Saturday, 1 November 2014

For All Saints' Day - Marek Raczkowski

Cartoonist Marek Raczkowski is to my mind the funniest man in Poland - and has been so consistently for as long as I've lived here. His ability to mock the absurdities of Polish life are razor-sharp; his wit pricks pomp and stupidity in equal measure.

The cartoon below, published yesterday in is a lovely example of how Polish humour doesn't travel. To get the joke, you need to know four things:

1) In most Polish cities, members of the alcoholic community helpfully point empty parking places to passing motorists, expecting a small tip in return, which goes towards the cost of the next tin of Warka Pstrąg from the nearest Żabka store.

2) On All Saints' Day, most Poles visit the graves of family members.

3) On All Saints' Day, most Poles go there by car, even if it's a short walk. (Message to others: "We have a car"). The car is a more important means of projecting wealth and status than one's family gravestone.

4) On All Saints' Day, Poland traditionally experiences the largest number of fatal road accidents of any day of the year (combination of the clocks having just gone back and sheer volume of cars). Parking is a huge issue.

Marek Raczkowski is side-splittingly funny. A few years ago, I was at Okęcie airport in the passport queue. I'd picked up an abandoned Przekrój magazine on my way out of the plane. There was a four-panel Raczkowski cartoon near the back; just as I got to the punchline, I was called to the passport desk. I was laughing uncontrollably. The uniformed border guard asked me what was so funny; I passed him the magazine - soon he was helpless with laughter too. Google "Marek Raczkowski" and click on image search if you wish to spend the next half-hour laughing - assuming you know Polish and Polish realities.

His sense of humour bridles the uptight and po-faced; in 2006, he appeared in court accused of defaming the Polish nation in a cartoon which showed a park lawn littered with dog turds, each one having a little Polish flag in it, like a sand castle. Raczkowski was lambasting Poles' general unwillingness to clean up after their dogs, but his accusers took deeper offence ('obrazili się'). The case was dropped, but Raczkowski maintains a certain bad-boy aura.

There are several notable Polish cartoonists - Andrzej Krauze (born round the corner from Jeziorki in Dawidy Bankowe) who's as well-known in the UK, where he draws for the Guardian and New Scientist, as in Poland, where he draws for Rzeczpospolita. There's Andrzej Mleczko too, who has his own gallery on ul. Marszałkowski. Up and coming is Jan Koza, very dry.

Polish humour is rare - few are the people who can really mock with didactic, nation-building intent. Marek Raczkowski is by far the best in this category.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:
Jeziorki pond development

This time three years ago:
Captain Wrona's perfect gear-up landing

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

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


Joy said...

Now, I get the joke! Thanks for explaining it. After living here in Warsaw for 19 months now, I've seen my fair share of "helpful" parking guides esp. in Centrum.

Powązki was very crowded (cars parked everywhere nearby, but very pretty with all the candles.

Michael Dembinski said...

The entire nation playing "how close to the cemetery can we park"...

According to the police, 20 people lost their lives on the Polish roads this weekend (Fri/Sat/Sun), compared to 38 this time last year. Still 20 too many.