Sunday, April 11, 2010

Plane Crash: After Effects: The First Few Hours

With the recent tragedy that has fallen upon Poland, the outpouring has been immediate. In downtown Warsaw, Polish flags are waving everywhere, each adorned with a black strip of mourning. In front of the Presidential Palace on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, a huge crowd of several thousand showed up. Piles of flowers and a small forest of candles flicker in the cold spring air.

The flags of Poland, the EU, and NATO fly at half-mast.

Flags of mourning fly everywhere.

…even from a sex shop.

I walked around to catch the general mood of the Poles in mourning. The people are quiet, barely talking above a whisper to themselves; some say prayers, others mutter to each other; a few brave souls sing hymns aloud, creating a ghostly sound as their voices waft over the crowd. The flower and candle sellers are doing a brisk business. Many people bring bouquets of tulips or roses to plant near the lions that guard the gates at the presidential palace. Others bring wreaths, scarves, or maybe just a single rose. As I said before, the mood was quiet and glum, but the amount of cameras is absolutely astonishing. Every other person is touting a big expensive SLR and snapping away with abandon; babci wave around their tiny Exilims, teens hold up their camera phones, and TV men shoulder massive TV cameras. A small armada of dish-adorned vans were parked in a neat row, with TV personalities grooming themselves before mobile spotlights.

I am curious as to whom these TV personalities are.

Guards march to-and-fro from the palace, while two scouts stand watch.

Some scouts near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before going to pay their respects.

I was approached by an Israeli journalist. He and his team were in Poland to cover the March of the Living on Monday. The March is a walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau and attracts thousands of Jews to Poland each year. We talked a bit, (he was very nice) and he was musing if it would lead to war (I said that it wouldn't; he didn't seem to seriously think that war was possible.) He brought up the 2006 invasion of Lebanon over two captured IDF soldiers; I pointed out that Poland wouldn't be dealing with Hezbollah, but rather Russia. A couple of others of his team came by and we chatted a bit before they left for food. I asked them what they thought of the Poles and they seemed to think the world of them, but they did note that they were 'cold' in their mourning.
The reporter from Israel (Haifa, to be exact, I believe he said.)

The crowd was swelling to enormous proportions (thousands and thousands.) A truck unloaded porta-potties (Toi Toi) while police cordoned off a small passageway into the palace. Cars with heavily tinted windows rolled by every-so-often, and the police habitually came by to push the crowd back. The police were polite and respectful (not angry or aggressive, as I've sometimes have seen.) No one was causing a ruckus.

Unloading toilets.

The crowd numbers in the thousands.

I shouldered up into the crowd, cameras were snapping off all around, and waited while the police opened up a passageway through the crowd. A few smartly-dressed soldiers marched in and out; every so often a car would drive either in or out of the palace; and finally, three men walked up to the crowd. The men drew reporters like a magnet drawing metal shavings; in an instant, they were swarmed with journalists shoving microphones near them and all the while sending off a storm of camera flashes. The man in the middle spoke a few words (none that I could hear) then headed back to the Palace with his menagerie of journalists in tow. A steady stream of press folk went to the palace entrance (under colonnade), where I presume there was an address of some sort. I didn't think quickly enough to whip out my Canon and try to make it in, but stood at the entrance a little longer. Regular people were allowed in on the far side, and exited on my side.

The media circus swarms around the Government men (I don't recognize them) for a brief announcement. (This sequence of photos takes place in about twenty seconds, to give you an idea.)

The supermarkets were packed. Crowds of people, much more than are usually there on Saturdays, are stocking up in case all the stores are closed on Sunday. A one-week period of mourning has been called, with a two-minute moment of silence at noon on Sunday.

Horns (sounding like air raid sirens) blasted for two minutes on Sunday at the time of the crash, and again at noon. They were to mark the passing of the President of Rzeczpospolita Polska and the nearly-100 other souls.

Some nuns (whom I had seen earlier at the palace) pray at the cross near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while a candle seller hawks his wares on Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

The forest of candles and flowers.