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