Thursday, 27 October 2011

Plump Pumpkins and Gaudy Gourds

For urban gardeners, Polish celebration of Halloween is perfectly timed for the cusp between autumn and winter, literally celebrating the fruits of the growing year.

From 2011 10

Driving along the Piaseczno / Nadarzyn road you suddenly come across a group of some seven or eight stalls of bright orange pumpkins, shining out like the early morning sun, bringing a haze of colour to an otherwise drab landscape.

The road is aptly named Sunny (Słoneczna - the 721), with the pumpkin fields lying behind the houses at the front. Although it is quite common to come across a single or a pair of stalls around Warsaw, the collection on this road makes it exceptionally attractive, both in terms of looks and stopping to buy. The one we mainly used had the added advantage of having a small car park.

There is all the witch stuff and trick-or-treat for young kids and a restaurant night out for those who want it (and pubs, I guess, if you have one near you). However, it is the display of colour that I value most, surviving the frosts and giving a warm welcome, as night takes over from day and grey increasingly engulfs us in anticipation of the monotones of snow.

I didn't look around for value for money, so I don't know how fair the price is, but this lot came to 95 zloties. Very big ones at this stall were 100zl, although the quote at one of the others was 1,000zl: it may have been slightly bigger, but not much. I presume they are cheaper in the supermarkets, but I have never seen the range of colours and shapes that the growers sell by the road.

We have asked in other places in previous years whether the fruit is edible and the answer has generally been 'yes'. Not that we've actually eaten them, though.

Monday, 24 October 2011

My Mum's Smile

My Mum, Stella (aka to the family as Bet), died recently. I have been trying to think how to commemorate her, but there was so much to remember and so many things I would like to say. She lives on: many of my attitudes and my perspective are derived from her, so it is a reasonable assumption that any comments I make here are likely to be in some way a reflection of her and her influence. She already has a memorial garden here in Młochów, with much I have done here inspiring thoughts of her and with the wish that she was here with me to give advice, comment or simply to enjoy everything.

However, in looking through my photographs, something more direct and personal to her came to mind: her smile (eg from 2010).

From Mum

It is so common in her photographs eg in this childhood picture with brother Jack and sister Margaret - I think it is (Great) Auntie Bun in the background.

At her wedding to Richard:

With their first son, also named Richard - Richard, the father, died around four years after this, so Mum raised their two sons by herself, still smiling:

With (Great) Uncle George, a veteran of both World Wars and a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

With Jan and Will Spayne. Mum's friendship with Jan took us on holidays we might never otherwise have had, walking in the Lake District, Wales and elsewhere.

With Uncle George again and grandson Stephen:

With brother John in 2001:

With granddaughter Misia (Michelle)in 2005:

With the waiter in her favourite Indian restaurant in 2006:

With Babcia Basia (her sister-in-law?) in 2006:

As she became increasingly ill and she could feel her time ebbing away, the smile became more difficult, but it could still be there at least as the glimmer visible in this picture with Misia again in July this year.

One of my last memories of her was in the nursing home where she was staying. She was still being prepared for our visit when we arrived, so we waited outside her room. All we could hear was peels of laughter from the support staff behind the closed door: that was my Mum, making people laugh!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Teacher's Day

For a household with a teacher, schoolgirl and her chauffeur, Teacher's Day is a special day. As describes it (in my English):

Teachers’ Day, officially called National Education Day, is celebrated on October 14 in Poland. The schools organise formal assemblies to honour the teachers.
National Education Day was introduced 28 years ago. It is the anniversary of the creation of the Commission of National Education in 1773 by King Stanisław August Poniatowski.

Teachers are given awards by their Directors and students give them flowers and gifts.

Today is special because, despite the above, school children don't go to school, which means that I didn't have the twice daily shuttle. Friday just happens to be the day in the week when everyone leaves late, though, so I didn't get an extra lie-in. That there isn't any education on National Education Day is the most important thing for the kids, but in some mysterious communal way, they did give flowers yesterday. Orchids seem to be very much in fashion at the moment.

I still had an important role to play, however. I produced a plateful of fancily arranged delicacies for the teaching staff's social networking get-together. 'Important', 'fancily' and 'delicacies' rather over egg the value of boiled eggs with garlic sauce wrapped in smoked salmon and ham (plus lettuce and tomato decoration), but at least I did do something to thank our award winning, family teaching member and her colleagues.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Election

There's news on the street that Poland has scored a European and, possibly, world first in the election. Yes. it's the first ever political party to get into Parliament named after a chain of cigarette shops: Ruch. (There's also a transvestite MP, apparently.)

There seems general consensus that the Ruch Palikot party will provide entertainment, although I found that many of Palikot's political antics were too full of aggressive hate to be funny even though I saw the joke. I will therefore be watching to see whether the Party will be Smokin'-hot, Cool Cats - punning his name, or will they just turn out to be Trash Can Incendiaries.

However, there are people who look to the party to present a serious political alternative. Poland calls out for you: just imagine the singer in the following video is Poland personified:

I've been looking for a driver who's qualified,
So if you think that you're the one, step into my ride.
I'm a fine-tuned supersonic speed machine
With a sunroof top and a gangster lean.


Shut Up and Drive
Shut Up and Drive

Did you notice the country on the car numberplate? Go on, guys, force yourself to look at the video again.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Butterflies in a Polish Summer

Summer had its fair share as well, but the predominance of more drabber, light brown colours and blander pale colours made it less awe inspiring. The main included the Dusky Meadow Brown - Likaon in Polish, a name from Greek mythology, I think. I can't see any connection, but great story from Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Lycaon, in Greek mythology, a legendary king of Arcadia. Traditionally, he was an impious and cruel king who tried to trick Zeus, the king of the gods, into eating human flesh. The god was not deceived and in wrath devastated the earth with Deucalian’s flood, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I. Lycaon himself was turned into a wolf.

The story of Lycaon was apparently told in order to explain an extraordinary ceremony, the Lycaea, held in honour of Zeus Lycaeus at Mount Lycaeus. According to Plato (Republic, Book VIII), this ceremony was believed to involve human sacrifice and lycanthropy (assuming the form of a wolf). The Greek traveller Pausanias implies that the rite was still practised in the 2nd century ad.

OK, it's the Werewolf Butterfly.

Hanging around with this was the rather similarly coloured Ringlet - Trawnik in Polish, which now translates into Lawn, but I suspect that simply calling it the Grass might be closer to the original.

There were numerous white and very pale yellow butterflies, but flying along with them was the more eyecatching (Common) Brimstone - take your pick in Polish, the easiest being the Lemon (Cytrynek), but Lemon Leaf or the Summer Lemon Leaf being possibilities.

Others were far less common, such as the Small Copper, whose Polish name (Żarek) has various options, although 'Glowing Embers' sounds good to me.

Walking around the garden one day, I saw a butterfly that was much larger and differently coloured than any others, but it flew off as soon as I got close. I eventually came across it in another garden just round the corner, but again, just a quick snap and it left. It's the Old World Swallowtail - The King's Page (in the sense of Pageboy, rather than a piece of paper) in Polish: Paź królowej.

I would have no chance of identifying many of these without having my photographs and then being able to compare with my reference books. I nearly gave up on this one, but fortunately I had both upper and lower wings pictures. It's (fingers crossed) the Silver Washed Fritillary or the Raspberry Mother-of-Pearl in Polish (Perłowiec Malinowiec).

It was the under-wing that eventually decided me thanks to my 1989 Observers Butterflies, as my 1972 Mały Atlas Motyli only has top-wing illustrations. (When you take lots of photos, there must be times when near-perfect results happen by complete accident.)

I saw the Marbled White a few times in the garden, but it was around the corner again that I got a slightly better photo. "Chessboard' in Polish - Szachownica.

This last doesn't appear in Observers Butterflies, but is the summer colours of Kratnik (The Lattice) in Mały Atlas Motyli. Wikipedia (regularly referred to in trying to find out these names) tells me it's called the Map in English and that "In the UK this species is a very rare vagrant, but there have also been several unsuccessful – and now illegal – attempts at introducing this species over the past 100 years or so". Its common in Poland. This is another picture from outside the garden and I am not sure if I saw it there at all.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Butterflies in a Polish Autumn

September 2009: a swarm of butterflies arrived in the garden, with about 60/70 gathering on asters in front of the dining-room window. It was an amazing site, far exceeding the show provided by the various Butterfly Centres I have visited, and something I had never seen before.

This year, there were about half that number, but they were still lovely to watch.

From 2011 09

A quick diversion with a thought about the evolution of language. One might guess that languages with little similarity in origin (eg comparing Polish and English) will tend to differ most for common objects, particularly those related to basic rural life, predominate when the languages originally developed. The extent this might apply to butterflies is not self-evident, so see below.

The most numerous type was the Peacock - Pawik (pron Pavik) and also 'Peacock' in Polish. Although I have only seen them in large numbers in the autumn, solitary butterflies visit throughout the year. The earliest this year was in March, indoors: perhaps awakened when wood from the pile outside was brought inside for burning.

In slighter fewer numbers were the Small Tortoiseshell - Pokrzywnik (po-kshiw-nik) or 'Nettle' in Polish. Adding a slightly fanciful interpretation of the family name, a nicer version would be 'Nettle Nymph'.

There were also Painted Ladies - Osetnik or, fancifully as before, 'Thistle Nymph' in Polish.

The particular beauty of this butterfly comes from having brightly coloured wings on both sides.

A few Red Admirals came along - just Admirał in Polish: 'ł' becomes 'w', but English 'Admiral' should be (miss)understood.

Finally, as part of the swarm, there were Queen of Spain Fritillaries (I think, but they all look much the same) - Latonia in Polish, whose full name I would have tried to twist into 'Dignity in Flight' or 'Summer Dignity', but it is actually Polonisation of the Latin name 'Lathonia'. Anyway, I am saved from all of that by having the common name 'Lesser Mother of Pearl' - perłowiec mniejszy (with extreme hesitation, per-wov-ee-es mknee-e-I-she, remembering the emphasis is on the second-to-last syllable and there are no pauses between syllables).

A couple of white butteries have also fluttered past, but they didn't participate this year in crowd feeding.

The numbers fell dramatically after a cool, very grey morning and today, after a cold damp night, there are none to be seen.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Jamie Stokes on Virtue-alnia Polska

Any one who might have any interest in reading about Poland should be a routine reader of Jamie Stokes' comments on Wirtualnia Polska. If not, try it out and add it to your reading list. I've just been through two tremendous pieces.

The first was "If Poland had a Facebook page…". I think it was intended primarily for his Polish readers, but outsiders with a good knowledge of Poland should find it both perceptive and witty. He does, however, seem to have left out 1989 in "Saviour of Europe (1683, 1920)" and I would add "revising other countries' histories" in 'Activities and Interests". If you can link the two, you will know what I mean. Something about digging up dead bodies would have been appropriate as well.

I then went to the next, Poles, be proud of your politics!, which I think is serious (although I am never completely sure with Jamie - a supreme complement in my view). It focuses on the parliamentary election campaign, but has the basic message that "Poland is one of the last places in Europe where there is genuine passion and choice in politics". Although the 'one of the last places' may be a bit too much a UK/Polish perspective, I also believe that this wonderful feature of Polish politics makes it a far greater reflector of voters' preferences and therefore a much stronger democracy than the UK. (I may well have said this before, but I once effectively declined an invitation to participate in training on improving democracy in Poland by suggesting that the UK could learn lessons from Poland. How's the UK getting on with its plans to introduce proportional representation?)

However, much more than this, I am a great fan of the system of checks and balances in the Polish parliamentary decision making system. The UK's strong government system basically gets one of the two parties into power with the mandate to revolutionary change everything that the second party did when fulfilling its mandate to revolutionary change everything that the first party had previously done. Things do evolve, but in practice it is a destructive and disruptive process: called see-saw politics.

Poland instead has governments made up of not very compatible partners, which, even combined, have marginal majorities. The UK political party control of its MPs is way beyond the dream of even the most dictatorial Polish party (PiS) leader, so Polish MPs tend much more to vote by conscience. This marginal majority disappears easily. Then, there is regular appeal to the Constitutional Court, which makes ridiculously political overruling judgements. Finally, there are Presidents who, at least sometimes, veto new laws that they consider unacceptable. Critics hungry for change are quite right in saying that this makes it virtually impossible for a government to introduce essential new modernising changes to Poland's laws. On the other hand, it also prevents the politicians that these critics don't support from introducing changes that they would not like.

So what happens in Poland? It takes years of each new government making different proposals, with everything eventually becoming a watered-down compromise acceptable across much of the political spectrum and, given the public debate over the years, with widespread public acceptance. Very few people will think its ideal, but the balance of acceptability is high. Things do evolve therefore, but it is a political process where the public are not the guinea pigs, party political ping-pong balls. I can't help admiring it after the UK. (I made this point somewhere before and a reply mentioned something like the importance of competition in politics and law making. Poland's competition in 'making' laws is much more extreme than the UK. The UK excels in changing them, time and time again.)

For any US reader, think of health care reform, 1993 to 2010. The last I heard, the US was still wondering if it could afford it. The UK health service has had continuous revolutionary re-changes in this period, which will doubtlessly continue going round in circles as each new government get elected. It wouldn't surprise me if Poland manages to get a sort of muddled, mid-way caring and efficiency solution that managed to last for years simply because it works well enough. (I would add 'better than most other countries in Europe', but that may be too much rose-coloured glasses guff.)

Thanks, Jamie. I've even met the man, wow!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Brain Interpretive and Understanding Capacity

Another of Pauline's great emails:

If you can read this you have a strong mind:

7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!

1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5!

1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD BU7 N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15.

PL3453 F0RW4RD 1F U C4N R34D 7H15.

I got stuck on 53RV35 at the beginning, and only worked it out after finishing the rest. My brain did not register the phrase "serves to prove", which is not part of my vocabulary and, after checking a couple of dictionaries, seems to be sloppy English - the meaning of 'serves' may have changed, of course. Does the phrase mean, simply, 'proves'?

I wonder if Polish readers would understand this. I think it would be impossible for me to understand even simple Polish phrases written in this way. Indeed, I have enough problem with the simple verbal requirement of understanding through picking up key spoken words, which serves to complete understanding of past as well as future speech. I have to listen closely to everything said (and then still fail to understand often enough). Its one of the reasons why using another language can be extremely tiring.

Going back, I still hesitate on 53RV35. This reminds me of the regular questions I have about English words and phrases, when all I can say is "I don't know why, but it just sounds wrong to me", just like 'serves to prove'. The replying answer is often "OK, but can you say it?". "Yes, of course. You can say anything you like. Everyone will understand and there are far more important things to worry about." (An important thing for students to understand about English, I guess.) To be of greater help, however, I try to add, "However, I would say ...". (Thinks: 'please don't say "why" '.) "Why? Only joking!"

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

La Fromage Jaunes Est Arrivę

I seem to have been though the entire development of the Polish yellow cheese market, from limited availability of, usually Edam (made from surplus milk by white and cream cheese producers - a company president told me), through the welcome ...damer name variation explosion (and its subsequent deterioration in consistency of taste), into the movement from cut block cheese in the supermarkets to factory pre-packed slices and chunks. All that was left was the production and easy availability of a quality tasting cheese suitable for the cheeseboard. It's arrived.

A few months ago, a range of four different types of six month matured Polish made cheese arrived in Tesco's. I tried two, but they weren't very good - Radamer and Gouda. The Radamer, which can be a good unmatured cheese, was most disappointing, whilst the Gouda was bought mainly because I couldn't imagine Gouda being a high quality table cheese, even matured (within my own personal preferences, obviously) and I wasn't surprised that it wasn't. (I now wonder if Lidl's Gouda is matured, as it taste's the same, but much cheaper.)

In the thrill of anticipation the same day, however, I saw another six-month matured cheese and bought it - Stary Olęder, Old Hollander, I guess it means. It is a strong tasting hard cheese, which I can best describe as being halfway towards the taste and texture of some of the lesser costing parmesan type cheeses - Grand Padarmo, or something like that. (This may just be false memory, but it is good enough to think along those lines.)

The amazing thing, however, was that ...

... it is a Biedronka own product, although, it is produced by Spomlek, which also makes the matured cheeses in Tesco under their own brand. I didn't think about a price comparison, but I had the feeling that the price was reasonable for a 'better quality cheese' (even more so now that I have tasted it).

Tesco also does three levels of English matured cheddar, but even the longest matured didn't taste like the strong mature cheddar I recall in England. I can't remember the brand - maybe something Kingdom, but I did see it in the Warsaw Fish and Chip shop. Stary Olęder is superior.