Saturday, July 24, 2010

When The Cat's Away…

A sight lacking from Warsaw is one of rats.  While they can be seen easily enough in pet stores, I've yet to see a nasty little rodent skittering around on the streets.  Even in their usual haunts—dark alleyways, trash bins, the subway—they are absent.
In New York City, the case is just about the opposite.  New York is infested with vermin.  Huge, brass-balled rats, hailing taxicabs, are a ubiquitous sight on Manhattan.  Descend into the Hades that is the subway, and look at the tracks (this goes for Boston as well.)  You'll see a horde of hungry rats and mice squeaking and squealing over any scrap of food they can find.  When I stayed with my brother and my cousin in their apartments in Roxbury, they had to lock up food like ramen for fear of the mice.  Mice actually went into my backpack and gnawed on several of my E. Wedel chocolate bars (which I was saving for my grandma.)  How horrible is that?
Well, Warsaw doesn't really have this problem.  Oh, I am sure that someplace there is an apartment building with a mice problem, or a nest of rats infesting some poor sucker's house, but for the most part, Warsaw is clear.  How is this miracle?  Cats.  Lots of cats.
Poles love their dogs and their cats.  Moscow may be the city of stray dogs (these dogs famously take the subway into the center to find food during the day, then take it out to the 'burbs in the evening) but Warsaw is the city of cats.  Stray cats are everywhere and are generally cared for by the population.  One babcia I knew set up a small kiddy tent and provided the herd of cats (about fifteen) with food and water every day.  Her care enabled the cats to breed and produce more and more kittens, which in turn needed more care.  BUT, they wasn't a mouse or rat or other nasty little rodent in sight.  The Warsaw Metro?  Clear as clear can be.  Many business parks and apartment complexes have a few cats hanging around that are generally fed and taken care of by the occupants.  It's not uncommon to see as few kitties tousling about near a stack of office buildings or sitting and watching beneath a bush or shrub.

My (deceased, may blessings of peace and love be upon her) cat here showing the true power of the feline by downing a rabbit.  (Maine Coon cats are not to be trifled with.)

I can attest to the power of having a cat to free yourself of all other little invaders.  My own cat, Patches (who recently passed away after seventeen years), kept our property clear of squirrels and chipmunks (as well as songbirds.)  We used to walk about in the yard and find furry tails of squirrels (that would be all that was left of them: a tail attached to nothing.)  Her passing has enabled the songbirds to return, and hence our house is now dotted with nests.
For all of you that suffer from finding greasy paw prints on your stove in the morning, or wake up to see that some little bastard has nibbled at your bread: get a kitty.  It's what Warsaw has decided to do, and so far it's worked for them.

A cat in Szczecin stands guard and keeps the castle clear.

A kitty sleeps in Lazienki (look at his little tail flopping down between the boards of the bench!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Warsaw: Not So Gay

In the wake of last week's EuroPride 2010, I was able to prod the Poles I know on their opinions and views.  One Pole actually marched in the parade; another Pole warned me beforehand not to be 'converted'; but most Poles afterward were rather ambivalent.  Many discussed how they didn't hate gay people, stating that they were OK around gays and thought they should have equal rights (sometimes, including marriage.)  Most, were rather skeptical of the gay-pride parade, wondering why anyone would "be proud to have sex with another man."  (I, playing devil's advocate, pointed out St. Patrick's Day parades and why anyone would be proud of being Irish.)  The whole point of the parade was called into question and there were calls for the gays to "go back to Berlin."  (I also pointed out that the Love Parade was not a gay-pride parade.)  Almost to a T, they all stated that gays ought not to be able to adopt children, claiming that two daddies would confuse the child and that it was unnatural.
So it is, Warsaw (and Poland) really isn't that gay or that welcoming to gays.  Sure, there are a few gay clubs (it was news to me too) and probably plenty of gays living in Warsaw, but many gays have left Poland for places like the UK, Germany, and Norway (where many Poles go anyway to get educated and for work.)  Even sponsorship of the parade was mostly muted.
Now, don't get the wrong idea, Warsaw isn't the most open city towards GLBT, but they aren't the most closed (maybe Moscow takes that trophy.)  Many Poles are tolerable and probably couldn't care less; it's more of the whole marriage/adoption thing they oppose.  They may be put off by drag queens dancing to samba music, or by the sight of two fellows necking, but to most, it doesn't exactly stir feelings of hatred or anger.
As for the future, I say things are probably going to change and loosen up a little.  Deeper contact with the EU and the exchange of ideas will change the society bit by bit.  Let's see what happens in twenty years.

(NOTE:  My own opinions are kept under wraps.  I am only putting what others said to me into context.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Warsaw Cleans Up Its Act (And Becomes The Capital of Cleanliness)

Warsaw has declared war on dog poop and litterbugs, two of the cities prominent institutions.  Actually, while Warsaw was never terrible for litter (unlike Ireland, see here what I mean) it was 'notorious' for its lax standards towards dog shit.  Warsaw is a very green city and most denizens live rather close to sort of park or street lined with grass.  Dog droppings are almost universally tolerated and I have almost never seen anyone pick up after his dog.  Many of the city's parks are virtual leach fields.  It can be a little gross after the the snow melts and all the frozen turds lying in the snow speckle the ground.  That's all changed.
My guess is that with the impending EuroCup 2012, Warsaw is trying to shed its image of being a gray, dirty city full of depressing, backward people (see the previous post on allowing the EuroPride march.)  Well, we can't say that every effort to improve is because of the EuroCup (and this one would probably have happened sans tournament anyway, but I'm sure it helps.)  So, dotted along its main streets, where people are apt to walk their canines, are stations offering free poop baggies and a place to dispose of them.

For those of you who didn't know how it's done.

Poop, all gone.

Dog owners aren't the only ones being told to clean up their act: litterbugs and non-recyclers have also come under fire.  The city has erected cans with different depositories for clear glass, colored glass, paper, and plastic, in an effort to be a little more environmentally conscious (I do believe these are also funded by Norway Grants.  Thank you, Norway.)  The stations have appeared outside almost all the metro exits (there are no trash cans in the metro stations or on the metro platforms themselves.)
Warsaw is the capital of cleanliness.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Warsaw Is Totally Gay!!!

This weekend has brought the climax of EuroPride 2010 to Warsaw.  Today's parade kicked off at Plac Bankowy and ended up at Plac Konstytucji, after making a detour.  The watchers and paraders braved scorching heat (I felt sorry for all those police in their heavy black uniforms) to light up the streets of Warsaw with a bit of fabulousness.  Now, I didn't catch the whole thing, but I was able to watch it right by Swietokrzyska.
All and all, it was much smaller and tame than most gay-pride parades.  Sure, there were a few drag queens dancing, a few others were dressed in skimpy costumes, and one fellow dressed like a devil in front of a banner saying "Catholics we love you"[sic] (plus a who line of sailors.)  But, there weren't hordes of leather daddies, performers simulating sex acts, or any symbols that were overtly sexual.  (For something funny, I would recommend The Onion article on this.)  Most walkers were clothed, giving the impression of being normal members of society and not sexual deviants.  Something like that can be hard in a place like Poland, which—although make long strides—is still a relatively conservative country.  Lech Kaczynski shut down Warsaw's gay pride parade in 2005 as the mayor.  (NOTE:  While Poland may not be the most welcoming place for gays and lesbians, Russia is even worse.  Last I heard, the Moscow gay-pride parade was broken up violently by police.  Also, I, the author, know several gay and lesbian Poles who live in Poland (even outside of Warsaw) openly and unmolested.)

A parader leads the pack as a modern-day gay hussar.

There were so many policje there, I was hoping that criminals were taking the day off to watch the parade.  Riot police in full riot gear stood in clumps right near Centrum (I felt bad for them; they must have been dying of the heat.)  The police had to call up extras, who seemed to be volunteers, who wore street clothes with a fluorescent Policja jacket and looked like they had never even driven past a police academy.  I am sure without the police presence, the scene could have spiraled out of control.  As it was, some people had to be arrested for attacking some of the marchers and throwing bottles and eggs at them.

Groups of police watch over the parade.

The parade was flanked on both sides with policemen for its entire length.

Riot police in the hot, hot sun.

Say what you want about gays, but they know how to get down and party.  The Irish endorse heavy alcohol consumption every 17th of March, and the gays dancing to techno music so loud it makes your eyeballs bleed.  Also, they endorse looking fashionable and fabulous, condoms, and having sex with those of your own sex.  With dance music blaring from speakers to keep the crowd and the marchers in party mood (it does make you move) the parade rolled down Marszalkowska until the intersection with Aleje Jerozolimskie.  Many of the marchers held the annoying vuvuzelas which they honked endlessly like car alarms during a lightning storm.  I was unable to enjoy The Village People's greatest hits because at any one time twenty people within earshot were blowing into the horrible plastic tubes.  Oh, FIFA South Africa 2010, what have you wrought upon the world?

Not everyone was glad for the EuroPride2010

They are just begging for conflict with this one.

The London Gay Men's Chorus.

Drag queens show off their stuff.

All the way from the Big Apple.

For the rest of the weekend it's one party after another.  Most of the events have run their course, but the final party showdown must also happen to close out EuroPride 2010.  It was a fun time had by most, but enough with those fucking vuvuzelas.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Warsaw's Gay!!!

That's right: gay, gay, gay, gay, gay.

Actually, on the 17th of July, there will be the EuroPride2010 parade in Warsaw.  A few years back, Lech Kaczynski quashed what would have been Poland's gay pride parade, but these days, the gayness is in full swing.  The gay festival has actually been in full swing since the beginning of July (NOTE:  I haven't been around much this July, so I haven't noticed it much.)
There has already been a large exhibit at the Museum Narodowe on Homo Erotica.  There was a big film festival, and after the parade it's party, party, party throughout the weekend.  Seriously.  It looks like it's going to be nuts.  Check out the calendar of events.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Polonia Seeps Into Everything

I have just come back to Warsaw on the best plane trip I can yet remember.  The seven-hour flight from Boston to Madrid flew by (pun intended.)  Maybe it was because I was in a good mood to be escaping the heat wave on the East Coast, maybe it was because I had an entire four-seat row to myself.  In any case, the hop from Boston to Madrid, then from Madrid to Warsaw went as smooth as can be.

I was Stateside for a wedding (one of the best I attended.)  Even though it was an American-German wedding (the bride was from Germany), I found little parts of Poland.  For instance, I recently purchased a mug for my mother.  It was traditional Polish pottery, hand-painted, etc.  While we were guests for the wedding, I found a mug in the cabinet that was not only the same type (same shape) of mug that I had gotten my mother, it was from the same set!  It was painted with the same design of flowers and such.  Further inspection, and inspection of the groom's cabinets, showed plenty more of these Polish mugs.
In both Boston and New York, there are statues to some of Poland's national heros: King Wladyslaw Jagiello and Tadeusz Kosciuszko.  It seems that Polonia (the name for the Polish Diaspora) has left its mark all over the place.  At least in the places I visited in ten days.

While in Boston, I met numerous people who all reacted in the same few ways: "I'm of Polish heritage."  "I just spent the last few days with Polish people."  "Warsaw?  Where is that?"  It's nice to be able to connect to people in such a way.

While in New York City, I really thought about the differences between the largest city in the US and the largest city in Poland.  Poles not from Warsaw often complain that Warsaw is fast-paced, dirty, the people unwelcoming, the traffic terrible.  Compared to Manhattan, Warsaw is a green, quaint, sleepy hamlet.  Manhattan is dirty; the roads are shitty; the traffic is unbelievable; the amount of homeless is depressing.  The cramped, traffic-clogged roads of Manhattan are a far cry from the relatively broad, seemingly-empty roads of Warsaw (NOTE: This does not apply to the Old Town.)
Brooklyn is has the neighborhood of Greenpoint (where, the brother of this author lives.)  It's been described as the Polishtown of New York, with the signs being in Polish and everyone speaking in Polish and ignoring those who actually speak in English.  My brother summed it up as: "It's the only place where I've seen a man stumble out of a bar cannot-stand-up-drunk at like three in the afternoon.  On a Wednesday."  (Plans to upload pictures of Greenpoint are presently stalled.  They will be uploaded later.)

Statues to King Wladyslaw and Kosciuszko in Central Park and Boston Commons respectively.

The Polish Consulate in New York City.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stateside for the 4th

A bit 'o news:  I'm spending the 4th of July in the States for the first time since 2007.  I'll be heading back to Poland pretty soon, but I'm glad to celebrate this holiday proper style (food, beer, fireworks.)

Pic related: it's the hamburgers I made in 2007 (inside-out cheeseburgers.  They each have about a pound-and-a-half of meat.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Taps and Springs

Polish tap water is notorious for being undrinkable.  At least, that's what all the Poles say.  Poles buy an inordinate amount of bottled water.  The water that comes out of the faucets in Poland is used for almost everything besides drinking straight (they will, however, drink it after it's been boiled.)  Coming from a place where we had perfectly good well water, and thinking there is nothing better than an ice-cold glass of water after a run (from the tap, of course) this has stressed me much.  Long have I suffered lugging those five-liter bottles from the store up the stairs.

Now, I've only recently discovered that not to far from me is a public spring.  Much like public water fountains, these are basically taps providing clean, free water.  The one I had previously known was in Powsin, a bit far away for me to lug the seven five/six-liter bottles back to the apartment.  People from all around bring their empty water bottles to fill up on the water (especially near holidays.)  The springs cut down on our water bills (since the garden is a bit thirsty this year) but also allow us to purchase less water in the stores.  We don't drink the water from the bottles unless it's been boiled (since it's usually sitting around in the bottles at room temperature for a few days) but it's perfect for cooking and making tea.

Filling up at the tap.