Monday, March 29, 2010

Funerary

An old woman was buried today; she was eighty-eight. She was buried with a small gathering of friends and family. While she ended her days in relative comfort and ease, her long life was anything but and was marked by extraordinary hardships. While I had no relation to her, I feel compelled to tell a small portion of her life.

The woman was the eldest of four sisters who lived in Warsaw. In 1939, the Nazis invaded and Warsaw became occupied. On August 1st, 1944, the Warsaw Uprising started. The Poles were locked in a pitched battle for two months. It ultimately ended with the capitulation of the City Center, but afterwards much of the remaining populace in Warsaw was rounded up and shipped off to work camps.
The two younger sisters, who were in their middle-teen years, were sent off to a work camp near Berlin. They remained there for the remainder of the war. The eldest two, in their early twenties, were first shipped off to Auschwitz. After a short stay there, they were sent off to Ravensbrück, then to Buchenwald. Just before the US Army liberated the camp, the girls were marched out under armed guard in a long column. They had to walk miles each day with little food or water. German peasants would come up and give them a little bit of water to drink and some meager scraps to eat—not a lot, but something. They were between the lines (American and Soviet) when the war ended. The guards simply left them there and went back home (presumably.) When the Soviets approached, all the young women had to hide from the soldiers for fear that they would be raped. The woman said she hid—I think underneath a bed—until the old women told them all it was safe to come out and the Soviets had passed. The two sisters took a train to Prague, where they spent a month in a hospital and recovered. After that, they walked back home, all they way to the rubble of Warsaw. The youngest two sisters survived the inferno around Berlin and simply walked back to Warsaw from Berlin.

A story like that kind of helps you put your life in perspective.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Egg Hunt!

Tomorrow, the hunt for the E. Wedel golden egg will commence. I'll be showing someone around Warsaw, so I won't partake in the fun (ain't that a bitch?) E. Wedel, the confectioner (chocolate company) is holding the competition in a few cities throughout Poland: Warsaw, Gdansk, and Warsaw. The egg (pisanka) is made out of real gold and valued at around 6000PLN. Treasure hunters have to register by in Plac Zamkowy, where they're given a map and clues. Every day, there is a new clue on Wedel's website, giving an inkling to where the egg will be stashed.

By the way, I think E. Wedel is now going to become part of Kraft. Wedel was taken over by Cadbury, which was recently taken over by Kraft.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Polish-Jewish Relations: An Introduction

A little while ago, I wrote a paper titled A Short Glance at Polish-Jewish Relations that dealt with, well obviously, Polish-Jewish relations. It can be read here. The topic itself brings up a lot of emotions and is quite testy for both Jews and Poles. I tried to be as objective as possible, but I'm sure someone will take exception to what I've written. The work itself probably needs some revision.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's Official: Buy Złoty!!!

With Greece still swirling around in the toilet, waiting for Germany to scoop them out and pat them down, the Euro is taking a moderate beating. Many economists see the depreciation of the Euro as a moderate-term event; meaning both the Dollar and the Zloty will be gaining ground against it in the immediate future. The US is expected to raise rates from the near-0% it has now before the ECB does, since the Euro Area has to deal with this new crisis. Poland already has higher rates than both the ECB (Euro Area) and the US, so it behooves one to to borrow from the ECB and invest in Poland. You borrow money for almost nothing, and get a higher return.

In a previous post, I commented how the weakness of the Zloty helped the Polish economy by making Polish goods and services cheaper compared to other countries. I also noted that it was a double-edged sword in that it make imports more expensive (it did: the prices rose by about 30%) especially for energy, namely, oil. Well, I have a two points to make concerning the Zloty's weakness.
I forgot to add that while the Zloty was weaker, making energy more expensive, energy prices themselves were falling rapidly. Oil dropped from $147/barrel to almost $30 faster than you could say "Well, fuck me!" So, while the Zloty was trading near 2 PLN to the $1 in mid-2008, it dropped to almost 3.50 PLN to the Dollar in early 2009, but also energy prices followed suit, taking care of the difference.
The second point, is based on Poland as a brand. Let's face it, Poland isn't exactly known for the quality of its products (Belvedere Vodka excluded, which is known as a premium vodka brand in the US.) Countries like China, India, and the Philippines aren't either, while countries like Switzerland, Germany, and Japan are. The point I'm trying to make is that people will buy Polish goods because they are cheap, not because they are expecting quality. People will buy Swiss and German goods (and pay a little extra) because they think they are getting a superior product, especially in the terms of quality. So, until Poland because a known for its high standard of quality, it should have every bit of help it needs to make its goods cheaper, i.e. a weak Zloty.

By the way, I'm looking forward to seeing how this all turns out. If I'm wrong, so what (barely anyone reads this anyway, and I'm sure even fewer actually take my advice to heart.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Polish Soccer Fans: Bunch of Damn Hooligans or an Elusive Species?

As the Polish preparations for the Euro 2012 precede from truly shambolic to little-more-than-pathetic (compared to Ukraine, they seem on the ball and ahead of schedule) I come to wonder if Poland is really, truly jazzed about it.
My unscientific, broadly assumptive survey consists of me talking to my students. I interrogate them about their feelings about the Euro 2012, Widzew vs. Legia, and soccer in general. Coming into Poland, I presumed that they would be nuts about soccer. Technically, they are. They have fans that riot and scream and yell, but the rub is, is that I haven't met any of them. I have had class after class, student after student, and all of them claim to apathetic to soccer in any way shape or form. Most couldn't care less about the Euro 2012; they think it'll be an embarrassment for Poland and a hassle with all those pesky tourists clogging up the roads and subway and spending their money. Their apathy is appalling. Fans of soccer they may not be, but they need to look around them and see the massive investment in Poland's infrastructure. Plus, this is the chance for Poland to take center stage (Ukraine will most likely be limping behind, partially in Poland's shadow in the limelight.) Already, the UEFA has threatened Ukraine that Poland might have to host the bulk of the matches (Poland has confirmed they are ready, willing, and able) if Ukraine doesn't pick up the pace. The National Stadium is being transformed from a crumbling pit that hosts a flea market to a big muddy pit to a beautiful new stadium.

The Poles put up more of a fight against each other than against invading Germans and Soviets. (Oh, that's right. I went there.)

To say that I don't know any fans is a lie. A low-down, dirty lie. I actually know one, and he's a huge fan of Widzew Lodz, and an even bigger fan of AC Milan. He gave me a Widzew Lodz scarf, which I proudly displayed in my room. I was warned to never wear it in Warsaw or else I'd "get my ass beat."
I was later informed that Poland has a "league" of fighting armies or whatever. A hundred half-naked fans of one soccer team meets in a field with a hundred equally-half-naked fans of a rival soccer team, and they proceed to do violence upon each other. Sounds fun. This truly brings hooliganism too a new level.
To be honest, with all this talk of hooligans, and the silence of apathy, the most raucous display of fandom was on a bus in Kraków: a few youths chanted "Jazda! Jazda! Jazda! Biala Gwiazda!" Nothing too out of the way of fans in New England chanting, "Yankees Suck!" on the subway, at concerts, at Red Sox vs. KC Royals games, inaugurations, and Ted Kennedy's funeral.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh, Euro

There is a big focus and scrutiny of the Euro these days. Many analysts are wondering if the decade-old mega-currency can actually survive this economic downturn. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and any other countries ready to step forward with their massive debts, have all cast a pall over their common currency. This leaves many questions for Poland, which is currently not in the Eurozone.
The Euro: The next world currency? Or resigned to the dustbin of economic history?

Poland, which was aiming to go over to the Euro in 2012 (just in time for the Euro Cup) probably won't any time soon. I can't blame them. It makes economic sense; many credit the Zloty for helping Poland be the only EU country not to head into recession.
See, the weakness of the Zloty makes Polish goods cheaper to foreign buyers, even for other EU countries (which use the Euro.) While a struggling country, like Ireland, has seen its costs of production rise with the Euro's strength, Poland's remain relatively low. It's the same strategy that the Chinese are using. Companies have responded by shifting a great deal of production to Poland (Dell, for one, moved its massive computer plant from Limerick to Lodz.) Poland and the Czech Republic recently overtook Italy for the amount of cars produced. The exchange rate of the Euro-Zloty can also have a effect on tourism. With the rise of the Euro against the dollar, the Americans have found that it's becoming more expensive to visit the typical places like France, Spain, and Italy. Tours to Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe (including Russia) have risen over 100% since the recession began. Medical tourism is also a small cash cow; many Germans pass over the border for dentist visits and such (don't expect many Brits to do that though; they just come for the strippers.)
A weak Zloty is not all good news though, it makes things like foreign imports (energy especially) more expensive. But, with all this production shifting to Poland anyway, that might just deaden the blow; that, and the fact that the Poles have accepted that foreign stuff is going to cost an arm and a leg.

Talking to people on the street, one may get the sense that they aren't really looking forward to the Euro. Many believe it will drive prices up (see: Cappuccino Effect) and that wages won't follow. Not all are against it, the Government is pro-Euro as are some businessmen. The cost of intra-European trade would decrease and become stable and predictable. Ask a Pole on the street what the greatest benefit the Euro would bring, and the answer would be, "I wouldn't have to change money when going to Ireland/Germany/Italy."

A Walk in Łazienki

Yesterday, I took a stroll to the Royal Baths. It's a full circle for me, since I first came to them in 2006 in the dead of winter (also in the evening.) I find them more enjoyable in the winter, covered in snow, since the people that usually come are smartly dressed and there are far fewer of them than in summer. The downside is that the botanical gardens are closed.
Some lovely couple asked me how to get to Belweder, which I was obliged to give. As a man, I naturally derive pleasure from two sources: A. Getting to a destination without asking directions (doubly if the route is inadequately marked.) B. Providing directions to others (especially when you're a bit of a stranger there yourself.) I was patting my back about it all the way around the pond.
There is no lack of fowl in the Baths this time of year. Aside from the common pigeon, the ever-present peacocks, and the ducks, many other birds are making noise in the canopy of the trees. I must admit, since I'm in Europe I do miss the call of the chickadee. Maybe some other bird in the Tit family (yes, there is a family of birds call tits) can fill that small, fluffy void. The birds that are citizens of the park show little fear to humans and meander right up to them in search of a meal. They make the swans and geese in the Boston Public Gardens look shy and bashful. A pair of ducks and some pigeons saddled right up to me, looking for a handout (I disappointed them, I'm afraid.)

Warsaw Warszawa Poland Winter snow Lazienki Łazienki Park

Warsaw Warszawa Poland Winter snow Lazienki Łazienki Park ducks
One of the couples strolling along the paths.

Warsaw Warszawa Poland Winter snow Lazienki Łazienki Park
From the Palace on the Lake.

Warsaw Warszawa Poland Winter snow Lazienki Łazienki Park peacocks
Feeding the some of the many peacocks. The woman and child were as brightly colored as the birds.



Monday, March 15, 2010

A Small Bit of Winter Wonderland

The recent late-winter snow blanketed the city in about three inches of wonderful whiteness. I took a small walk around and snapped a few shots (nothing too amazing; don't hold your breath.) But the sun was shining; the wind was blowing; the day was beautiful.warsaw warszawa  winter snow blizzard Poland

warsaw warszawa palac kultury i nauki winter snow blizzard Poland rotunda
The Palac.

warsaw warszawa palac kultury i nauki winter snow blizzard Poland centralna centrum
Warszawa Centralna (the most beautiful building in Warsaw.)

warsaw warszawa Poland polska winter snow blizzard park
A snowy park.

warsaw warszawa Poland polska winter snow blizzard park
Some middle school.

warsaw warszawa Poland polska winter snow blizzard park

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pre-Spring Whiteout!

The snow is coming down thick here and has reduced visibility substantially. It's not terribly cold outside and I don't expect this wonderful stuff (I'm a big fan of snow) to stick around very long.
The thing is, I wasn't here for most of the winter, which I heard was terrible by how cold and by how much snow they got. When I came here, it was near 60º and balmy; what was left of the snow disappeared within forty-eight hours of my arrival.

Anyway, here are some shots.
winter blizzard Poland warsaw warszawa snow storm city night
Right before I entered hyperspace.

winter blizzard Poland warsaw warszawa snow storm city night


winter blizzard Poland warsaw warszawa snow storm city night
A cozy warm feeling.

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day, everyone! Now go back some fucking pie!
In case you didn't know, the first three digits of Pi are 3.14. Today's date just happens to be March (3) fourteenth (14): 3.14.2010. The real Pi day happened some four-hundred years ago in 1592 (hey, 100 years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue!)
My best is the first sixteen digits: 3.141592653589793. There are others that can do it to tens of thousands of places (where do they find the time?)

Interestingly enough, they really don't have pies here in Poland, and are quite befuddled when I try to explain them.
"See, pies aren't quite like cakes. They're more like torts or tarts. You have a crust and you fill it with stuff and then you can put some more crust on top. For example, a pizza is a pie."
Then I send them off thinking that apple pie or pumpkin pie (staples of American desert cuisine) are hideous concoctions of pizza dough, sauce and said apples/pumpkins. I need to work on my explanations a bit.

Also, Pi is pronounced "pee" here, much to my eternal humor.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recipe: Szarlotka (Apple Cake)

A traditional layered apple cake that serves quite well as a coffee cake.

OK, but before we get started, I'm going to go off on the lack of vanilla extract here. In my baking, I usually use gallons of the stuff; here, they have aromat waniliowy (basically the scent of vanilla) and vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar works best because it actually has the vanilla flavor; the other stuff just makes your cake/cookies/pastry smell like vanilla (kind of stupid, right?) I haven't been able to procure some vanilla beans, so I'm stuck using packets of vanilla sugar.
Also, they do a lot of measuring by weight here (in metric too. Double whammy.) So I just converted it to English units.

1 lb of flour plus a little more
5.5 ounces of powdered sugar
5 egg yolks (or just use the whole egg.)
5.5 ounces of oil
5 ounces of butter
1 tsp baking powder (optional)
Dash of almond oil (optional)

3.5 lb of apples

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Combine everything but the apples and mix into a dough. Wrap the dough up and put it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Peel and shred the apples (mashing them into apple sauce also works.) Take about 2/3 the dough and spread evenly into a greased cake pan or baking dish. Spread the apples evenly on top of the dough.
Next, there are two ways of adding the remaining 1/3 of the dough. You can just spread it on and shove that sucker in the oven; or, shred the dough with a grated and sprinkle it atop the apples. Regardless of how you apply the top layer of dough, stick it in the oven for 30-45 minutes. After it's done, you can dust it with powdered sugar.

Recipe: Piegusek (Poppy Seed Cake)

This is a cake recipe that I've acquired recently and it is quite delicious. So, go and bake it. It's a little scant on baking instructions (it comes straight out a family's collection of recipes) but I'll try my best to guide it.

1 cup poppy seeds
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup oil
1 cup egg yolks (keep egg whites.)
1 cup sugar
Confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350º F. In a bowl, mix the poppy seeds with the oil; add yolks, flour, and baking soda. Knead dough. Whip the egg whites with the sugar and combine with the rest. Spread evenly in greased cake pan or baking dish, making sure that it has an even depth. Bake 30-45 minutes.

The piegusek can be cut into squares like a coffee cake and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Women's Day

Dudes and Dudettes, I totally forgot to write about Women's Day (March 8th.) Instead, I wrote about some poor, unlucky cow's tongue's taste.

Today is International Women's Day (Dzien Kobiet.) I think it used to be a bigger deal in Poland than it is now, but flower sales still hold steady. I read about how women used to usually take this day off or leave early (it was in my Polish text book) but I think that's generally discouraged these days (according to my sources.)


The usual gift for one's wife, mother, sister, or dziewczyna, is flowers and chocolate (maybe a trinket or two.)

Here's to all the XXs of the world.

May Day and Mothers' Day are next.

Jezyk/Ozorek

Recently, I attended a birthday/nameday (imieniny) gathering (it was for two different people.) It was maddeningly boring (a real marathon of dullness), but that's beside the point. The real humdinger of this event was the ozorek (beef tongue) that was served. Now, it might not be very special for many people, but in the US, beef tongue is not often served, so I was quite curious to try it.
I should note, that I—as a rule—don't eat offal of any sort (liver is especially repulsive. It's absolutely hideous in terms of texture, taste, and smell. It's the organ that filters out toxins from your body!) I was willing to try tongue on the basis that it's not an organ meat, but rather a muscle.
The ozorki were arranged on a plate with some horseradish sauce. It may be just the way that it was cooked, but they were dull brown and didn't at all look like tongues. They had a beefy taste (no surprise there) and they were very tender (imagine what a cooked tongue would have as a texture and that's what it's like.) I ate only one portion and didn't go for any more, but the experience wasn't unpleasant in any way. The horseradish sauce complimented it quite well.
The bottom line of it all is that, had no one told me that it was tongue, I would have never had known or guessed (and probably helped myself to more.) It's a food that can please even the most squeamish of eaters; just don't tell them it's a cow's tongue.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dla Dzieci

Recently, I was invited to attend a free kids' concert. It was on a Sunday, so I decided to saunter over and enjoy some music, comedy, and dancing. Boy, it was worth the excursion. It was mostly designed to introduce little children to classical music, but also medieval music. There was some story about a king and stuff, plus an introduction to some dance moves. The musicians broke apart their instruments and explained what they were, how they were played, and of what they were made. The parents even seemed to enjoy it.

Król Macius demands tribute from his knaves.

video
A small medieval dance with accompanying drum and tambourine.


Monday, March 1, 2010

For The Oympics

As the 2010 Vancouver Olympics draw to a close (shame, really) I guess I'll take the time to talk about Poland's sporting culture.

By far and away the most popular sport in Poland is soccer (as it is in most countries in the world.) Poland prides itself on its soccer team, which has seen less victories than any sports team in Detroit (in recent years.) It makes it to the World Cup and the Euro Cup (being hosted here in two years), but it usually never does any better than that. Sure, some decades ago they broke the top three, but the Poles haven't dominated like other nations.
Two sports, in which Poland has excelled, are handball and volleyball. Not really the most prestigious, but still admirable. In 2007, Poland lost to Germany (yet again, and how painful it all was) to get silver in the Handball World Championships.

One cannot talk about Polish sports and not talk about Adam Małysz. He's been one of the most successful ski jumpers of all time and is a minor national hero in Poland. He sports a roguish mustache and an equally-roguish soul patch to balance it out. He's a household name and has down an enormous service to popularize ski-jumping in this mostly-flat nation.

Oh, and Canada winning the gold last night? Shit sucks. (By the way, the stream I watched was a Polish stream.)

Poland's single gold medal of the Games came from Justyna Kowalczyk's 30 km classical cross-country skiing win. For the first part she wasn't dominating, and at the finish was an exciting, heart-stopping battle between her and Norway's Marit Bjoergen.

The thing is, Poland doesn't really invest very much into its athletes. Sure, they have their soccer heros, but those will most likely be drafted by a more prestigious league at better pay. Their minor athletes aren't groomed for greatness as they are in other countries; instead, one must first make it big and obtain sponsorships to be able to keep competing.

On the non-sport side, I think there was a guy shooting up heroin in the stairwell a few days ago. When I passed him going down, he was sitting on some steps and had spilled some of his things, including a hypodermic needle. I came back two hours later (this is like, 5 PM) and he was lying vertically on the steps (that can't feel good on his back) passed out. As I passed him, he kind of awoke and started some grunting or something.