Monday, 28 March 2011

It's Spring Again (and again, and again)

It's like they don't actually want spring to come. We've had spring weather, spring plants, the astrological/astronomical first day of spring and the clocks have turned back. I then heard that in Poland spring is traditionally here when the Boczan (Bochan - Cranes) arrive.

I thought I saw a couple flying across on Saturday, but I wasn't sure. Out with Mika, the dog this morning, however:

Not the greatest of pictures, but there were three together to the left feeding together in the field.

These flew off, leaving the two to the right, walking away from me as quickly, it seemed, as I was walking to them.

The first wild flowers - dandelions - are now in full bloom.

Still, there's one last hurdle to cross. It is also traditional, I am told, to go out at Easter and see if the willow are in bloom. Easter's late this year anyway, but they've been out for a few weeks now.

What will the weather presenters think of next?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Tourism Promotion

Promoting your town, country, etc to foreigners is fraught with many dangers. One of these is that what is obviously an important feature to you, may actually be off-putting to the foreign tourist. The following aren't tourism promotion, but they contain features that are sometimes very similar. Which one would attract you?

I was looking for information on the Lusatian Culture on Yahoo, England and came across, which has various privately made Slavic and Polish related videos. The first was an informational film on coming to Poland.

All very well, but my basic reaction was that it emphasised the difficulty of understanding Polish. Its well-meaning and seems to be intended for people who are committed to coming here, but it would have convinced me that there must be better places to go.

The next video extolled the virtues of the Slavic peoples.

I must be the wrong generation, as with just a few changes, this would have made a good propaganda film for Hegel and Hitler in their promotion of the concept of the German Master race: a bit, scary, actually.

Maybe the next might be more effective.

This has the obvious tourist promotional failure of alienating a huge swath of the tourist market. It's a very simple summary of the reason why I'm here.

There are links to lots of related videos at the end of the ones above. This one shows the extraordinary recent impact of Polish people on residents and visitors to Stirling in Scotland. I wonder how many, if any, of these people would even have heard a word of Polish ten years ago.

This is actually the best advert for Poland as far as I'm concerned (if I had never been here). I'd immediately want to know more about the people and country that had had such an influence. The only slightly negative element being the Polish commentator's accent, but I'm biased by experience and assume that, if I'd never been here, I'd take comfort in knowing that Polish people do speak English (of a sorts).

This last is the original Lusatian Culture video, which is here just so that I don't loose it. It's all Slavic Master Race stuff. If you're interested, you might like to look at Wikipedia on the Vistula Veneti, which provides better starting background. I'm still trying to understand what these people were like - they lived (or at least were buried) in Młochów. Racial issues are not very important to me.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

To Be (a Kebab) or not to Be

A couple of days ago, Babcia said our local shop has complete and absolute rubbish. At least I think that's what she meant: the actual word - pronounced goovno - usually has rather more faecal implication, but she often seems not to consider such connotations.

(The snow isn't from today, but it may well have looked like the same after this morning's snow.)

Babcia's right, but only from her life-time experience of walking down to the local bazaar to get today's cheap, traditional fresh Polish dinner. An alternative way of putting it is that it is well suited to being a single local village shop in a car and supermarket world. It has no short walking distance competition - isn't doesn't even need a name, so it is expensive, but has a good range for immediate, essential purchase needs. It is not intended for buying Babcia's meals.

A recent addition caught me by surprise, however: a list of burgers, hot-dog and kebab. They don't have any food heating facilities and I couldn't see anything on display, so I didn't know what they were like. I tried the kebab.

They were in the bottom of the food fridge, but I couldn't have recognised them. They looked like small round loaves of bread - about 20 cm/8in across. At 8.50 zloties, they sounded expensive, but they were large. What could they possible be like inside?

I still couldn't recognise the 'kebab'. I heated a third of it - about the size of a medium burger - for a minute in the microwave. The inside was more like a spicy Chinese/Vietnamese dish. It had real chicken pieces and a fully acceptable mild chilli-pepper flavour. Most surprisingly, it balanced well with the bread surround, not at all appearing to be a loaf with a small amount of jam doughnut equivalent filling. Pleasant enough even to be an acceptable dish eaten with rice - not even a hint of sweetening. Not really my choice, especially since it was large enough for three meals, but well thought out and delivered. In fact, although I can see the marketing value of calling it a kebab, it really deserves its own name. Good luck to the producer.

Still, it was such a fundamental difference to the shop's normal range, that I wondered if they would sell enough to be worth stocking. Now, three weeks later, the list is still there and more kebabs, at least, were in the fridge yesterday. There must be a demand and I can imagine them becoming standard food for the many seasonal building workers that come here, rivalling even bottled Breton Beans (Fasolka po Bretońsku). (The shop gets crowded when they arrive and the beer fridge empties.)

From Slim Line: "Breton beans is a quick and easy-to-prepare idea for lunch. An additional advantage is that it's low fat and low in calories. Therefore, this product is recommended for those on a diet". Not quite the thing for manual labour, maybe, but it's one of the few ready prepared meals available to them and preferred to the other bottled meals. They can even manage to heat it up with just an automatic kettle, putting the bottle into the water when it has boiled and leaving it to warm.

I buy them - preferably with just sausage (kiełbasa) rather than with boczek (bochek - fatty, streaky bacon in lumps). They make a standby meal that can stay in the larder for ages. Tesco regularly has promotions with reduced prices or with genuinely 'no extra cost' extra quantity. Not the greatest food - I normally add chilli, but convenient. Some more traditional Polish restaurants make much higher quality versions.

I said the shop was expensive, but not as expensive as others seem to be: "Jaroslaw Kaczynski went to a local grocery shop and bought potatoes, flour, chicken, apples and sugar. The shopping cost 55.60 zloties". Maybe he was preparing a banquet for himself (and his Mum?).

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Spring: Flowers and Birds

The first crocus flowered back on 12 March and have been increasing in number ever since.

The ones in flower are almost all outside the dining room window - the warmest and sunniest place in the garden.

They look best when they open in the sun, but this can also make the bright colours difficult to photograph.

Many other plants are growing strongly now, such as the Kent Bells below.

Starlings - Polish name Szpaki (Shpakee) - are constantly around feeding off insects, whatever in the gardens.

They dig into the ground, leaving small holes everywhere.

They are very nervous and whirl off at the slightest disturbance.

A couple of weeks ago, the crows - Gawrony (Gavronee) were flocking around, although they didn't come into the garden and I now normally see them flying round in pairs or small groups.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Language and Nationalism

Learn Polish? I'm still trying to understand English.

I was asked yesterday what were the wider connotations (emotional content, as I call it) of the English verbs 'jew', as in 'to jew somebody', and 'welch' as in 'to welch on a deal'. Did 'welch' come from Wales and the Welsh?

To me, 'welch' is negative, but not highly emotive, being little more than ' purposely failed to live up to an agreement', with emotion indicated by tone of voice. It bore no relationship to the Welsh. Indeed, the only historical event I could think of that might link the two was an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle report related to Augustine, founder and first archbishop of the Church of the English. Looking it up now, it says for year 607, And Ethelfrith led his army to Chester , where he slew an innumerable host of the Welsh; and so was fulfilled the prophecy of Augustine, wherein he saith - "If the Welsh will not have peace with us, they shall perish at the hands of the Saxons". Those with a better knowledge of British history may be able to suggest better occasions when the Welsh may have welched, but I think my dissociation of the two is clear. My guess was therefore that, like many similar sounding English words, they were derived from different sources.

I looked it up and found that 'welch' is not only 'probably' derived from the Welsh, but its primary spelling is also 'welsh'. The latter surprised me, although my Firefox spelling checker now tells me that 'welch' is unknown. However, I am sure I have heard of a person described as a 'welcher', pronounced with the normal 'ch', not 'sh' as in 'welsh' - strong negative connotations with this word - although it's not in the dictionary. My ignorance of the origin of an English word isn't surprising, but in this case I suspect 'probably' reflects lack of alternatives.

I learnt 'to jew' in Poland and had had to look it up in the dictionary to see if it really existed in English. It does, but I only found it in the International Dictionary so I don't know whether it was used in England. I therefore have no experience on which to base its emotional content.

There was some discussion of why English utilised nation-based words of this nature less than Polish (is that true?), for which it was suggested that immigrant peoples tend to be integrated more into England (which sounded sensible to me), whilst pointing out current opposition to immigrants such as Arabs (to which I suggested that integration takes a long time).

It finally turned out that Katherine, our friends' daughter in England, had asked why her school doesn't teach these things. Born and raised in England, Kasia's mum, Iwona, is Polish and Kasia has adopted her Mum's point of view: a Polish and not English perspective. As Iwona is very aware of such things, Kasia probably picked up 'to jew' from Polish - she is bilingual. Indeed, when they were over here, I found it fascinating that how, when we asked Kasia what she thought of school in England, her Mum explained how bad they were compared to Poland, whilst Kasia gave supporting examples. (Not that she knows what school is really like in Poland.) Even if she stays all her life in England, there will always be a part of her that is foreign - though some English people around her may not understand it.

People such as I. I worked with a lovely young 'Pakistani', Muniba Siddiqi, who very patiently explained to me why she was not English. She was so excited when leaving England for the first time to go to Pakistan, partly to meet her chosen husband, that I knew I didn't have the possibility of persuading her that she was English as well. As she put it, she just had a British passport and would only reluctantly accept that she was British. (He came to England and they married.)

I had to learn the day-to-day difference in Poland between two types of nationalism: the nation in terms of a country or state, which I was most familiar with; and the nation in terms of a self-identified group of people separate from their being inhabitants of the country. Muniba gave me an early lesson, but she was in a foreign country, as she viewed it. Identifying oneself by the people in one's own country seemed very different. Maybe London, where I came from, with its wide collection of different peoples, was the wrong place to understand this. Maybe it's just me.

I remember being in a hotel bar in Welsh Wales (where they speak Welsh), talking to an Englishman who had run the local car repair company for 30 years. He proudly explained that he was called Jones the Mechanic, signifying his acceptance within the Welsh community - his name was not Jones. (He thought it was said slightly jokingly, but it was hallowed by common use.) On the other side, however, discussions on the creation of a Parliament for Wales were reported as ultimately failing - an 'Assembly' replacing it - because of mistrust between the Welsh speaking part of Wales; the people of Southern Wales, considered by the former to be English; and the people of the Borders, who were considered by both to be English. In practical terms, there are therefore at least three different groups of Welsh as a people, in addition to the inhabitants of Wales. It's all too complicated for my poor tired brain.

It's all the reverse in Poland. To be Polish is first to be of the peoples that are considered to be Polish from the country that is Poland, whilst last is to have the formal status of citizen of Poland. I thought that the only time Polish people considered Jews from Poland to be unreservedly Polish was when telling me the number of World War Two dead - 5 or 6 million, whatever. I subsequently found that people added the number of Jewish dead to this total because they had not realised that "Polish dead' covered all people with Polish citizenship, though historians say this on TV. Even a Director and part-owner of a Higher School - a university age, post-school educational establishment - did this, but said she would check and tell me. It wouldn't be the first time I'm wrong, but she never mentioned it again. (I did check and I was right.)

Some time ago, I thought it would be nice in an ideal world to become Polish. I now understand that I can't - in any way that people could really accept. I was told a couple of times in the past, jokingly of course, that I was half-Polish. I've therefore already had the greatest compliment I can hope for. Otherwise, I've given up the idea.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Saturday's Strange Shopping - Social Networking

For no particular, foreseeable reason, yesterday's shopping was full of unusual events.

For the first time ever, Babcia thought what she would like me to buy for her meals in the week ahead and asked for some things that I wouldn't buy normally: sour cabbage, pigeonettes -I just made that up, but it's a reasonable translation of the Polish 'gołąbki' (pork mince wrapped in cabbage) and potato dumplings - Kluski Śląski, although Pyzy are pretty much the same thing.

The shock of this - actually it was more a matter of last-minute distraction - resulted in my leaving without my wallet. I realised in the car-park in Tesco, Piastów that I would have to go through the chore of getting money from the bank machine, then getting change to put a coin in the trolley. However, there in the trolley bay near the car: a loose trolley - unusual in this Tesco.

I have a fairly standard routine going round all the shelves: I pretty much know where everything is. Unusual requests can get me going around several times. I found the potato dumplings without any problem. I bought them stuffed with meat, but they could have been plain. There was even a choice of Kluski Śląski and Pyzy. However, finding neither the sour cabbage nor the pigeonettes, I was wandering to and fro revisiting possible sets of shelves, finally concluding that they didn't have any. How much shopping in Poland has evolved since the days when barrels of sour cabbage, sold by weight, were a routine sight in every shop?

At the alcohol paying desk, the man before me couldn't separate the plastic bags. I gave him one. He then had difficulty putting his bottle of, I don't know what, into it. I did this for him as well. My initial thought had been that he had something wrong with his hands. It eventually dawned on me that he might be drunk. However, drunks aren't normal in Tesco and, more importantly, he didn't smell of alcohol. Anyway, it was my good deed for the day.

I realised that I didn't have my loyalty card. No problem, but it gives a good amount of money back and I now found myself in the confused state of 'Do I want this?'; 'Can it wait until I have my card?'; followed by 'What are you wasting your money on anyway?'. This came to a head in the garden plant area. Once, they've been in the warmth of the supermarket for a time, leaves sprout and immediate death awaits them outside at this time of year. 'Yes I want them'. 'I can wait, but they could be unusable by the time I get back.' Then came protracted dallying on likelihood of survival, likelihood of decent growth and 'where will I put them anyway'. The outcome itself isn't even important.

Then to the checkout. I don't mind waiting a bit and the staff are quick. I normally buy slightly more than will fit on the moving belt, but the cashiers and I manage it, engendering little extra delay for people behind. However, having half-filled the belt with the non-crushable items for the bottom of the trolley, the lady in front of me started moving her things forward so the cashier could reach them. Instead of the belt moving forward, my shopping was stuck halfway along. Not wanting to start moving the whole lot by hand - that's what the belt is for, and not wanting to put crushable first, I waited until her shopping was cleared. She was trying to be helpful, but it delayed everything. Little of my shopping was on the belt when the cashier started.

An angel was there to help me, though. The young lady behind me offered to help put out the shopping. My Polish was not good enough to explain about delicate goods, separating chemical from food, etc. She spoke to me in English and said she understood. When everything was taken out of the trolley, she helped me put the shopping in the bags. Since, with my experience with scouts and youth group members packing in the supermarkets has not been very good - 'please don't do anything, but here's the money for your willingness to help', I felt reluctant about the whole process, but she was very sweet. If I'd been alone in Poland I would have asked her (and what looked like her Mum) for a cup of coffee (outside the supermarket). Instead, I gave her the points for her loyalty card, which she was happy to have.

Actually, I was so impressed with her kindness, that it was only whilst writing this that I thought she may have assumed that men were incapable of dealing with such shopping by themselves. Whilst this is an ungracious thought, I have had expressions of surprise in Polish supermarkets in the past about doing the family weekly shopping without female company - 'Are you on your own?'.

I wonder how many people will be sufficiently interested in the trivia I've written above to read through it all. I was going to say that I must be one such person, having managed to sit through half an hour or so of the film, 'The Social Network'. However, looking at Wikipedia, maybe I'm not: people seem to like it. The film starts out by brilliantly setting out the personality of the main character - the creator of Facebook. It's brilliant, because he has a fundamentally boring personality, which must be almost impossible to depict in an interesting way; yet it does. However, after half an hour or so feeling that was all the film offered, I'd had enough and gave up. Definitely not worth the 30zl it costs with Gala or whatever magazine it is.

Pretty obviously, I don't care about Facebook itself and the squabbles like those in the film about copyright theft and breach of trust are ancient business history. There have been numerous music industry cases, for example. I particularly recall a comment by Dave Batholomew about Chuck Berry's only Number 1 US hit, 'My Ding-a-Ling' from 1972: "I don't care if he [Chuck Berry] got the credit, I got the money" - not without a fight, obviously.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Polish Satellite TV - English Language Channels

What English language TV programmes will you be able to find if you're in Poland? Satellite TV's option of several languages provides a wide range of original language programmes, many of which are in English.

We have the N Satellite system. This is OK as far as I'm concerned, although it's lack of the standard broadcast channel, Polsat - with Poland's best TV comedy series, means that we have been thinking of changing.

It's general English language entertainment programmes, channel number and a rough guide to content, are:

11 - BBC HD - General entertainment
20 - MGM - Films
21 - FOX HD - TV Series
28 - Universal Channel - TV series
29 - TCM - Old (and sometimes Classic) films
31 - Sci Fi - Fantasy series and films
40 - BBC Knowledge - Documentaries
42 - Nat Geo Wild - Nature documentaries
43 - Animal Planet - Nature documentaries
47 - Discovery World - Documentaries
48 - Discovery Science - Populist technical documentaries
90 - Disney Channel - Teen series
91 - Nickelodeon - Children and youngsters series
92 - Baby TV - Infants
95 - Boomerang - Cartoons
97 - CBeebies - Infants

There are also foreign language channels - neither Polish nor English - with English content, most frequently on:
724 - Movie TV

Occasionally, I have also found English programmes amongst local programming on:
252 - Arirang World - Misc programmes, including local Soaps with English subtitles
256 - VTV4 - Soaps with English subtitles
671 - Al Rasheed - Films
721 - IFM - Films
732 - Ava Music - Films
746 - Sat 7 Arabic - Films

There are a number of channels that I haven't subscribed to, which also have multiple language options - whether English or not I don't know:
72 - BBC Lifestyle
73 - BBC Entertainment
74 - Investigation Discovery
100 - N Film HD
101 - N Film HD2
102 - HBO HD
103 - HBO2

TVP HD also has an original language option, although mainly transmits Polish programmes, whilst only one of the several English language originals I have checked has had undubbed English.

There are a plethora of International News stations broadcasting in English and some music channels.

I've no idea about Sports channels, since in my ideal world all sports would be shown on channels that I don't subscribe to (except when the Polish women's volley ball team is playing), but there are probably just enough options to bore anyone rigid - other than the most all-inclusive sports fan, of course. (I say this not only from my own position of prejudice, but also because, even in London, sports fans often complained that they can't find exactly the right sport, the right team or the right match that they want to watch.)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Bare Trucking in Poland

Babcia was away for the week while I was painting walls and ceilings, allowing me to put on a CD and listen to hours of music without interruption. Managing to put the same CD on two days running, it occurred to me that a trucking song by Bobby Bare was particularly appropriate for Poland.

Country music itself has parallels with Poland's Discopolo. Through the seventies and eighties in England, Country was Hick music, despised by most music fans. The US Billboard charts segregated Popular Music (Pop) from black (first Race and then R&B) and white trash (Country) music, allowing just the occasional 'cross-over' acceptable to urban white audiences. The fact that country music routinely outsold Pop (ie was more popular) didn't matter. Telling English people that I liked (some) country music received the same reaction as saying the same to Polish people about Discopolo: derision and disbelief.

This is a 1983 Bobby Bare song called 'Diet song'.

From the same 1983 album, Drinkin' from the Bottle (Singin' from the Heart), came 'Jogger'. Bare is a truck driver, which from a London point of view was a legendary character. However, driving along the international road routes around Poland, I routinely come across long-distance lorry drivers. Living close to several large distribution centres and doing the Warsaw - Northern Italy route by car last summer, have just reinforced an earlier impression.

The trucker is a pretty tolerant guy, happily accepting most others on the road, no matter how strange or obstructive they may be. It would be too much a stretch of imagination for me to think that Polish drivers are generally like this, but tolerating people off the road, no matter how strange, is common.

The other road users in the song are not quite the same, but near enough: Polish loonie speed freaks, livestock transporters, me and other inexplicably slow drivers, pilgrimage hikers, a myriad of motorcyclist personalities. Although I haven't seen many joggers, I would happily substitute Polish pedalists riding their expensive racing bikes, wearing tight-fitting, brightly coloured Tour de France type gear, whilst trundling along as slow as they can, chatting up their boyfriend beside them, and wiggling their bottoms just in front of me. (I think that sets the scene.) Then religion sweeps in: Poland to a tee.

Well, I've been a trucker more than twenty years,
From the Charleston coast to the Jersey piers,
Sharing the road with race car nuts and loggers.

Sunday drivers, scouts on hikes,
Hells Angels on Harley bikes,
I never met a roader I didn't like,
Except them - joggers

One day I'm rolling down 1-0-1.
I got 18 wheels under 14-tons.
Radio playing a good old country rocker.

The day was sure a trucker's dream:
The sky was sunny and the air was clean,
When up ahead on the road I seen
One of them - joggers.

He was dressed like they do in baby blue
With shortie shorts and a headband too.
I yelled "Sweetie I bet that you
Are the hit of the men's room locker.

"But I'm a running late with an overload
So get your Adidas off of this road,
I'm LA bound and I don't slow down for dead raccoons or joggers."

Well without breaking stride or losing poise,
He said, "You and that rig sure make some noise
But I can't talk now because I'm racin' against the clocker.

"But it's just nine miles to Forkers Leap
And if you ain't afraid to race that heap,
We'll see how that old rig holds up, against - a super jogger."

"Race?" I must be hearing wrong.
The boy's been running in the sun too long
The only place he's racing to is a doctor's.

But before I could say, "Thank you, no",
That fool yells "Ready, get set, go"
And the race is on
We're off and gone,
Me and that maniac jogger.

Well I could've left him far behind,
But I played with him like a fish on a line
And I stayed about a half a mile behind that sucker.

Then I pushed her up to 45
And he sees me coming and he starts to fly,
So I pushed her to 60 and shift to high
And finally catch that jogger.
(And it wasn't easy.)

Now I'm doing 80 and I turned to check
And he's staying right with me, neck and neck.
His hearts a thumping like my engine going pop, pop, pocker.

Then he yells out "I hope you're set
Cause I ain't shifted into second yet".
Then he unwinds

And leaves me behind
Eating the dust of a - jogger.

Then I see him jogging up into the sky
And he yells, "Hey! Thanks for the exercise.
I hope that losing this race, was not too shocking.

"You see my Dad says, 'Heaven's no place to run'
And I try to be an obedient son,
So I have to come down to earth
To do my jogging".

Well that's my story. Take it or leave it.
My trucker buddies, they believe it.
So do those race car nuts and Harley hoggers.

And I'm still driving much the same,
Except I don't call nobody names
And I tip my hat each time I pass one of them good old joggers

Hey here comes one now... "Hey, good buddy, How're you doing? Want some gatorade?"

I didn't find Bobby Bare singing the song, but this imitation - pretty awful in itself - will not only give you an idea how it goes, but will also let you copy the guitar chords.

Actually, I first came across country music in the early sixties. I had an old, wind up record player in my bedroom with, I think, four 78s. Little Richard, The Everly Brothers, Larry Williams singing Bony Maronie and an obscure artist called Cliff Carlisle singing the brilliant Seven Years with the Wrong Woman (the B-side) from 1932. A sadly feeble sample of the track is available here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Sexist Polish Cinema (of the Past?)

I came across The Women's Companion to International Film edited by Annette Khun with Susannah Radstone. It was published in 1990 and described as "The first comprehensive feminist guide to cinema." I wondered if it would mention Pola Negri, but I couldn't find anything.

It does have a section on Poland, however. Edited to highlight the feminist issues, this says:

The almost total absence of engagement with feminism in the Polish film industry can be understood only within the context of the country's social, political, and cultural history, which in the last two hundred years has been turbulent and violent ... In conjunction with the fervent espousal of Roman Catholicism, the national identity is complex, but must provide the context for any considerations of a political nature, such as feminism. Women automatically gained the vote when Poland emerged from 123 years of partition after World War I. The conjunction of such factors as the importance of women in estates' management during the partitions, when the men had been conscripted into the three opposing partitioning armies, and the Roman Catholic cult of the Virgin Mary, combined to create a quasi-matriarchal society. However, in the postwar film industry women have not featured greatly, other than in a few exceptional cases.

Against concerns with psychological probing of a nation which has consistently been a battleground of other nations' aspirations, issues such as gender have been rejected as not urgently in need of examination; indeed, feminism is generally viewed in Poland as 'a luxury we can't afford.' Feminist approaches, then, are absent at every level: in film production in terms of directors and producers; in film education; in developments in the use of film form; and in film narratives themselves.

The performances of the actress Krystyna Janda ... did much to focus the attention of viewers and filmmakers alike on the experience of women. Her characterization of the film student and activist Agnieszka in Andrzej Wajda's Czlowiek z Marmaru/Man of Marble (1977) and Czlowiek z Zelaza/Man of Iron (1981) developed from an aggressive and engaged commitment in 1977 to something of a Madonna-type victim in 1981. Overall, the trend in Polish cinema of the 1980s has been toward second-rate attempts at popular forms, whose aping of western mores, combined with a traditional Polish conservatism, has proved more pervasively sexist than many of the offerings of western cinemas.

This was written by Alison Gumbley, who particularly seems to have liked Krystyna Janda, suggesting "her committed campaigner has been replaced in the eighties by actress Katrzyna Figura's stereotypes of dumb blondes".

The second Polish film I saw - back in the eighties - was Sex Mission (Seksmisja), which seemed to be a standard sexploitation film, with a rather strange anti-feminist message, ridiculing the absurdity of women running things for themselves. (I now see it more as an expression of Polish male fear of women and emasculation, rather than specific opposition to political empowerment of women.)

Here's what the Time Out Film Guide, 1998 said:

Two men volunteer as guinea-pigs for an experiment in human hibernation, but instead of waking up in three years, they regain consciousness fifty years behind schedule in a totalitarian post-nuclear world populated entirely by women. Machulski's comic strip fantasy may be intended as a withering satire on any form of authoritarianism, but quite frankly it fails, partly due to a stance that may easily be interpreted as extremely misogynistic (all that these futuristic femmes need is a good hetero fuck, etc), partly because it simply isn't funny.

I found it all rather boring, with even the underwater shots of naked women having become a standard part of film titillation by the time I saw it. However, it obviously appeals to the Polish audience: it was chosen as best film in the year it was released and (Wikipedia tells me) it was chosen as "the best Polish film of the last 30 years in a 2005 joint poll by readers of three popular film magazines".

Despite this continuous mass-popularity, it simultaneously manages to have minority cult status. I suspect it is this 'emasculation' perspective that makes the film seem not quite mainstream. I know that some women quite enjoy the proposition that they can survive without men (but actually give the impression they don't want to), whilst some men like the idea that it was a man running everything all the time. Sex always makes for good cinema anyway, particularly if you can convince people that they are watching humorous social commentary - OK if Babcia and the kids are in the room - rather than a straight-forward sex film.

Anyway, we all know that just having men around makes women want sex:

The whole film, with English subtitles, seems to be available on You Tube.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The World Changing to Green

Standing on the balcony on Saturday morning (9:30am), I felt that I should be seeing the leaves growing on the trees and bushes in front of my eyes. The sky was completely blue and the sun was hot, reaching 24°C during the afternoon - nearly sun bathing weather. Everything was still and the only sound was of birds, mainly the incessant call of the skylarks, now returned in force.

That there was so little green seemed anomalous. The process of leaf growth should be happening there in front of my eyes. The scenario was so convincing - the swift passing of increasing leaf growth: days in a few moments. It was only extraneous noise that drew me away - someone beating a rug out of sight (or maybe their husband, for all I knew).

Instead, I have had to watch the crocuses grow. Across several days the first buds had been expanding millimietre by millimetre, then the first flow opened on Saturday. Four on Sunday (13 March):

Some 20 or so now, all small, white and yellow early crocuses:

I have had to check when I can expect the world to turn green. The first similar crocuses opened around 21 April last year. It's a gradual process after that, but from the last couple of years, tree leaf growth doesn't normally happen until about mid April. Żabieniec (Frog Spawning Ground) from 19 April 2009:

Compared to this 1 March 2011 picture in a previous post.

Early garden plant growth (and fighting white wagtails) on 11 April 2010:

Whilst on 17 April 2010 garden life was in full swing, although tree leaf growth was still in its early stages.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Reaping a Golden Media Harvest

I was amused by First by the wording: "Golden Harvest, a new book by Jan Tomasz Gross, was released in book stores across Poland today. The event did not go unnoticed, however ...". Unnoticed? Well, of course not. has been very busy promoting it, giving links to eight previous articles over the last three months.

Second by the mp3 commentary. Is that really John Beauchamp talking, or is it a computer generated version of his voice? He doesn't sound human. (Part of the reason for this note is that it gave me a chance to try and embed an mp3 into the blog. Here it is.

Having been amused, I started to get serious. I'm not sure if I've said any of this before. I think I started to write things, but never had the courage to complete them, but maybe I am repeating myself.

The relationship between Poles and Jews considered by the author all seems very controversial in Poland. From the little I've read of it, however, it all seems pretty obvious. Britain had a King who was supposed to be a Nazi sympathiser. The French had their Quislings. That Poland had people who treated their neighbours appallingly (Poles as well as Jews) is completely unsurprising. It was Poles shooting Poles back in those anti-communist riots too. Indeed, the newspaper editor - Lisicki, roughly pronounced Lishitski - who comes across as the main critic of the book, agrees towards the end of the interview that some Poles did kill Jews, but points out the difficult times and the context.

I was shocked by the level of comments about Jews when I first came to Poland, but it did not take long to realise that that was just the difference in our backgrounds. I read an article a couple of years ago about an international opinion poll conducted by a Jewish lobby organisation about what type of boss people would be willing to have - a Jewish boss being greatly preferred to an atheist in Poland. My immediate thought was that I'd never had a Jewish boss, but then realised that, some 25 years before, I had worked for a guy called Mike Cohen. It would have taken a Pole a split second to work that one out. It was only on thinking about this article, that I came up with a second - Solly Gross.

It just wasn't an issue for me, but if we English had had a second distinctive racial group/nation living in large quantities beside us for centuries, we would have very different attitudes as well. Poles are justified not only in being more Jewish aware than the English, but also in being more anti-Semitic. Negative prejudices about other peoples may not be nice, but they stem from basic human psychology - part of the human condition. Much as I admire Polish people, I cannot expect them to be so perfect that they can overcome something that is common to all of us. (My positive prejudice about Poland does, however, make me suspect that the English would be much worse - I never figured out why British neo-Nazis hated Jews so much.)

I do feel it's pretty silly to provide such an enormous amount of advertising to a book of questionable value. (Gross's book the Golden Harvest is terrible - don't read it. Its now available in bookshops. Do not go and ask for the book called Golden Harvest whose author's name is Gross.) However, I dislike far more the immediate impression that some Polish people want to hide the truth - Lisicki's comment noted above being only complete confirmation of what I felt in the first place.

Another article directly relates this to the campaign against lazy, uncaring US journalists using standard, simple English. I got the same feeling there. It would never have occurred to me that Polish people would have been committing heinous crimes against humanity in the places referred to. That's why so many of us are Germanophobic (we hate the Germans), isn't it? However, the best way to create a rumour is to deny it, so there must be a rumour, right? Thousands of signatures create a lot of smoke, so where's the fire? What are they trying to hide?

OK, I still don't believe it about the camps, but then I don't want to believe it. On the other hand, I have now been fully prepared by the Polish campaign for the barrage of outraged criticism if the next Jewish anti-Polish book comes along claiming something to the contrary. I will be disappointed, but no longer surprised if Lisicki or someone like him then manages to both condemn and confirm the claim.

And finally, please don't tell me to go and read a book about a Pole who helped Jews survive the Germans. Even comments like "thousands of Poles risked their lives to save Jews" mean that millions of other Poles cared so little about their fellow countrymen that they didn't, just because their neighbours were Jewish. They were difficult times and I do understand a little of the context, intellectually if not emotionally, but what I find difficult to understand is how, even today, a people that many Poles are proud to claim they lived with for hundreds of years, often adding 'peacefully' or 'in harmony', are still so separate that helping them was a special act of human kindness and endeavour.

The Germans made it harder to help Jews than Poles and the sheer difficulty of doing anything is completely understandable. However, rather than pride in having given some help, shouldn't this be an explanation, an excuse even, for a feeling of failure at not having helped as many of your fellow countrymen as you would have liked? As I've said before, the psychology here seems pretty universal - I remember the breakdown of Yugoslavia as a more recent, far worse European example - and I assume that I have been culturally cushioned from the same emotions. My feeling here is of ignorance, not any sense of condemnation.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Pola Negri: Smoke that Cigarette

If you're internet connection seems to have slowed down, it may be this post.

Thenews pl tells me that a 1918 film called 'Mania: A History of Workers in a Cigarette Factory' is being used to promote Poland during the Polish Presidency of the EU.

If I hadn't been living in Poland or known any Polish film fans, I would probably have wondered why - a cigarette film! quickly furnished me with more information: Officers ... have seized an illegal cigarette plant in Lazy, near Warsaw, thought to be the biggest contraband cigarette facility in Europe, to date. Thirty two people - including Polish, Lithuanian and Bulgarian citizens - were detained by law enforcement agents. Sixteen of them have been arrested under criminal charges. A very topical 1918 film. Sounds good.

Lazy is in fact Wazi (spelt Łazy) and is not far from me. We went to look at the school there, which had a very high reputation except that it was viewed to be highly competitive at the expense of being friendly. Misia (Meesha) went and is going to the local school here in Młochów, which seems to be as good at both as we could have hoped for. I think the Warsaw TV mast is in its district, but I'm not sure. It isn't included in Polish Wikipedia.

Actually the film is being used to exploit the fame of Pola Negri, a Polish woman who became [one of] the world's greatest international actresses. (See about a campaign against exploitation of women.) This had to be explained to me because I'd never heard of her: "Do you know Pola Negri?"; "No, what is it - a Black Field?". Mary Pickford: yes; Gloria Swanson: yes; Pola Negri: no. If people generally are as ignorant as I, I can only hope that the film will provide her with some publicity. It's only now that I have bothered to find something out about her.

Wikipedia comes to the rescue as always. Surprisingly, the English version is better than the Polish, but I guess she is not of much interest to the Polish Wiki generation. To be honest, I get the impression she was more famous as a sex symbol and notorious celebrity than an actress: love affairs with Valentino and Chaplin. There is no truth in the rumour that she had a love affair with Hitler in the 1930s, although he was a great fan.

So who was she? I've yet to watch them fully, but I have found some links. This is a trailer for a 2006 documentary:

One of those beautiful Polish women, certainly. Photos, with her singing:

More photos with some atmospheric modern music:

The film I'm most likely remember her from is Disney's 1964 film 'The Moon-Spinners' (1964) starring Hayley Mills, but I'm not even sure she was on the main cast list (or that I'd have cared about anyone other than sweet, little Hayley. Pola Negri appears as Madame Habib.

There is even a full length film available, from which I have seen at least the beginning before: Hi Diddle Diddle from 1943 - Pola Negri was about 46. I think she appears after about 5 minutes, screeching away badly as only a good singer could (maybe).

Saturday, 5 March 2011

With Love to Lvov

[I've hesitated in doing this post. I think I might get in trouble. Don't shout at me, please.]

We've got coach tickets to Lvov later in the year - Lviv in Ukrainian. Although it's not in Poland, it holds a special place in the heart of many Poles as a Polish city just as much as Warszawa (Warsaw), Kraków, Gdansk, etc. Unlike the otherwise equivalent Vilnius in Lithuania in the north, it never had any formal status as part of a separate partnership country within the historic lands of the Polish people.

It's a place I've particularly wanted to go to since I first heard it described as "the most Polish of cities". Although I can't imagine any Poles really wanting to mess around with the borders and they rally do have sympathy for the Ukrainian people. However, many people still find the loss of Lvov difficult to understand.

As an introduction to the visit, I have been given some facts about the Ukraine. These originate from a very knowledgeable Polish historian (in English, someone who has a history degree). I am told that he is completely reliable and is not a Polish ultra-nationalist.
  • Lvov has typical Polish buildings.
  • The name 'Ukraine' comes from the Polish language.
  • The current border is completely arbitrary. If you look at a map, you will see there is a natural borderline defined by the landscape, by which Lvov would be in Poland.
  • Stalin wanted Lvov to be in Poland, but a Polish communist leader of the area thought that the Poles were too much trouble. It therefore became part of the Ukraine [Soviet Socialist Republic]. She (the Polish communist) decided to stay in the USSR rather than return to Poland.
  • Poland was not established as a stand-alone country after the Second World War because Churchill didn't care at Potsdam, reneging on his legal and moral obligations to Poland. The re-establishment of Poland was not even on the agenda. (Roosevelt was a useless cripple who had no influence). Although this fact was not specifically related to Lvov, presumably Churchill could have ensured it returned to Poland if he had wanted.

Actually, I'm starting to wonder whether its worth going abroad to see buildings the same as they are here, but just going to the Ukraine should be fun anyway. Anyway, its a sort of Mecca that we have to visit: see Graham on the Road for his trip. He has a number of other facts, although I'm not sure if they are as reliable as those above: I only knew one of them.

Its amazing how other sources try to tell you that various related forms of 'Ukraine' are common to most Slavic languages. Polish Wikipedia even manages to suggest that the word had the same meaning in Old Rus, the language of the area before the Polish invasions. Even the Polish etymology bible, Bruckner's is misleading here.

I've looked at several maps, but haven't found the natural geographic border. I have found a 1980-85 population density map, but the data there must be too recent - eg after border clearances in mountainous land, or, just as likely, manipulated by the Polish communist publishers, to show that the border is roughly rightly placed.

I must try and find out the name of this Polish woman who had such control over Stalin and, presumably Krushchev, leader of the Ukraine in this period. I don't even know what year it was. Presumably, however, it was before the 1939 inclusion of Lvov into the Ukrainian SSR when Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR. Maybe, however, Stalin revisited this issue for the 1944 recreation of Poland. Indeed, I have found some support for this possibility in (unreliable, of course) English Wikipedia, which claims that at the 1945 Yalta conference, Stalin concluded that "Poland must be strong" and that "the Soviet Union is interested in the creation of a mighty, free and independent Poland". It seems that Stalin may have had a soft spot for the country.

Actually, I'm incredibly pleased that I now have the real truth about the decision makers at Yalta at last. I'd heard several times from Polish commentators that neither Roosevelt nor Churchill cared about Poland and, once before, that Churchill was virtually incapacitated and powerless, with Roosevelt not caring. I can now be absolutely certain that it was the fault of the Brits. It's so good to find out that none of those rumours about the war leaving Britain a failing, bankrupt country were true: amazing and thanks ... and the USA thought it won the war. John Wayne go home.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Frog Spawning Ground

I'm painting walls and ceilings at the moment, but I did get out a couple of days ago to enjoy the sunshine. I walked up the road to Żabieniec (Frog Spawning Ground), which is not so much a village as a few homes, thousands of square metres of distribution centre, other businesses and a derelict farm.

There are quite a few streams and artificial ponds around.

Much more of the snow has now gone, but 3 days ago, the ice lay well above the flowing water on the Cold Water Stream/River.

The water is crystal clear.

I came across a tree circle.

I had hoped to see some deer, but apart from trails crossing everywhere, I didn't see any animals.

The effect of direct sun on the snow compared with more shaded areas can be seen beside this winding stream.

Although the effect was uneven.

Is this a snowcap's nest?

NB This is not the Żabieniec near Piaseczno in Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

March Weather, 2010

I can't remember what the temperatures were like last year, but the visual pattern was that snow had nearly cleared at the beginning of the month (3 March).

From 2009 2010 Mlochow Seasons
A light layer of new snow appeared on the 4th March,

Which slowly disappeared. (11 March shown here.)

This was followed by a heavier layer in the middle of the month, at its heaviest on the 15th.

Apart from a few spots, this remained just four days - the last snow of the winter. From a night thaw, it had virtually gone on 18th March - shown here on the 23rd.

The new season's green grass on the foreground uncultivated land becomes visible in the photographs from the 29th, spreading and becoming more visible by the 31st - below.

Click here to open a new tab with a slideshow of the changing weather from November 2009 to, currently, March 2010. It should eventually reach up to October 2010.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

It's Pretty Warm Out There

My spring expectations remain hovering on the knife edge (if not dangling on the tip of the ice pick), but we're nearly there. Even when the temperature has been down to -20°C in the night, the temperature in full sun has been around +4° to +10°. Sandwiched between nights of -9° and -12°, yesterday's sunstroke-warning maximum was +14°.

I've continued pretty cheerful about the weather anyway, but for anyone who might feel depressed about the cold, I thought I'd give a bit of 'it could be worse' encouragement. These are extracts from Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China During the years 1844-5-6. Volume 2 [of 2], by Evariste Regis Huc,, a French Missionary, translated by W. Hazlitt. (If you're interested in older books and don't know the Gutenberg Project, it's an essential site to visit. A digitised copy of the original book is available at American Libraries, which links to Google, etc.

We perceived a traveller sitting on a great stone, his head bent forward on his chest, his arms pressed against his sides, and his whole frame motionless as a statue. We called to him several times, but he made no reply, and did not even indicate, by the slightest movement, that he heard us. “How absurd,” said we to each other, “for a man to loiter in this way in such dreadful weather. The wretched fellow will assuredly die of cold.” We called to him once more, but he remained silent and motionless as before. We dismounted, went up to him, and recognised in him a young Mongol Lama, who had often paid us a visit in our tent. His face was exactly like wax, and his eyes, half-opened, had a glassy appearance; icicles hung from his nostrils and from the corners of his mouth. We spoke to him, but obtained no answer; and for a moment we thought him dead. Presently, however, he opened his eyes, and fixed them upon us with a horrible expression of stupefaction: the poor creature was frozen, and we comprehended at once that he had been abandoned by his companions.

It seemed to us so frightful to leave a man to die, without making an effort to save him, that we did not hesitate to take him with us. We took him from the stone on which he had been placed, enveloped him in a wrapper, seated him upon Samdadchiemba’s little mule, and thus brought him to the encampment. When we had set up our tent, we went to visit the companions of this poor young man. Upon our informing them what we had done, they prostrated themselves in token of thanks, and said that we were people of excellent hearts, but that we had given ourselves much labour in vain, for that the case was beyond cure. “He is frozen,” said they, “and nothing can prevent the cold from getting to his heart.” We ourselves did not participate in this despairing view of the case, and we returned to our tent, accompanied by one of the patient’s companions, to see what further could be done. When we reached our temporary home, the young Lama was dead.

The narrative describes much of the suffering of Joseph Gabet, Huc's companion, but there was some respite:

The north wind greatly aggravated M. Gabet’s malady. From day to day his condition grew more alarming. His extreme weakness would not permit him to walk, and being thus precluded from warming himself by means of a little exercise, his feet, hands, and face were completely frozen; his lips became livid, and his eyes almost extinct; by-and-by he was not able to support himself on horseback. Our only remedy was to wrap him in blankets, to pack him upon a camel, and to leave the rest to the merciful goodness of Divine Providence. ...

We were beginning to ascend the vast chain of the Tant-La mountains; on the plateau of which, our travelling companions assured us, the invalids would die, and those who were now well would become invalids, with but a small chance of living. The death of M. Gabet was considered quite a matter of certainty. ...

During the twelve days that we were journeying along the heights of Tant-La, we enjoyed fine weather; the air was calm, and it pleased God to bless us each day with a warm, genial sunshine, that materially modified the ordinary coldness of the atmosphere. Still the air, excessively rarefied at that enormous altitude, was very piercing, and monstrous eagles, which followed the track of the caravan, were daily provided with a number of dead bodies. The small caravan of the French mission itself paid its tribute to death; but, happily, that tribute was only in the shape of our little black mule, which we abandoned at once with regret and with resignation. The dismal prophecy that had been announced with reference to M. Gabet was falsified. The mountains, which were to have been fatal to him, proved, on the contrary, highly favourable, restoring to him, by degrees, health and strength.

Hazlitt's translation dates from 1852. The early Victorian language is sufficiently different to modern English to gives it a charming, historic effect. Compare the last two sentences with the 1982, modern English translation by Charles de Salis: The gloomy predictions made about Father Gabet proved to be quite wrong. Quite the contrary, this plateau did him a great deal of good. His health and normal strength gradually returned. I read this version first, with its plain English and simple sentence structure, and found nothing wrong with it. I wonder what I would have felt if it had been the other way round.

Gabet survived the journey, although his last mention by name is: M. Gabet ... not having sufficient strength to grasp the tail of his horse, he fell from exhaustion, and became almost buried in the snow. ... He arrived more dead than alive; his face was of a livid paleness, and his heaving breast sent forth a sound like the death-rattle.

I think about 200 people have died of cold in Poland so far this year, wihch is not an unusual number. This 11 March 2006 report, possibly with figures from January that year, comes from the World Socialist Web Site:

At last count more than 240 people have frozen to death since October 2005. The past several months have witnessed Poland’s coldest winter in twenty years. The winter of 2005-2006 has recorded temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius ...

Just over the weekend of January 21, 2006, for example, 27 people died, bringing the total at that time to an amount that far surpassed previous years. In the entire winter of 2004, for instance, 180 people perished. “This [amount of 2005-2006 winter deaths] is an exceptionally high number,” police spokeswoman Grazyna Puchalska told the Associated Foreign Press. “And the winter is not over yet.”

Why not read the whole article? It has comments such as "previously Stalinist Poland had an extensive system of social welfare funded from the national budget, with both health care and social security benefits being both free and comprehensive".

I've never been out in temperatures lower than -26°, but, then the -35° may have been in Suwałki. Anyway, you'd have to be mad to go out in the snow and freezing cold ... to beat your carpet on 29 December - 2005 view from the kitchen in our Jelonki flat in Warsaw. I've no idea who it was.