Friday, June 17, 2011

Strawberry Time!

One thing I must say about Northern Europe, the produce comes to market far earlier than I am used to.
I come from a place where strawberries are only beginning in mid-June and are full fledged in the beginning of July.  In Poland, strawberries burst onto the scene in late May and early June.  Soon, every peddler on the street is hawking baskets of strawberries upon strawberries.  Cherries will follow in the coming weeks, and I am looking forward to that.
Selling strawberries out of a van.
 A traditional way to prepare the strawberries (besides jams and jellies) is to hull them, cut them, sprinkle them with sugar so they form a tart, sweet, chunky sauce of sorts.  This versatile way of prepping the strawberries allows them to be ladled over nalesniki (crepes) stuffed with cheese, put into fruit smoothies, and mixed with yogurt and cream and eaten with pasta.
Fresh-bought strawberries ready to be washed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Polish Way to Ask Questions

One aspect of Polish culture is its rather indirectness.  They are rarely blunt and have an irritating way of asking questions that take a few moments' thought to figure out what exactly they are asking.  It's all in an attempt to play down awkwardness, but if you aren't used to it, you will find it infuriating.
Poles will be more likely to ask if "you don't need anything."  This, typically, would be seen as rather rude in many other cultures, implying that the one asking is hoping there no immediate needs as it would be a bother to him.  It's actually implying that the inquired-about is not helpless and can manage on his own, but it also leaves open a small polite door for the petition of assistance.  Another example is "Tell me about the girl/boyfriend you don't have."  This seems like a convoluted, illogical statement (and it is), but it's Polish for "Why are you single?"  Now, a direct "Why are you single?" is probably a faux pas in many cultures, and this is just how they skirt the issue.
I have found the best way to settle these throw-you-for-a-loop questions is to tackle them head-on.  When a Pole asks a stumper, just reply with a, "Are you asking what my father does?  He's a lawyer."  (NOTE:  The author's father is not in the legal profession.)  After being confronted with evidence of their sly mind-bending inquiries, the Pole will most likely look a little sheepish and say, "Yes, I am [asking that]."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Little Bit of the Countryside

I know many think that the Polish countryside is nothing really to look at.  It's true that it doesn't exactly conjure up the image of delightful little medieval hamlets as one would find in Germany, France, and Britain; however, some flashes of quaintness are apt to appear.  Recently, I was on a ride through the outskirts near southern Warsaw, so I snapped a few pictures here and there.  One thing can be said for the outlying areas: they have shitloads of hardware stores and fabric shops.

While there are farms that dot the area, they are not as picturesque as one would hope.  Maybe it was the route I took, or that I didn't delve deeper into the countryside, but it is a little underwhelming.  Common complaints are a lack of building codes or regulated construction, or scars left over from an aborted attempt at collectivization.  Oh, and a few massive wars that eliminated any sort of old cozy collection of buildings.

Tilling a plot with a horse.  I was moving too quickly to get a clear shot.

A carpet of poppies and (I think) forget-me-nots in a field.

Drinking outside a general store.

More fields.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Recipe: Spicy Pickles (Ostre Ogorki Konserwowe)

While eating lunch at work, I noticed a coworker had sliced spicy pickles.  He offered me a taste, and I found them quite pleasing, and duly asked him for his recipe.  Later, he sent me the recipe his mother uses (who made the pickles), and now I pass it off to you.  Enjoy.

2.5 kg of cucumbers
0.5 kg of sugar
1 cup of water
1 cup of vinegar
8 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons sweet paprika powder
2 tablespoons hot pepper (cayenne) powder
4 tablespoons salt
1.5 cloves garlic

1) Cut the cucumbers and cover with salt Let stand until water leeches out of the cucumbers. Pour off water.
2) Boil all remaining ingredients.
3) Cut cucumbers, put into a jar(s), pour in marinade mixture, and leave overnight.
4) The next day, screw on the caps to the jars and boil to seal (canning process.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sense, This Makes None

While this is a fine advertisement, do you think they really needed to place two billboards right next to each other?  Did Calzedonia pay for X-amount of billboards (or by square feet) and the companies that owned these boards were just lazy  ("Fuck it, let's just put 'em both right here.") or was this area of the city a potential gold mine of swimsuit buyers?

A very good optimization of ad space

Speaking of advertising, go ahead, click 'em.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

He Hath Come

As the British were quite confused and a little amazed that Royal Fever caught on in the States before the Royal Wedding, I too stood a little confused at the general excitement that President Obama was coming to visit.  I've referred to Obama several times in this blog (only in jokes, actually), but this is the first time I'll take a semi-serious crack at what it means.  In reality, it means almost nothing.  He was here for twenty-two hours, and during that time parts of the city were shut down.  Obama's visit came when Poland is holding the rotating EU presidency, and the general feeling in Europe and around the globe is that Poland really is one of the few countries in the world (in more so in Europe) that has its shit together.  Just look at the comparison between Poland and Ukraine for readiness for the EuroCup.

Granted, not all Poles were enthusiastic about Obama's visit.  To them, it meant that several important arteries were going to be blocked off for three hours at a time, making it so they couldn't get home after work.  But, to others, it meant that the most powerful man in the world was gracing Poland with his presence at long last.  (NOTE:  The Poles were snubbed when Obama failed to show at the Kaczyncy's funeral, choosing to go golfing instead (that volcano eruption was to blame.))  The Poles have long felt that the US has ignored them for a long time and not lived up to its end of the deals (Iraq, Afghanistan.)  They saw this as an opportunity for Obama to set things right.
He gave vague promises that the visa restrictions for Poland would be lifted; he praised Polish democracy (something the Germans would never do (this is a joke for those who don't get it.  Look up what a 'Polish Parliament" is.)); he pointed his finger and Byelarus, a country no one particularly cares about, and said that they muffed things up; he also said/did some other things I have not recounted on this page.

Overall, I'm pretty bummed I missed out on a chance to see the VC-25, but I did get to see a snazzy C-17 that preceded the visit (no picture, sorry.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Most Glorious Spring

Spring has sprung in Poland.  It sprang over a month ago at the end of April.  There were balmy, sunny days in the high-sixties with a slight breeze.  You could walk outside in a T-shirt, but not sweat (and no bugs!)  For one night in the beginning of May, we had a snowstorm.  It howled and everyone was impressed, but left no snow on the ground.  Hopefully, it killed off all the bugs, so black flies and mosquitos will be significantly less pesky this year (one can always hope.)
Now, it's raging into full-on summer.  I've just come inside from the glaring sunshine (reading on the balcony.  I have Kapuscinski's Imperium.)  Coming inside and letting your eyes adjust is something actually rather strange.  It's as if you're wearing sunglasses inside, everything is unnaturally shade.  Then, as the pupils dilate and open up, everything becomes more clear.  The human body is such a neat and wonderful thing.

The noueveau-style of apartment blocks with rooftop terraces and gardens.

Enjoying the sunshine.
The lilacs!  Oooooh, the lilacs.  Heavenly they are.  And this spring they are out in full glory.  Each bush is weighed down under the bunches upon bunches upon bunches or wonderfully scented lilacs.  I often pick them at work and welcome anyone to smell them.  Sometimes, I compose poems and verses about them.

Lilacs come in a variety of colors and scents.

The lilac bunch up close.

The bushes are filled with them.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Noc Muzeów

The brilliant idea of Noc Muzeów (Night of the Museums)  provides an excellent opportunity to get out and take in some serious culture in a light and fun atmosphere.  It's something I've never seen anywhere else, which is a pity, because the whole idea of it is pretty cool.  It's my second time taking part (please see my previous post); however, due to some circumstances I pretty much saw the same exact thing as last year.  Also, my night ended early and tragically sober.
Noc Muzeów helps bring people out and experience their own culture, and gives them a reason to visit museums they normally wouldn't see.  It's before all the tourists come and clog the museums up anyway.  The timing is pretty much perfect: the time before everyone leaves the city for vacation but it's usually warm enough to enjoy a night on the town.  In Warsaw proper (although, the event was held across Poland), they were using it as a push for having Warsaw be the Capital of Culture in 2016.

The line to get into Museum Narodowy.
So, I went to the Museum Narodowy and the Museum Wojska Polskiego.  Bitwa pod Grunwaldem was again not on show, and that kind of sucked.  The line to the National Museum was long, but moved along at a good clip.  I waited in line fifteen minutes.  The Military Museum had some new equipment on show, plus they were letting people climb into the cockpits of various planes and helicopters.
Since my last run-in with the Straz Miejska, I have been awfully wary about drinking in public.  So, I viewed these two museums stone-cold sober.

You could sit in the cockpit of the MiG-29

Polish resistance reenactors.

Plac Zamkowy
The whole experience of Noc Muzeów is a festive one.  There were percussion bands playing on the street; there were people partying hardcore in the trams; there were people singing hymns in front of the presidential palace.
As the night gets longer, so do the lines.  The museums fill up with people and everything moves more slowly.  Most people only see two or three museums tops.  If you went to the Copernicus Center, you probably waited in line for hours upon end and saw only that (I didn't even attempt to do so.)

An old Double-Decker (straight from Londontown).

The An-24.
It's not just museums that were open this night.  Everything from libraries to the National Mint to police stations were open for visits.  The Warsaw University Library did close pretty early, which irked me as I was about to go there.  I can only hope this wildly successful idea is picked up and imitated elsewhere.

At the start of the line.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Old school Polish elevators are something of a curiosity.  They are prevalent in the old blocks, even if one thinks that they violate basic safety codes.  Instead of two doors, these old lifts have a single door that opens outward (it's kind of like walking into a small closet that ascends.)  When the door closes, the elevator rises without an inner door, so you can see the wall climb.  A favorite pastime is to see how fast you can write graffiti on the space between floors before it pass you by.

The new elevators are pretty typical, like you would see anywhere.  Like most things these days—from your toaster to your fridge to your car—they are controlled by microchips that run certain algorithms.  These algorithms, however, are actually pretty shitty and could use a good tune up (imagine your toaster either scorching your bread or barely warming it.  You would say, "What a crappy purchase.  I need a new one.")  Many times have I encountered two elevators side-by-side, that respond to the same button.  Ideally, you would press the button and the elevator that would take you to your destination the quickest and most efficiently would open up and take you (e.g. if you wanted to go down, an already-descending one would pick you up on the way.)  That's not how it works.  Press the button and usually nothing will happen for a space of time, before the least logical choice slowly comes to your floor.  Have an elevator that's one floor away and not carrying anyone?  You're going to have to wait for the one that's thirteen floors away go up in the opposite direction, pick someone up, and then go down to the parking garage, then come to you, all the while the other elevator patiently waits at its floor.  As I said, these elevators need tune ups.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dzialki City

There are spots on the fringes of Warsaw (and most other Polish cities) that harbor vast tracts of land devoted to recreational relaxation.  Dzialki and gardens make up tiny cities within the city.  They turn urban areas into countryside within the space of a few blocks.  Almost every family has a dzialka (sometimes two.)  They are visited in the summer for R&R, but also to grow veggies for the Polish passions of canning, pickling, and eating fresh.

A reservoir on a tin roof.

Grape vines cover a window.

No spare space is wasted on these tiny plots of land; everything is crammed in: fruit trees, raspberry bushes, zucchinis, and—of course—flowers.
Most dzialki have a small cottage on them.  They're more like sheds, often not more than one or two rooms.  Others are complete with plumbing and lofts or second stories for sleeping and kitchens.  It is not unknown for some poorer families to live year round on their dzialki.  Some become farcical mimics of American suburbia, complete with unnaturally lush lawns, mini garages, and vinyl siding.  Their owners strut out in the boiling sun cutting grass on a plot the size of a large party tent.

In Communist times, it used to be that every worker had the right to a dzialka.  The worker could use it, but he could never sell it or pass it off, making the plot more of company (i.e. government) land than a worker's personal plot.  These dzialki sometimes were in prime real estate in the midst of a city.  Now, ownership has reverted to the workers (most are now retired) and developers are snapping them up to put in new blocks and business parks.
Last year, the floods effectively wiped out all the dzialki on the banks of the Wisla.  People came to spruce up the spring garden, only to find an unrecognizable plot of mud and debris.
It's not that dzialki are endangered or going away.  There are still plenty of them, it's just that more and more they are being pushed to the skirmishes of the cities or out of the city proper all together.  People, searching for larger and more opulent dzialki, are buying expensive camps and cottages far outside the cities or districts.  Mazury is a particularly popular place (not just for its lakes and forests.)
One a different note, some wise in the ways of business have learned to use their dzialki for financial gain.  No, they are not selling their veggies (you couldn't make much off that), but there are other ways.  One particular way is to buy up a field or two, then put sheep on it.  See, the EU pays each farmer per head of sheep, so you immediately start making money from the little lambs wandering around on your fields.  Then, once a year you can hire someone to shear the sheep, and profit off the wool.  The proceeds can go to buying more heads of sheep.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Few Notes on Jokes

Working and living in a foreign country can be quite a challenge.  Not the least by the conformity you must undergo, and obstacles with language and culture, plus differences in work place laws (learning about Polish/EU labor laws has really been eye-opening for me.)  One of the largest gaps I find hardest to bridge is that of humor.
Now, one of the first things foreigners notice about Poles is their apparent lack of joy (the Poles will admit this themselves) and their totally cynical, depressing view on the world.  This is a pretty broad brush with which to paint the whole Polish Nation, and I don't endorse the view 100%, but it has been brought to my attention.  Humor, it may seem, is pretty hard to root out; it's hidden away in some deep, dark spot in the Polish national consciousness.
It turns out, that there is humor (I wrote about a joke or two I learned some years back.)  But the gap between American and English humor and Polish humor is wide and deep.  I don't get 99% of their jokes and they are more likely to get indignant about my jokes than anything else.  It happens quite often that a co-worker will say something witty and clever and the whole office will burst into reams of laughter, workers shaking with tears streaming down their faces, while I sit at my desk and wonder, "Was a funny just made?  Guess this one is a little over my head."  Being the odd man out is no fun.

I've given up telling jokes to these people.  It mostly ends up with quizzical faces, shaking heads, and a muttering in Polish I don't understand.  But, I haven't given up trying to grasp the essence of Polish humor. So, every-so-often, I ask around for a joke, or by happenstance I get to hear one that I can actually make sense of.

Here's one:  The foreman of a Polish construction site visited the site one day to see how progress was going.  To his dismay, there was very little built, but the workers were running back and forth with empty wheelbarrows, not bothering to load them up with materials.  When the foreman inquired why the workers were scurrying about without actually loading the barrows, the workers replied, "We're too busy."

I heard another, which involves Polish wordplay.  Now, everyone should know that I am a HUGE fan of puns and try to fit them into conversation whenever possible.  This does, usually, come out in the form of innuendo, which is has gotten me in trouble more than once.

Kto ma jaja w Stanach?
(Who has the eggs (balls) in the States?)

(Obama.  Oba ma is Polish for "He has both".  The pun is on Obama's name.)

Pretty clever.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Odyssey Through the Ukrainian Metropolises and Hinterlands

For those who haven't gone through the ritual of getting a residency permit renewed, it can be a total bitch.  Recently, I had to embark on a journey to Ukraine, the nearest non-Schengen country that didn't require me to obtain a visa to visit.  I was told by the Foreigners' Urzad (bureau/office) that I needed to leave Poland on or before the 31st (the date of expiration for my current residency permit) and come back no sooner that the 1st of April.  So, I chose to go to Ukraine.

Long before I had even started out, people were warning me about how it wasn't the best idea to drive to Ukraine.  Numerous people stressed that going by car was dangerous and a long long wait.  They told me how I'd probably have to bribe the guards; that the line of traffic to cross the border was miles long and would take hours (days even!) to go through; that going by bus was faster and safer; and that I might end up in a holding cell somewhere. I passed it all off as typical hysteria by people who had never even crossed the border themselves, not even to go to Lwów (actually, one person had done that, and by car.)

So, we started out from Warsaw at 8:00 PM, heading towards the eastern border with Ukraine (about a 3.5-hour drive or 155 miles.)  We went first through Lublin, and then to Chelm (Hkhe-weh-mmm).  The drive was pretty uneventful, but at night so it's not like I could enjoy the passing Polish countryside.  We only stopped once at a gas station to put oil in the car and for my companion to buy a Coke.  We did pass a big industrial site near the border that was full of lights, and I surmised it might be a gas facility for the pipelines that cross Ukraine from Russia.  I dug a little deeper (later) and found that no gas pipeline crosses from Ukraine to Poland, only from Belarus to Poland.
We got to the border crossing at 11:30.  About three miles from the border station we start seeing all these trucks pulled over to the side of the road.  Three miles of parked trucks on the side of the road later, we pulled within 'sight' of the Polish customs station.  The only problem is there is a huge line (several hours' wait) and I need to get a stamp saying that I left the territory of the Republic of Poland before midnight.  There was a lane for buses and diplomatic traffic, and we tried that, but we were stopped by a border guard acting as traffic controller (you know those red cone-like wands air traffic controllers use?  He had one of those.)  So my companion is arguing with the guy, telling him my sob story and they guy just isn't having it and is becoming obviously annoyed.  So we turn around, and park in a pretty seedy looking parking lot nearby and start hoofing it on foot.
We walk back up to the traffic guy, who immediately tells us we can't just 'go for a walk' to the border station (about hundred yards away.)  My friend is just pestering the guy, like seriously pestering him, and the controller is just becoming exasperated.  We break off a little bit and ask a man in a truck (in the front of the line) how long he would have to wait, to which he replied "three hours."  That wasn't going to do.  Meanwhile, the traffic controller is telling cars to go through, but one of the drivers has fallen asleep at the wheel and the controller has to shine his flashlight into the window and knock on the guys windshield.  My friend again goes up to the guy and basically they work out that we can get in someone's car (at the front) and we can go to the station.  The controller talks to a guy in a small red VW Golf, and we get into his car.  There's a moment where we sit in there wondering what we're supposed to do (the driver included), and we're thinking, "Can we go?"  The controller looks at us and beckons angrily with his wand shouting a very exasperated "JEDŹ!" ("DRIVE!")  So, we drive up to the border control station and exit the car.  It's about 11:45 or so right now, and my companion immediately starts laying into some guard there, telling them my story, what needs to happen, what we're doing.  The guard is about as happy as the traffic guy, and he takes my passport, then passes us off to another guard.  The second guard may have been drunk, sleepy, or born a little to slow (or maybe any mix of the previous), but he definitely didn't have his shit together.  My friend starts trying to urge him, and he replies, irritated, "We still have eight minutes [before midnight]".
From the back seat of the nice fellow's Golf, heading into the guard station.
He carried my passport loosely in his hand, fumbling with his keys to get the door open to the guard booth.  He didn't have the key, so he walks back to the other office to get it and returns to open the door, take our documents, and cautiously go over mine, but also starts turning on the computer in the booth.  Another guard comes and together they leave to the other guard house, with my companion in tow.  The minutes tick by and it's past midnight, but they return.  My companion starts asking about what stamp they put in my passport, which they said, grumpily, "The 31st!".  I look at the stamped page in my passport and indeed it says that I left the Republic of Poland on 31-3-2011.  My companion let out a triumphant "Hurrah!"
The driver fellow, with whom we've been talking a bit, turns out to be a Ukrainian and quite pleasant.  He's passed through this border many times (poor him) and gives us plenty of information.  We ask the border guard if we can just go across to the opposite border station and re-enter Poland, and he replies, "No.  You must continue to Ukraine."  He gives a slip to the driver that says the car is clean and is carrying three passengers.
Now, this slip will become important later, because at another checkpoint right down the road, another guard will look at the slip, count the passengers, and wave the car on (and if you don't have the said-amount of passengers, you might just be in trouble.)
Anyway, we speed over the bridge and over the Bug River and pass into Ukraine.
The Ukrainian border station is exactly as you think it would be.  It looks like it hasn't changed since Soviet times, and the border guards are brusque and fit the exact stereotype of what you think a Ukrainian, Russian, or Belorussian border guard would be like.  They have the military fatigues and little fur hats with an Ukrainian emblem pin in the center.
We hand them our passports and start explaining things to an incredulous border guard.  Now, in my passport photo, I have long hair (it was taken five years ago), and now my hair is of more 'normal' length.  The border guard doesn't like this very much and stares at me for a very long time.  He starts barking questions in rapid, accented Polish, to which I can only say a little.  When my companion tries helping me, the guard tells him, "I didn't ask you, I asked him."  We explain about the stamp I need, and that we intend to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.  But, he's having a really hard time with my passport photo, so I hand him my (now-expired) karta pobytu (residency/identification card), in which I have a shaved head.  The guard exclaims something along the lines of "What's with your hair?!!!"  He left, then came back with another slightly older guard; he began flipping my passport under a black light to test for authenticity, then handed it to the new guard, who took and stared at it then at my face for no less than five minutes.  I had to practically stick my head into the window while the examined my face, then my passport and karta pobytu.  They began flipping through my passport again and asking me questions in a sharp pointed manner, stopping on my expired German visa.  They asked me questions like, what was I doing in Germany, when did I leave Germany, how long did I stay, all in a gruff, accusatory tone.  Finally, they stamp my passport and hand back all our identity documents.  My companion raids my wallet, saying that the 100zl bill I have there is too much, and grabs thirty zlotych and gives it to the driver.  The driver hops into his Golf and speeds off into the night.
The entire time I was there, I'm fighting the urge to pull out my camera and start snapping pictures.  But, my saner head prevails saying, "This is not the best time nor place to start photographing."  I still was able to snap a few dark pictures, which I had to edit a little to bring out any detail.
The guard exits the booth and we follow him into the main office.  This time, I wasn't sure what exactly was going on and I was thinking, "OK, they're probably going to search us and stuff."
We marched after the guard (and he walks exactly as you think he would walk) through a hallway and out into the checkpoint for people leaving Ukraine for Poland.  He walked right up to another booth, took our passports and immediately began explaining things to the guard in the booth.  They had great fun as they started laughing, also noting that my name is that of Michael Jordan's (a common thing here.)  There are burly Ukrainians swarming up around the booth.  The guard picked one, who was driving a large white commercial van, and basically said to him, "You're going to drive them across the border."  The poor guy wasn't too pleased about it, but before he could do anything the guard marked on his slip of paper that the van contained three passengers, forcing the man to take us at least to the final Ukrainian checkpoint, where another guard would scan the slip and count the persons in the vehicle.
So, we followed the man to the van and he cleared a whole bunch of shit off his front seats (it had three front seats) and he let us in.  Then he demanded to see our passports (who knows why!) and he examined each one by flipping through them.  While he was going through mine, I thought I might have to buy it back from him with the remaining 100zl bill I have.  That, or I might have to stab him, but one thing is certain:  I was getting my passport back.  He gave them both back.  Then, he drove as far as the duty free shop to buy some stuff (probably food for the continuing wait), then drove to the last check point, where the guard shined his flashlight into the cab of the van counting, "One, two, three.  OK."  And we drove another fifty yards before hitting another traffic jam.  We got out and thanked the hapless fellow for taking us this far and began to walk.

Crossing the Bug
I must admit, it was pretty cool walking across the bridge and the Bug (the actual border of the two countries.)  The entire road was bumper-to-bumper vehicles, all of them with Ukrainian plates.  There were cars, trucks, and vans. Cars with trailers containing what looked like whatever was rustled from an antique dealer's dumpster.  The cars themselves looked as if they were held together solely because their bolts had rusted into an indiscernible mass, and they were running on little more than a prayer (the icons that were present in almost every car couldn't have done any harm.)  Almost every car looked like some mechanic's nightmare (or wet dream).  The whole place smelled like burning rubber, burning oil, and unburned gasoline.  The average age of the cars there had to be no less than twenty years.

Crossing the Bug, see the cars.
We walked to another traffic controller, who told us that we could not walk to the border station, so we simply asked to fellows in a blue van.  They obliged and carried us as far as the station, where we got out and began to look for a booth to get stamped.  We wandered around for a bit, asking a border guard, who told us that we had to be in a vehicle to be processed; he suggested getting on one of the buses just for the ride over.  We tried two buses, but no luck.  We loitered a bit, then headed back to the line of cars, finally asking two Ukrainians in a white sedan if we could ride with them to be processed.  They agreed, so we hopped in and they drove twenty yards up and pulled over.  Everyone hopped out, leaving all doors open, popping the trunk and letting the Polish border guards search the vehicle and take our passports.  We got back in again and my companion and the two guys talked a bit.  It turned out that they had waited in line for ten hours and they were crossing the border to work unloading freight trucks.  The 2012 EuroCup was discussed, and I was forced again to listen to Ukrainian techno-pop on the radio.  I noticed that the procedure for examining cars went something like this:  A line of about eight cars pulled up and stopped.  Then, each car was inspected, started from the back of the line.  Once the front car was inspected, the cars would all drive off and another line would pull up.  We sat for maybe twenty minutes until the guards came back and we all had to jump out again, they searched the car (even popping the hood), then gave us back our passports and we drove off, handing the slip of paper to the last checkpoint, a female guard who counted the passengers of the car.  The lads were obliging enough to drop us off the entrance of the parking lot where we had left almost exactly two hours earlier.
I was surprised with all the burdensome processes involved in crossing the border.  For instance: the fact that every single car was inspected.  I was told later that this is mostly done to lock down on smuggling, specifically cigarettes.  One can buy a pack of cigarettes in Ukraine for about sixty cents, then take it to Poland and sell it for a greatly inflated price.  But Poland isn't usually the destination for cigarettes, because if you can make it to France of even England you can make a tidy profit.  As we were getting into our car in the parking lot, some man walked up to us holding a plastic grocery bag full of cigarettes trying to sell us them.  We drove away, and didn't even have to pay a parking fee; the parking attendant just let us ago.
A shot from the parking lot, looking at the border station, as we were about to leave.
And so, we drove back towards Warsaw, past all those trucks parked one after another on the side of the road.  About a half hour later, the rain came.  We arrived in Warsaw around 5 am, my usual waking time, and I got to get home, eat a small breakfast then head off to work.  I was in the Foreigners Urzad (office/bureau) by 11:00AM, passing in photocopies of my newly-stamped passport.  The lady accepting them was confused by the stamps that said I left Poland on the 31st, but arrived in Ukraine on the 1st, then left Ukraine on the 1st.  I said, "It was at midnight."  She nodded, then stamped the photocopies, accepted them and bid good day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Snow Time!

(NOTE:  This post was partially transcribed during my hiatus and is now edited and posted.)

Being no stranger to snow (and actually loving it dearly) I always enjoy it when the fluffy white stuff descends upon the city.  It sometimes happen, like this past weekend, when snow overstays its welcome.  

Anyway, this past winter definitely started out strong.  There was snow in November, the temperatures were plunging, and it looked like it's be a long, bone-biting winter.  Now, as someone who has lived in apartments that were in flagrant disregard of inspection and livability laws, I swore that I would never go cold through another winter.  My two last years in school were defined by being hungry and cold.  Oh, so cold.  It wasn't just that the electric heating was never on, and when it was it drove the electric bill upwards of $300, but the general lack of calories made it all the worse.  These days, with free heating, I walk around in my boxers in my apartment.  A howling blizzard may be roaring outside, and the icicles might be growing ever larger, but I sweat sitting down—that's how warm I am.

A 'well-plowed street'.

The winter, however, had not turned out as I had hoped.  By mid-December the snow was in retreated and the horrible reign of thirty-degree temperatures began.  It was more of a muddy brown Christmas than white.
Snow did come and go, but one thing I noticed was the general lack of plowing on Warsaw's minor roads, driveways, and parking lots.  It seemed up the commuters themselves to hopeless grind away rubber in attempts move (I did lend a hand to a struggling truck.)  This, of course, is all part of Poland's on-going war on tire treads.  They won't give up until ever vehicle is rolling around on dangerously bald wheels containing less rubber than a Durex® Ultra Thin Fetherlite®.  (Just a quick note: what a creepy way to spell feather light.  Fetherlite just looks poorly constructed, and I usually go for quality and pride of workmanship in this area.  It's not a purchase to downgrade just to save a few bucks.)

My snowman. The snow was so powdery soft.

The snowy park at night.

What winter turned into: a hazy, slushy world.

Besides the unplowed roads, the sidewalks were left as slick sheets of ice.  Coming from an extremely litigious country, where poking yourself in the eye with a screwdriver is an actual financial option, I was surprised by carelessness of the city to leave such horrendous walkways.  (NOTE:  Some law firms actually employ people to map every single crack on the sidewalks of New York, which are then submitted to the city.  The city can claim that if it doesn't know about the damage on the sidewalks, it can't be held responsible if people trip on them.  So, these mappers make sure that every crack is mapped, just so they can claim that the city knew about the cracks and did nothing (and makes the city financially liable when someone does trip on a crack.)  What a wonderful solution!)  Crampons were necessary to navigate these icy walks of terror.  In some places, sand was scattered or workers with wooden shovels hacked and shoveled the ice, but only on the most heavily trafficked of sidewalks.  Others were left gleaming and treacherous for the less nimble.

Practically a lawsuit in the making

I was a little disappointed with the winter, but then again, I shouldn't complain.  The US got hammered (bummer I wasn't there.)  Plus, I totally missed out on skiing.  Well shucks.  Anyway, spring is here and I have to finish planning my Easter menu.  Plus, I hope the frosts end early this year so I can get my zucchini and watermelon in the ground as soon as possible.

There was snow