Monday, 28 February 2011

Warsaw National Gallery - More

Entry is 12zl for the normal galleries, but free on Tuesdays.

Apart from The Bus, I also particularly recommend the gallery of Art from Ancient Times. The collection of art work on the vases is better than I remember from the British Museum. The Museum website has this example.

Non-flash photography is allowed, but, unless you have very stable hands, you will need a tripod for decent pictures. I didn't realise photography was allowed until late, but took a few pictures where I thought they might come out. One of these, balancing the camera on a chair, was of a dark, presumably uncleaned, picture that was not easy to make out in the light. I've noticed before how photography can enhance these, so I thought I'd try some quick restoration work. I don't know who it's by, but even the basic photo is an improvement.

Just using Picasa, I then straightened and cropped it and added a bit of shadow. Pretty good, I reckon.

I then used Picasa's neutral colour picker on the bright light. I suspect some of this colouring really results from the gallery lighting, but who knows?

Pretty good, anyway, but a little more adjustment might be need (or not, I'm not sure).

The picture in the gallery looked to the naked eye more like:

The Museum has, of course, a number of paintings by Jacek Malczewksi, possibly Poland's most lover painter, whose pictures are often great fun. One of several pictures of the same title, Śmierć (Death of) Eellenai I think this is the one in the Warsaw Museum.

I rather suspect that the range of Malczewski's works in Warsaw typifies the greatest weakness in Poland's national art and artefact collection, although it is at the same time, one of its greatest strengths. You can't really find a single place where you can go and appreciate the full range of the greatest works available. On the other hand, probably every major city has something worth visiting. How many pieces do the great public London Museums and Galleries have in storage?

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Crooked Forest in Nowe Czarnowo

I don't know what time I will have to write today, so I am just going to quickly steal a picture and claim I am advertising.

One of the problems in deciding which places to visit in Poland is that there are so many beautiful ones. There has to be a special hook to latch on to make me decide to go.

I was reading Kasia's Polish Blog post on Gryfino and got that 'no need to go so far away to see such things' feeling when I saw this photograph of the Crooked Forest in Nowe Czarnowo. See Kasia's post for more info.

I'm starting to get a list of places I have to visit in the wild west. Świebodzin, of course, and most important.

Żagan, location of the Great Escape.

Zielona Góra, birthplace of Marcin Głuchowski - a private thing. Actually, I am not aware of anything particularly special that I want to see there, but I would be quite interested in seeing the hill on which it stands - less than 200 metres in height - to see if there is any justification at all in translating its name into 'Green Mountain' rather than 'Green Hill' or 'Green Heights'. (I just spelt 'green' wrong three times for some reason.)

And now Nowe Czarnowo, not that Polish Wikipedia is encouraging.

Friday, 25 February 2011

On The Bus: Bronisław Wojciech Linke

We visited the National Museum (which also seems to be the National Gallery) in Warsaw. In the Polish Modern Art section I came across the painting, Autobus (Bus) by Bronisław Wojciech Linke. Tastes differ, of course, but I can only say that this is, for me, not only the greatest Polish painting I've ever seen, but also one of the world's finest.

If there is one priceless masterpiece I would want on my wall, this would be it. It needs to be looked at, studied and appreciated. It is complex, intriguing, fascinating and so full of images, both in terms of composition and meaning, that a small reproduction - the painting must be over 1 1/2 metres in width - cannot do it any justice. Look for the vague shape of a lemon in the picture below and then consider going to the gallery, where you will find a perfect, roughly life-sized, depiction of a lemon, the face of a ghoulish passenger.

Linke's place in international art seems to be minimal, if not non-existent. It may just be the vanity of my own tastes, but I would like to think that this results from western markets having little access to his work and no sales opportunities: an artist caught by the twin hangover of McCarthyite USA and communist Poland. The latter may be particularly unfair: the picture is included in a book I have on Polish Painting and, after all, it is there in the Museum. However, it is hung on the rear of a badly lit stand, in a modern art gallery more of interest for Polish art history than artistic quality. He doesn't even have an entry in English Wikipedia. A quick translation and slight adaptation of the Polish Wikipedia entry therefore follows.

Bronisław Wojciech Linke (born 23 April 1906 in Tartu, now in Estonia, died 6 October 1962 in Warsaw) – painter, illustrator and graphic artist, who produced pictures based on political and social themes.

As a child, he saw terrifying scenes during the Russian February Revolution of 1917, the subsequent German offensive and the Estonian War of Independence against both the Germans and Soviets (1918-1920). Living through such dramatic times bore so heavily on his imagination that, for the rest of the life, he pursued artistic themes exhibiting powerful social commitment and strong moralistic undertones.

Within newly independent Poland, he initially studied at Szkole Przemysłu Artystycznego (School of Artistic Trades) in 1922–1923 in Bydgoszcz, and 1924–1926 in Krakow under Henryk Uziembło, and then, 1926–1931, in Akademia Sztuk Pięknych (Acadmey of Fine Arts) in Warsaw under the guidance of painters Tadeusz Pruszkowski and Mieczysław Kotarbiński. He belonged to Loża Wolnomalarskiej (Freepainters' Lounge) and after the Second World War to the Powiśle group (Shores of the Vistula).

As a graphic artist, he made his debut in the columns of the weekly satirical magazine Szpilek ('Pin' or 'Stiletto Heel') in 1936 and worked as illustrator for Dziennik Ludowy (People's Journal), Nowe Życie (New Life), Sygnały (Signals), Tygodnika Robotnika (Worker's Weekly) and, after the war, with Polityka (Politics) and Trybuna Ludu (People's Tribune).

He created Cycles of work. His earliest Cycle of drawings was Wojna (War) (1931-32), followed by Miasto ('City' or 'Town') (1931-35).

He was friends with Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz with whom he journeyed in Silesia. A Cycle of 30 works entitled Śląsk (Silesia) resulted from this trip. In May 1938, an exhibition of the Cycle at the Instytut Propagandy Sztuki (Institute of Art Promotion) was shut down because of its potential social harm.

After the outbreak of World War II, he fled with his wife to Lviv (part of Poland taken over by the Soviets in September 1939, now part of the Ukraine), concerned about potential reprisal from the Germans for his press caricatures of Adolf Hitler. He was sent to Orsk on the river Ural in 1942, only managing to return to Poland in 1946.

After returning to Warsaw, he painted his most famous cycle, Kamienie krzyczą (Stones Shout), 1946-56. This was a terrifying vision of the ruins of the capital. Reproductions of work from the cycle were included in a 1959 book, Kamienie krzyczą with an introduction by Maria Dąbrowska.

He produced little in the post-war period because his art did not conform with the artistic climate of the time.

[Photo: Nie widzieć nie słyszeć (Don't See, Don't Hear), 1957 self-portrait from the Atom series.]

Linke's creations are sometimes accurately described as metaphorical realism. The essence of his art is a visualisation of literary metaphors. The composition of his images, and the way the cycles of pictures are constructed, have a remarkably narrative character.

Most of his work was done on paper. The performer combined watercolour, gouache, crayon, pencil and Indian ink, often scratching and wiping the surface of the paper, and employing collage.

One of the best known of Linke's works is the painting called Autobus (Bus), popularly known as Czerwony autobus (Red Bus) which was one of his last works, inspired by Stanisław Wyspianski's play, Wesele (The Wedding). Like the heroes of the Wedding, the characters in The Bus are slaves standing as an obstacle to their own liberation. The poet Jacek Kaczmarski dedicated his 1981 song Czerwony Autobus to the picture in 1981. Another well known picture by Linke is Modlitwa zamordowanych (The Prayer of the Murdered) from 1942.

A documentary film was made in 1991 with Bronisław Linke describing the world as he saw it. It was directed by Grzegorz Dubowski.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The life of a Slumdog Millionaire for 10zl

I'd heard about the film 'SlumDog Millionaire', but hadn't taken much interest. Looking in the newsagents on Monday, I saw that the magazine Viva! had a DVD film 'slumdog. milioner z ulicy'. It sounded familiar, but the title didn't mean much. Still, for 10zl, it was worth trying: the cover shows that it won 8 Oscars, including best film in 2009.

I really enjoyed it. A summary of the film is: A Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers. However, any description of the film will fail to do it justice: it will sound full of stereotypes, but the production manages to avoid cliche by treating children who grow up in slums as ordinary kids who will have fun in even the most appalling conditions - just the same as South Londoners in McDonald's. (See the last post, although the inter-connection was not planned.) Since the media, political activists and charities make their living out of presenting the slums as a place of abject misery and despair, the approach appears fresh and different.

The original language of the film is largely English, but there are some Hindi passages. I found myself looking at the Polish subtitles - perfect Polish is not needed. Indeed, I think I would have understood what was happening without help. (I vaguely recall that the UK version didn't have subtitles, but I may be wrong.)

Actually, although it didn't undermine my enjoyment of the film, a bit more Indian stereotype in the music would have been better for me - other US influenced, modern Indian dance music gives a better impression of connected cultures. I was also slightly disappointed that the Indian game show host was nowhere near as obnoxious in his TV delivery as the British and Polish hosts, but he does have his own fair share of smooth nastiness in another way.

As a final thought, consider why the slum kids are not shown working in some sweatshop making shoes or whatever for a western company. I don't think its anything related to do with commercial concerns - placement, etc - on the part of the film makers, but see what you think. Another side-swipe at Western activist obsessions, maybe?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

I Never Thought: McDonalds

It's just that it's a great shock, so I feel I must report it. After so many years going with people to McDonald's and occasionally sampling their burgers, I have at last found one that was worth eating: one small step for man; one giant leap for McDonaldkind.

Its called a Drwala, which I think means woodcutter or lumberjack - maybe its meant to look like different layers of (exotic?) wood. (It actually sounded Indian to me, but the display photo didn't seem to fit.) Apart from the beefburger, it has a breadcrumb covered cheese thing - a bit like cooked Camembert, some crispy streaky bacon and just a touch of what I think was a cheese sauce on top of the lettuce. No mayonnaise or tomato sauce to eliminate all the other flavours and spurt out everywhere. It tasted like a good Burger King burger - I could even taste the meat.

I've nothing in principle against McDonald's as far as health and all that sort of campaigning is concerned. If obese, moronic slobs want to gorge themselves on burgers all the time, that's their business. For those who do feel the need to impose their views on others, however, I did find the next, the text saying something like: "Not bad for chopping up your wallet and your liver". As for the cost, about 12 zloties, this is incredibly good value compared with the currently popular, very expensive rice dishes called sushi - Misia loves it, though. The Drwala is even big enough to be a complete meal - sushi is just an appetiser.

The problem I do have with McDonald's, however, is that I associate it with filth and squalor. Apart from my hatred of mayonnaise getting on my hands and clothes, this has nothing to do with Poland. It comes from London, where eating in the 'restaurants' meant walking round squashed chips and other waste food and rubbish on the floor and then trying to get an assistant to clean a table and chairs. Often whilst I was drinking my coffee, there, sitting at other tables, mothers, aunts, etc let their young charges do what they want - kids like to have fun, fair enough - but then the adult would suddenly get fed-up with the play and scream at the kids and beat them. General chaos ensued. Maybe it has now changed in England, but it was never like this in Poland, where the restaurants have always been clean and the customers - even at kids parties - have been well behaved. I still feel reluctant to enter, however. Not liking the food and only going in for other people. doesn't help, of course.

Whilst on the theme of fast food bars, we went to Warsaw's Blue City back in January. In their food area - sadly now starting to get very smelly, we came across Hudson: New York Chicken. They do various meats, with burgers, tortilla wraps and a general range of fast food products.

When we were there, it had just been open for a week or so. Despite the name, it is a Polish company and the lady serving said that they hoped it would just be their first outlet. 'Hope springs eternal' and/but I wish them luck - Pope for 'and' and Dickens for 'but'. Sad that they have to pretend to be foreign, but it goes with the food, I guess.

Monday, 21 February 2011

February Farm Features

Whilst the ground was frozen back on 15 February, before the new snow fell, farm workers were busy in the fields. A corn harvester and several tractors went past the lane just behind the house. By the time I got out, a tractor pulling a load of hay was returning.

Knowing little about farming, I had been surprised in 2009, when the corn had been harvested in December. My city expectations gave harvest time much earlier, but I could see that it can be easier to work on frozen ground than wet soil around here. The corn was harvested earlier in 2010 - October or November. Hearing continuing engine sounds, I walked on further and found that the corn stalks were now being cut in a field a bit further on.

Another tractor was still there, ready to take away the bales of hay.

The next day, they started to remove a stack of corn stalk bales that I could see direct from the house. A lorry and bale loader arrived first.

Loading started.

A tractor arrived with a trailer for the bales,

Which waited while the lorry was loaded.

They all then left.

This process was repeated, taking several days. The pile was completely removed before the snow came.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Ice Patterns

I've got white before my eyes again. This has largely been because I've been busy painting the bathroom walls, but I did clear a bit of snow off the drive yesterday and there will be a whole lot more to clear today. I remain convinced, however, that the worst is over, with the only question at the moment whether this short winter burst will finally end next Friday (25th February) or continue to Saturday the 26th.

Just a few days ago it was freezing, but the sun was high enough to get the temperature up to between +4 and +8C where it shone. Strange patterns had appeared in the ice.

Clear ice lay beside opaque, crystallised lines.

Out in the field there were areas of completely white ice, whilst others were completely transparent.

Over two days, the pond went from having a few white bands on the 13th

to progressively more on the 14th.

I could see the progress of white in-filling deeper into the pond on the 15th. The photo gives only a general  impression, but there was a clear three dimensional effect, with white layers descending into the water, with clear ice above.

It looks quite level from the next angle, but the centre appeared to be some 40cm below the surface.

Different patterns in the layers are visible here.

It's all covered by several centimetres of snow now. Time for a seasonal song, which, although entitled Winter Song (by Loudon Wainwright III), it only starts and ends there, looking forward to the rest of the year. Back in oceanic climate London in 1971, sympathy with the seasons described here was little more than imagination. It never occurred to me at all that I would at some time be living somewhere where these seasons would be completely meaningful, as they now are to me in Poland. There is still much in the detail that is culturally alien, though.

One day this weary winter will be gone.
Don't be fooled it won't be gone for good.
It will be back to freeze next year's moustache,
Blowing snow as every winter should.

Right now we all look forward to the spring:
Season of the short sleeve and soft ground.
We all recall how she was last year;
Each and every groundhog hung around.

If Spring's a maid then summer is a whore.
Mosquito's bite, diving boards they throb.
She's hot, she's heavy - hairy men may sweat.
Gobble yellow corn-upon-the-cob.

The corn it turns to candy in the fall.
The bamboo rake is brought from the garage.
School buses dot the land.
Each and every bird's nest looses camouflage.

One day this weary winter will be gone ...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Warsaw in the Spring of Youth

Its a beautiful sunny day, if still somewhat cold and I was thinking how to illustrate this. I came across pictures, from spring 2005, of a trip on the No. 8 tram heading west from Warsaw Centrum. The camera was a cheap single focus with a distorted fish eye effect as standard - the programme with it even had a de-distortion effect. This effect is magnified by the tram glass and movement.

Just past Warsaw Central Station, with the Golden Terraces shopping centre being built. Now finished, this side of the shopping centre is particularly ugly, so it looks better in the photograph than it does today.

More standard cityscape. There is now a 30 story 'city' block of flats to the right of this picture, which would also look better with a bit of distortion.

Heading into Wola.

Maybe this was intended to have a shape like a ship, but from whatever angle I have looked at it, it just doesn't work.

The church in which the Warsaw Uprising is commemorated.

Entering the residential estate areas.

Past cemeteries.

Time to get off the tram - near Hala Wola in Powstanców Śląskich.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sexism and Politics

A article on an MP's comments about homosexuals got me a bit puzzled - as normal.

He joked, "we can forget about gay men, but I would gladly watch lesbians." This is an old joke, which seems to be sexist. It must just be my limited understanding, since it says to me:
  • I am a male heterosexual interested in women.
  • The sexuality of men is therefore completely irrelevant to me.
  • I have no objection to female homosexuality.
  • However, I find female homosexuals equally attractive and arousing as female heterosexuals even though I know they would not be interested in me.
Maybe its just that I remember the stereotyping of lesbians as being frigid, ugly men haters, but the joke seems to me to be as good an espousal of equality as one might wish for. A definition of 'sexism' is 'contempt shown for or discrimination against a particular sex, usually by men of women, based on prejudice or stereotype'. There is no contempt, but admiration. There is discrimination here: he prefers women (hetero- or homosexual) to men, but what's wrong with that? (It would put me in trouble.)

My own version of this may be more dubious, but I'm not interested in watching other people have sex. I used this joke, to seemingly good effect, during conversations about homosexuality with younger Polish men, intending to point out, by absurdly negating it, the irrelevance of other people's sexuality. It goes: "I don't care about gay men. However, lesbians should be illegal. Gay men reduce my competition, whilst lesbians increase it." This narrow minded self-interest related to my own attraction to women contrasted with their primary concern about gay men. (Did they imagine they were being buggered?)

What the MP says later is very different, however: “man is constructed in such a way that he should live in partnerships that are in harmony with nature” whilst, for others “It's their problem, but they shouldn't flaunt it.” Given the 'in harmony with nature' and 'their problem', it seems that the guy is anti-homosexual, but trying to be tolerant. The joke then seems just to be thrown in to show how nice and amusing he is. I think its great when Polish politicians give their real views about such things. I might completely disagree, but its far better for me to know the truth than have them hiding it.

Unfortunately, however, this is exactly what I have come to feel about many things said by PO side politicians. Leading government figures, from the Prime Minister and President down, often seem to describe a policy for change and then add caveats to appease voters who oppose that policy. This happens often with internal policies, but, for those with wider interests,   an example was statements about having a primary objective of good relations with Russia, but then immediately promising robust protection of Polish interests. In current circumstances this seems to say 'we will create change, but we will not maintain exactly the same Polish position as before'. Weasel words!

So might this MP just be two faced? I quite liked right-wing arguments about homosexuality not being natural: it biologically takes both a man and woman to have children and homosexuals cannot do this. Its a fun argument to analyse to understand basic concepts such as 'natural', especially since it eventually comes down to 'assume homosexuality is not natural', 'assume not natural is not good' and conclude 'homosexuality is not good'. However, if one assumes that homosexuality is 'natural', gay partnerships suddenly become 'in harmony with nature': the MP's statement then means one thing, but panders to the opposing perspective and appears to say another. The possibility of being two-faced clearly exists.

No doubt I am looking too deeply into the wording as it was reported. Indeed, I feel I am crediting the guy with possibly having an intelligence I wouldn't expect any politician to have. (Has anyone read that famous Jaruzelski statement that may or may not have been seeking Russian army help, though? I you believe his claim of innocence, it's a masterpiece of diplomatic doubletalk. I can't be bothered to find an internet link, but if anyone has one, please let me know.)

I remember a song from 1986 that makes the same sexist joke. It's by Loudon Wainwright III , called 'Synchronicity' and from his album More Love Songs - also available on the Best of ... 'One Man Guy'. Its better to listen to him singing it, as it is difficult to scan when reading. However, think about the line "It turns out that you did like men but didn’t like their things". I'm starting to suspect I am also sexist (although 'hominophobe' - fear of men, is probably too strong. I am definitely biased towards women.

Little did I know, though I probably should have guessed
By the way you walked and talked and spoke and smoked and dressed.
You actually seemed to like me and so naturally I presumed
You were after that thing, it’s the one thing, it’s assumed.

So I wined and dined you, hey, I love that kind of stuff
And we blabbed about our backgrounds, how family life is rough.
We spoke of what we dreamed of, what we thought of, what we did.
Midway through the second bottle I admitted I had kids.

But nothing seemed to throw you, though I know you better now,
At the time, my minor crime was figuring out how
To get you in my hotel room, unclothed and in my bed
And proceed with the unspeakable, it’s better left unsaid.

We went to see a friend of yours and watch me on TV.
Sheer coincidence you said, synchronicity.
A full moon on a Friday night, the thirteenth of July
A man and two women in a room and on the screen the guy.

Your friend, she liked me on the show, yeah: she was snowed for sure.
Her body language got obscene, her demeanor less than pure.
You started venting something, wearing spleen upon your sleeve.
You got sort of nervous, kind of anxious, had to leave.

You told me on the freeway that you didn’t sleep with men.
I put two and two together…and I asked about your friend.
It turns out she, and though she loved my show,
She too preferred the fairer sex — I absorbed the blow.

It turns out that you did like men but didn’t like their things
That hang down and all the hang-ups being with them always brings.
My brother is so practical; this is what he said:
“You should have asked if it was cool to watch them both in bed”

Friday, 11 February 2011


Another email from Pauline took my fancy, this time some train announcements by frustrated London Underground drivers. I know that people complain about Warsaw's public transport system, but after years in London, it was as close to heaven as I could have hoped for, even with its defects. Many of these announcements are similar to one's I've heard and problems are, if anything, worse on suburban trains than the Underground. Drivers talking like this bring a bit of humour into what can be a horrendous experience.

The pictures are taken from a visit to Sochaczew Railway museum, west of Warsaw on the Poznan road and just down the road from the Chopin's birthplace Museum in Żelazowa Wola. There are train journey's into the national park on summer Saturdays (June 25 to September 25 in 2010) and other events with journeys (into October in 2010). Pictures of someone's trip are available here.

From 2004 09 John 07 Train Museum Sochaczew

Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologize for the delay to your service. I know you're all dying to get home, unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you'll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction.

Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from E & B syndrome: not knowing his elbow from his backside. I'll let you know any further information as soon as I'm given any. {NB for Polish readers, the normal phrase here is 'arse from his elbow' - the driver was being polite.]

Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means we probably won't reach our destination.

Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let's take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now.... Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall......

We are now travelling through Baker Street ... As you can see, Baker Street is closed. It would have been nice if they had actually told me so I could tell you earlier but no, they don't think about things like that.

Beggars are operating on this train. Please do NOT encourage these professional beggars. If you have any spare change, please give it to a registered charity. Failing that, give it to me.

During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver announced in a West Indian drawl: 'Step right this way for the sauna, ladies and gentleman... unfortunately, towels are not provided.'

Let the passengers off the train FIRST!' (Pause ) 'Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care - I'm going home....'

Please allow the doors to close. Try not to confuse this with 'Please hold the doors open.' The two are distinct and separate instructions.

Please note that the beeping noise coming from the doors means that the doors are about to close. It does not mean throw yourself or your bags into the doors.

We can't move off because some idiot has their hand stuck in the door.

To the gentleman wearing the long grey coat trying to get on the second carriage -- what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?

'Please move all baggage away from the doors.' (Pause..) 'Please move ALL belongings away from the doors.' (Pause...) 'This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train: Put the pie down, four-eyes and move your bloody golf clubs away from the door before I come down there and shove them up your arse sideways!'

May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed on any part of the Underground. However, if you are smoking a joint, it's only fair that you pass it round the rest of the carriage.