Saturday, 30 November 2019

Late-November pictorial round-up

Some pics that didn't make previous posts, but which merit a viewing anyway. Below: Plac Hallera, Praga Północ. An overlooked piece of socialist realist architecture, dating back to 1957, by which time the style (and the ideological direction which spawned it) were passe. Until 1990, this square was named after some communist whom Stalin had murdered in 1938, but who was rehabilitated under Khrushchev.



Below: round the back of W-wa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) railway station, rows of social wagons housing workers on the big infrastructure project that will be renovating W-wa Główna station, further east. The skyline of Warsaw is rising ever higher...


Below: approaching W-wa Główna - this was the former terminus for commuter trains coming in from the west. It is being rebuilt to serve the same purpose during the planned reconstruction of the transversal lines crossing underneath Central Warsaw. Behind it rise the new buildings around Rondo Daszyńskiego.


Below: 'piwo z ranka, jak śmietanka' - a morning beer is like cream. This is one of the bars in the underground passage linking bus and train stations at Zachodnia. For some reason, one is not prohibited from smoking here, so a unique and nostalgic atmosphere for anyone liking that smell - beer and cigarettes.


Touch and go for my trip to Kraków the other week - I could see my connecting train from W-wa Jeziorki to W-wa Zachodnia was delayed by well over 20 minutes. So plan B - take bus to Metro, Metro to Centrum, walk (or rather run) from there to W-wa Centralna. Below: my train , standin' over there, on Track 2, Platform 3, about to depart at 08:45. It's 08:40, so I made it.


Below: Czachówek - where the Warsaw-Radom line crosses the Skierniewice-Łuków line.


Below: further down along the Warsaw-Radom line, Sułkowice station. Now the new 'up' line has been completed, the old 'down' line is being ripped up.


A beautiful day on the działka.


Below: heading back to town from Jakubowizna, I pass this house, "shining hard and bright/'cross this dark highway".



This time last year:
Artificial Intelligence vs Artificial Consciousness

This time two years ago:
Viaduct takes shape in the snow

This time five years ago:
No in-work benefits for four years?

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Another November without snow

This time eight years ago:
Snow-free November

This time nine years ago:
Krakowskie Przedmieście in the snow

This time tenyears ago:
Ul. Poloneza closed for the building of the S2

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Nightmare echoes of the Holodomor

Agnieszka Holland's film Mr Jones (Polish title Obywatel Jones) is not perfect but it does stand out as an important film for our time. It tells the story of British journalist Gareth Jones, one of the first Westerners to report the scale of the famine set in train by Stalin in 1932-33 in Ukraine.

It is a film that resonates today as journalists and politicians conveniently side-step the truth for the sake of expedience - blinded to it by greed, ideology, laziness or just unwillingness to rock the boat. Parallels to today's politics - though far less murderous - are not lost on the audience.

Trying to tell a story as wide-sweeping and horrific as the Holodomor in a movie two hours and 21 minutes long is a demanding task. It depends on being able to break it down into bite-sized scenes that strung together over the film's length show a continuous narrative unfolding.

One criticism is that the actors portraying the starving Ukrainian peasants did not look starving enough; the emaciation that one sees in the few photos to have made it out of that hell is not evident in the film. But overall, the film's klimat or atmosphere is chillingly nightmarish. The brutal realities of Stalin's USSR, overseen by an army of thugs, informers and murderers, a landscape bereft of sunlight, Moscow a city of architectural monumentalism, dwarfing Soviet citizens. The technology of the time, put to use to invigilate and coerce a nation, is nicely shown too.

Mr Jones draws on history but uses some narrative ploys that undermine authenticity. The film suggests that David Lloyd George was the British prime minister in 1933. "By the 1930s Lloyd George was on the margins of British politics" (Wikipedia). The prime minister at the time was Ramsay McDonald. Throughout the film we see George Orwell writing Animal Farm, an allegory on Soviet communism; a book that was written ten years later (1943-44) and not published until 1945, ten years after Jones's death. It is unlikely that Orwell ever met Jones.

However, Walter Duranty, the British-American journalist, Moscow correspondent of the New York Times is portrayed with greater historical accuracy, being the villain of the piece. Duranty preferred to lie on Stalin's behalf to the Western world, denying the man-made famine in Ukraine. It was an event on a scale of inhumanity and barbarism on a par with the Holocaust.

Music - Antoni Łazarkiewicz - that recurring 12-note piano motif sounds very much like the motif in Carter Burwell's soundtrack for the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man (2009). But the Western jazz of the day, in its full decadence, clashes with haunting Ukrainian folk songs about the hunger and its effect on the people.

The film is truly international in scale, set in London, Moscow, Ukraine and Wales; the dialogue in four languages. Man's inhumanity to man and the contrast between the powerful and the poor is present in both the United Kingdom and in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - but the latter is in an utterly different world of brutal inhumanity. Agnieszka Holland makes the point that during the Great Depression, many Western idealists, seeing the human suffering around them, looked to Stalin and the USSR as the future - how wrong they were.

Having watched the film in Kinoteka (within the Stalinist Palace of Culture), I stepped out into the colossal marbled hall outside the screening room, amid its massive columns and high ceilings and felt as if I were back in the movie; the purpose of Socialist-Realist architecture was to oppress through scale.

Three nights in a row I had nightmares which touched on this film. I commend it thoroughly, despite some shortcomings.

This time last year:
The Earth is flat

This time two years ago:
50th Anniversary of the Fiat 125p

This time three years ago:
Fidel Castro's death divides the world

This time four years ago:
London to Edinburgh by night bus

This time six year ago:
The Regent's Canal, London

This time eight years ago:
An end to the entitlement way of thinking

This time nine year:
West Ealing - drab and sad end of town

This time ten years ago:
To Poznań by train

This time 12 years ago:
Late autumn drive-time 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A dream of Biarritz

I have never been to Biarritz. All I knew of the town as I went to bed last night is that it is a chic seaside resort in the South of France, though whether it lies on the Mediterranean or the Atlantic – I had no idea. I’ve never been to Biarritz, nor, to my best recollection, have I ever read about it in a National Geographic magazine, nor seen any TV programme about it. I have tended to mix up Biarritz with St Tropez – both end with a ‘z’ (except Pink Floyd never sang about Biarritz*).

Yet last night I had the following dream… I was reversing a long, black Citroen Traction Avant into a parking space by the main railway station in Biarritz, amazed at how nimbly it manoeuvred. It was like this one:


Soon, I was walking along a street, heading towards the sea, a map in my hand. The street lay parallel to the coast, there was another parallel street between the one I was on and the beach. The sky was blue, a sea breeze kept me cool; the fences of the houses were white, the grass parched. This was the 1950s, postwar France was getting its act back together.

I stopped by the gate of a house. I knew what I was looking for. I opened the gate, no one around. Just behind the right gatepost (looking at it from within the garden), I knelt down and started digging the dusty dry earth with a small trowel.

Yes, it was here. Almost straight away I came to a cardboard box, under a light scattering of top soil. I pulled it out. A box containing nothing more than some cake decorations and some small toys. I put it to one side, and kept digging with the trowel. I hit something more solid. Another box, smaller in size, made of a harder material… A wooden box… I lifted it out, and prised open the lid with the trowel's blade.

Bingo! Inside was a roll of gold coins – ten or more, wrapped in a cardboard tube. As I cracked the tube open, they gleamed brightly in the sunlight. But I felt that the time was not right. I put them back in the wooden box, replaced the lid, popped it down below the ground, covering it with some soil, then placing the cardboard box with the cake decorations on top, then I covered that with soil, then scattering some more on top to make the surface look undisturbed. I looked round - no one had seen me.

I called Cousin Hoavis to pop over with his car, but his mum picked up the phone and said he’d just had gastric flu or food poisoning. Later I returned to the same spot; the boxes were still there I woke up.

*****

The first thing I did was to check Google Maps. WOW! The map of Biarritz is identical to the one I had had in my hand in my dream – though more complex, with new streets added, more detail over the past six decades. There’s the coast, there’s that parallel road (Rue de Madrid) – and there… YES! Street View filled in the picture. Using it, I can tell you, dear readers, exactly where the boxes were buried IN MY DREAM…

Avenue de la Milady. On the eastern side of the street. Under the post to the left of the white gate (the post behind the woman in the white dress).


*And there, in that song, St Tropez, I find this line: “Diggin' for gold and a hole in my hand" WOW.

Human consciousness is an amazing thing.

UPDATE 26.01.2020. One thing wasn't right - I checked Biarritz station on Google Maps, and it was in the wrong place and didn't 'feel' at all like it did in the dream. On checking the map again, I discovered that there had been another station, in the centre of Biarritz, called Biarritz-Ville. It closed in 1980. Today, the building is still there, although it's now a theatre (Biarritz Midi). THIS is the station I dreamed I was parking the big Citroen in front of. 


UPDATE 12.02.2020. Another interesting online discovery was the presence in Biarritz of the GI University, set up by the US military immediately after the end of the war in Europe; it existed until 1946 and was intended to prepare GIs for life in American universities and adjusting to civilian/student life on their return home. 

This time two years ago:
What could such a sign... mean?

This time three years ago:
Sunny morning, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

This time four years ago:
Brentham Garden Suburb

This time five years ago:
Ahead of the opening of the second line of the Warsaw Metro 

This time six years ago:
Keep an eye on Ukraine...

This time seven years ago:
Płock by day, Płock by night 

This time eight years ago:
Warning ahead of railway timetable change

This time 11 years ago:
Some thoughts on recycling


Sunday, 24 November 2019

Month's worth of progress in Chynów

Last time I came to chronicle the progress of works along the Warsaw-Radom railway line, it was on 26 October, just before the clocks went back, warm and sunny enough to to the trip on my motorbike. Today's daytime high was 4C, not weather for doing anything more than starting up and running the bikes' engines in the garden to keep them turning over regularly during the cold months.

Below: I get to Chynów by train and walk to the end of the platform to watch it depart (once the north-bound train has passed it going the other way. To the left, beyond the new track you can see remnants of the old platform and the old 'down' track, both of which will soon be ripped up. To the right is the passing loop, currently used to allow 'up' and 'down' services to pass one another.


Below: this is new - a passenger shelter is being erected on Platform 2. I can tell you from experience that while it's good in an easterly or westerly gale, when the wind's howling in from the north, there's scant protection. A similar shelter exists at W-wa Okęcie. But this is progress compared to what used to be.


Below: pedestrian access will now be below the tracks rather than by walking over them - something PKP PLK wants to eliminate, so that fast express trains can rush through. The tunnel below has no east or west exits right now. These will come in due course, but for the time being people living to the east of the tracks have to trespass across the building site or risk the dangers an eight-minute detour via a pavementless road with a blind bend.


Below: using the old 'down' line, soon to be ripped up, a ballast-laying train proceeds southwards. Good to see work carrying on even though it's a Sunday.


Below: on the way to my działka, round the corner and up the road a piece. A ballast mountain stands, in preparation for the re-laying of the 'down' line.


Below: it gets dark early. It's around half past four. To the left, a southbound modernised EN71 set has arrived from Warsaw, to the right a northbound modernised EN57 set has arrived from Warka. On this quiet platform, a brief flurry of activity and soon both trains are off.


Spring is four months away; four cold, dark months. I get home and have a sauna.

This time last year:
Tram tips for visiting Edinburgh

This time two years ago:
Warsaw to Edinburgh made easier

This time four years ago:
Stuffocation: the rich-world problem of dealing with too many things


Saturday, 23 November 2019

Photo round-up, London, Warsaw and Kraków

From Ealing to Warsaw to Kraków and back to Warsaw, pics from last week that I haven't got round to uploading, all in one post.

Below: three double-deckers on Scotch Common, West Ealing. I have a thing about buses moving around this part of Ealing after dark, especially the double-deckers. Lit up, few people inside, and so frequent. During the rush hour, Argyle Road is choked up solid with traffic, but this photo was taken around 9pm, and the buses come all at once.


Below: Kensington Olympia station, now served by London Overground and Southern trains. To my surprise, I found I could get from Ealing to Balham by Tube via Shepherd's Bush, changing here for a Southern National-Rail train that uses the West London line passing through Kensington Olympia and Clapham Junction. Very useful!


Left: the Polish church in Balham, not far from the White Eagle Polish club, venue for the Sixth Congress of Polish Entrepreneurs in the UK. I was moderating the first panel discussion of the event, and was grateful that thanks to this link. Getting to Balham from Ealing so quickly rather than going all the way into town and changing for the Northern Line at Tottenham Court Road was a pleasant transportation surprise.

Below: from my last visit to London in October, a shot of British Airways' Airbus A319 in 1960s British European Airways retro livery at Heathrow. Lovely!


Below: taking off from Heathrow this Monday, I managed to snap this Boeing 747 in 1970s British Overseas Airways Corporation retro livery. British Airways has four aircraft painted in retro liveries for its centenary year.


Back in Warsaw, I catch the daily Air China service to Beijing taking off from Okęcie. It's an Airbus A330, one of the largest airliners to use the airport.


Below: a late (1920s) Ford Model T Tourer, being transported through the centre of Warsaw.


The number plate says it's an exhibit from the national technical museum (Narodowy Muzeum Techniki) based in the Palace of Culture, not far from where the photo was taken.


Left: above and below ground, the pavements of ulica Świętokrzyska, looking down into the entrance to Metro Line 2 at Świętokrzyska station.

Last month Line 2 was extended three stops further north-east towards Bródno; next year the line will be extended westward too. The interchange station here connects Line 2 (red line) with Line 1 (blue line).

Below: Trasa Łazienkowska looking west, busy with rush-hour traffic. Note bus lanes in both directions.

Below: W-wa Zachodnia station, evening rush hour, looking east towards the city centre.


Below: a PESA Dart train passes W-wa Ochota on its way to its destination, W-wa Wschodnia.


Below: a day trip to Kraków on Wednesday to take part in a panel discussion about Brexit (along with Michel Barnier's chief advisor). I had time to walk from the station to the new conference centre on the south bank of the Vistula, venue for the Open Eyes Economic Forum. This is ul. Starowiślna.


Below: Wawel Castle by night. I haven't been here for over 40 years, but somehow don't feel attracted by guided tours.


Final shot - on the wall of ul. Smocza 10, Kraków, an exhortation to do less. A bit like the graffiti I spotted in Warsaw in early 2016 which read 'The only sustainable growth is degrowth'. Maybe we do too much and think too little?


This time three years ago:
Poland's North-West Frontier

This time four years ago:
Cars must fade from our cities

This time six years ago:
Unnecessary street lighting wastes money

This time seven years ago:
Warsaw's heros on the walls

This time eight years ago:
Tax dodge or public service?

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

This time 11 years ago:
Still here, the early snow

This time 12 years ago:
Another point of view


Friday, 22 November 2019

Karczunkowska opened for traffic
- but not for pedestrians

While I was in London, a long-awaited event occurred in Jeziorki - the opening to vehicular traffic of the viaduct carrying ulica Karczunkowska over the Warsaw-Radom railway line. This happened (thanks Bartek!) on 15 November - nearly three years and three months after the level crossing it replaces was finally closed.

But while cars and trucks can use the new piece of infrastructure to cross from one side to the other, pedestrians can't. Barriers have been erected on both footpaths on both side of the viaduct, and at the top and the bottom of all four sets of steps down to platform level. I can only guess that this is while the level-access lifts are installed, checked and signed off. In the meanwhile, pedestrians have to cross a live railway line - something that rail infrastructure operator PKP PLK says is dangerous.


Below: on the other side of the viaduct the same story - note the sign telling pedestrians to cross on the other side. Przejście drugą stroną ulicy. Which as you can see above, is also closed. "Pedestrians, piss off!"


Below: the man on the right is partially sighted. He has a stick and is on his way from the temporary bus loop. It is apparently safer for him to cross over three live railway tracks than it is for him to use the pavement upon the viaduct. Note the barriers bolted into the newly laid asphalt. This is to stop cars from using this new stretch of road to get close to the station. Why? Poor planning, lack of thought and joined-up project management. PKP PLK and the city and district road departments are unable to talk to each other. And note the lift in the distance - it's halfway down the shaft. Still not working.


The health and safety of pedestrians is of secondary concern to the contractor. Ahead of me on the pavement towards the station, an excavator is shovelling away, swinging the arm hither and yon. The same is happening on the other side of the road (out of shot). There is no safe way to get to the station.


On the platform. You can see barriers at the top and bottom of each of the two sets of steps on this side of the viaduct. These are fastened securely with cable-ties to stop passengers from using the stairs. To get from one side of the line to the other, there's no alternative but to cross the tracks.


No doubt there will be a few more months of inconvenience for passengers and locals until full pedestrian access to the viaduct is granted. But at least there are plans for this to happen. Unlike the pavement for ul. Karczunkowska, which remains something for which the city of Warsaw and the district of Ursynów have no plans. Below: once down from the armour-plated crash-barrier security of the viaduct, pedestrians step out onto the margin of a field, divided from the roadway by not even a standard raised kerb. This is dangerous.


Below: this week has been mercifully dry, but imagine what this puddle looks like after several days of incessant rain. Pedestrians have no choice but to step out into the roadway. This is dangerous.


Below: under the viaduct, as an evening train departs from W-wa Jeziorki on its way to Piaseczno.


This time last year:
Edinburgh's Polish statues

This time two years ago:
Edinburgh - walking the Water of Leith

This time three years ago:
Poland's north-west frontier

This time four years ago:
Cars must fade from our cities

This time six years ago:
Unnecessary street lighting wastes money
[Would you believe six years later, this is still going on!]

This time nine years ago:
Warsaw's heros on the walls 

This time eight years ago:
Tax dodge or public service? 

This time 10 years ago:
Warsaw's woodlands in autumn

This time 11 years ago:
Still here, the early snow

This time 12 years ago:
Another point of view

Thursday, 21 November 2019

More paternal pictorial memorabilia

I found three boxes of photos under the telephone table in the hall at my parents' house. Not enough time to do a full sorting (there are scores of photo albums from the 1970s onward which also need to be looked at), but here are a few that caught my eye.

Left: photo taken in Warsaw, dated 19 January 1930, in the style of street photographers who'd shoot their subjects against a stately rural backdrop. My father was then six years old, turning seven on 5 April. This reminds me of the that classic Michael Nash photo of Warsaw in ruins, immediately after the war, with a street photographer taking a photograph of a middle-aged woman against a similar backdrop of a palace in the countryside.

Right: Munich, April 1946. After his liberation from the prisoner-of-war camp, my father enrolled in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) University in Munich. He completed two semesters, studying civil engineering, before leaving for Italy to reach the UK with the rest of General Anders' army. Aged 23, he's wearing a US army uniform - the tie, belt and a few other items (water bottle and camp bed) made it to Cleveland Road.

Left: photo from 1958. My paternal grandmother Stefania Dembińska, née Witkowska, and my father, on the porch of 15 Croft Gardens, Hanwell, the house my parents bought in 1955. Here, my father is 35 years old - and a new dad (I was about ten months old at the time) - whilst my grandmother is 65.

Below: my grandmother, me and my mother, summer 1958. By this time, travel from communist Poland to the UK for family reunion purposes was allowed.


Below: two photos from June 1973, taken in the flat where my grandmother lived with my father's older brother, Zdzisław (he of Mazowsze song-and-dance troupe fame - he was lead violinist). My father, here 50, and his mother, now 80. She died in January 1975. My family still lives in the same flat on ul. Filtrowa. In the same building in which General Antoni Chruściel 'Monter' gave the order the begin the Warsaw Uprising (though no one knew that back in the 1970s).


Below: my father with his uncle, Zdzich, who sadly was to die of a heart attack before the end of 1973, at the age of 52. Modern medicine would undoubtedly have saved his life.


It's that time of day when I miss my father most - coming up to ten pm in Warsaw, nine pm in London, my father would have finished his evening meal and Basia or Violetta would have administered his eye drops - and I'd ring him up as I did most every evening these past four years since my mother died. A part of my daily ritual, now gone.

This time last year:
Wider-angle London

This time two years ago:
First snow. first frost of the year
[today daytime high +8C]

This time nine years ago
Childhood memories of Warsaw

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Last word

When I looked at my father's desk the day after he died, I came upon a single yellow Post-It note. It was stuck to the desk between his computer keyboard and monitor. Here it is:


This referred to a bottle of wine I'd bought him from Lidl ten days earlier, one that I'd encountered in Poland this summer (and bought eight bottles of). It's clear that it appealed to him as much as it to me.


It looks like he was trying to recall the name of the wine, and did well trying (except he got 'Pouceta rather than 'Peuceta' for the producer and 'Poglio' rather than 'Puglia' for the region). Very good score for memory for a 96 year old! This would have been the last wine he drank (finishing the last third of the bottle with his carer Violetta just a few days before he died); it stuck in his memory, and there it is - if Citizen Kane's last word was 'Rosebud', my father's last written word was 'Primitivo'.

Nice. An Italian wine, bought from a German shop with branches in Britain and Poland.

UPDATE:
I found another Post-It note on my father's desk (behind the monitor). It bore just two words:

'QUANTUM SUPREMACY'.

This time two years ago:
Kolej Grójecka

This time four years ago:
PIS, thinking wishfully about the village

This time six years ago:
An unseasonably warm autumn in Warsaw

This time seven years ago:
Shedding light on an unused road

This time eight years ago:
S2-S79 Elka from the air 

This time nine years ago:
Fish and chips in Warsaw

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

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Truth, lies and manipulation

[I was intending to write this post two weeks ago, but my father's death intervened.]

Peter Pomerantsev's latest book, This Is Not Propaganda, should be compulsory reading for anyone wondering how society got itself into the mess it's in. The author, son of Soviet dissidents who were expelled from the USSR in the 1980s, examines how the nascent social media first armed citizens, and then authoritarian rulers - with a set of tools for effecting change.

Change of a good sort, change of a bad sort. Since the end of 2012 (coincidentally the end of the Mayan Long Cycle Calendar, when the world was going to end, remember), things in the West have not been going well. Changes of a bad sort have been encroaching our daily lives, in Poland, in the UK, in the US. A bad moon rising.


Whilst I have been banging on for the last five years on this blog and on Twitter (and to a lesser extent on Facebook) about Russian troll armies destabilising the West, Pomerantsev paints a broader picture. Yes, Russia is highly skilled at using the West's social media to exacerbate social fractures, indeed it is part of its military doctrine. But it's not only Russia. Pomerantsev visits the Philippines, to show how President Duterte skilfully cranked up his brutal war on drug dealers online. The author visits Mexico where drug cartels use social media to intimidate and silence their foes. He considers the Arab Spring and how social media brought nations out onto the streets to oust their rulers - and failed to secure reforming replacements. He looks at the Balkans - in particular Serbia - to see how inter-communal hatreds were stoked for nefarious political ends, and how social media was used to fight back. He looks at ISIS and talks to the Muslims working within their communities to deradicalise those at greatest risk of joining the Caliphate. Brexit Britain and Trump's America of course get a look-in.

The book offered me a new breadth of vision, extending my limited purview beyond Poland, the UK, the EU, USA and Russia. The common factor is the way that truth is distorted, fakery is peddled and lies blatantly told to the extent that the ordinary citizen-voter finds it hard to tell what's really going on.

The four 'D's of Russian dezinformatsya - deny, distract, distort and dismay - are stocks-in-trade of any ruler wishing to effectively beat up the opposition without having to resort to more direct means.

Pomerantsev visits the Donbas, crossing the lines to talk to both sides in the conflict. He makes very clear how the Russian playbook works - create polar opposites - patriots and traitors - get the other side to parrot the same terms, and within months people can take up arms against their neighbours.

The book is frightening. It shows how the liberal consensus built up since the fall of the Berlin Wall is unable to fight back against methods that are crude in their appeals to the primitive mind yet highly sophisticated in terms of the algorithms used to get the message where it works.

Pomerantsev offers no antidotes. Not everyone has a sufficiently critical mind to see through the distractions and distortions interspersed with downright lies. This is Putin's ultimate ambition - that the people of the West no longer know white from black, good from evil, barbarism from humanity.

We are at another tricky juncture in human history. May it go better for us this time - better than it did for my parents' generation.

This time last year:
First frost, 2018

This time four years ago:
Cameron, Paris, ISIS, PiS and Brexit

This time six years ago:

This time seven years ago:
Foggy days and Warsaw's airports

This time nine years ago:
Local elections - the lure of ultra-localism