Wednesday, October 28, 2009


(Note: The title is a bad pun.)
Most everyone must have heard about the recent developments with the US plans for a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. (They were pretty much cancelled, if you hadn't heard.) Anyway, the missile shield is being scaled back from a land-based one to a sea-based one. One can debate the practicalities of such a move and most of the response has been favorable, except from the respective governments. The Joe "Loose-Lips" Biden went on a whirlwind tour to calm down their fears, and apparently Poland is still going to get that battalion of Patriot missiles it always wanted.
Poland and the Czech Republic favored the initial plans (though their populations were hardly united on the issue) firstly because they were going to get a buttload of money (always something good.) BUT, it also did something else: station US troops on Polish soil in US installments. Russia was a bit peeved and threatened to place the Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad (already the most militarized place in Europe.) The US troops with US installments gave assurances for a few things. When Russia invaded Georgia over a year ago, most of Eastern Europe (Baltic States and Ukraine first and foremost) started to fear that Russia was going to come after them next. Some felt that the US response was lacking (i.e. no combat troops were sent.) US troops in Poland gave the Polish a warm feeling because it meant that if Russia attacked, US property and personnel would be in harm's way, forcing an armed intervention by the US and the rest of NATO (already, NATO (Poland included) flies patrols over the Baltic States, and has for some years.) You may ask, "Well, Poland is a major US ally, of course the US would defend Poland regardless if there were US troops in Poland or not." But remember, the Polish have been left high and dry too many times to really believe in a doctrine of defense. They'd rather have the troops. And they will.

Also, snow in October? Strange.

On a chance amount of luck, while rummaging through some old boxes a few years back, I found an unopened bottle of Russian cognac. When I first had it, it burned quite a lot and wasn't too pleasant. Recently, I've been adding just a smidgen to my sugar cookie eggnog, and it's been quite delightful. It smoothes out the over-sweet nog and enhances the body. I recommend it to all.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Traditional Polish Salad

The name of the post is actually a misnomer (but not by much. It's actually called Salatka Jarzynowa.) An extremely popular Polish salad is one that resembles a potato salad sans potatoes. It's eaten on holidays, at parties, and makes up a 'standard' dish of Polish cuisine. Canned tuna is a relatively new thing, and this recipe utilizes it well. Honestly, at first it seems a little white-trash, but it's pretty good.

The ingredients usually include:
1 can of tuna
1 can of corn
1 red pepper (diced)
1 pickle (diced)
Some minced chives
Plenty of mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a bowl and serve.

There are many variations of this recipe. Some used chicken instead of tuna, others have peas or minced onion; even apple! (It's all good.) Diced, hard boiled eggs are often added as well. Add something that you think will work, and eat away.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


One major observation I've had, and continually point out, is the national/ethnic pride to the point of absurdness. (Note: This is by no means a Polish trait; far from it, in fact. I'd say that 90% of world is this way.) There are various examples (with Poland) about which I've written, made comments, and had conversations (in forums, other blogs, to students, friends and acquaintances.) A small selection includes things like: cities such as Szczecin and Gdansk being German; it being pointless to be angry at Germany after all this time; the role of the Szlachta in the dismemberment of Poland-Lithuania; roles of Polish peasantry and Polish freedom; Polish beer; Pan Taduesz isn't that great. I've had many a rousing debate about Polish history, but mostly it devolves into something where 'he/she/they' simply start making comments on how I'm an American and therefor: blindly patriotic, stupid, young, and don't have a clear perspective; and I belittle them for acting like children (which they usually are.) Spats like these are nothing really new, people are inclined to 'defend' their homeland/history/pride by others deemed not to know anything of the like. Anyway, whilst reading Norman Davies' The Isles, I came upon an interesting example of something similar:
"…prehistory and archeology have inevitably developed in an intensely political context. Nationalism has never been far beneath the surface. Immense efforts have been made to discover a past to which modern people could relate, and, where necessary, to exclude those elements of the past that were politically inconvenient. Prussian archeologists would prove beyond question that the prehistoric monuments of Prussia's eastern borderlands were indisputably Germanic. A few decades later Polish archeologists working with identical material established that the selfsame monuments were indisputably, and ab origine, Slavonic. Neither side paused to ask whether those monuments were not, at least part, Celtic." –Norman Davies, The Isles: A History, p. 40, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
The quote deals more with politics (as in, being able to hold claim to the land and being able to claim to be native to the land (see more about the Israel-Palestine conflict for a prime example)) but it helps illustrate how some people can just be ridiculous and choose to ignore important viewpoints or facts. Sometimes outside eyes are needed to see clearly.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Been Real Quiet 'Round Here

In truth, I've not yet logged in or written a post in almost two months. Well, I've got a full plate right now, and I just can't seem to find the time or the will within me to hammer out a few rants about this and that. Have no fear; I will return.
Soon, I'll be writing a research paper on the Jewish-Polish relations, and it'll probably be posted on here.
I'll be back with less scholarly pursuits as well. Be prepared for recipes and bits of wisdom and crassness. Do not despair.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seventy years after WWII: Warsaw

Some seventy years ago Germany crossed into Poland and started WWII. An interesting article is here.

Several leaders will be in Warsaw to commemorate the start, most notably Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin (who, I hear tell, rented out the entire Grand Hotel in Warsaw.)
The Poles are demanding an apology and acknowledgment from Putin (having gotten several from Germany over the years.) Putin seems to deflect these, giving vague statements about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, mostly saying that it was 'unfortunate', but standing by the Russian view that it was just as valid as Chamberlin's "Peace in our time" Munich Agreement, which handed Czechoslovakia over to Germany, and delayed the war by about a year. There's one big, stark difference between the two: England and France didn't then conspire with Germany to carve up much of Europe and start attacking countries (the USSR did just that, annexing the Baltic States; fought Finland to more-or-less a draw; annexed a half-dozen other countries.)
Six years later, Poland was a smoldering pile of rubble with about a fifth of its population dead. For the next forty-five years, they would be lorded over by that wonderful Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Attitudes in Western Europe and America are a tad different than here. Most everyone there is eager to forgive and forget WWII and the Cold War, but in Eastern Europe, they're still at each other's throats (not that Russia has done much to satisfy.) Putin isn't much into acknowledging that Russia has faults, or has done any sort of wrong at any time. Drunk as he may have been, Yeltsin at least laid a wreath at Katyn.

Well, there's still some anger here. I had a particularly rousing discussion with one of my students about Polish history. She immediately dismissed that because I was an American, I knew nothing of history, nor could I even have the capacity to imagine what happened to Poland. I suggested she start liking the Germans, seeing as they are mostly decent people, and now are one of Poland's allies and benefactors. She cared not.

Also something further, I find this interview very interesting:

Richard Overy has written a most excellent book The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. It's superbly written, very illuminating, and surprisingly funny. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Hitler, Germany, the USSR, etc.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ireland: Kilrush and Kilkee plus the Litter.

I've mentioned before about my dallying about in Kilkee, the seaside resort in County Clare. Here's a more in-depth explanation:

An abby ruin lying in a pasture.

The road in the Western Highlands

The bus ride to Kilkee was about ninety minutes through the Western Highlands. An amazing thing about Ireland (or at least this part) is the amount of neglected ruins standing in the middle of fields. We might pass by a sacked abbey, a crumbling castle, or merely a watchtower standing in the midst of a pasture with cows grazing about it. The weather was gray and overcast with a smattering of rain. The rain there was never a heavy downpour, but rather more of a dense misting.
The whole reason to visit Kilkee was a concert at the main church, which I was informed later used to hold Polish Mass every Sunday (the Polish population dwindled apparently. But, there was a Polish store on the way into the town.)
The town itself is rather small and situated on a sand beach on the harbor. Cliffs rise up on either side of the beach and grassy hills undulate towards the inland. The lack of sun didn't take away from the majesty of it all, and the gray sky melded with the wavy steel sea. A breeze pushed breakers in, causing a dramatic spray and boom as broke against the black rock shore. A golf course was nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside; all that let wary hikers know there was a course there was a few signs warning of flying balls, a small wire fence, and a random sand trap. There wasn't a tree in sight.
Some people playing a round on the links.

Across the bay.

A shot of Kilkee.

The grass was so soft. It was like walking on whipped cream or down feathers. Rolling down the hill (yes, I did do that) was extremely satisfying and was even better than doing it in the snow. Unfortunately, there were tons of trash lying about. Trash barrels stood virtually unused as garbage was strewn around the landscape. It wasn't just in Kilkee, but in Limerick and Kilrush as well.
One of the many ignored signs.

A small bit of evidence.

Apparently they have no idea what this is for.

Kilkee seemed to be suffering/benefitting from a housing boom, as brand new beach homes lined the roads facing out to sea. They were obviously rented by the week or weekend, and one could see straight into each home due to the large glass frontal windows that afforded them a view of the bay. The main street of Kilkee was lined with tourist shops and fish-'n-chips take outs. It was rather quaint indeed. By the beach there were a few stands selling periwinkles (things I used to smash as a kid for fun, but never ate.)
Beach houses facing the ocean.

Kilrush was a larger town, more set back from the shore. It had numerous bars, all of them displaying some soccer game and all boasting of live traditional music. Kilrush also had some infatuation with butcher shops as well, as there seemed to be too many to really be supported by the local populace. There were almost as many butcher shops as there were bars (these people apparently like their meat. When I was in a grocery store in Limerick, the meat section took up a good eight aisles-worth.)
A shot of downtown Kilrush.

Limerick was a bustling city that closed down after five o'clock. Everything closed except a few bars and maybe a store or two. In some parts litter blanketed the ground like leaves do in the fall. Aside from that, it was rather charming.
On a bus in Limerick. Apparently gum litter is a big crime.

I must stress that everyone there was extremely nice and charming. I've never met such lovely fellows. Everyone was so warm and inviting (aside from a few, such as the man at the bus stop yelling racial epithets.)

Near the University of Limerick there is a ruin of a castle, one that has stood for hundreds of years. Most people there don't know about it, or seem to care. Now it's overgrown and serves as a place for college students to party and fuck.
Trash at the castle.

One of the many empty condom wrappers.

Litter is just everywhere; including cow pastures.

Apparently a pasture is the proper place to dispose waste.

It makes the meat tastier.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ireland: The Overview

I've recently returned from my trip to the Emerald Isle (my first ever.) Not surprisingly: the weather was crap, the food was almost inedible, the dentistry was lacking, and all the workers were Polish. The landscape was beautiful, dotted with ruins, and oh-so green. It was also dotted with litter and some horrific suburban sprawl.

Coming in through Cork via Warsaw, it was easy to see that the vast majority of the passengers were Poles sporting freshly cut crowns (haircuts are cheaper in Poland, so they cut their hair before they go back and cut it really short.) Exiting the airport, I was greeted by the most foul-mouthed bus driver whose every other word was 'fuck'. It was a rather quick drive to the Cork bus station, and a short wait at the terminal.
At the station, there was no shortage of entertainment, as a middle-aged, scraggly Irishman began yelling racial epithets at two black cabbies waiting in the parking lot. The asiatic lady standing in line behind me noted that he had done this before and that he was actually riding our bus. He stood there yelling at them, with them yelling back (one started to do a mock goose step and Nazi salute) until a security officer came by and began talking to him. He peacefully turned around and boarded the bus.
The drive to Limerick was very beautiful and the clouds were just inspiring. This inspiration was short-lived as I found out that my living place was a dorm of the University of Limerick, and it was a revolting mess. I don't know how the furniture could have gotten so grimy—it was as if it had been left out in the elements for the better part of a year—or what exactly the stains on the carpets and mattresses were, but I wasn't impressed.
But that's all nit-picking. I made a trip to the seaside resort of Kilrush. The town itself is undergoing some expansion, which is less than pretty. The coast surrounding the town took my breath away. Green fields went right up the dark, shear cliffs, which fell away to the gray ocean. The grass was thick like matted hair, and as soft as down. It made a nice mattress on which to roll down the gentle slopes (which I did.)

A small tragedy of Ireland is the amount of litter (which will be covered in a later post.) Kilrush, with is beautiful land- and seascapes, was no exception. It was in every cove, niche of rock, and grassy field.

Ireland's recent boom has brought tons of new development, which means rows and rows of identical homes developed in the most horrendous fashion. It's ancient history is abound everywhere. Ruins of castles, abbeys, and watchtowers stand in lonely fields with cattle and sheep grazing about them. One such castle, right beside the River Shannon, stood as an overgrown ruin almost totally ignored by everyone.

Aside from the dreary weather, bland chow, and dingy quarters, everyone was extremely nice and lovely (lovely in the personality sense, not in appearance.) Strangers were quick to introduce themselves and engage in conversation.

Overall, it was a splendid time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eire: An Update

I am currently not in Poland, but rather in the Emerald Isle. I'm actually sitting in the library of the University of Limerick typing this. It's been interesting and I'm sure I'll have some shenanigans to talk about.

Przystanek Woodstock 2009 Last Weekend: The Performers

The ideals of Woodstock—a weekend of love, art, good times, good people, good music—lives on today, even if the hippy spirit has mostly wafted away like oh-so-many puffs of peyote. The counter-culture culture became mainstream; they were no longer the oppressed youth seeking free love and mind-liberating drugs. Most of them grew old and got jobs and families; some grew old and still live as grubby old men you don't want to sit next to on the bus. Every new generation still has its 'hippies', and festivals like Burning Man and Bonnaroo are huge draws. Phish was immensely popular despite not being very good (let's face it: Phish sucked. Good riddance.)
It is in these the concerts where we come closest to the hippy culture (those, and some communes still eking out an existence.) But the culture is corrupted. These concerts, psychedelic colors and all the puke, piss, and mud you could ever want, are dominated by the mainstream bands of the day. Woodstock '94 was more about Nine Inch Nails' climb to fame than about Jimi wailing on his guitar. Megadeath, Snoop Dogg, and Metallica—all three are decisively 'anti-hippy'—were just a flavor of Woodstock 1999. What happened?
Well, hippies got old and their kids didn't really want to be like them. The bands of the hippy era either broke up acrimoniously, or had multiple members die from a druggie-lifestyle that would have killed a lesser life form years earlier. The music of love and peace isn't exactly topping the charts (that honor goes to music about drive-bys, blowjobs, and why you're such a ho.) So, to capture today's youth, you have to push out a bunch of corporate-sponsored acts whose ideologies are in direct conflict of the original Woodstock.

With all this preamble, I will now bring our attention to Przystanek Woodstock. There were many acts, some foreign, most were Polish. I don't feel like addressing each act individually, since most of it is a matter of taste (plus, I'd probably be reduced to just writing "was good", "was shit" comments after about five reviews.)
Instead, I'll focus on one of the main features of the festival: The Special Anniversary Concert for the Years of Woodstock. Performed half-way through the festival, it sought to bring together all the music of the world and spew it out in a concert of classic covers. The set list included numbers like: The Beatles' With a Little Help From My Friends, Janis Joplin's Cry Baby, and Green Day's When I Come Around. Surprisingly, only one of those songs was sung at the original Woodstock (Richie Havens sang With a Little Help From My Friends and some other Beatles tunes; The Beatles were not at the original Woodstock. Janis Joplin didn't perform Cry Baby.)
Actually, there was a much larger set list, which had several songs that were played at Woodstock, (including the National Anthem (both Poland's and the US') on electric guitar.) The entire set was accompanied by a full orchestra.
The whole idea behind these numbers is that they would meld together different music types from different eras in one big celebration. Sometimes it worked—like in the case of Ewelina Flinta's entirely capable rendition of Cry Baby—and other times it crashed in burned: the operatic singers singing in With a Little Help From My Friends, and the lead singer of When I Come Around.

Ewelina Flinta, a contestant from some Polish Idol show, belts out a throaty song, losing any sort of accent, and proving she can do folk rock/blues/jazz as good as any American crooner. Her outfit, I guess meant to evoke the hippy roots, seems entirely in place; almost as if the psychedelic facade of the stage was actually in the right time and place.
Not bad for an almost-winner of an Idol TV show.

With a Little Help From My Friends is an entirely different story. The leader singer, Piotr Cugowski, isn't so bad. He actually manages to do quite well. The two warblers behind him, however, are so horrifically awful, so terribly shitty, that nothing can save this performance. Their screeching, off-tune 'singing' threatens to drown out the entire ensemble, replacing a very nice song with the equivalent of operatic mayhem. I hear tell, that the rest of the performers (the choir and orchestra) found the entire thing comedic to the effect that they had to stifle their laughter.
Brings new meaning to the words "What would you do if I sang out of tune/ Would you stand up and walk out on me?" —Yes.

The creme de la creme of crap performances (and terrible management in booking performers) is Maciek Januszko's hilariously bad When I Come Around. It's just so, so bad. Watch for yourself to see where his flaws are.
This song is supposed to sound like it's sung by an angsty fifteen-year-old, not a wasted fifty-five-year old wash up.

The finality is the inevitable song together of all the celebrities and performers.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Przystanek Woodstock 2009 Last Weekend: The Revelers

Last weekend marked the fortieth anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, as well as the fourteenth anniversary of Przystanek Woodstock. The three-day festival took place on the Polish border with Germany, at Kostrzyn nad Odra: the crowd was huge, dirty, and loud; the ground turned to a wasteland of mud and trash; the sex was rampant and free. Overall, it was a smashing success, and the list of B-artists wowed the crowd (and those watching on TV/the Internet.)

przystanek woodstock 2009
Creating a muddy pit.

przystanek woodstock 2009
Quite a lot of people jumping around in the mud.

przystanek woodstock 2009
Others prefer to relax and wallow in the filth.

przystanek woodstock 2009
A bungie pole above the masses.

przystanek woodstock 2009
Two monks amongst the revelers.

przystanek woodstock 2009
The crowd helps 'push' the bus along.

przystanek woodstock 2009
They push even in chairs.

przystanek woodstock 2009
One concert-goer wears a three-bonged hat.

przystanek woodstock 2009
The crowds going to and fro from the town and the concert grounds.

The encampment at dawn.

przystanek woodstock 2009
In the end, a lone angler fishes in the muddy pool.

I'll address the issue of the performers next post.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Recipe: Leniwe Pierogi (Lazy Dumplings)

While traditional stuffed pierogi such as pierogi ruskie and pierogi z miesem dominate Polish pierogi menus, several varieties of solid pierogi (like those more available in Slask and Czech cuisines) are still made by the bearers of tradition. Some Poles are hesitant to even classify them as pierogi (dumplings) at all, and refer to them as noodles.

This recipe comes from the mother of a student of mine, which in turn got in from her mother, and so on.

While a sweet dish, it's served for dinner.

700-800 grams of cottage cheese (probably around three-four cups) (NOTE: The best cheese for this is twaróg (called quark in English, I believe.) It's like a drier form of cottage cheese.)
3 tablespoons of flour (more if needed)
2 eggs
Pinch of salt
Butter (optional)
Bread crumbs (optional)
Sugar (optional)

In two separate bowls, separate the egg whites and the yolks. Beat the whites until stiff like a meringue. Combine first four ingredients (including both egg whites and yolks) into large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly until a sticky dough has formed. Start boiling some water.
Divide the dough into two equal balls; roll balls between palms and a floured surface to form a mid-sized 'ropes' of dough about two-inches thick. Cut the ropes into pieces, maybe a half-inch thick. Place the pieces into the boiling water and cook them for three (3) minutes. Retrieve the dumplings using a slotted spoon and place on a dish.
Smother with butter; sprinkle with bread crumbs; sprinkle with sugar; serve.

The bread crumbs, sugar, and butter are optional. You may wish to serve them in a white-cheese sauce, or as traditional pierogi (or however you wish.)

There are several variations of this recipe. Some call for potatoes (use 75% of the cheese and add in 200g of cooked, mashed potatoes.) Experiment a little and see what works!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To Market, To Market

I've recently discovered a farmers' market, which sets up shop every weekend and where almost anyone can come and hawk his wares. It's a little bit like a flea market; there are 'stalls' selling almost anything, from half-empty bottles of perfume (or bottles marked "Tester Only") to imported clothes and plastic crap (all for a zloty.) Some stalls are stacked with goods you can buy in any grocery store, others are dedicated solely to spices, packaged up in small plastic baggies, while others sell flowers or baked goods. (I use the word stalls loosely; some are just goods spread out over blankets on the ground, or even less: just some guy sitting amongst various items.)
Mostly, it's dominated by stalls selling fresh produce at cheap prices. Some selections, such as heirloom tomatoes and specialty fruits, are absent from grocery store selves. As I inquired to the price of some ogórki maly solny, the lady selling the stuff offered me a free sample (you don't see Carrefour giving away free pickles; they just have free samples of shitty coffee or yogurt or something.) I was so delighted that I bought half a kilo. I walked in not knowing what I would get, but walked out with bunches of amazing fresh basil, huge onions, large, juicy tomatoes, and some freshly dug up potatoes for 1.50zl/kg. As I browsed amongst the venders, I came along one place selling old stamps. The open page had two stamps commemorating the Soviet space ventures, so I bought two (they came in a pair) for a zloty. The guy immediately tried to interest me with some others, but I politely declined.
Before I left, I snapped a few shots of the colorful stalls. With my last picture, I took a photo of all the trucks lined up. Some guy (probably one of the farmers) came up and started saying something I didn't quite understand. At first I thought was asking about my camera, and maybe even asking if I would take some pictures of him (he spoke in such a rush, using words I didn't understand and I could only pick out a few random things.) It then became obvious that he was quite angry that I had taken a snapshot, saying "Privatny!" I looked at him quizzically (I was in a public space and no one was in the frame, least of all, him.) I shrugged and said, "To OK. Przepraszam" He gave me a glare and walked off. But the story doesn't end there. Some babcia—a cute lass of around 80—was sitting in a truck with the door ajar and the window down. She had seen and heard my "conversation" with the man and asked me to come over. She started speaking softly (dare I say apologetically) in another rush of words of which I had no comprehension. What was she saying? I can only surmise, but she seemed to be explaining something about the man and about photography and its allowance in public areas. Maybe she was saying that he was incorrect. I don't really know.
I left soon after.

soviet stamps space program sputnik cosmonauts
soviet stamps space program sputnik cosmonauts
Soviet stamps commemorating the Soviet Space Program.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Uprising Anniversary

Warsaw Uprising
Warsaw '44 — We remember!

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the two-month long struggle to rid the city of Nazis before the Red Army marched in. As it is tragically known, the Red Army stopped across the Wisla and watched as the Home Army was systematically crushed.
The futility of the Uprising and the vast devastation it caused (85% of the city was reduced to rubble and all the inhabitants were shipped out to work camps) are the subject of controversy even to this day. So say it was heroic attempt to display Poland's strength and willingness to unite against both the Nazis and the Soviets, and others think it was a foolhardy, vain venture that resulted in unnecessary deaths. Regardless of the opinions, it was an impressive display of resolve and determination.
With the anniversary, soldiers of the Home Army are about, dressed in their finest (you can recognize them by their red-and-white armbands); Polish flags, along with the flag of Warsaw, adorn everything and are flying high; and fresh flowers and candles have been placed at all the markers and memorials of where units of the Home Army perished.
Polish Warsaw Flags warsaw uprising
A Warsaw Flag with Polish flag behind it.

Warsaw uprising memorial

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Przystanek Woodstock 2009 This Weekend

The massive music festival, Przystanek Woodstock (Woodstock Stop ("stop" as in "bus stop"), is due to take place in Kostrzyn nad Odra this weekend. I must admit that I will not be able to attend, but I will be sending one of my merry gophers to go and report back.

It's apparently going to be pretty big (huge, even), with preliminary reports of 200,000 spectators expected as a bare minimum.
As for the acts, I know that Polish pop sensation, Ewelina Flinta will make an appearance at some point. Scientology enthusiast, Juliette Lewis, is also going to perform. As for the rest, a bunch of bands and musicians I've never heard of. They might have small reputations and followings, but no one on the A-list (what else do you expect from a free concert?)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vulgarities, Vulgarities

Cipcia, a slang word equivalent to "pussy" (in the anatomical sense, not in the cowardly or weakness sense), seems to be the staple of some Poles' vocabulary (that plus the more-famous dupa and kurwa.) I must admit that I actually am not totally well-versed in Polish slang as I'd hope, and when I inquired about cipcia, a friend of mine explained the definition then she started saying,
"…but when I was young, my babcia used to call me and my girl cousins 'cipcia', but not in that sense. I guess it meant… I mean it was probably… well, she was from the country."
That seems to be a common excuse are here (especially in Warsaw) for anyone who does something that might be perceived as old-fashioned, backwards, or just plain odd. The country folk are stereotypically simple, unsophisticated, and a tidbit hickish. That great-uncle that used to leer at young girls and stand on the balcony in an open bathroom with his dooda out for all to see? It was because "he was from the country."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Film Review: Mała Moskwa

I was quite eager to view Mala Moskwa (Little Moscow), albeit I had no knowledge about the plot, characters, or anyone involved in the production of the film (I was sold by the poster.) I gathered that it was some sort of drama having something to do with Russia in some way.
So, I returned to the Kino Luna (I bypassed the concessions, being a little late into the theater.)

Mala Moskwa is a story told between two time frames, one set in the present day and the other set in 1967-68. It doesn't take place in Moscow (but is mostly in Russian), but rather in Legnica, a city on the western border of Poland. The main actress, Svetlana Khodchenkova, hammily plays the main character, named Vera, in the 1960's timeframe, and Vera's daughter, Vera, in the modern timeframe.
The seemingly happy couple of Khodchenkova and her pilot husband, Juri (Dmitri Ulyanov), arrive in to a Soviet military base in Western Poland after her husband has been dropped from being a cosmonaut. They share their living space with a Catholic Armenian couple expecting a baby.
The strikingly beautiful Khodchenkova catches the eye of a dashing Polish military officer, Michal "Misha" Janicki (Leslaw Zurek), who also happens to be somewhat of an musician, when she sings a Polish song (in Polish) at a music competition, winning the first prize. From then on Zurek and Khodchenkova start a torrid and forbidden love affair that ends with her suicide.
The sub-plot consists of Juri and his now-grown daughter (played by Khodchenkova again. All they did was lazily update her fashion; she even keeps her beauty mark next to her mouth) returning to Legnica, searching for some answers as Juri tells his daughter about her mother, whom she hates.
About ten minutes into the film I began to realize that the whoever made the movie (writer, director) was less concerned with telling the story than making a fiercely nationalistic movie, where the virtues of Poland: it's culture and it's people, were extolled in contrast to the brutish Russians. The younger Vera is introduced slandering the Poles and Poland while admonishing her father for defending them and taunting him constantly about her mother's affair. All the Russian officers are portrayed in an unsympathetic light, pouring on vitriol about Poland; all things Polish display their obvious primacy, even in the face of the assault by the Soviets.
The premise slips slowly away from a tragic tale of forbidden love to one where none of the characters are remotely sympathetic, likable, or even tragic. Zurek's character is about as suave as Larry The Cable Guy; it's a wonder he could woo a beauty such as Khodchenkova when in reality he wouldn't be able to seduce a fat chick who hasn't been laid in twenty years. His courtship of her consists of pathetic pick up lines and sexual advances, which she weakly resists. Their romance is hardly a secret, as everyone (including her husband) on and off the military base knows about it. Her husband barely even objects, but simply glumly looks on as his wife gets stolen away. In fact, most of the people involved in the love story end up looking repugnant and Vera's death is a bit of some twisted justice.
Juri's commanders begin to take notice and object, and the whole thing finally comes to a head, but not before the overwhelming goodness of the Poles (plus a polonized German) and the beauty of Poland is shown in contrast to the wicked Russians and their awful air base. There are some small sub-plots about the illegal baptism of the Armenians' baby, the backdrop of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and, of course, the daughter's constant harping on her hapless father. Between the Polish proverbs and the overwrought insults, there's a film with a lot of growing up to do. Sadly, it's the characters that doom this picture.
The whole shitty movie fucks the viewer one last time in the last scene (spoiler: it takes place at Vera's grave) in the final confrontation between the weak Russian and the righteous Pole.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ursynów: Warsaw's Bedroom

Ursynów, the southernmost part of Warsaw, is known as the 'bedroom' (not to be confused with Ursus, which is known as Warsaw's toolshed, and Praga Polnoc, which is Warsaw's liquor cabinet.) It is a forest of flats. Some—built during the Communist Era—are pretty cheap, but the more south you go, the newer and more expensive the flats. The older flats are probably what one would imagine when thinking of Communist-built flats, while the new ones are built with a little more care and precision. Occupying the southern edge, before running into a wall of trees, these flats belong mostly to young couples; hence, there is a plethora of shops for children and babies (and second-hand shops are abound.)

Most visitors only come through Ursynów to go to Kabaty, the forest that borders its southern edge, and I don't really blame them. While there are plenty of parks and greenery, it's not like they're truly attractive.
Beyond Kabaty (to parts of Wilanów) and to the west, the blocks give way to houses and a more 'suburban' feel. Here, property is pretty expensive.

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Many of the apartment flats have shops and small businesses on the bottom floor.

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa Leclerc
Ursynów is no stranger to box stores (such as this Leclerc.)

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa flats apartments
A forest of flats.

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
A common sight: the un-renovated blocks stick out like sore thumbs.

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Part of Metro Ursynów

Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
Ursynow Warsaw Warszawa
The newer blocks by Metro Kabaty.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Yesterday it rained so hard that part of the subway flooded (or so I was told; I was inside the entire time.) The downpour lasted only a little while, and the sun came out in time to turn everything into a muggy sauna. It's like living in a gym sock.

This past week, a lady showed up at the lab, chatting with all the professors and my supervisor. She was rather small, about 40 years of age, and wore an elegant, sexy black evening dress (as if she was off to a high-class restaurant.) On her feet, she wore sparkling silver slippers.
The next day, she showed up again, taking a tour of the lab. Again she was decked out in fancy attire, which struck me rather odd. I later asked my supervisor who she was and why she was dressed so. He replied that she was his professor when he was in Paris and she was in Warsaw on vacation. She had studied in Warsaw in her youth, so she could speak Polish quite well. Her manner of dress was because apparently that is the current style for women in Paris.

One of my students and I went to Powsin, the Park of Culture in Kabaty. We went to the line park (it's difficult to say what exactly it is. It's part zip-line course and part obstacle course.) You get into a harness with a couple of carabiners and a pulley attached and you climb up into the canopy of Kabaty. There's a course that goes from tree-to-tree, each span has a different type of 'bridge'. They range from a zip-line to a net that acts as a bridge to several logs that act as stepping stones. It's actually rather cool, rather new, rather fun, and rather makes-me-uneasy. I personally don't think the whole construction of the thing is really up to par (they use a lot of duct tape and clamps; the duct tape is mostly used to cover the sharp ends of the steel cables.) You're supposed to be clipped the entire time to some sort of anchor, usually a steel cable. This brought me little relief, because I was sure that if I did fall off, my harness would then crush my nuts while I dangled in space. I think I'd have preferred to fall to the forest floor below.
We did the second-hardest course (about thirty feet up. The hardest one is apparently forty-five feet up.) I'm actually not the hugest fan of heights, so the first few things unsettled me a little bit. I got the hang of it and began enjoying myself. It was near evening, so being up that high with the sun sinking low was a nice experience. My camera ran out of battery power before I even got there, so I don't have any pictures.
Mid-way through, a guy from the office (who runs the whole course) came and started talking to us. They wanted to close and he kind of wanted us to hurry up. As we made our way through the course, he'd tell stories of people on that particular span or would shout advice ("Left, right, left, right!") Towards the end he wandered off back to his post to sit with his friends, leaving us to finish up and return the harnesses.

In Powsin, there are a whole line of faucets which pour clean water and you can drink. The only place in Poland I know where on can drink the water from the tap! (I know there are other places; don't get all huffy.) There's about twenty faucets and people come to wash up or refill their water bottles (bikers and runners especially.) I first sipped the cold water with some trepidation, but I saw that others were gulping down huge quantities (and I haven't gotten the shits yet, so I figure it's OK.)

Analysts think that the Polish stock market will decline.

Oh, so very hot.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Paint

Recently, the City of Warsaw has repainted all the lines on the roads. We just woke up one morning and were greeted with brand new lines. Now we have crisp, new cross walks, and the traffic lanes couldn't be clearer.
Road Warsaw Warszawa
A fine example of their work.

I must say that I'm shocked at how quick they did it. It seems like they did the entire city in one night (which they probably didn't do, but I only noticed it then.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lato Filmów and Movie Theaters in General

I've just returned from a trip to the Luna theater for a show. The Lato Filmów (Summer of Movies) film festival has just drawn to a close. I've been kicking myself because I only got to see one movie, since they've actually had quite a selection and the tickets are a scant 5zl.

The Kino Luna is actually rather quaint. It's like The Criterion in its old-timey feel (for those who are not familiar with The Criterion, it's an Art Deco theater.) The concession stand is small and sells only a select number of treats and goodies. I slapped down 8zl for '7up' and a water. The '7up' was merely .7 liters of carbonated water sans syrup, but I didn't make a scene and make the poor fellow take it back. I heard the place had financial problems anyway.
The theater inside slopes softly down (no stadium seating here) and then turns into a shallow bowl. It appears that the front seats are slightly higher than those in the middle, which is rather nonsensical. The seats are that old quality (I can't really explain) with a satin material as their covering. Also, no drink holders.

I guess most movie theaters here are just like they are in the States, except they have this annoying habit of assigned seating. When you buy your tickets, you buy the seat number as opposed to just going in and picking your own. It favors those who come early; buy their tickets and pick their seats; then come when the commercials have finished (and they have prime seating.) But still, it's a bit of a pain in the ass for those who show up ten minutes before show time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Songs of Learning

Way back when I was studying Polish at school, every Friday my teacher would rock out on his guitar and we'd all sing traditional Polish folk songs. There was an entire list, which I have unfortunately forgotten in the States. We'd go through and he'd explain the lyrics, where the song came from, plus the time period from which it originated. Then, we'd (actually, they, my fellow classmates, I usually looked down and tried to mumble something or hum along with the tune) would try to keep up as the professor strummed his six-string and lead us in tune. It's a great way to teach language and I try to get all my students to sing, with varying degrees of success.
There was a wide range of songs, but the most common were venerated staples like Hej Sokoły and Siekiera Motyka. Even though I don't have my lyric pages with me, I can still recall some of the lines (and the melodies.)

A personal favorite of mine was, Śmiej się Griska, a song that probably originated from Ukraine. It's about how this guy, Griska, shouldn't be sad and should drink his troubles away (sounds like something a Slav would say.) Of the lyrics, I only remember the first few lines:
Śmiej się, Griska
Bardzo do kieliśka
something something something
dah dah die dum dum
And that's about it.

The other songs are probably known by every Pole, even if they don't know all the lyrics. I was able to find the lyrics elsewhere, so I'm able to post them here.

Siekiera, Motyka lyrics:
Siekiera, motyka, bimber, szklanka,
W nocy nalot, w dzień łapanka,
Siekiera, Motyka, światło, prąd,
Kiedyż oni pójdą stąd.

Już nie mamy gdzie się skryć,
Hycle nam nie dają żyć.
Po ulicach gonią wciąż,
Patrzą, kogo jeszcze wziąć.

Siekiera, motyka, piłka, linka,
Tutaj Prusy, tam Treblinka,
Siekiera, motyka, światło, prąd,
Drałuj, draniu, wreszcie stąd.

Siekiera, motyka, Styczeń, Luty,
Hitler z Ducem gubią buty,
Siekiera, motyka, linka, drut,
Już Pan malarz jest kaput.

Siekiera, motyka, piłka, alasz,
Przegrał wojnę głupi malarz.
Siekiera, motyka, piłka, noż,
Przegrał wojnę już, już, już

They're rather rowdy songs, good to sing while drinking and waging war.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Random Collection of Thoughts

Powsin Warsaw Warszawa Kabaty
The open fields of the Polish countryside? No! Warsaw!

powsin kabaty warsaw warszawa

Powsin Warsaw Warszawa Kabaty
The run down, deserted fair rides at Powsin.

I found a temporary replacement for my dying camera.

The garden on the balcony is thriving in full vigor. The tomatoes are growing up and the cukes have turned into a small forest in a bowl. Soon, the morning glories will be climbing up the walls.
cucumbers balcony warsaw
Some of the plants growing on the balcony.

I think I met a hooker at a bus stop. I wasn't able to confirm, but the way she was trying to catch my eye made me suspicious.

These days at the lab are sometimes rather slow. The campus is deserted now that all the students finished up with exams and all the professors are now taking vacations. Just today, the Professor who is kind of above me (above my supervisor even) awoke me from my nap. I quickly showed him some results I had on the boundary layer (I got it with a hot-wire CTA probe.) Good thing Excel was open on my screen.
politechnika lab warszawa
Late afternoon in the lab.

There's a film festival going on in Warsaw right now, but I haven't been able to get on over there. I think tomorrow I'll catch a film or two. I highly recommend anyone able to, to go (the prices are only 5zl each per film.)

Cleaning the balcony during a rainstorm is the best time. No one has laundry underneath, and you only have to sweep the dirt and grime to the edge and let the water take care of the rest. The Christmas tree was out there for several months, and was only recently taken down. I was able to sweep away huge piles of brown needles with the assistance of some of the heaviest rain I've seen in a year.

One of my students, Roza (let's call him), wants to take me to a strip bar. He says that in Warsaw there's a club with 100 girls, and in Poland, you can touch the girls (a big no-no in the States.) He told me a story of a time when he was in San Diego, when he reached up and gave a girl a caress. The bouncer immediately yelled at him (but he wasn't thrown out.)

One more lesson and the week is over.