State has a duty to provide me with free accommodation.
  • Because my company is French (or whatever) it should be protected from global competition.
  • Because my company is state-owned, and I'm in PSL, I must become Prezes.
  • Because I graduated with a Third in Media Studies at John Lennon University, I deserve a well-paid job in TV.
  • Because my bank's Too Big To Fail, I deserve a huge bonus from the tax payer.
  • Because my parents will leave me a big house, I don't have to work too hard right now.
  • Because the value of my house will keep rising, I'm entitled to exotic holidays and flash car.
  • Because it's done so up to now, my company's market share will keep growing indefinitely.
  • Because my parents are wealthier than my grandparents, I'm going to be wealthier still.
As you can see from the above list, entitlement thinking affects people across the entire spectrum of society. The blame cannot fall on the bankers alone. People should take on more responsibility upon their own shoulders - should your bank fail - take the blame, sell your mansions and helicopters and put the money into the accounts of the small savers who've taken the blow. Take the blame for your own fecklessness rather than expecting the taxpayer to bail you out. Less entitlement - more individual responsibility.
Getting used to economic well-being gets you soft. Poles, who in the space of a generation have been through economic hardships undreamt of in the West are, I think (and here, of course, I'm forced to generalise) are much better situated to ride out the coming storm than the 'softies' of the pampered West. Since 1981, Poland has endured the fifth-deepest economic depression of the 20th Century; empty shelves on shops, inflation of 1,300% year, and shock-therapy transformation from which many provincial towns and rural areas have not yet recovered from.

Young Poles certainly feel less entitled than their British peers. They know that life's hard, work's a grind, but there's no one around to spoon-feed you. If they can't find a job in Radom or Gorzów, they'll fly to the UK to look for work. Hence the Polish barmen with Master's degrees in engineering and Polish chambermaids with Master's degrees in law.

Sustainable Growth, the chimeric Grail that corporates strives for, cannot be achieved by armies of pushy salesmen foisting unsuitable financial or insurance products or endlessly updated consumer electronic technologies upon unwary consumers. (Incidentally, I have yet to meet one person to rave about the wonders of BlueRay discs.) As consumers, we must save more and spend less. When we do spend, we should part with our money for things that we shall treasure, not junk destined for the bin. (How much of the money the Britain currently owes China is buried in landfill sites around the UK?) Business should accept that only true innovation is the way forward; consumers should pull things out of factories rather than sales forces push them into the consumers' living rooms.

The economic crisis will not go away quickly. It will be here, tainting the lives and prospects of a young generation just ready to enter the world of work. It will hit those societies that have had it too soft for too long. The injustice of it all is that the politicians, bankers and corporate leaders that have misshaped the world economy up to 2007, with all its absurdities and imbalances, will among the last to feel the pain upon their own skins. And that is what the Occupy movement is all about - a frustrated yet impotent cry of anguish. But no solutions.

AFTERTHOUGHT. I look at the title again. What rubbish! There will never be an end to the Entitlement way of thinking! It will return once this current crisis is gone and forgotten, it will return once another generation of political and business leaders says "an end to boom and bust", starts thinking that we're on a upward sloping trajectory that will continue upwards for ever. Once that thinking sets in, all manner of people will start believing that "it's owed to me".

* Jimi Hendrix recorded the definitive version.

** Bankomat - a word that needs to be adopted into English.

This time last year:
West Ealing - drab and sad suburb

This time two years ago:
To Poznań by train

This time four years ago:
Late autumn drive-time

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Intelligence and the Ladder of Authority

Every human being has an innate need to impose his or her will on another human being. This is inextricably linked with the fact that we are mammals; a biological imperative to have a clearly-defined hierarchy is born with all of us.

Whether it is a parent trying to instil values unto the next generation, a boss telling an employee what to do and how to do it, a sergeant-major barking out commands to new recruits or a householder instructing a domestic servant as to what needs doing around the kitchen, there are social hierarchies in which there is an intrinsic expectation of who is to be top dog.

This is the ladder of authority. It is based on age, status, experience, brute physical presence - but increasingly, over the millennia of human evolution - on intelligence. It is most visible among adolescent boys - in the playground, on the pitch, in the classroom (trying not to appear a swot, but to demonstrate effortless cleverness); they are yet too inexperienced to work out ruses how to rule by stealth.

Everyone wants to be boss. Even over their children or spouse. It is difficult for anyone to accept that in a small group, that they are not dominant. They will create excuses, make up stories, role-play - do anything rather than admit a lower standing on the ladder.

There's an official ladder, based on formal hierarchies, family trees or job titles and then there's what's really going on. Here's where the interesting interactions are going on. Peer-to-peer. That lovely line in The Office - Tim to Gareth - "you're not assistant manager. You're assistant to the manager".

We can sniff out weakness in another human, very quickly. We can tell who's really boss. Or so we think. And if that other person thinks that they are the boss - for what ever reason - there's bound to be conflict. Giving in is just not in our nature. Giving in is a sign of submissiveness, what's worse - that the person with whom you are in conflict with is dominant.

This plays out in the international arena, behind closed doors in politics. So many ruses can come into play; Stalin inviting Churchill to dinner at his private dacha after Churchill's first meeting with the General Secretary probably changed the course of post-war Europe by appearing to be placatory and showing his human side - which threw Churchill off guard. How much of what's being determined by Europe's leaders now is not being done on the basis of logic, but on the basis of human personality - dominance and submissiveness? How did Silvio Berlusconi - a farcical figure if looked at through the prism of cold logic - maintain power in Italy for so long?

We all set out wanting to be Top Dog. Even a Pope would not have got to the top without a strong will, a tough personality, determination to push others aside to get to the summit. Then there is that moment... I'll let the immortal Uncle Monty (from Withnail and I) explain:
"It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself: I will never play The Dane. When that moment comes, one’s ambition ceases."
The theatrical metaphor of playing Hamlet extends to life. I got to play The Dane briefly (two years as general manager of the Polish operation of an international publishing company) but after the stress and pressure decided that I have neither the greed nor lust to dominate others needed to remain a senior executive in a global corporation.

Human life is a game in which a great many of our interactions are a trial of strength between two or more players, striving to be one up on the other(s). "You get the broom." "No, YOU get it!" "Open a Second Front now!" "The British and Americans are not ready yet!"

Once you recognise this, once you have the awareness of what is really going on when you ask someone for something, or they ask something of you, once natural positions are established, conflict can give way to partnership.

Again, I'll offer the most profound piece of advice that I can offer as a result of my 54 years on this earth - get to understand your biology, and rise above it to fulfil your potential.

This time last year:
Edinburgh portraits

This time two years ago:
Kiedy ranne wstają zorze

This time four years ago:
Thoughts on the Nature of Dad Rock

Friday, 25 November 2011

New train timetables - Radom line warning

Thursday's Gazeta Stołeczna carried an article that filled me with dread. The last two paragraphs of this piece. The paper has seen the new railway timetables that come into force on 11 December (long-time readers of this blog will know that the introduction of new timetables mean chaos on the tracks at the best of times). For commuters coming into Warsaw along the line from Radom (calling at Warka, Czachówek, Zalesie Górne, Piaseczno and Nowa Iwiczna) the news sounds ominous. From four trains in the peak morning rush hour between 7:00 and 8:00 to two.

Well, let's not take news at face value and compare the new and old timetables:

Old - departures from Piaseczno to Warsaw (Koleje Mazowieckie)
6:15 - 6:46 - 7:03 - 7:20 - 7:33 - 7:51 - 8:40 - 8:57

New - departures from Piaseczno to Warsaw
6:06 - 6:41 - 6:56 - 7:11 - 7:35 - 8:19 - 8:38 - 8:59

Well, on paper, all eight departures between 6:00 and 9:00 are still there, though spread out more. Indeed, between 7:00 and 8:00 there are only two trains, but the number of trains between six and seven and between eight and nine have been increased from two to three each. So a bit of alarmism, but even so, that gap between the 7:35 and the 8:19 service is way too great. That train will be utterly packed.

Fewer trains to town?

To make matters worse, the semi-fast services from Radom and beyond to Warsaw are also being scaled back. In a letter to the Radom edition of Gazeta Wyborcza, users of the TLK and Interregio trains into Warsaw complain about chronic delays, overcrowding, ancient rolling stock - and now, curtailments of services in the new timetable. The final paragraph warns that desperate passengers will take to blocking the tracks.

Once again, we see mixed signals. On the one hand, Warsaw's authorities are clearly trying to wean the populace from driving into town in private cars. On the other, cash-strapped local and regional authorities are unable to dip into their budgets to support rail services. What are people from Piaseczno to do? Between 7 and 8am, there are just ten buses from Piaseczno to Warsaw. Given that each is able to take around 200 passengers, standing and sitting - that's a mere 2,000 Sand City dwellers that have that option. Plus, as we know, ul. Puławska is one solid mass of near-stationary traffic at that time.

No one seems to care. ZTM is not fussed that Koleje Mazowieckie can't cope; Koleje Mazowieckie doesn't care that Przewozy Regionalne and InterCity's TLK services are being cut; the city authorities are in no hurry to paint bus lanes down Puławska, or to provide a cycle path alongside the roadway - so what happens? People continue to drive to work, or at least to drive to the three Park+Rides at Stokłosy, Ursynów and Wilanowska Metro stations (room for 556 cars).

I find it inconceivable that rail services are being trimmed back. Bear in mind that a single six-carriage set of EN57 stock can take 1,360 passengers (as many as seven buses or around 900 cars assuming 1.5 passengers per car), trains really are the optimal form of travel.

Looking at an analogous commuter railway service in the UK, Slough to London Paddington, there are currently seven local trains leaving the town for the capital between 7:00 and 8:00am. As six-car sets, these trains can carry around 800 passengers in (slightly) greater comfort and much higher speeds than the half-century old Polish commuter trains.

Joined-up government is needed. Warsaw needs workers. People come into the capital each day from Radom (100km away), even Łódź (135km) as well as many nearer satellite towns. Merely leaving clogged-up truck roads, beset with roadworks, to act as conduits that get the Warsaw's economy moving and shrugging shoulders at the inertia on the railways, is irresponsible. Frustrated workers are not productive workers.

* Between 7:00 and 8:00, public transport can move a mere 4,800 people from Piaseczno into town, assuming that no one boards the bus or train at intermediate places like Nowa Iwiczna, Mysiadło, Dąbrówka, Jeziorki, Pyry or Dawidy. That really is pathetic.

This time last year:
London notes

This time two years ago:
Silent and Unseen - in your bookshops now

This time three years ago:
Frustrated by ul. Puławska - rat-run absurdity

This time four years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Selling old magazines - OK or not?

And lo, upon TVN Fakty did they show the Authorities cracking down upon the Small Man and the Small Woman trying to make a living by selling clothes and things upon the highway side. And the Authorities liked not that these people be engaged in commerce without letting the State share in the trade. Mayors from Kołobrzeg, Łódź and Kraków explained that 'dziki handel' makes their streets and pavements look bad. And the Small People wept; for they have no other way with which to sustain their families. The Authorities seized boxes of clothing from the Small Man, sealed them and sent them even unto the Courts of Law.

The real reason for this high-profile clampdown is not to bring beauty and order upon the pavements of the land; it is so that Poland can be seen by the Ratings Agencies, the European Commission and the bonds markets getting tough on non-payers of VAT. Now, given that some 45% of all revenues flowing into the Polish state budget comes from VAT, squeezing out the non-payers from the market makes very good sense. Tough on the Small Man and the Small Woman, but they have for years been squeezing the revenues of the people one notch above them on the food chain who do pay VAT, do pay ZUS on their employees, do pay CIT on corporate profits. Tough on the customer of the Small Man and Small Woman; but their savings have been bypassing the state treasury and thus contributing to the budget deficit and to public sector.

Which as we can see from the experiences of Greece is not a good thing.

So. This evening, waiting for my train at W-wa Śródmieście, I noticed my favourite second-hand magazine stand was closed (below). Clampdown? These stands are the bane of Poland's publishers. Some types of magazine - classified ads, for example, have a shelf-life measure in days. But many hobby mags for example - cycling and photography being my two interests - can be bought months later without deleterious effect. Knitting patterns, computers, military history, motoring - likewise.

The process works like this. Magazines appear originally on news stands on a sale-or-return basis. What does not get sold in Ruch, Relay, Kolporter or InMedio ends up in recycling bins. As the retail price of waste paper is 30 grosze a kilo, while a magazine can get re-sold for 2zł - 5zł (depending on how old it is, how expensive it was), it makes sense to bring the old copies back onto the market.

Among the unsold months-old Uwarzam Że and Nowe Państwo magazines lie gems (English-language titles among them) for a fraction of their former price. Of course, no VAT goes to the state coffers, because what's 23% of the input cost if the input cost is zero?

My speculations about whether the Straż Miejska and Urząd Skarbowy had raided the bowels of W-wa Smródmieście came to an end when a few minutes later the shutters went up and it was business as usual (below).

Below: As you can see, a wide selection of titles on sale, very modestly priced to sell, buy one, get an even older one free - but nary a VAT receipt to be seen.

Below: And another such stand, this one on Platform 2. No doubt PKP Nieruchomości that rents out square metres in the innards of its subterranean passages (same thing goes on at W-wa Wschodnia and Zachodnia) is not too fussed about the fiscal niceties as long its revenues roll in.

With Germany unable to sell of its bonds today, we can see that Europe really is in trouble. Yet Poland has a sufficiently big grey economy that if were to be made to pay like the rest of the retail and distribution sector, budget deficits could be patched up. But sights like those above cannot be seen in Germany or Britain (what would W.H. Smith and John Menzies say?). If Finance Minister Rostowski can muster the state to force the VAT- and excise non-payers to contribute, Poland could pull itself up both fiscally and civilisationally.

This time two years ago:
Warsaw's woodlands in autumn

This time three years ago:
Still here, the early snow

This time four years ago:
Another point of view

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

How to lose customers

I found this camera repair place, just off ul. Grzybowska. Time, I thought, to get the sensor of my D40 cleaned. Pictures (especially those of clear skies) have darker spots on them that I need to Photoshop away before publishing; it's getting time consuming.

Anyway, I strike a deal (125 zlotys - around 25 quid to get the camera cleaned up, ready by 18:00 tomorrow), take out the memory card, ready to leave the D40 behind. Then the young lady behind the counter asks me to take the strap off the camera.

"Why?" I ask. "Because the mechanic says so," she replies. It's not an easy thing to do, especially with numb fingers and no reading glasses to hand. And, no doubt, I'd be asked to put the strap back on again, even more difficult, threading a reluctant woven nylon strap through tight plastic hoops.

Politely I pick up my camera and tell the young lady that I shall get it repaired elsewhere. If they want my business - and assuming the strap really needs to be removed in order for the base to be unscrewed (which I doubt) - they'd take the trouble to take off and then put back the strap. For the price - towards the upper band of what I find online - I did not expect the client to be asked to do some of the work for the repair guy.

Anyway - I check the website; it transpires they also fix "Helwett-Packard" and "Haselblat" cameras. If the guy's as precise with his mechanical skills as he is with his spelling, I'm better off avoiding his services anyway.

Can any reader recommend a good place for cleaning sensors (my D80 also needs clean inside...)

This time two years ago:
November weather notes

This time three years ago:
First snow, winter 2008-09

This time four years ago:

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Kraków-Warsaw by train

A post to show the ups-and-downs of Polish State Railways, how much has been achieved, how much more needs to be done.

After speaking at our PPP seminar in Kraków on Friday, I was dropped off outside Galeria Krakowska, in ample time, I thought, to catch the 16.45 to Warsaw. I made my way through the shopping mall to the place between Carrefour and McDonald's where, from memory, there was a passageway to the railway platforms.

Not a bit of it. There is an entrance to the new underground tram station - but that's it. I had to loop round through the mall to another passageway, one that did lead to the railway station.

Point One. No Proper Signage. How are passengers from out of town expected to know which exit is which?

So. Down the a passageway that led to the platforms. Hurray! Now for my ticket. A booth proclaiming itself to be 'Przewozy Regionalne' (i.e. not the company that operates my train home, PKP InterCity). From previous visits to Kraków Głowny station, I remembered that this booth will not sell InterCity tickets, and that after getting to the front of the queue, you'll be sent away with a flea in your ear. I missed, however, a small sign saying "we [now] sell tickets for all train operating companies". So I pressed on to find another place to buy tickets. I found one - at the far end of the narrow tunnel, half-closed off by building works. Again, run by Przewozy Regionalne. This time, the sign saying 'all types of tickets sold' was more prominent. I join the lengthy queue.

Point Two. No Proper Signage. How are passengers from out of town expected to know where they should buy the right ticket?

Let me return to the narrow tunnel. It's about three metres (10ft) wide. By every platform entrance, there's a timetable. Around every timetable, there's a cluster of anxious passengers looking for information. They are blocking the narrow tunnel. And the timetables are printed in a tiny font, which many people (including myself) need reading glasses to make sense of.

Point Three. Make timetables bigger; put them where they won't disturb passenger flow. Timetables are an essential part of signage and passenger information; they must be clear and visible.

While I'm in the queue, there's a passenger announcement that the Warsaw train will, unusually, be departing from track #*, platform @'. The message is repeated. "Track #*, platform @'."I strain my ears to decode the number of the track and the platform. I still can't make it out.

Point Four. Ensure that public announcements can be heard in every corner of the station. Train the announcers to speak clearly, slowly, not to garble their words. Put up the right number of loudspeakers. Ensure they're all working properly.

Point Five. Get rid of the stupid track and platform numeration system (Tor 23 przy peronie pierwszym - 'track 23 by platform 1'). It is highly confusing and entirely unnecessary. Each track should have its own platform number. I koniec.

I get to the front of the queue knowing there's no way I'll catch my train. I buy a ticket for the next one, an hour and eight minutes later. I wonder around the mall, killing time; at last I make my way to track 18 platform 5 to discover... that it has its very own ticket booth, also operated by Przewozy Regionalne, also selling tickets for all trains. Now... if only I had known that earlier...

Points One and Two. See above.

I board my train. Carriage 26, seat 111. Second class. LUXURY! Six seats to the compartment, a power socket for every seat. I can open my new Samsung notebook and spend the journey writing! And when I got hungry, the Wars restaurant carriage, just a few footsteps away, is offering old-school pork chops with potatoes and cabbage and a glass of Konstancin Brewery beer for less than six quid! And the train arrives in Warsaw on time! All right, 3hrs 18 mins for 300km is really rather poor given that 440km between Madrid and Seville takes 2hrs 20 mins, but at least PKP InterCity train kept to the advertised timetable.

So - Kraków station is really quite appalling [see Dysposytor's post on the station]. Not as abysmally appalling as W-wa Zachodnia (the worst station in the civilised world), but a long way behind W-wa Centralna, also in mid-refurbishment right now.

But - I was pleasantly impressed by PKP InterCity. The ticket, at 125.50 zł (25 quid) cost almost double what a TLK (Tanie Linie Kolejowe - 'Cheap Rail Lines') one does, but it was worth it.

With the world's third-largest sporting event (only the Olympics and the World Cup draw bigger crowds than the European football championships) due to start in just seven months, will Polish railways and railway stations manage to get their act to cope with hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors? And what impression will they leave - of Poland a country that's rapidly catching up with the west, or a country stuck in some post-communist nightmare of inefficiency, indifference to the customer and technical backwardness?

This time last year:
Warsaw Blogmeet

This time two years ago:
My fixie reconfigured

This time four years ago:
Not In My Back Yard

Saturday, 19 November 2011

S2/S79 works ongoing - from the air

Perfect flying weather for my take-off from Okęcie, bound for London, last week (11 November). And a chance to photograph from the air the road works on the Elka or 'L'-shaped roadworks, the stretch of the north-south S79 between Węzeł Marynarska and Węzeł Lotnisko and the west-east S2 between Węzeł Lotnisko and Węzeł Puławska (węzeł means 'junction' or 'interchange').

Above: immediately after take-off, still within the airport boundary, the Cargo terminal and its apron; behind it the S79. Still much work to do to link Marynarska to the airport junction, not just viaducts and bridges, but whole chunks of missing roadway. Time's ticking away before next June's football championships... I can't see it happening.

Above: the S2, a big hole by ul. Oberka; intermittent sections nearing completion, but again so much to do, especially around the Puławska junction. Click to enlarge to get some more detail, especially the area beyond Puławska. Here - one day (don't ask) a tunnel will burrow under the blocks of flats in Ursynów to emerge by the Vistula escarpment and on to a new bridge over the river - and then onwards to the Belarusian border. I wonder what will happen first - the motorway gets to the border, or Belarussia rids itself of its ridiculous tyrant?

This time last year:
Fish and chips in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
Spirit of place - anomalous familiarity moments

And England's dreaming

Time (after my return from London and Kraków) to upload and select some photos to show just how marked the climatic contrast between London and Warsaw can be. Both cities are around the same latitude, yet (anomalies excepted*), London's climate is much more temperate.

Above: Cleveland Road, West Ealing, the posh part. Below: Cleveland Park, view towards Harrow-on-the-Hill, centre left. Note the clarity of the sky - more associated in my mind with Warsaw than London. From the clothing of the individuals walking in the middle foreground, still shirtsleeves weather (18C on Saturday 12th November). On this very day, Warsaw was shivering under cloudy skies with a top temperature of +2C.

What a day! Another contrast - look at the leaves on the willow trees below. Not only are they still mainly on the trees (unlike in Warsaw) but they've hardly changed colour from late summer!

Not all trees, however. This avenue of elms (below) in nearby Pitshanger Park (at the bottom of Cleveland Park) is denuded of leaves and stands on a russet carpet that crunches pleasantly underfoot.

And finally - so quintessentially English - the bowling green at Pitshanger Park, below. Edwardian Ealing, once Queen of the Suburbs, that klimat is still to be found, here and there. That sky... those colours... it could be 1911... And why ever not?

* Let us not forget that last November, England was struggling under an inch of snow.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Tusk's exposé - my reaction

Firstly, a translator's note. The Polish word exposé (a prime minister's first policy speech on taking office) is not the same as the English word 'exposé' ('the publication of some disreputable facts').

Well do I remember premier Tusk's first exposé, four years ago. In those days, I drove to work (an act I now consider to be anti-social behaviour) and I listened to some of it on the radio. As I approached red traffic lights on ul. Sobieskiego, I actually found myself clapping to Tusk's words. What a refreshing change to the intrigues, plots and counter-plots of the PiS-Samoobrona-LPR coalition that the Tusk government had just replaced! Heavy on the word zaufanie, ('trust'), I felt that at last - after four years of dodgy SLD leadership and two years of excruciatingly embarrassing government by PiS and its coalition partners, at last Poland was heading in the right direction.

The past four years proved that at least Poland was no longer moving in the wrong direction any more. But instead of progress and reform, the first Tusk administration found itself accused of being a 'do little' government. True, it had its successes - particularly on the economic front; Poland was the only EU member state not to slip into recession in 2009. And externally, Poland's government looked professional, with grown-ups minding the shop (Jacek Rostowski, finance, and Radek Sikorski, foreign affairs). But all in all, a 'could have done much better' assessment summed up the first Tusk administration.

So then - on to today's exposé. The full text, in a non-native translation into English, can be found on the Economist's website.

On reading it, I could see that was that here was a speech written-to-measure for the ratings agencies rather than to attract foreign direct investment. If zaufanie peppered Tusk's first exposé, this time it was bezpieczeństwo ('safety', 'security'), mentioned 34 times in a speech that filled no more than 12 sides of A4. And my first impression is of a schoolboy admitting to Headmaster Fitch (cane in hand) at the start of his second term in Big School that he hadn't worked nearly hard enough at those tough subjects like pension reform, taxing farmers or deregulating burdensome red tape, but that this term he promises to pull his socks up. And indeed. The headmaster put the cane down and let off Tusk with a warning that his performance (as with those class dunces Greece and Italy) would be under continual review.

Of 12 pages of speech, a full ten were to do with the economy. Retirement age will be raised. Farmers with larger holdings will pay proper social security contributions and be obliged to keep accounts (like any other business). Internet use tax relief will cease. High earners will lose child benefit unless they have two or more children. Copper and silver extraction will attract higher duties. People (like me) on umowa o dzieło ('authorship contracts') currently taxed on only half their income will have that privilege capped at 85,000 złotys a year (around £17,000), and pay full tax on income over that figure (fair enough - I've long thought I don't pay enough tax!). And so on. More like a Chancellor's Budget speech than a Prime Minister's maiden policy speech, to the extent that I was surprised when Tusk wandered, almost off-topic, onto subjects like religion and nationalism near the end.

So - the aim of the speech was to reassure the markets, bond-holders and ratings agencies that public sector debt and the budget deficit were both under control. He set targets for his government - to cut debt to 47% of GDP by 2015 (55% in 2010) and the deficit to 3% of GDP by the end of next year (from 7.9% in 2010).

All well and good. But what about growth? What about employment? One thing that REALLY worries me was Tusk's proposal (may it just stay a proposal!) to increase employers' ZUS (social security) contribution by an extra two percentage points. Employers, he says, can afford it, he says, in the nearest we got to economic populism in his speech, because 'businesses are not willing to spend money'.

This is in effect, a tax on jobs. When the UK Labour government announced an increase in employers' social security contributions by just one percentage point, all hell broke loose. It now stands at 13.8%; in Poland, employers will be forking out something like 24-25% of employees' pre-tax income. Where's the incentive for employers to take on new workers? Tusk should CUT employers' ZUS contributions - if he needs extra money, increase the corporate tax rate by one percentage point - take the money from profits actually earned, rather than by increasing the tax on jobs. Panie premierze - think again on this one!

The other thing that dismayed me was the complete and utter lack of the word 'infrastructure' in the speech. If there's one subject on the report card for Premier Tusk's first term that merits an F-, it's Poland's dreadful roads and railways. And, if we are to take the exposé as a road map for the next four years, we can assume it's one that won't join Warsaw or Kraków to the eastern borders by motorway.

Having said all that, I take heart that the tone of the exposé is one of long-term consideration for the good of the nation's finances, not a speech of political expediency knowing that a four-year term of office is all a premier can hope for. At last, Poland has re-elected a government; with luck and a fair wind, Poland will make it through the impending global economic recession without having its growth fizzle out.

This time last year:
Into Poland's former Heart of Darkness

This time two years ago:
Powiśle - synchronicity of shape

This time three years ago:
The last of the rampa na kruszywo

This time four years ago:
Airport zoning to halt development in Jeziorki?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Poppies, politeness and pride

If 11 November for Poland is about Independence, in Britain it's about Rememberance.

I'm in London for a few days to help my parents; my father had an angioplasty procedure last Tuesday, so I'm on hand to help with driving, shopping, cooking, washing up and a bit of garden work. My father has bounced back incredibly well; after a bit of pottering around in the garden today, he announced that although he's tired, his heart doesn't hurt him. His blood pressure has stabilised at a perfect level. Amazing at 88; his chances of getting to 100 are very good!

As always, contrasts between Poland and England are at the fore when I come over. It's been nearly 11 months since my last visit to my parents with Eddie and Moni just after Christmas. The weather contrast is incredible. Whereas in Warsaw most trees are already leafless, here in London many have not even started to change colour. The willow trees in my parents' garden and in Cleveland Park have only just started to shed their leaves. And the sunshine and warmth (+18C today) were something that Warsaw could only envy.

Together with my parents, we watched the Rememberance Sunday parade at the Cenotaph and the British Legion commemoration at the Royal Albert Hall. Rememberance Sunday is a wonderful event, so rich in tradition and meaning. Watching the veterans marching past the Queen as they have done each and every Rememberance Sunday of my life gives me a sense of continuity and stability that counteracts the gloomy news headlines here. And watching the dignity and pride of those marching - many veterans my father's age or even older - I can't help but contrast it with what was happening on Friday in Warsaw at another public commemoration of 11 November. And draw conclusions about relative levels of civilisation in the two countries with which I associate myself.

Public politeness is an area in which as I've noted before, there is a big difference between Poland and England, to Poland's detriment. In the supermarket, in the car park, in a crowded tube station. "With a thousand ta's and pardons, daintily alights Elaine" wrote John Betjeman in the second line of his poem Middlesex. That essential politeness rubs off on many migrants to the UK, though the Poles who've settled here after 2004 might have been in England too short a time to leave off their public swearing.

This time last year:
Setting sun in the mountains

This time two years ago:
That learning moment

This time three years ago:
Along the Polish-Czech border

This time four years ago:
Ul. Poleczki - remember it this way?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

What Independence Day means for Poles

Popped into Auchan this evening on account of the fact that all the shops are closed tomorrow for the 11 November Independence Day public holiday. The hypermarket was heaving - these kinds of queues one sees in the run-up to Christmas. Yet this is a Thursday evening... had the shops not been closed on a Friday, would everyone had gone bonkers to fill up their trolley?

As I stood and queued, I pondered on the meaning of 11 November, a new public holiday, instituted after the fall of communism (which had 22 July as its commemoration of the Birth of the New Order). How does 11 November compare to Poland's other holidays?

All Souls/All Saints has a very special meaning in the hearts of Poles. It's a time to visit graves; as a holiday it is extremely significant. The same goes for the tradition-rich celebrations of Christ's Mass and of Easter. Secondary religious feasts that entitle Poles to days off - Corpus Christi and Pentecost Sunday (shops are forced to shut) divide the believing from the rest.

But Independence Day, celebrating Poland's return to the map of Europe as a sovereign nation after 123 years? Is it something more than an excuse for a punch-up between neo-fascists and neo-Nazis* on one side and assorted lefties and gays on the other?

What should a patriotic Pole do... Listen to voices telling him to stay indoors with the radio switched on - or go into the centre of town to listen to patriotic speeches and get drawn into political harangues between extremists?

I remember my first Independence Day in Warsaw; 1997. Krzysztof ('Toyah') and his family came up to stay with us; we trooped off to Plac Piłsudskiego to the commemoration. We neared the back of the crowd; some politician was speaking. Sense, as it sounded to me; hitting all the right patriotic buttons; yet in front of us some man was ranting "I can't listen to this bulls***!" as he stormed away. "Some communist?" I asked Krzysztof. "Not at all," he answered. "A right-winger, angry at the hypocrisy of a old communist like President Kwaśniewski" - for it was he speaking - "uttering such sentiments!" And so it proves we can't really know what's going on (insofar as it Polish politics go).

Stay indoors. Read history. Research what your forefathers did. Think about a map of Europe without a Poland on it. Make it an Independence Day of your mind. Don't get drawn into a futile debate as to who's a real patriot and who isn't. And it will be freezing outside.

* The difference between the two lies these days in religion. Poland's neo-fascists tend to be ultra-conservative Catholics, while the neo-Nazis are rather tattooed pagans with a penchant for death metal. What unifies them is a lack of tolerance for lefties, gays and peoples of other races. In the UK, types that in Poland end up being neo-Nazis are quickly identified as such by their health visitors, attracting the attention of the public prosecutor should they persist in their ways.

This time last year:
Words fail me: the Polish for "to fail"?

This time two years ago:
Autumn in Dobra

This time four years ago:
Autumn ploughing

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Bad news for Jeziorki rat-runners

As I've written ad nauseam, ul. Puławska is one barely-moving parade of steel, glass and rubber, trying desperately to disgorge tens of thousands of suburban and exurban Varsovians into their place of work - and failing. It is, then, only natural that drivers should seek alternatives to this near-stationary three-lane highway (traffic lights every two hundred metres).

The alternative route is marked on the map below (click to enlarge).

The yellow route, between ul. Karczunkowska to ul. Poleczki and its business parks is all well and good - except it's been severed by the ongoing roadworks (S2 southern Warsaw bypass between Węzeł Lotnisko and Węzeł Puławska). It's been like this for two years now. No problem for the all-terrain cyclist or pedestrian-in-wellies, but motorists must detour the road closure with a zig-zagging 2.3km detour over some of the worst roads in any EU capital. From Ludwinowska to Krasnowolska is a mere 900m.

To make things worse, this week, ul. Ludwinowska (marked in red running horizontally from the end of ul. Jeziorki towards the railway line) has been well and truly cut by some sewerage pipe-laying (below), marked as a black line on the map above.

This leaves two options open for those who use this way to work: put up with the frustration of Puławska, or chance it over Poloneza's potholed surfaces and take a risk over the almost- but-not-quite completed viaduct. No work has actually occurred here since July, its still waiting for final layers of asphalt, one bit of pavement and some minor finishing off.

Locals have taken matters into their own hands and have forced the viaduct open by pushing apart the concrete barriers at the north end (below) and dismantling the no-entry signs at the south end.

But I wouldn't chance in a car without high ground clearance, there are big jumps where the road surface changes. Still, as it is, I can cycle the 5.6km from Karczunkowska to Poleczki faster than a car taking the long route.

This time last year:
Death on the tracks

This time four years ago:
From Łady to Falenty

Monday, 7 November 2011

Polish "right" splits. Again.

For casual observers of the Polish political scene, you may be interested that for the third time there's been a split in Poland's main "right"* wing party - Prawo i Sprawidliwość (PiS - Law and Justice). This time angry young man, former justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro has marched off with 15 other newly-elected PiS deputies to form a new party (tentatively 'Solidarna Polska' - er... translation anyone? Poland of Solidarity? Loyal Poland? Joint and Several Poland?).

This is yet another schism in Poland's "right". The last one was when 15 PiSite deputies left Jarosław Kaczyński's party to form PJN - Polska Jest Najważniejsza (literally 'Poland Is Most Important') in November 2010. These splitters promptly achieved 2% in the latest parliamentary elections.

Before that? Marek Jurek. Remember him, readers? Former Speaker of the Sejm. He got upset that PiS was not religiously reactionary enough for his tastes, so he formed Prawica Rzeczpospolitej (The Right of the Republic) taking six PiS deputies with him in April 2007. Like PJN after him, his party got absolutely nowhere in subsequent parliamentary elections.

Why is it that PiS keeps fragmenting? Is it because of a conviction that under its leader (and co-founder, along with his late twin brother Lech) PiS will never regain power? Or because of Jarosław's authoritarian manner, his inability to placate competing egos, his sense of absolute conviction in the rightness of his argument? Or, indeed both?

What if things were different? Many commentators have said that PiS's 30% at the recent parliamentary election was a good showing, and that the party couldn't have hoped to have squeezed any more votes. But look at Hungary's Fidesz - a party that occupies the same quadrant of the political chart. Patriotic, traditional yet not a party to yield up the commanding heights of the economy to free enterprise. And yet it enjoys a constitution-changing two-thirds majority in the Hungarian parliament. So it is possible to win elections in this part of Europe with a PiSite world-view.

Meanwhile, Ruch Poparcia Palikota (UK readers - imagine a party called something like 'The Movement to Support Mandelson' and you'll not be far off) has finally realised it's time to shed the one-man band image, being the third-largest party in the lower house, and seeks a new name - in a nationwide contest. An ad agency asked by TVN news to devise one came up with '665' - as in 'the lesser evil'. Nice. We shall see what the people dream up...

And so, with the "right" divided, the SLD parliamentary club run by opportunist Leszek Miller, (changing parties as often as PiS has splintered, premier when Poland was at its most corrupt) rendering the post-communist party unelectable, Donald Tusk effectively has no opposition.

He MUST take the opportunity to force through badly-needed fiscal reforms, improve Poland's business environment, speed up delivery of infrastructure projects, or face his only real threat to political power - the markets.

* Why "right" in inverted commas? Because unlike American Republicans or British Conservatives, PiS is not a free-market party. It believes in a large state and mistrusts entrepreneurs.

This time last year:
Tesco vs. Auchan

This time four years ago:
My father's house

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Town planning and the Sublime Aesthetic

Are we in New Mexico? Is this Aquacaliente? Or Iridium Springs in Arizona? No, this is Warsaw's new exurbs, a new estate being built in Nowa Wola, in the fields between Zgorzała and Nowy Podolszyn.

(The mud-spattered walls, lack of pavement and asphalt are typical of Polish town planning: build the houses, and in a few years the infrastructure will follow).

In terms of the architecture, this I like. Bold, moderne, flashing me back to the near-past yet into the future - the essence of the Sublime Aesthetic - the sunset helps too. This is ul. Plonowa ('harvest street'), formerly nothing more than a track running through fields between Nowa Wola and Zamienie.

Looking west towards the setting sun; we can see the radio transmission tower at Raszyn (well, Łazy actually). Note how flat the landscape is. Agriculture as far as the eye can see.

Question is though, for how long? Google Earth's current image for this area (dated April 2009) shows no sign of development here whatsoever. (from this year) does. Now, six houses are complete (one's a show house) with a further eight in various stages of construction. Another development is going up on ul. Plonowa nearer Zamienie.

The pros and cons of living here? The pros - it's far from the madding crowd. The cons - it's far from the madding crowd. To get from here to Jeziorki in the morning would take 15-20 minutes by car (assuming dry dirt-track road and the level crossing gates not being down). Right now, it's all fields (left, look at that cabbage in the foreground). Trouble is, with the economy as it is, it's unlikely there will be much by way of infrastructure any time soon.

This time last year:
On the long road from Zero to One

This time two years ago:
Łódź Rising

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Vapour trails after sunset

The sun now sets just before 16:00, rising at 06:40. Waking up at 05:40 each weekday morning, I have little benefit from the extra daylight in the morning and lose an hour in the evening. Bleh! Time to demand the scrapping of winter time; let's have summer time the year round.

Anyway, some 20 minutes after sunset today, I saw this magnificent sight (below), which thanks to, I ascertained as an Emirates Boeing 777 flying from New York to Dubai.

The starboard wing and the vapour trail brightly illuminated by the sun, which, at 36,000ft, had still not disappeared below the horizon. Just beneath it, another vapour trail, dissipating, from a four-engined jet that had been heading in the opposite direction. Quite a sight!

This time last year:
Autumnal blues

Friday, 4 November 2011

Skarpa in autumn

A week away from Powiśle, and yet it beckons me back... above: Park na Książęcem, looking down the Vistula escarpment. The park, named after Prince Kazimierz Poniatowski, is part of a larger complex of public open space, the Marszałek Edward Śmigły-Rydz Park, which forms the western border of Solec.

Beautiful cloudless blue skies, trees clad in autumnal gold that also carpets the ground. This time last year, the trees had lost all their leaves.

I must say, the clocks going back last weekend is becoming a pretty senseless exercise. As it is, even with the time change, I wake up in darkness (at 05:40 weekdays), so all that's happened is that I lose an hour of daylight in the evening. Time to scrap wintertime - summer time all year round for me, please!

This time three years ago:
A town called 'Tunnel'

Three years ago today, also:
"Ten murzyn" wins US elections

Thursday, 3 November 2011

New office - first impressions

Well, the place reeks of fresh paint, and working in a 19th C. building (even if refurbished to meet the requirements of the 21st C.) takes a bit of getting used to, what with small, separate, rooms rather than one large open space for all.

So then - here we are - ul. Nowogrodzka 12 (the stretch between ul. Krucza and Marszałkowska). A more central location would be hard to find. The new office is six minutes away from the platforms at Centrum Metro station. A huge number of buses and trams pass by, along Marszałkowska, Al. Jerozolimskie, ul. Marszałkowska, and even one (the 107) going up and down ul. Krucza. Below: it's the middle building on the other side of the street. Looming out of the mist - the Novotel Centrum hotel, located at the very epicentre of Warsaw.

Food-wise, there's a heap more choice than around the old office, located in Solec, the southern end of Powiśle. My favoured lunchtime haunt there was Qchnia, a Viet-Pol place. And R20 on Rozbrat, a quality restaurant if too pricey for regular visits. Around Centrum, there's enough bars and cafés within a five-minute walk of my new office to ensure that I could eat somewhere different every day for a month. So far, I've tried Namaste India across the road and the Nam Sajgon on Bracka - both very good. Beef noodle soup at the latter is good value (but I preferred the same dish at the Asia-Tasty in Hala Gwardii.

Above: Step off the main street and through the entrance. Below: the courtyard of the kamienica ('tenement' - the official translation of kamienica does not reflect the flavour of the building). A bit run-down, but plenty of character, klimat.

These doorways (left)beautifully reflect the ambience of a Warsaw (indeed Polish) kamienica. Zapuszczone, zapyziałe, podrapane, zaniedbane are some of the kinder descriptions - and you can imagine that smell that greets the nostrils as you go through into the stairwell - a mixture of dankness, cheap cleansing fluid, cooking odours, cat-pee. But step through into the apartments - new furniture, 72" flat-screen TVs and all mod-cons. Signs ban ball-games and warn of falling plasterwork.

This time last year:
The topography of dreams

This time two years ago:
A regular interchange

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

South Warsaw transport hub

Today was my first day in our new offices on ul. Nowogrodzka 12. I will write more about the place soon, once its platzgeist or genus locii becomes more bedded down. In the meantime...

Wilanowska - known by older Warsaw residents as Dworzec Południowy (analogous to W-wa Zachodnia and Wschodnia) - is a massive transport hub through which those heading south out of Warsaw must pass to move from Metro or tram to bus. The Metro is good at delivering Ursynauers to Ursynów. But for Sandbag City dwellers (aka 'Setchno) and their wealthier brethren living in Konstacin (aka Konstancheen), you've got to get past Las Kabacki somehow. The forest is a huge obstacle, enclosing Ursynów from the south and funnelling southbound traffic either down Puławska (west of the forest) or Przyczółkowa/Drewny to the east.

Above: Wilanowska bus terminal. Between 17:00 and 18:00, a bus leaves here every three minutes down Puławska alone. In total, 23 different day buses, three night buses and five tram lines pass through or terminate at Wilanowska. Plus long-distance PKS and coaches. The volume of buses leaving here is very high - if only there were a bus lane along Puławska and Przyczółkowa and buses could move swiftly past jams of stationary motorists rather than being stationary too.

Above: the bar with the tree sticking out of its roof - a bit of Slavic whimsy to add character to the place. A recent arrival to this rather bizarre row of booths, kebaberies, kiosks and bars is a cash-only ticket office for

Above: looking north-east at the bus terminal. Between the buses and the distant blocks of flats - a three-level park+ride for 290 cars. Assuming they each take 1.5 occupants (which I doubt), the car park full holds cars for as many people as just three articulated buses could carry.

Park+Rides this close to the city centre make little sense. The cost of building the Wilanowska P+R could have bought dozens of new buses with enough money to paint a line down Puławska.

This time two years ago:
Powiśle on a cold, clear autumn morning

This time three years ago:
Okęcie "to remain Warsaw's only airport"

This time four years ago:
Searching for autumnal perfection

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Miraculous no-gear landing of SP-LPC

Half past two in the afternoon just gone; after lunch; time for a walk to the cemetery to photograph the graves in their All Saints' Day finery. But what's this? A Boeing 767 is coming into land - but where's the undercarriage?

Below: the plane, a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 767-300ER, SP-LPC, at its closest to our house. I have never seen a plane this close to the runway threshold (a mere 4,500 metres away) with flaps fully extended but landing gear still in.

The plane passes over, getting ever-nearer the runway... and - no still sign of the wheels... Note the tail skid extended (click on photo above to see in detail).

Below: rapidly disappearing from view. I race indoors to switch on; by the time the page is live, there's no sign of the plane. So I assume there was no go-round; maybe the gear came out at the last minute? At this stage, the plane must be 2,000 metres or less from the threshold and 200 metres or less above the ground.

En route to the cemetery, the sky was filled by the roar of fast jets. I could just make out the shape of an F-16 flying south-west. At this stage, I had not put one and one together. A pair of F-16s had been called out of Łask air force base to check visually whether or not the gear was out.

Later, Moni called me on the mobile to say that a plane had landed gear-up at Okęcie and everybody safe - thank God! Putting down an aircraft like the 767 without wheels is incredibly difficult.

The part of the aircraft that must touch the ground first is the rear fuselage. If the angle of attack is too shallow, the first things that touches the ground are the engines; as soon as that happens, the nose flips down instantly. If the angle of attack is too great, the plane is in danger of stalling and literally falling out of the sky onto its tail. So - quite rightly, LOT's Captain Tadeusz Wrona must be lauded as the hero of the day.

[Amazing photo here]

[BBC news report here]

Looking at the pics again - spooky. Fill me with dread - and yet huge relief that a tragedy had been averted.

Forty-eight years ago, nearly to the day, my father photographed a Douglas DC-8 that had crash-landed wheels-up near Heathrow Airport. Pics and story here. (Incidentally, after a similar landing, that DC-8 lived to fly again, only to crash again, this time with fatal results.)

This time three years ago:
Where's the daylight gone?

This time five years ago:
All Saints' Day - Wszystkich Świętych