Thursday, December 2, 2010

Andrzejki and Advent

With the onset of December, we have (semi-officially) entered the Christmas Season (OK, technically November 28th this year.)  Now, some may call false and say that the Christmas Season officially starts when Santa goes by in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. I shake a stiff finger at them and remind them that Christmastide actually begins on Christmas Eve if you strictly want to follow the liturgical calendar.  Advent still rings in Christmastide.
Anyway, right before Advent (November 30th, which actually was right after the start of Advent this year), the Poles celebrate Andrzejki (Darling Little Andrews), which is the feast of St. Andrew and also the nameday (imieniny) for Andrew.  It happens to be the last real party time before Advent (kind of like a Mardi Gras, but in winter), so people usually throw parties in and around that day, usually the preceding weekend (conveniently right before the start of Advent.)  During Advent, they observe a strict no-party rule where dancing is apparently forbidden (I found this out last night, much to my chagrin.)  Now, this doesn't stop everyone, but it does cut down on the wild office parties that have so plagued other nations.  Banging the secretary on top of the photocopier is generally avoided during this time.

We may be three weeks away from the start of winter, but I have to say that right now it's colder than a witch's titty outside.  The last few days have brought a decent amount of snow and the wind has been howling something fierce.  I actually enjoy this type of weather, and I loathe when it warms, allowing the snow to melt and then form treacherous ice.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Season Change and First Snow

I'm used to the season slowly fading into each other.  The four seasons are each distinct, but they shift rather gradually.  Here, they shift immediately.  In September, I woke up one day and the air temperature had dropped fifteen degrees and the trees were shedding yellow leaves.  Then, these past few weeks there was an abrupt change from 55-60º days to days in and below freezing.  Last night was the first real snowfall.  Wednesday night, it snowed a little, bit it only stuck around on people's cars.  It's like someone flipped a switch; the changes were so sudden and swift.  There was no melding of the seasons, just one morning it was summer and the next it was fall.

The final harvest of the year.

After many weeks (months really) of procrastination, I finally cleaned up on the balcony.  My glorious jungle, my main achievement of the year, my proudest monument, had wilted and died.  I was harped on constantly because I didn't want to clear away the scraggly tomato vines the covered the place.  I finally buckled down and cut out the vines, clearing away what fruit still clung to them.  The tomatoes are placed in the kitchen, and probably will be made into a sauce (most likely for gnocchi.)

But the snow is here (about an inch or two) and I can say I am pleased.  I hope it sticks around for Christmas, because I do love a white Christmas.  I, and many other Varsovians, went for a Sunday afternoon walk in the woods.  The trails had mostly turned to mud, but if you walked on the virgin snow it gave that satisfying scrunch.

People trudging across the fields in Kabaty.

For the season, I thought I would share a nice little tune called Shchedryk, better known (in Anglo Countries) as Carol of the Bells.  It's actually a Ukrainian New Years Carol that was given new lyrics (the original lyrics are about a sparrow flying in and wishing the master of the household a lucky year.)  Eastern Slavs don't really celebrate Christmas at the same time as the Western (due to a different liturgical calendar).  But Christmas isn't the main holiday of the season, New Years is.  It's as if the roles were switched: Russians and company are visited by some Santa (Father Snow or whatever) on New Years; they get presents then and the main celebration takes place of Christmas, which is a scaled down affair.  It's not just that they have Christmas in January, it's also that the Soviets tried to stamp out religious holidays and promote more secular ones instead.  Regardless, below is a very nice carol.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Eleventh and Travels

I was particularly excited for this November, mostly because I thought I would be able to spend the 11th in Poland, which happens to be its Independence Day.  First off, you might ask why a nation that claims to be 1000-years old and whose inception started with the baptism of a king would need an independence day.  Well, it celebrates its independence from Germany, Austria, and Russia, which was secured on November 11th, 1918 (yes, the end of World War I), ending a partitioned rule of 123 years.  Next, you might ask why I would care at all since the Poles don't really have any super-fun holiday extravaganzas.  From what I've heard, Independence Day is just a day everyone stays at home and the military holds some token parades.  Meanwhile, the people in the States hold raucous parades for just about every holiday they can (Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Day, the Fourth of July, Veterans Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter.)  Well, I've just never seen it, and I really wanted to see it.  Unfortunately, I was recalled to the US (on tragic circumstances) and spent the day (Veterans Day) hearing from veterans describing the free meal they got from Applebee's.  On the flipside, I did get to spend the Fourth of July in the States, instead of Poland as I have or the past couple of years (mostly by drinking a few beers and watching Gettysburg.  There's nothing more satisfyingly patriotic than watching the Confederates' dreams and hopes crushed on the battlefield.)

My journey to the States was surprisingly uneventful; everything went as smoothly as could be.  I flew Air France, and every flight was on time.  The layover in Paris was short enough and on both flights I didn't have to sit next to any horrible miscreants.  Even my passage through Customs was swift.  (Not that I'm plugging for Air France.  It was almost two years ago when they cancelled my flight from Paris to Warsaw on Christmas Eve and couldn't get me out until Christmas Day.  Then, they left my baggage in Paris.)
The trip from Boston to Rome (I flew Alitalia on the way back) was a different story.  The lass at the ticket counter  squeezed me up to seat 11A on account of the flight being full, which I immediately fantasized that I was bumped up to Business Class or the mythical First Class.  Unfortunately, I was relegated to the first seat of economy.  It wasn't all bad: there was no seat in front of me that would recline backwards and I got to exit rather quickly, plus I could stick my feet up on the partition.  The bad thing was the family across the aisle (and whose fat grandfather sat next to me) with the noisy toddlers.
I've never had a problem with kids on an air plane; if anything they're usually better than the horrible adults that usually ruin my flight.  The babies cry during takeoff and landing, but then quiet down after ten minutes and sleep the whole time.  These little brats didn't sleep at all and did nothing but talk really loudly and cry.  I mean, they. would. NOT. shut up.  Meanwhile, their loving parents proceeded to ignore them and continue to watch their movies.  The mother saw fit to change one of their diapers in the cabin instead of the bathroom, where there are perfectly good accommodations for changing a shit-filled sack from little child.  Also, they turned on a DVD player sans headphones so the rest of us could enjoy the crappy kids movie.  And another thing: when I first arrived at my seat, I was greeted by the grandmother playing with the two kids in my seat.  She then went, "Oh, you're the one sitting here." and spent ten minutes picking up toys and uncooperative kids to clear out and let me sit down (meanwhile backing up the line for people waiting to get on the plane.)  Did she just think that someone wasn't going to sit in that seat on an over-booked flight?
The flight from Rome to Warsaw was fine, but I was picked out by Customs for inspection, who scanned my bag.  The guard then spent a few minutes writing something down and said I could go.  Why the need to write down something when nothing happened?  They feel the need to note anything of importance and whatnot.  It's like when a few years ago I got off a late train and headed for the benches under the walkways in Centralna to wait for a friend.  Two policemen followed me and took down all my information in a little book then let me go.  Doesn't really make sense.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Yesterday was All Saints Day (or All Hallows Day/Hallowmas.  Yes, Hallowe'en gets its name from All Hallows Eve, which is the day before All Hallows Day.  You are that much smarter.)  In many countries, including Poland, it's a large festive holiday.  Everyone visits the cemeteries to place flowers and candles upon their loved ones' graves.
In Poland, in particular, it's one of the more major holidays I've witnessed.  Special bus lines run often, ferrying the enormous crowds to the cemeteries on the outskirts of the cities.  The cemeteries themselves begin to look like bazaars, with candle sellers, florists, vendors selling special candies called Skórka Panska (Lordly Skin/Leather.  It's like a hard taffy.) and baked goods (tiny bagels!), plus others selling gloves, scarves, socks, hats, earrings, and mittens.  Young and old flood in amongst the dead, searching for the graves.  Some wander about, trying to discern which headstone is the right one.  When they get their, they clear away the fallen leaves, dead flowers, and extinguished candles and replace them with new ones.  Sometimes, they come and discover that another family member has come and already placed candles and flowers.  The grave sites turn into mini gardens and shrines.  Most say a small prayer, and leave, perhaps to find the next grave.

Scouts selling candles.

The crowd on the way to a cemetery.

Florists doing brisk business.

A virtual market and bazaar at the cemetery gates.

A shrine to those who perished under communism.

The crowd inside the cemetery.

The graves decorated with candles and flowers.

Supposedly, gypsies come to the cemeteries and hold mini parties atop their graves.  After wandering around a little, keeping an eye out for drinking and feasting gypsies, I rationalized that it was too early in the morning for even gypsies to take to the bottle.

After a visit to the ancestors' graves, the families usually return home for an afternoon dinner.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The New Office Building

It's pretty noticeable, the rise of the new Warsaw.  From the new MoMA, to the new stadium, to the new metro, and the explosion of both apartment blocks and business parks.  These new office buildings shed the gray cement and small windows of the communist era, and erupted as massive monoliths of glass.  Now, that's not to say that they tower above like in New York or Hong Kong or Tokyo (the tallest building is still the Palac Kultury i Nauki), but they are springing up like mushrooms after a summer rain.
The new boom has pushed construction in Poland into a wild frenzy, but many don't think it will last.  Studio apartments are selling for 500,000zl in places like Wola and Praga.  With Warsaw's rapid expansion (and the rest of Poland emptying out, both due to people flocking to the cities and Ireland, UK, and Norway) many fear that there's a bubble that's inflating.  When that bubble pops, Warsaw will be stuck with monuments to man's over-frenzied greed.  Landlords won't be able to find enough tenants for to fill their offices and prices will plummet.  It's a common story, visible in Frankfurt and (most noticeably) in Dubai.  But, Poland has a lot of catching up to do.  We'll just have to wait and see how this recent tear will end up.
The office building of yesteryear

A more modern site.

A ocean of glass.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Just a Few Pictures of the Sunrise

Recently, I was wondering about a good place to watch the sunrise in Warsaw.  I nailed down a few places (the University of Warsaw's library was my number one choice, but it doesn't open until nine) and finally settled on Plac Zamkowy.  So, I got up early; baked a batch of cranberry scones; put some Earl Grey into the thermos; and headed out to see the sunrise.

Most Swietokrzyski in front of Stadion Narodowy. 

I have to say that I really enjoy Poland the most during the early morning and late evening.  Also, the seasons affect it too.  During the summer, it's hot and full of horrible tourists (I grew up in a tourist town and now see them as nothing more than walking wallets who complain.)  Before the dawn, the only people out on the streets are the partiers going home (two men asked me—at 7:15 AM—where they could find a bar/club.  I told them to go to Przekaski Zakaski.) and the really early-birds.
I was blessed with having a clear morning.  There were wisps of clouds, but the sun shone through.  It's really nice to see the morning dew on the ground and the morning fog settled between the buildings and the trees.  Plac Zamkowy offers an excellent view of the sunrise.  Once I find a better place, I'll let you all know.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Autumn Fall

Like a switch has been thrown, it's autumn in Poland.  One day I woke up and the trees had changed color and lost a great deal of leaves.  The weather turned damp and everyone walked around stylishly bundled up.  Also, I can tell it's fall by the 600% rise in interest in people seeking out English lessons.  It's like clockwork.  Every start of October and February, there's a rise in people asking for lessons, and all those lessons (and interest) cease in June.

The seasons move quick here.  Summer didn't fade into fall like I was used to; it just shifted gears and dropped twenty degrees.  I meandered about in Kabaty to tramp through the leaves (I love to skip through huge piles of fallen leaves and kick them about.  Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.)
The growing seasons are weïrd in Poland.  For instance: right now there are no more squash in the markets.  That's right.  Squash.  I'm used to squash disappearing half-way through November, not the end on September.  It was absurd.  The markets are mostly empty now anyway; all the farmers have packed up. There are plenty of apples for sale, and that's fine with me.

Also, the colors don't change a lot like in the northern states and Canada.  My falls have always been vivid with red, yellow, orange fireworks of leaves changing.  We used to hike up a mountain and look out to see a carpet of exploding color.  Here, leaves change a paltry yellow and drift to the ground where they rapidly turn brown.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hookers and Mushrooms

It's fall in Poland, and that means a few things.  One of the most cherished pastimes of the Poles (and other Slavs) is going into the nearby woodlands in the hunt for wild mushrooms.  It's a tradition and as ingrained in Polish culture as trick-or-treating is in American culture.
On a recent drive to the Zegrze Reservoir for some sailing (more on this in a later post), I passed through the woods of northern Warsaw.  The winding road was lined with parked cars whose owners were busy scurrying through the underbrush looking for fungi.  I could see several of them tramping about, holding baskets and peering around the loam.  Also, there were hookers standing alongside the road.

A few parked cars alongside the road.

That's right: hookers.  In the woods.  Remember, this wasn't a street corner in the seedy part of Warsaw, this was a thoroughfare that ran through some deciduous forest-scape.  But there they were: toting bags, wearing short skirts, high-heels, dressed mostly in black with dyed black hair to match.  Some of them were in pairs, others standing by themselves, and others were in small groups.  How they got out there was anyone's guess (their pimp?  Did they carpool?)  (I must apologize, I don't have any pictures of them because A) The car was going to fast to take an adequate picture, B) My camera totally sucks.)

So, if you want a weekend family activity in Warsaw, head into the woods for mushrooms and blowjobs for all.  These ladies-of-the-night are unmistakable, looking exactly like a stereotypical hookers, they just happen to be strutting their stuff ten minutes outside the city on the soft shoulder.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Chechens

As apt as I am in trying to keep up with local (i.e. Polish) news, I ran across some headlines that Chechen exiles would be hosting a conference right outside of Warsaw.
For those of you who don't remember or don't care, Chechnya is a republic in the Northern Caucuses.  It is internationally recognized as sovereign Russian territory, but has been locked in struggle against Russia for independence.  The First Chechen War, fought between 1994 and 1996, ended with nominal Chechen independence; although, it wasn't recognized internationally.  Chechnya, ravaged by war and strife, began a downward spiral into tribal warfare and banditry that made a hard life even more miserable.  Everything that was not destroyed in the first war was leveled in the second.  The re-invaded Chechnya became the shithole that nobody knew or cared about.  Imagine a place a little bit bigger than Connecticut bearing the brunt of a full Russian invasion.  Since then, things have cooled down slightly, but there is still a smoldering violence, and a bitterly oppressive government that is run more like a mafia than an actual mandate from the masses.  This is all boiled down for easy digestion; there's more to the story, but this is the gist of it.
My interest in Chechnya was piqued when I read Arkady Babchenko's One Soldier's War.  It's a harrowing account of Babchenko's two tours of duty (one in the first war as a conscript, one in the second as a professional soldier) in Chechnya.  Seeing the war through a soldier of the Russian Federation's eyes was a bit moving and a bit disturbing.  His recounts of his suffering at the hands of his own comrades are stomach-churning.  Babchenko later went on to become a journalist and now writes for the independent Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper funded in part by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Babchenko's fellow journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, wrote several books on Chechnya, one of which I read, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches From Chechnya.  One Small Corner of Hell really exposed the horrors inflicted upon Chechnya and the Chechen people.  It condemned the Chechen resistance as not looking out for the actual needs of the people, but saved the most condemnation for the Russian military and government for their heinous and willful crimes.  Politkovskaya was a victim of death threats and intimidation, which eventually led to her assassination (as of yet, no one has been convicted.)  Her familiarity with the Chechens and their cause led her to be a negotiator in the Moscow Theater Siege, which didn't end well.  One of her memorable quotes is an angry young terrorist saying, "You live quite well here!  We live in the forest.  But you'll see!"
So, when thinking of a ravaged place seeded with unexploded ordinance, corrupt officials, bandits, environmental harm, and a brewing pot for jihad, think of Chechnya.  It's the place you're not going to go to vacation even if it's all-expenses-paid.  Better spots include: Pakistan's Swat Valley, Pripyat, Monterrey (Mexico), Rio's City of God, and just about anywhere else.

Anyway, the Polish police arrested Akhmed Zakayev in Warsaw the other day.  Zakayev is wanted on an international arrest warrant.  The Poles are letting the courts decide what to do with him for now, i.e. send him to Russia (which Russia is demanding), or let him go.  It's doubtful that he would meet his doom in Russia, but he most likely would be sent to prison for the rest of his life.  Poland did extradite the alleged Israeli spy to Germany to face charges, but I'm not too sure how this one is going to play out.
One interesting thing, so I've heard, is that Russia alleges that Polish GROM MANPADS (Man-Portable Anti-Air Defense Systems) were found in Chechnya.  Poland denies this and claims Russia was just being a dick and placed them there themselves, which I wouldn't put past Russia.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Market Day!

For those of you lucky enough to be within reasonable distance of farmers market, you may want to visit there as often as you can.  There are not just a great selection of fresh vegetables at jaw-dropping prices (1zl for a kilo of potatoes!) there is also a great social experience.  I could go to a farmer's market just to watch the vendors and the shoppers.  It's not like a supermarket where everyone pushes around those metal carts surveying the choices of potato chips and listening to soft hits; here, grizzled farmers with dusty hands the size of dinner plates scoop up potatoes, beets, carrots and dump them into a bag to weigh them.  People mill about the stalls, examining the produce and always looking for the best deals.  Hawkers call out to passersby, sometimes urging to try to taste their superior products.
Shoppers pick up fresh produce at the bazaar.

If you are late in the day (everyone is packing up by 2:30-3:00), sometimes you can haggle over the price of the last remaining cauliflower.  Often, later in the day, you can see where hawkers have scratched out the original prices and marked down their goods just to get them to move.
The farmer market I attended to weekly starts in mid-spring.  I am always eager to buy fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes, because the ones in the grocery stores always tasteless.  Fruits and vegetables that are shipped to supermarkets are picked unripe, then exposed ethylene in transit so they ripen just in time to hit the shelves.  The downside of the fruit not ripening naturally is that the flavors are not as complex and rich as those in naturally-ripened fruit.  During the summer and autumn months, many supermarkets try to carry fruits and vegetables from local sources.  This is especially true in Poland because the weak zloty makes imports more expensive, so it's more economical to buy natively anyway.  But, regardless, I like to buy straight from the farmer.
One of the exciting things about the bazaar is that the in-season produce is always changing.  Prices fluctuate week to week, and it's a little game to buy as much of one product when the price dips low.  Some produce, like fava beans, were available for only two weeks.  I missed my opportunity to buy as much as I can to turn into falafel and hummus (chickpeas are expensive and rare here.  So is tahini.)
A few stalls sell things like cured meats, cheeses, preserves, honey, and imported fruits.  From my experience, these can be hit or miss.  I've gotten excellent cheese and kabanosy (small, dried sausages), but have gotten some not-so-great kielbasa as well.  Many vendors have huge barrels full of ogórki malo solny (a type of pickle) and sauerkraut.
Peaches for sale.

Farmers markets don't just offer produce.  Other vendors, ones selling antiques, DVDs, clothes, books, cleaning products, and kitchenware, also set up shop for the day.  Supermarkets like Tesco become irrelevant on the weekends, because one can get almost anything at the bazaar.

Not just produce at the farmers market.

I truly love these markets.  I often spend less than forty zloty and stagger away with tons of fresh fruits and vegetables.  With fall fast approaching and summer's grip withering, I find it's best to buy up as much cheap produce as I can now and preserve as much as I can.  Already, the kitchen is stacked with countless jars of strawberry and plum jam, plum wine brewing (I finished a batch of cherry wine), and I'm in the act of preserving tomatoes, onions, and potatoes.  I love fall, and everything it offers, but it does urge me to fill up my freezer with as much frozen freshness as I can.  Soon, the farmers will put away their stalls for the winter, and we'll all be forced to eat tasteless tomatoes, sad-looking lettuce, and unnaturally crisp apples.  But, the bright side is that all those wonderful tropical fruits will be hitting the shelves.

Wild mushrooms.

Nuts for sale.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Outlook for Poland for the Next Two Years

2010 has been a wild year, especially in the financial and business world.  In the beginning, the markets didn't know what to do with Greece and their pesky financial problems.  The PIIGS shook the world's faith in the EU and the euro; China surpassed Japan in terms of GDP; the US fears of a double-dip recession are ongoing; and the stock market doesn't know what the hell to do.  Most EU states have implement almost-draconian austerity measures to curb debt.  Meanwhile, Sarkozy tries to tweak France's retirement age a little (upping it from sixty to sixty-two) and that causes them to go on strike yet again.  Poland, all the while, has been growing and growing.  Its infrastructure projects and renovations have exploded into a rush to complete everything before 2012.

2012 seems to be a magic year.  Besides the "Mayan prediction" and superstitions, there's a super sun storm that might disrupt electronics on earth; there's the EuroCup 2012; the 2012 Olympics in London; and 2012 may be the year that when investors get cold feet over Poland's debt and stop buying its bonds, forcing major austerity measures.

How it works:
Right now, Poland's economy is growing (let's say, 4%.)  With a rise in its GDP, there is also a rise in its debt, this is natural.  EU money (as well as Norwegian money) is pouring into Poland in enormous amounts.  The rub is when the debt grows faster than economy does (let's say, 5%.)  With Poland's economy growing, Poland looks to be a good place to invest money (buying bonds.  In a month or two, Poland will hike rates, which will make it more attractive to buy Polish bonds.)  When more money is invested, the economy grows, which leads to more investment, which leads to further growth and so on.  This can all come to a head when investors start to doubt Poland's ability to pay back its debt (bonds).  They will pull their money out of Poland, which will cause the economy to shrink, which will cause further doubt about the Polish bonds, which will cause more investment to be pulled out, etc.  Pretty much what happened with Greece.
Now, a little birdy told me (someone who is intimate with the situation) warned that Poland has about two more years until the party is over and the government has to enact difficult-to-swallow reforms.  I should warn that the amount of time is purely circumspect and no one really knows; it could be two years, eighteen months, three years, or any amount of time in the near future.  It's like waiting for a small bomb to go off, not knowing how long the timer is.
Right now, Poland is standing in the middle of the tracks, watching the train rush towards it.  Solving the problem is not so much about knowing what to do—most people know what must be done—but about having the political will to actually do it.  Poland needs reforms in government spending, and it needs it soon.  The recent election might have given PO a stronger grip on power, but the surprisingly strong show for Kaczynski sent a message.  The cutbacks in spending that are needed will not be coming any time soon: PO can't risk it politically to make such unpopular decisions.
Members in the financial community have consulted with ministers of Poland, sharing their pessimistic outlook.  The ministers (Boni in particular.  Boni is the fourth-most powerful minister in Poland) agreed; however, told them point blank that the government cannot risk such a politically dangerous program.  Instead, Poland has resorted to accounting tricks to hide and cover its debt (not unlike Greece.)  These tricks serve as a temporary solution and will make the blowup all the more painful.  The tricks do, however, allow the politicians to make claims and be bullish about the economy and government spending.  So, Poland will stand in front on the train until either the last minute, or until the train runs them over.

When austerity measures come (and they will come), it probably won't be as bad as in Greece.  A few things to look for:
1)  The VAT will rise, but gradually.  It'll be 1% at a time in increments.
2)  The retirement age will rise.  Right now, it stands at sixty years for women and sixty-five years for men.  Expect at least two-year rises in each.  Poland's aging (and shrinking) population will have to work longer and expect less benefits when they retire.
3)  Public salaries will be frozen at the least, cut at the most.  Public-sector jobs will have their raises and benefits trimmed.  Also, layoffs probably will happen.
4)  The construction boom will wind down.  Poland's construction boom, financed with a lot of EU money, might wind down.  That's not to say that it won't go on, just at a slower pace.
5)  An increase in fees.  Fees, fees, fees.  They raise money.  Expect them all over the place, and increases in the current ones.
6)  If Poland hasn't joined the euro area by then, the zloty will be printed en masse and a de-valuation will happen.  When you need to pay debt and you exert control over your own currency: print money.

Sound bleak and depressing?  Kind of is, but it might be necessary.  The thing is, the Polish government has mastered the art of public relations.  Everything is often overstated and in an optimistic light.  Everything from the economic outlook, to foreign relations, to the shale gas that I often yap about.  The government isn't about to admit this coming problem just yet, and will probably deny it until the problem has already broken.  Call it a black swan in the coming.
The crisis probably won't be as bad as Greece's, and these reforms will be able to handle it, but it pays to be prepared.  Poland does have a few weapons to combat it and can also lean on fellow EU members for support.

I'll end this with a big  WHO KNOWS?  Why?  Because a lot can happen in this amount of time.  Poland's shale gas might be just as big as they say it (but probably won't be producing for quite a while.) Poland's economy might outpace its debt; Polish politicians might force the bitter medicine and take reforms; there might be some big global or regional event that will help Poland avoid all these problems. But, all the same, I'll remain bearish in the long-term, but bullish in the near-term.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy

Some of the first thoughts that usually cross people's minds when they think of communism are of long lines, empty store shelves, and the occasional purge.  In this day in age, where information is processed and sent in fractions of a second, where people are plugged into the Internet around the clock, and where everything is supposed to be over before it even began, bureaucracy still brings everything to a crawl.

Most people hate places like the nefarious DMV (I never had a bad experience there, just for the record.  I know many people would rather be castrated that going in there again.)  The boredom of sitting in the office for untold amounts of time, counting the ticks of the clock, only to be harassed by some grumpy clerk.  This is the true definition of damnation.

When I was in college, I thought bureaucracy couldn't get worse.  I thought (and still hold the idea) that the entire administration of the school ought to have been fired wholesale and replaced with people who: A) gave a shit, B) didn't defend their worthlessness and prop up their antiquated system.  I was constantly hounded them for not paying fees and was only vindicated by showing them cancelled checks (and then, I was often given an excess check for overpaying.)  The amount of hoops I had to jump through could have supplied several circuses, and everyone there was an asshole to boot.  Form after form was completed, signed by the proper authorities, rejected because of a misunderstanding, re-filled out, re-signed (after haggling to get an appearance), handed in to be mulled over, ended up in a 50% chance of being rejected again.

When I was in Germany, there bureaucratic system was deeply ingrained into everything.  I came away feeling that the Germans loved nothing more than bureaucracy with its stamped and approved forms, meetings to address matters of negligible importance, and the waiting times they entailed.  The Germans, however, were very good at it and everything sped along quite rapidly.  For example, my passport was supplied with a visa in a little over a week.  There were hang-ups (I never did get my student ID), but I did kind of like how they firmly stamped my forms ten times with gusto.

Now, I am in Poland and the bureaucracy here is like nails on a chalkboard.  It's not so much the forms I have to fill out, but the waiting.  Unlike Ned Flanders' description of the post office (where he explains that it's the only thing he hates.  He even had nice things to say about mosquito bites and fluorescent lighting) where everything is rush, rush, rush, the post office here is slower than cold molasses.  Picking up a package will result in a five-minute scrutiny of your documents, then the postman will ever so slowly get up and wander about, shuffling through huge piles of folders and packages, looking for the one that's yours.  Mailing a letter takes even longer and most of it is due to the ant's pace of the workers.
Right now, I happen to be waiting for a work permission, which has taken about three months.  Every so often, I'm notified that I have to collect some other piece of information and have it sent off.  It's next to torture.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Recipe: Knedle

Knedle are traditional potato-dough dumplings, usually filled with an entire plum.  They are incredibly filling and can serve both as a dessert and as a dinner (being so filling.)  They are actually really easy to make and popular with kids and adults alike.

3 lb of potatoes
2 cups of flour
1 egg
3 pounds of plums
Pinch of salt

Peel and boil the potatoes, then drain well.  In a large pot, start boiling some water.  In a bowl, mash the potatoes, and mix in flour, salt, and egg.  If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until a nice consistency is reached.  Pit the plums by butterflying them (slice one side pole-to-pole) and taking out the stone.  Fill the plums' centers with a teaspoon of sugar (sugar cubes are great for this), close them, then wrap the plums in dough.  Drop the knedle into the boiling water and cook until they float.  Remove with a slotted spoon.

You can serve the knedle as they are, or fry them in a slight bit of oil (not unlike pierogi).  You can also serve them in a sweet cream sauce.
In the holiday season, feel free to add a pinch of some spices to the dough (such as cinnamon or nutmeg.)  Knedle keep well when they are frozen, so prepare them when plums are in season, then freeze.  You can serve them all winter and spring, just drop the frozen balls into boiling water.

Freshly-made knedle.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Go Buy Some Flour

Why you should stock up on flour next time you go shopping.

We've all heard about the rampaging forest fires in Russia this summer.  They blanketed Moscow in dense, poisonous fog (doubling the death rate) and burned millions of acres.  What they also did was burn one third of Russia's wheat crop.  With Russia the fourth-largest producer of wheat in the world, you can bet that come harvest time, the prices are going to rise.  With the rise of wheat prices, naturally comes the rise in flour prices.  Prices are pretty low right now, so you ought to stock up.

Recently, every time I've gone out shopping I have bought a kilo or two of flour (usually tortowa typ 450 (cake flour, at 1.14zl), but luksusowa typ 550 is cheaper (1.03zl).  I now have around seven kilos flour, which will probably last me a month or two.  Due to my baking habits, I generally run through flour faster than most.  But, taking no chances, in order to preserve the extra flour and increase its longevity, I stash a couple of kilos in the freezer (to ward of creepy crawlies and bugs.)

Flour prices will not be the ones to rise; prices for wheat-based products (bread, prepared foods, confections, etc.) will probably rise as well.  As we all know, Poles are pretty passionate about their bread, so they might grumble if the prices rise a little too much.  The problem is that they can't be stored as long as flour can.  The rise in wheat will ripple through the agricultural sector, creating increases of varying sizes in places you might not expect.  It's not unlike an increase in oil prices.  When oil rises, it's not just gasoline and home heating prices that rise, but also things like: paving the roads (asphalt is made of petroleum), flight and bus tickets, food prices (cost of transportation), cosmetics, etc.
Of course, this is all speculation.  I hesitate to actually scream from the rooftops that flour may rise a couple grosze, or expect that anyone would care much.  A strengthening zloty would make up much of the difference (while a weakening zloty would make it worse.)  There might be bumper crops, not only in Poland, but also in Ukraine, the US, China, France, and Turkey.  Together, they might make up the difference and cancel it all out.  But, it doesn't hurt to be prepared.  It's more likely that the prices will rise rather than drop, so shell out a few extra zloty not to grab a couple extra kilos of flour.  It keeps a long time (if stored properly) and we're heading in to cooler weather, which will make storage all the more easier.

I make a mean sourdough out of this stuff.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Adventures in Telecom

A few months ago, I got a new phone and SIM card.  Ever since then, I've been plagued by a series of random phone calls that look not unlike:

I:  Hello?
Caller:  Hallo, Asia?
I:  Co?  Nie ma Asi.  Nie jestem.  Ona ma inny numer.
Caller:  Co?  Asia?  Asia?  Asia?  Co?  Kim jest?
I:  Nie ma Asi.  Nie znam Asię.  You have the wrong number.
Caller:  Co? Co?  [hang up]


I:  Hello?
Caller:  [An old lady babbling jibber-jabber too fast for me to comprehend.]
I:  Co?  Who are you?  Nie rozumiem.
Caller:  [Continues ranting for a moment, then hangs up.]

So, this happens every so often.  Usually the phone rings and I think to myself "Hooray!  Another gig!"  only to have some random person on the other babble on about someone whom I've never heard of or met. They always seem rather annoyed when they hang up.
But, I few days ago, I got a text that read:
Ja bartek a ty odp
(I: Bartek, and you ans[wer])

I duly wrote back:
Oki, Bartku.
(OK, darling Bartosz.)

He replied no too long ago with:
Kim jestes odp
(Who are you?  Ans[wer])  (His grammar is lacking.)

Now, I am waiting for him to reply to my:
Jestem Batmanem.  Co potrzebujesz?
(I am Batman.  What do you need?)

No reply yet.  Let's see how it goes.  It's not unlike this post about a year ago, which was over a similar event.
One of my many avenues of not being understood by the Poles.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Orange Festival: 2009-2010

While the summer is dominated by music festivals like Gdynia's Open'er and Krakow's Coke Live Music Festival, Warsaw's Orange Festival has become a small, semi-respectable music fest.

Last year, The Orange Festival was big, open, music fest with two stages and several worthy acts supported by various lesser ones.  It was two nights of open music in the center of Warsaw.  This year, the Orange Festival moved to the more controllable Sluzewiec Racetrack and ticket prices have been introduced (59zl for the first night and 99zl for the second.)

A year ago, I most maddeningly missed The Crystal Method by fifteen minutes (oooh, I was steamed.)  Instead, I got to see the laughably bad N.E.R.D, whose poorly written, poorly performed music drove me away even before the first song had ended.  Luckily, Calvin Harris was performing on the Young Stage (the second, smaller stage), and gave quite a show.  The respectable MGMT followed, but Calvin Harris really was the highlight of the night.  Ja Confetti played the first night, and I was actually able to enjoy them from across Marszalkowska.

This year's lineup touts both Nelly Furtado and Courtney Love's Hole (both I'm none too crazy about.)  The rest of the lineup is filled with Polish bands, or incredibly minor acts.  It seems that Orange has scaled back this years music fest.  No longer is it in the center and free, but on a racetrack and charging 129zl-tickets for both nights.  Perhaps they lost money last year or at least didn't make as much as they'd hoped.  Granted, Nelly Furtado and Courtney Love are big-name acts with wide recognition; but Courtney Love is fifteen-years past her prime and most of the energy has gone into promoting Furtado.
There was a suggestion that one could enjoy the music by going into the area of the Sluzewiec and one could hear the music wafting on the breeze.  But honestly, it didn't really seem worth it.  None of the bands performing this year piqued my interest.
Open'er 2010 was able to showcase bands and artists like Massive Attack, Nas, Ben Harper, Pearl Jam, Matisyahu, and Cypress Hill.  Coke 2010 had: Muse, Thirty Seconds to Mars, The Chemical Brothers, Panic! At the Disco, (and N.E.R.D).  While many of these artists, in my opinion, suck, they still bring in large crowds and have large, international followings.  It doesn't seem likely that anyone would fly to Warsaw specifically to catch a music festival with Courtney Love & Hole and Nelly Furtado (not to mention the bands The White Lies and Edyta Bartosiewicz.)  Other, more massive, music festivals like: Bonnaroo, Coachachella, Lollapalooza, and Big Day Out, attract top artists at the peak of their careers, plus hundreds of thousands of spectators (including foreigners coming just to see the event.)  The point I'm making is that the Warsaw Orange Festival isn't really worth the $40-tickets.  It ought to revert back to it's open, free-for-all format of yesteryear.  Until they start pulling out the big guns, or at least bands that I would chock up money for, I'll find something else to provide enjoyment (for instance, Roger Water's will be in Lodz next year playing The Wall.  I will definitely try to go.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Poland's Shale Gas: Benefits and Drawbacks

Again on the shale gas issue.

One of the reasons Poland was able to avoid a recession whilst everyone around them contracted was that Poland had an independent currency that happened to be valued lower than both the dollar and the euro.  This low-value currency makes Polish goods and services cheaper (and imports more expensive, which incentives Poles to buy Polish goods), also it makes Poland an attractive place to invest.  Foreign companies are tripping over themselves to set up shop in Poland (Dell, Fiat, GM, and now energy companies.)  The zloty is now being looked at as a cherished pillar of the Polish economy, and skepticism of the euro has grown (especially after seeing what happened recently to Greece.  Many in Greece lamented being tethered, which was relatively strong, and not being able to de-value the currency to give a jump start to Greek exports.  Also, China keeps the yuan pegged lower to the dollar for just this reason: to make Chinese exports more attractive.  Right now, many countries are engaged in a 'race to the bottom' of de-valuing their currencies.)
Huge energy reserves are a mixed blessing, and it is right to fear the onset of Dutch disease.  Dutch disease describes an economic condition where one commodity (usually energy or natural resources) becomes a main engine of the economy and the currency rapidly gains value against other currencies.  It's called a disease because with the rise in the currency, the country no longer becomes a feasible place to manufacture goods and its agricultural exports become more expensive.  Commonly-cited examples are Venezuela (oil), the US (financial services in the '80s and '90s), Russia (oil and gas), and, of course, the Netherlands (the discovery of gas).  When prices are high and everything is humming alone, it's all good; once the price of gas crashes, Poland's economy goes into a tailspin and only recovers when the price of gas does (this recently happened to Russia (the price of oil and steel dropped in 2008) and Venezuela.  It also happened to Ireland and Iceland with the banking crises.)  This can be mitigated by proper investment into wider areas of the economy.
A huge explosion (pardon the pun) of gas exports from Poland would undoubtedly cause the zloty to rise, maybe even overtaking the euro.  If that were to happen, Poland's developing manufacturing and agriculture base would come to a screeching halt.  Foreign companies would move their factories to cheaper countries and Polish-manufactured goods would become quite expensive.
The zloty's rise would, however, coincide with the mandated move to the euro (if the euro still exists around then.  Some think that the euro will be gone within five years, probably because Germany will pull out.  NOTE:  I'm not going to opine whether I think the euro will stick around.  I honestly don't know.)  So, the zloty's rise would be drowned out, because then Poland would enter into the euro area and the currency would depend more on the strength of the area than just that of Poland alone.

Beyond this sudden "doom and gloom" image I painted, the outlook certainly looks good.  Even if the zloty rises, that means that imports, and thus variety, are cheaper (I went shopping today, so I can tell you that I was none too pleased over the choices and variety of foodstuffs.  500 types of pickles, but no tahini: this isn't fair.)  The average salary in Poland, which now stands under $20K, would most certainly rise.  Poland would pour even more money into infrastructure improvements.  Also, it would help mitigate the problem of Poland's aging and shrinking population (another topic to which I will devote a post) by helping to prop up their pension and health programs.
Money is money, and resources are resources.  But Poland will have to be careful how it handles this new-found gas.  If they don't handle it just right, it might come around to bite them in the ass years down the road.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Problem With Russia

It's no secret that not a lot of people like the Russians.  The Poles despise them, the rest of Europe doesn't trust them, and the North Americans view them with a mixture of distrust and misunderstanding.  Places like India and Armenia have warm relations with Russia (party because Armenia is surrounded by enemies and India needs an arms supplier that is not an ally of either Pakistan or China.)  The Serbs adore Russia and Ukraine is split: part of Ukraine wants warmer relations with Russia and the other parts loathes it.  I can also bring in the opinions of the Abkhaz, the Ossetians, the Georgians, the Chechens, the Ingush, and Kyrygz and the rest from Central Asia.
But let's move beyond lists of Russian-Foreign relationships.  Russia remains a center of concern for much of the West.  The 2008 war with Georgia drew widespread alarm (from the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine) and condemnation.  Don't be fooled, Russia is modernizing its military (the recently flight for the Sukhoi PAK FA T-50, the development of the S-500 missile system, the introduction of the T-90 tank, etc), and it aims to not be the embarrassing mess of the 1990s.  Beyond the military, Russia is trying to regain its sphere of influence (by using grants and loans) and push against US and EU intervention in the near abroad.  But, the biggest thing about Russia; what just gets those in the EU the most, is that it is an energy superpower with a heavy hand.
What is surprising is that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has had her nose hilt-deep in Putin's ass.  Or maybe it's not very surprising at all.  Germany, like most of Europe, needs Russia's oil and gas, and Russia is happy to oblige.  It's not that Germany admires Russia, or holds it in any esteem, it just wants easy access to reliable hydrocarbons.  Russia, however, is anything but reliable.  It seems like every winter they get into a tussle with Ukraine over unpaid bills, prices, and accusations of syphoning, and they threaten to turn off the taps, which they have done.  This actually does little to affect most of western Europe, since that gas goes through Belarus and Poland.  It will affect them even less when the Nord Stream pipeline is completed.  There are moves, such as the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey pipeline to curb reliance on Russia, but it's not seen as much.
Beyond the common spats with Ukraine that disrupt supplies, Europe (consequentially NATO and its allies) has a bigger problems.  They can't really criticize or confront Russia very much, for fear that Russia might use energy as a weapon.  Thus, both the EU and NATO are usually bound with one hand behind their backs when dealing with Russia.  Russia throws a tantrum over something, and the rest of Europe is scrambling to think of how to calm it down without angering it too much.  If there was a serious mixup with Russia (politically or militarily), Europe would face a catastrophic shortage of natural gas, and Russia knows it.

Enter Poland and shale gas.  Optimistic forecasts of Poland's new shale gas wealth are extremely high.  Some are even calling Poland the next Qatar (don't pull your pricks out of your pants just yet, lads.  Let's see how much gas there really is in that rock before your start rolling on your rubbers to party.)  Interest in Poland's potential gas wealth has exploded, with big-time US energy companies signing on.  Many an economist and energy trader suffered whiplash from the speed at which they turned their heads to Poland.
Shale gas is becoming quite lucrative in the US, with many companies 'perfecting' its mining.  New wells are being drilled constantly, often without thought of environmental impact.  It's been said that many families in rural Pennsylvania (a top shale gas-producing state) can light their tap water on fire.  It's likely that there will be greater restrictions and discretion in the permit process than currently in the States, which might slow development down a bit, but also might protect the inhabitants and environment a bit more.
But what does massive gas deposits mean for Poland?  Will Poland turn into one of those hydrocarbon-reliant wonderlands where no one pays taxes, the government builds massive phallic buildings, and everyone is rolling around in obscene amounts of petrodollars while getting laid?  Who knows (don't try to predict what will happen; you won't be right.)  The point is, is that Poland stands a lot to gain both economically and geopolitically.  Poland now gets about 70% of its gas from Russia and if Poland could produce enough gas to meet domestic demand (which would inevitably rise), it would be a amazing.  If Poland could export gas to the conveniently-close-and-in-the-European-Union Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Austria, it would a miracle.  Many of these countries are overwhelmingly reliant on Russian gas, and most of them think of Russia as kind of a dick.
The role of Poland in European politics would be immensely bolstered.  Poland would be seen as a stable, reasonable ally that was worth protecting.  Its strategic importance to the EU (and NATO) would expand greatly.  Not only would it be a frontier state, it would be an important source of energy for its allies (this translates into: Europe and NATO would do a shitload to protect Poland from any sort of aggression (just like the US did with Kuwait) because it would be in their (Europe's and NATO's) strategic and economic interest.)  Some might say that Russia would also sight its sights more keenly on Poland, since Poland would be seen as a key state to Europe's security (from an energy standpoint.)  A worry and criticism from Poland, is that the US did not do enough to shield Georgia from Russia; they worried that the US would do the same to them (this is one of the reasons spurring Poland to accept the missile silos, which were downgraded to patriot missiles.  They felt that if Russia was to invade (and the Poles don't put it past the Russians) that the US would only come to their aid because American troops and interests would be directly threatened.)
Poland, meanwhile, is hedging its bets and is in the process of signing a deal with Russia that will last until 2045.  Until the real results can start flowing from Poland's gas fields, Poland and the EU will still be suckling on the metaphoric gas-nipple of Mother Russia.

Currently Poland's top gas producer.

Angela Merkel.  Her boner will be second only to Tusk's in the event that Poland exports gas.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Fluctuations Of The Wisla

For those of you that remember, Poland's 2010 spring was defined by two things: the Presidential Plane Crash, and the Floods.  The floods (which apparently still happen in the notorious 'flash' form) caused billions of dollars in damages and were blamed, in part, on the work of beavers.  Now, Warsaw didn't really experience much of the floods, but there were warnings, especially for the zoo.  Warsaw lies about mid-point of the river, and the river's rise was cause for much spectacle.   (See the previous post here.)
The funny thing with the Vistula, is that these days it seems to rise and drop almost daily.  I visited the banks in spring to see the massive rise (and speed) in the river's flow, but also weeks later to see to subside to a more reasonable level.  Then, I passed over it again and saw that the river had risen again.  Now, going back over it, I can see the drop occurring again.

The river cresting this spring.

The river at more normal level.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ł

One of the things of having a Polish professor who:  A) studied at MIT, B) speaks Polish, Russian, Slovak, and Yiddish, C) has a keen sense of history and linguistics, is that you learn a lot of interesting things about the language.  For instance, take the Polish letter Ł: it's an L with a slash through it, but pronounced like W, a sound that (I'm pretty sure, please correct me if I am wrong) no other Slavic tongue has.  The thing is, is that Ł used to be pronounced like the Russian Л (transliterated as L.  This L should be pronounced like the L in girl or Polish, not like the L in look or fabulous.)  When reading Old Polish, one should be aware of this to pronounce it correctly.  The problem arising with Ł is that it's a hard phoneme to learn, especially for children.  Gradually, Polish and Poland did away with this guttural sound and replaced it with the more fluid W sound.
Now, if you don't believe me, just ride the subway.  At Stacja Ratusz Arsenał, listen to the announcement, which pronounces it like ArsenaL.  I presume that the name is preserved for historical reasons.

How to Piss off the English
Now, an American like myself has run into quite a bit of resistance to forcing people to adopt the American way of saying things.  (I've had enough of lorry and pronouncing schedule like shed-yoo-all.)  Why not rattle their chains a little?
So, a few years back a Polish girl was pontificating about how British English was superior to American English because it sounded more royal, affluent, and historical.  It was the dialect of Shakespeare, of the Queen, of Hugh Grant.  Except…  it wasn't.  I pointed out firstly that there are many dialects and accents of British English and the best dialect outside of the US was the Irish Brogue followed by the Scottish Brogue.
More importantly, today's British English is NOT the language of Shakespeare (or so say the linguists.)  We have become accustomed to actors in movies speaking with modern British accents and actors on stages fudging with terrible British accents.  But did Shakespeare really speak with a modern British accent?  Probably not.  He probably spoke with an accent closer to the Carolinian accent (much like Stephen Colbert used to.)  The Carolinas (North and South) were colonized about 400 years ago and were buffered from many linguistic influences unlike, say New York or Boston or even Minnesota.  So, to be more historically accurate, those actors should try to emulate Lindsay Graham's way of speech Hugh Grant's.
Also, the English learned how to write from the Irish (ooooh, doesn't that just make their blood boil?!)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Military Year

2010 has been a banner year for Poland, and Warsaw in general. They broke new ground on the MoMA; Chopin is getting a year's-worth of celebration for his 200th birthday; the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald; the 66th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising; and now, the 90th anniversary of the Miracle of the Vistula.
For those of you who did not know what the Miracle of the Vistula was: it was a decisive Polish victory over the Soviet forces in the Polish-Soviet War in 1920.  On an interesting note:  Charles De Gaulle served with distinction in this war (not too many non-Poles, non-De Gaulle fans know this.)  Anyway, it was a huge victory for the Poles and their legendary leader, Jozef Pilsudski.  It was kind of like the Polish Gettysburg, but only kind of.  The greatly defeated Soviets soon sued for peace and the borders of Poland (which, at that time included Lwow and Wilno) remained intact until the German-Soviet invasion of 1939. The battle remains an important date in Polish history, except it happened in a war more forgotten than the Korean War.  During the Communist times of Soviet hegemony, the Polish-Soviet War was covered over and hushed up much like the Warsaw Uprising (ask Norman Davies; he know firsthand of the matter.)
The war is a point of Polish pride in that it was the first major Polish military success in a couple of hundred years (and remains so) and that they defeated a much larger enemy to preserve their independence and freedom.  The war, along with the Winter War (Russo-Finnish War), showed how terrible the Red Army really was.  For those of you who would wonder why Germany would ever invade the Soviet Union, much smaller, much less powerful countries were able to embarrass the Soviets militarily.
Today, there was a commemoration of the battle at, most apt, Plac Pilsudskiego.  There was also a big military fair in the Saxon Park (the Polish military's outreach to the public.)  I stood around for some of the ceremony, involving ranks upon ranks of uniformed soldiers.  Unfortunately, they blocked off Pilsudski Square, so the spectators couldn't really be close (except the VIPs.)  The crowd wasn't that large, and the day was broiling, so I snapped a few film pictures (I don't have a digital camera right now.)  So, I didn't stick around for the speeches, military drills, overtures, or displays, and I don't have any pictures beyond some black-and-white film pictures I took on a Zenit-E (an old Soviet model.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ghosts of the Uprising

The big topic today is the new 3D movie displaying the ruins of Warsaw after the Uprising.  Miasto Ruin (The City of Ruins) is a digital reconstruction and exploration of the rubble that used to be Warsaw.  Directed by the venerable Baginski (y'all ought to have seen Katedra (Cathedral) by now), it's been unveiled for the 66th anniversary at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.  I'm not at the museum today, so I'll watch it soon and report back on how it was.  The purpose of the film is to show the youth really how Warsaw was decimated; to bring alive the destruction (which should contrast with Warsaw's recent spurt of construction.)

A few months ago, I wrote about the old woman who had passed away.  Her long stretch of life saw the outbreak of World War II, the Warsaw Uprising (plus visits to concentration and work camps), the creation of the Iron Curtain, the fall of Communism, and Poland's entry and integration into a united Europe.  I was tapped with helping to clear out the woman's apartment, which had stood vacant about three months.  She left behind lots of clothes and kitchenware, but also her and her late husband's documents.  Tucked in a small cabinet and stuffed into folders were documents and photos, ranging from certification of passing the Matura, to the Red Cross stating the validity of her claims of being in a work camp, to her husband's paperwork saying he was part of the Armia Krajowa.  (NOTE:  I have been told that he was not actually part of the Home Army, but rather lied to the officials.  Right after the War, members of the AK where hunted down and oppressed.  Years later, there was an amnesty and recognition and those who were members could receive certain benefits; all one needed to prove that he/she was indeed a member of the Home Army were two witnesses to vouch for him/her.  This man apparently found two men to vouch for him to receive the benefits and recognition, but the family has confided that he actually stayed away from any sort of fighting and was never a member of any sort of resistance.  I'm not really an expert to find out the validity of either claims, so I'm just putting the documents up here.)
The front and verse of a medal from the Maximilan-Kolbe-Werke Foundation.

Red Cross documents, verifying the journey to three concentration camps.

These documents show that those who suffered were not forgotten (even if the Home Army and its memory was oppressed and quashed for a few decades.)

The documents and identifications of a fighter in the Home Army