Saturday, February 15, 2014

New Blog

Panie i Panowie,

There's a new blog:

I'll be posting there, not here.

See you on the other side.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Brand-Spankin'-New Start 66

 I have always wanted to shoot in medium format.  Every-so-often I browse Allegro to check the prices of a Mamiya RZ67.
While in Bazar na Kole, a massive bazaar/flea market in Wola, I stumbled upon a man selling an old Polish twin-lens reflex Start 66.  I snapped it up for 100zl (on Allegro, it sells for 300zl), and giddily took it home.  I cleaned it; learned how to load and unload 120 film; and figured out how to work this old mechanical beast.
The Start 66 is a twin-lens reflex camera built between 1967 and 1970 that shoots 6x6 frames on 120 format film.  It only comes with a waist-level view finder, and Emitar 75 mm lens with a leaf shutter, and a pretty crummy view finder.  The optics seem more suited to black-and-white film rather than color (see images below).  I've only shot one roll of film: a test roll of Provia 100, but I'm pretty happy with the results (for 100zl camera, I can't complain).
Poniatowski Bridge at sunset from Temat Rzeka.
Sandomierz from the Brama Opatowska. 
Sandomierz Castle.
Stepping from a world (digital photography) that is so automated (auto-focus, auto-advance, and most importantly, auto-exposure) to a world that is manual at even the most basic functions.  The Start 66 even needs to be cocked before you can fire the shutter.
Taking a picture isn't as simple as: point and shoot.  It's: take out the digital camera on Av or Tv mode (make sure it's on the right ISO speed.  If shooting ISO 140, set the exposure up 2/3 of a stop); meter the light and get a usable shutter speed vs. f-number, since the Start only has a small range of both); switch to the Start 66; set the correct shutter speed and f-number; try to frame the picture (because of the prism, it's hard because everything is reversed and I'm not very used to it); try to focus (almost impossible since the finder isn't the easiest to look into); cock the shutter; steady the camera and fire.
As you can see, shooting a portrait is almost impossible unless your subject has loads of patience.  Trying to shoot a picture where there are lots of people milling around, getting in front of your shot, and the clouds up ahead are changing the lighting from second-to-second (thus requiring repeat metering), can tax your own patience.
This camera was not designed to be ergonomic.  Handling it is like handling a small loaf of stale bread; this does not make for the easiest way to frame a picture and makes it much more likely that I will drop on the ground, only to watch in horror as the whole thing bursts apart upon impact.  After shooing my first roll, I also realized the the shutter most likely has a sticky blade (that or there is a hole in the camera) as about half the pictures have burn marks on them (over-exposed areas consistent with light leakage).
My introduction to medium format photography has been a pleasant one.  It's actually re-ignited my passion for photography (though I must admit my talent is lacking), and it's quite fun to play with.  I hope that eventually I'll be able to master the finicky device and take pictures that are in-focus (still a challenge) and properly exposed.

The Start 66 camera I purchased.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rosz ha-Szana (Rosh Hashanah) at the Kibbutz

Yesterday was the closing of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Here in Warsaw, there happens to be a Jewish 'kibbutz' (kibuc) located on Jazdów called Kibuc Warszawa.  It's in an old 'Finnish' house, as are all houses on Jazdów.  (The Finnish Houses will actually be the topic of another post).  I say "kibbutz" because it's really not an agricultural collective, more of collective 'camp' (that's how I see it, anyway).  The kibbutz is run by ZOOM, the Polish Youth organization.
The Rosh Hashanah celebration was an open invitation to Jews and Gentiles alike.  The whole thing kicked off at sunset around a heavily laden table with food and wine (there was a cash bar too that it was pretty cheap).  One who was 'the Rabbi' gave a lecture about Rosh Hashanah, the Sabbath, and the High Holy Days.  He performed the ceremony and said the proper prayers (he did, however, omit the hand washing).  Few men in the crowd wore their yamulkas (I totally rocked mine as I take advantage of the few opportunities to do so), but enough were able to recite the prayers in Hebrew.  Challah (chalka) was blessed and passed around for all to tear off a chunk.  After the blessings and prayers, we toasted each other with slices of apple and pomegranate for a sweet new year.  The table was then opened up for all to feast.
There was no blowing of the shofars, which disappointed me, because I was looking forward to a good horn-blowing concert.  But, there was an unexpected feast, so I can't complain.

The table with fruit, cakes, hummus, fish, bread, chicken, and much more.

Luckily, it happened during a mild Indian summer.  The night was cool, but not cold, and one warmed up quickly while dancing (though the DJ could have been a little bit better).  A good way to ring in new year.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pleasant Surprise in the Mail

Recently, I ordered a slew of books of Amazon's UK site,  I picked up three packages today and found a little note on the packing slip.  See below:

Pozdrowienie z Gloucester ;)  (Greetings from Gloucester ;) )

Some poor Polak must be stranded working in a book depository in Gloucester (or just some Brit who knows some Polish).  I can't make out the last little mark, but it seems like it's a winking face.

It really made my day ;-)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Krupnik and Spelling

It's no secret that poor translations are abound in Poland.  From menus ('Cocktail' is usually transcribed as 'coctail'; 'vanilla' is 'vanillia') to museum blurbs (I must note that the Podziema Rynku Museum has excellent translations).  Official translations such as "Feel Like at Home" (a slogan from the Euro 2012) have people doing double-takes and taking me aside and saying, "Does this sound right to you?"

Anyway, someone was very gracious enough to give me a bottle of the illustrious Krupnik, a honey-based vodka (note: it is not mead, as mead is a fermented honey 'wine').  It was very, very kind of the person, and I must admit that I was slightly embarrassed because I did not return the favor in kind.
One glance at the label made me slightly cringe:
Krupnik, honey liqueur, honey vodka, wodka, Polish, Poland
The offending label
The text reads (verbatim):
Prepared from bees honey and various
spices and aromatic herbs according to
Polish recipes many hundred years old.

Now, here's the thing: if you're going to have some text in English that's big, prominent, and basically being the only representative text of your product/sports tournament/company slogan, you'd think you'd spend that extra amount of money to get it right.  That's the thing I don't really understand: this is the main text, essentially the only text that people (mostly Poles anyway (so why in English?)) are going to read, and they turned it into a first semester English project.  Some say, "Well, you know what it means anyway."  To that I answer, "So it's OK if I go to work and walk around in my bathrobe?  I mean, my junk is covered!  I've done the most basic amount to appear decent in public."
Well, maybe it's done on purpose to evoke authenticity of its rustic Polishness.

And, let's not forget, what matters most is the content of the bottle, not the label.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jarmark Warszawa

It seems that Plac Defilad is getting some use this year.  It's usually an eyesore of a parking lot and bus station, but the Fan Zone and now the Jarmark Warszawa (Warsaw Christmas Fair) have actually put it to some use.  Last year, the jarmark was on the south side of the PKiN.  This year, it's a little bigger (still smaller than the one in the Old Town Square), and sports a small bar, a ferris wheel, some other rides, crappy Christmas techno, and the wooden stalls selling gloves, food, scarves, and knickknacks.

The 'Warsaw Eye' and the Palace.
The entrance.

I'll ride this some time and write about the views and whether it was worth it.

 I actually like Christmas markets.  I like buying the overpriced mulled wine (not much mead for sale) and hearty bread with smalec and ogorki kiszone.  The music could be toned down (really, it's terrible.  It's almost offensive how bad it is).
It's worth fifteen minutes to ramble through.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Showing More In Poland

Europe as a whole is a little more open on the nakedness than the US.  Recently, a colleague of mine returned from the US and talked about how conservative it was compared to Poland.  He cited the lack of naked women in advertising and in magazines.
A magazine cover from the Chopin Airport not three feet from the children's section.
It's true, really.  If one is ever on Chmielna Street in Warsaw, stop by The Pictures Bar.  They often have erotic photography in full display of the street (definitely something that would violate decency laws in the US).

One other thing I have come to learn, is what happens when a society is no longer oppressed and gains free speech.  Numerous folks I have spoken to recall the time right after communism fell, and people were allowed to broadcast whatever they wanted.  They all fondly recount how, at night, porn was shown (and how they all watched it, most being between the ages of nine and thirteen).  They differ on the station (Polsat was named, Sat.1, and RTL were other favorites (the last two being satellite stations)).  I was told about how, when the chains were thrown off, there was no regulation, no decency laws, and everyone was like, "Well, why the hell not?"  (And apparently no minded that their tweens were watching erotica on TV.)

I should point out that the US may guard its children from the horrid nudity that many other children in the world are exposed to, but there it's fine to expose them to horrendous amounts of graphic and brutal violence and plenty of mind-shaping alcohol commercials.  Also, there's Cinemax (more like Skin-e-max, amirite?!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Independence Day

November 11th is Poland's Independence Day, celebrating the reversal of the three partitions of Poland and the return of the Polish State.  It started as a beautiful fall day.  The air was warm, the last of the golden fall was fading, and I ran a 10K.
Early afternoon, I decided to head to the center.  Upon arriving (and exiting the metro) I found the entire center shut down, and battalions upon battalions of riot police cordoning off Aleje Jerozolimskie and the Palac Kultury i Nauki.  There were fleets of police vans and police armored personal carriers with white "gun" turrets on top (I actually think they were non-lethal guns, probably shooting pepper spray or something).  There was a march, a protest, apparently, and things were looking to get hairy.  There were people carrying Polish flags, but also flags I hadn't seen before, and one or two that were most definitely white power neo-nazi type.  I whipped out my cellphone and snapped a few pictures of the police spectacle and went about my business.

Police van after police van driving around.

A wall of riot police marching down Marszalkowska.

The riot police coming into towards Rondo Dmowskiego.

Being in the northern latitudes, the sun sets pretty early in Poland this late in the year.  As the beautiful fall day faded into what would be a fair autumn night, blaring sirens, firecrackers, and loud speakers would fill the air.
I made way down Chmielna, and everything seemed normal.  Parents were strolling down, pushing strollers, couples walked arm-in-arm and went into the many cafes, and bohemes clustered around each other in their shabby clothes.  I exited Chmielna and came on the Nowy Swiat, right as a troop of riot police led a long line of chanting anti-facists.  The protesters waved flags, held banners, and chanted after some lady yelling over a loudspeaker.  They were protesting another protest that was evidently held by fascists.  They started blasting some dance music towards the end of it.  The line of protesters and police (most of whom looked bored) continued on their angry, yelling way, and I headed down to Rondo de Gaulle'a.

I waited at Rondo de Gaulle'a for a bus or tram, or anything to carry me on my way.  Nothing came.  People stood patiently for a bus that never appeared, and the majority of the traffic on the road were police cars flashing their lights.  The sun dipped down below the horizon.  After waiting around and not knowing what the hell was going on (I didn't have any foreknowledge of these marches and protests), I decided to go back to Centrum and go to the metro.
That didn't quite work out as planned.  I found that Aleje Jerozolimskie cordoned off and guarded by barriers and riot police.  The police were letting in people who lived on the street, but everyone else was not allowed.  Saying "Shit!" to myself, I hooked a left (south) and hoped to go around another way.  I hadn't put much thought in walking down the Politechnika, so, I just walked around some side streets and tried to cut back to Marszalkowska…  …and right into a situation that seemed like it was about to explode.  There were explosions (firecrackers, flares, and tear gas).  There were yet more lines of police, and many sketchy looking folks wearing face masks and scarfs.  The ground had some broken glass, as well as shattered paving stones, and the air was thick with tear gas. Someone was angrily yelling over a microphone, and I didn't know if it was someone from the police telling the crowd to disperse, or someone in the march making an angry speech to his followers.  It turned out that it was the latter.  There were also a crapload of people recording everything on their smartphones.  The patriotic music was turned on, and many people standing around starting singing in angry, croaking voices.  The police line made a move and closed in on part of the crowd, so I took it as high time to skedaddle and get out.  I again turned south, and then tried cutting in back to Marszalkowska.

Police barricading a side street.

I walked into a situation very similar to the last one I had left.  Though, I did find the source of the voice endlessly ranting over the loudspeaker (it seemed to becoming from some truck or float or whatnot.  Here, photographers of all sorts were shooting pictures.  There were press photographers wearing ballistic helmets, face masks, and vests that said PRESS on them.  The police stood, blocking off Marszalkowska, but also any side streets.  I finally whipped out my big camera and started taking pictures.  It was more of the same, people shouting, waving flags, menacing the walls of police, etc.  I took pictures until my camera's battery died.  Having enough of the commotion (also, the police started clearing Marszalkowska and started marching down the street), I decided just to walk all the way to Politechnika.  I strode down to Plac Konstitucji, easily leaving the big angry mess behind…

Where paving stones had been dug up to be thrown.

Über-nationalists clamoring around an open bus or truck of some sort,  which was blasting noise.

The police blocking off any way to get in or out.

Damage done by hooligans.

The police clearing the way down Marszalkowski.

Shattered paving stones that had been heaved.

The police clear the way down the street.

And I walked into another goddamn demonstration!  People waving flags, loudspeakers, people yelling and chanting, not so much police though.  Oh, all the kebab places were doing killer business too.  Seriously, I'm talking huge crowds standing outside them (and it was only 5 PM).  I cleared Plac Konstitucji, not even bothering to slow down or care what these people were angry about, and made it to Politechnika.  I loitered around and asked if the buses were coming.  Someone said, yes, one had been by, but they were coming very rarely.  I waited (the roads were empty and silent) and just as I was about to carry on, on comes a full regiment of riot police at the head of some march.  This one had motorcyclists, two armored hussars on horses, and elderly folk dressed as Home Army combatants.  Then, there came the people waving flags, yelling, causing a ruckus.  I vacated the area as quickly as I could, and made my way to Plac Na Rozdrozu.

Would you believe me if I told you there there was another demonstration there?  Because there was.  People waving flags (Polish and otherwise), praying, some loudspeakers blaring some man ranting.  Not even bothering to check this one out, I simply continued on my way and finally cleared all the rabble.

So… my afternoon turned out to not be what I thought it was going to be.  One question (still hasn't been answered) that was hanging around was: why is everyone so angry?  It's supposed to be a joyous holiday of coming together and celebrating all things Polish (at least, that's my ignorant, backwards view of it).

You can read more about what was going on here.  I highly suggested, if simply to see the picture of some poor schmuck about to get his shit fucked up by the police.  Seriously.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Another All Saints' Day

All Saint's Day, better known to those in North America as The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) (it's the Mexican influence.  It's like Cinco de Mayo, a well-known party day in the US, but a minor holiday in the Mexican state of Puebla), is a solemn, sad holiday were people go to visit the graves of their deceased loved ones.  They go and place special candles (znicz) as well as flowers (usually chrysanthemums) on the graves and clean up the area around the grave itself and say prayers for the dead.  The churches (usually inside the cemeteries themselves) are packed and there are on-going masses starting a few moments after the previous one ends.  National holiday (a day off from work) and most people travel back home to be with their families.
This year, I was in the Bródno Cemetery, in northeast Warsaw.  Cemeteries in Poland are not like the almost-golf courses of burial in the US.  The graves are more tomblike and grander, rather than the massive lawns spotted with headstones.  The cemeteries are also massive, sprawling areas, usually forested.  Most cemeteries have a small chapel (or two) inside where the funerals are held.

Ones who are buried recently usually sport a greater number of flowers and candles.  Older graves (going back 100+ years) are sometimes left uncleaned and unadorned.

People cleaning and decorating the graves.
Since there is such a massive influx of people to get into the cemeteries, the lines forming can become long, cramped, pushy affairs lasting many hours.  I heard of a five-hour wait to get into one cemetery.  Outside the cemeteries, sellers peddle flowers and candles, as well as taffy (panska skorka) and sweet puffed rice balls (szyszka (pine cones)), as well as sweet mini-bagels (obwarzanki).  Bródno Cemetery has a 'notorious' distinction amongst cemeteries in Warsaw, in that it's the only one with a mini-fair outside its walls.  There are grills, candy stands, hawkers selling gloves, hats, earrings, panflute CDs.  Inside, it's restricted to the taffy, rice balls, and obwarzanki.
On the way out, it too an hour of plodding long inch-by-inch to go about 200 yards.  So crammed were the people, that the police made a human divider for traffic (for one side going one direction, and the other another).  Tempers flared.

Main thoroughfares in the cemetery we clogged, but there was enough space for people to branch out.  The road leading to the entrance of the cemetery was another story…
It usually ends with families going home and having a big dinner together.  Sometimes they reminisce about those that have passed away.  Overall it's a very solemn and sad holiday.  Traditions are changing and many people did party the night before on Halloween.  They have license to party even harder because November 1st is a free day (no school and no work).  Not that there hasn't been backlash against Halloween.  There is a small campaign to banish it, as it is un-Polish.

Adoration of The Virgin.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Winter's Early Entrance

It's not even November yet, and Warsaw got a healthy dose of winter.  It started out as wet flurries swirling about, but by the end of the day, the fat flakes transformed the whole city into a winter wonderland.  I love snow and I hope this a glimpse of what is to come.  I do have feeling that it will all melt in a few days and turn everything into a slushy, muddy, wet mess.

It's coming down pretty hard.

Early in the storm: snow on the bushes.
It's supposed to snow again on Tuesday.  With the start of the snowing season, it means that Poles can resume their on-going war on tire treads.  But, I am looking forward to sledding and snowball fights.

I haven't seen this in a long time: a tree falling onto a car.  The car escaped relatively unscathed.