Thursday, 30 July 2009
Today, I find myself more ambivalent. Today, I can also picture Warsaw throught the eyes of the survivors of the Uprising; for five years they fought the Nazi to find one oppressor replaced by another, who persecuted former Home Army soldiers on trumped-up charges of collaborating with the occupant.
To the veterans of the Uprising, the kitch, neo-classical monumentalism symbolised nothing less than the Soviet boot repeatedly stamping brutally down upon the ruins of their beloved city. And at its very heart, Stalin's gift to Warsaw's people, the Palace of "Culture". The culture of the Gulag, of torture, of a lying, stupid, totalitarian ideology that would deprive Poles of the chance to fulfill their potential for a further 45 years.
Below: Symbols of an alien ideology. The 'worker' triumphant. 'Ill-fed slave' more like. Today it's history, thank God. It should be preserved, left for the future rather than torn down as some suggest. But walking around the Plac Konstytucji (named after the Stalinist 'constitution' of 1952), one needs to have an awareness of what it all symbolises.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
After 12 years in Poland, I'm still really stuck on why British cheese producers have failed miserably to get their wonderful product into Polish shops, when Gorgonzolas, Jarlsbergs, Edams and Feta are so freely available. I am reminded of the Monty Python cheese shop sketch:
Cleese: Aah, how about Cheddar?
Palin: Well, we don't get much call for it around here, sir.
Cleese: Not much call...? It's the single most popular cheese in the world!
Palin: Not round here it isn't, sir.
The British have been terrible at exporting their specialties. Look at the photo (top). Spot the odd-man-out. It's the Irish Kerrygold butter. The packaging - it's in Polish! Available in Poland for at least ten years, we pay a premium price for it because of the taste and because it spreads easily straight from the fridge. Cheddar - you can get 'cheddar' at our local Auchan - but it's Irish cheddar in mild and 'old' varieties. But a decent gum-tingling vintage, extra-mature English cheddar, with a decent rind on it - not a chance. Not to mention Stilton.
Until this year, that is. An enterprising Anglo-Pole has started bringing over the very best of British cheese, a fascinating range at affordable prices (the cheeses above cost me just over 90 zlotys).
Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org - no website, but excellent service, free delivery in Kraków and Warsaw.
The Nairn's Capital Oatcakes, Branston Pickle or Pickled Onions in the photo - I have to bring in myself from the UK. Same goes for Marmite, Tilda Basmati rice, pork scratchings, decent ciders, TCP and Dettox.
For my readers unaware of the wonders of British cheese, I can tell you that they are as rich and diverse as the UK's regional accents. Read the Wikipedia article and sample the delights.
UPDATE 9 August 2009:A visit to Real (a German-owned hypermarket chain) last night revealed that a range of Pilgrim's Choice cheeses are on sale, including Double Gloucester, a favourite of Eddie's, and some organic Cheddars. Pilgrim's Choice came to Poland for the BPCC's annual Agri-Food Forum in November 2007. Good to see their cheeses getting into mainstream hypermarkets.
This time last year:
Through the wetlands, on foot
The time two years ago:
Rainbows and rainfall records
Miserable grey little island
Monday, 27 July 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
So when I read in yesterday's Observer and Sunday Telegraph - about the hoo-hah caused by the British Conservatives being in league with Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, I was deeply puzzled. What on earth have David Cameron's Tories got in common with Jarosław Kaczyński's party? Not a whole lot.
PiS - lazily labelled 'right wing' by British commentators - is a not party I'd naturally associate with Norman Tebbit's 'get on your bike' self-reliance, nor with Michael Heseltine's deregulation nor with Margaret Thatcher's reformist zeal and focus on economic competitiveness. PiS panders to older Poles, nostalgic for the certainties of a time when the state provided everything, yet who were against the communist party, and who were and still are staunchly Catholic and patriotic. [I recommend examining the parallels between General Franco's supporters and those of PiS]
I won't go as far as saying that PiS are national socialists - they are nowhere near that far along the spectrum of human intolerance - but patriotic, religious socialists - certainly. They have a deep mistrust of the private sector. While Kaczyński (J) was in power (his twin's power extends only to blocking legislation, not initiating it), privatisation ground to a halt, public-private partnerships failed to move ahead, roads, railways, bridges, sewage treatment works, power grids, power stations, were not being built because there was always the suspicion that someone would actually profit from it.
Demographically, PiS's voters are generally middle-aged and old. The party makes far less headway than PO or left-of-centre SLD among younger votes.
From the economic perspective, PiS was way to the left of Tony Blair. But from the social point of view, PiS is way to the right of Cameron's Tories - on issues such as religious tolerance, gay rights, abortion, in vitro etc. In both these fields, you'd be hard-pressed to find major policy differences between the Tories and PO.
So why have Britain's Conservatives aligned themselves with PiS?
One word - Europe. Michał Kamiński
The one bit of ideology that PiS shares with the Tories - going back to Margaret Thatcher's days - is Euroscepticism. PO is unashamedly Euroenthusiastic. Yet drill down into the roots of the Euroscepticism and you see two different sets of causes. The Tories of Middle England dislike Brussels bureaucracy, daft regulations, metric measures, Britain being ruled by foreigners with funny names. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość supporters fear Germans buying up Poland, loss of fought-over sovereignty and having secularism, diversity and gayness foisted upon the nation.
David Cameron needs to mull over his party's alliances in Brussels. Britain has always been rather weedy in Europe, tiptoeing around the issues central to the EU's strategic direction allowing the French and others to determine it instead, to the advantage of other global players. British Tories should fight in Brussels for a strong and globally competitive Europe and pick partners with the same vision.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
- You arrive at Heathrow, not Luton, Gatwick or (worst of all) Stansted a.k.a London Cambridge.
- You take off at a civilised time (not a 04:00 check-in for a 06:00 take-off which means waking up before three, which remember is two am in the UK). By the end of a long working day in London, you will have been up for nearly 20 hours.
- You arrive at a civilised time, when cheap day travel cards reduce the cost of reaching the centre of the Capital to £7.50 (compared to £22.50 for peak-time single from Luton plus peak time travel card when you arrive before 8am)
- You are fed and watered without having to pull your wallet out of your pocket, which let's face it is difficult when you're strapped into a cramped seat
- Baggage allowance is 23 kilo, not a piddling 15. Which means I can bring large amounts of brochures, magazines and other marketing materials on the way out en route to those business meetings, and a five-kilo sack of Tilda Basmati rice on the way home. And not pay £50 surcharge for the privilege.
- You get a free newspaper or three on boarding. And two readable inflight mags.
- Your eyes are not assaulted by garish orange or purple
- Aircraft windows are not yellowed, crazed, grime-streaked or misted-over, allowing a higher quality of photograph to be taken through them
- You usually get to fly in over Central London, which often yields spectacular views.
This time last year:
Interesting regular visitors to Okęcie
Take me right back to the track, Jack!
This time two years ago:
On The Road Again
Visit to Wrocław
Some family history
Poland's best pub?
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Between the river and the landmarks and the public places and spaces are the pass-through places that figure not in guidebook or mind; the interstices, joining/dividing yet overlooked in their own right, with their own klimat.
Down in the tube station at midnight... Warsaw feels a safe city, a perception borne out by statistics.
At bus terminus, with torch at timetable: when's my bus?
Below: I've often wondered what Kabaty was like in the 1920s. Crazy jazz among the farmsteads, I expect. Warsaw's public authority, ZTM, has a bus that will take you there. I'd quite fancy a bus ride to 1960s Hanwell, West London; if only TfL had the same degree of imagination...
Sunday, 12 July 2009
Not so good on the potato front. The field alongside ul. Nawłocka (right) shows signs of being severely waterlogged; the flowers of the plants are withered and the crop is blighted. Meanwhile in the fruit trees, it's a staggeringly good year for cherries - though a bountiful crop is not particularly good news for the commercial growers who have to contend with low, low prices. This was the case with apples last year.
Not every potato field is contending with the consequences of heavy rains; this one looks in rude health. Wherever we can, we support local growers by buying locally. In Zgorzała, there are several season fruit and veg stalls where local farmers will sell their produce. It's better for the local economy and for the environment. And I dare say, Jeziorki potatoes are tastier than ones from Holland or Spain.
Wheatfields look nice too - the stalks are long, the ears are full.
This time last year
The Rampa - going, going...
This time two years ago:
Glum July, dark skies and rain
Saturday, 11 July 2009
The storm the forecasters missedThe 2008 Mole Outbreak
This time two years ago:
Peacocks in the Park
Friday, 10 July 2009
Last week, a group of street artists has reclaimed this area and has painted dozens of excellent pieces of art on what were until now filthy, malodorous, urine- and obscenity-stained surfaces.
Above: Not sure whether this is meant to be the late Michael Jackson in his prime, but it is certainly a whole lot better than how this particular wall looked before. The mix of techniques suggests the amount of care and time taken to do this work. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, "what is painted without effort is looked at without pleasure".
Left: Stalin's gift to the people of Warsaw, immortalised. With a raccoon peering around it (rather than King Kong on the Empire State Building) and a rather fat cosmonaut in orbit overhead. Humour and localisation. Pure Warsaw. I like it. It's great having a free contemporary art gallery so close to my place of work.
I like this pop-art style (right); the artist known as Simpson has a fine line in 1930s and '40s Americana; this Disneyesque laughing horse, roller brush in hand. The technique used (Ben-Day dots) harks back to the comic books of the day and to artist Roy Lichtenstein.
Below: Street art takes on a political dimension - Lukashenka, Europe's last dictator and hilarious mustachio'd comb-over merchant, is sent into orbit by the people of Belarus.
A peacock (left), symbolic of the nearby Park Łazienkowski. Behind, on another pillar, more street art. This is such an improvement over what was here before - guys, keep it up!
Prior to this sudden outburst of quality street art under Trasa Łazienkowska, Warsaw's main claim to fame in this area is the eastern wall of the horse-racing track at Służewiec, running alongside ul. Puławska. I'm surprised I've not blogged this one before.
Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, this has become legendary as Europe's longest unbroken stretch of street art.
Above: This wall goes on for one non-stop kilometre. Here and there, you will find interesting pieces. But they are rare, and typically, works don't stay on for long, they get painted over (so the wall is fresh and lives a dynamic existence). Although the elderly fabric is crumbling.
Right: my current favourite on the Słuzewiec graffiti wall. A reference to American WW2 feminist icon Rosie the Riveter? Work signed Simpson.
As a society, we need to distinguish between primitive graffiti and decent street art. A mindless tag on someone's property, the visual equivalent of a dog peeing up against a wall, deserves punishment: 100 lashes, or being made to inhale the content of your spray can, or being chained to the nearest railing for 48 hours with a sign around your neck saying 'VANDAL'. Yet street art, which elevates passers-by, causing them to pause and reflect, and which brightens otherwise brutalistic grey expanses of concrete, is a social GOOD.
My tips to those wishing to go out and do some:
* Know what you want to do before you start
* Seek to enliven drab expanses of grey concrete but-
* Don't paint on brick
* Don't paint on private property
* Leave public transport - trains and stations - be
* Graffiti in pedestrian underpasses frightens people
* I really don't care who your favourite football team is
* If you can't do anything more advanced than a tag, don't bother.
Thursday, 9 July 2009
This time last year:
Optimal means of commuting?
This time two years ago:
Sunshine and rain
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
My current mountain bike, a 2007 Cannondale Caffeine F1, replaced my 1997 Klein Matra (which Moni had appropriated for herself). The Caffeine is much lighter, being front-suspension only, while the Mantra was lavishly appointed with front and rear suspension. Riding the Klein at speed over the pot-holed and largely untarmacked roads of Pyry in the late '90s was like driving a Citroen DS23 over a ploughed field - comfortable, yet... not a performance ride.
The Caffeine is stiffer, much lighter, but a bit skittier. It comes into its own on the forest trails through the Las Kabacki, which wonderful as it is to ride through, forms only 2.2km of my 18km journey to work. Much of the rest is along cycle paths.
Right: The Las Kabacki, shortly after 8am. Turning off ul. Jagielska, snarled up with a queue of traffic waiting to turn right onto ul. Puławska, I escape from the noise and pollution into a world of sunlight, bird song, peace and near-solitude (there are other cyclists in the forest, and joggers and Nordic walkers). I wonder whether there is any city around the world that has wedges of forest protruding into the very centre, so suburbanites can cycle or walk right into the heart of the city without having asphalt and concrete all around.
But if that's impossible, let there at least be civilised cycle paths, like the one that runs down Al. KEN (below), Ursynów's backbone. Notice how a fenced lawn separates the pavement from the cyclepath, and how shrubberies separate it from the kerb and roadway. This, dear reader, is decent urban planning.
While the sun shone on the way out, the homeward leg was threatened by that daily July meteorological phenomenon, the July storm. All day long, clouds build up, small white ones at first, then getting increasingly large, conjoining, darkening, brooding... As I left the office I could see the horizon threatening. Would I make it home dry?
Well, this evening I was lucky. Apart from a few drops which caught me just before I entered the Las Kabacki, I would get home unsoaked. Rain on a warm summer's evening is not a great deterrent to cycle commuting, unless it's a complete downpour. Consumer electronics (camera, phone) do not like drenchings.
UPDATE: 10 July 2009 - my ride to work this morning took only 53 minutes - beating my 2007 best time of 55 mins.
Below: A Nysa 522M minibus. This is the smaller of the two Polish designed and built light vans (the other being the more commonly seen Żuk). The example below is local and in recent weeks the owner's replaced the panelling around the radiator grille. I hope this presages more investment into this shapely old timer.
Meanwhile, across the Iron Curtain, even a moderately well-off West German could afford an Opel Kadett fastback coupe(below). In production from 1967 to '73, it was rolling off the production lines at the same time as the Nysa and the UAZ-69.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
This time last year:
Bike ride to Święty Krzyż
This time two years ago:
Two years... Lublin and the Road
Saturday, 4 July 2009
Yet Jeziorki, and indeed I'd guess the whole of Ursynów, was spared a drenching. Above: Fields between ul. Kórnicka and ul. Baletowa. The stormclouds are massing from the left. Below: the railway line from the fields of Dawidy Bankowe. The clouds are now over Praga, the scene illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun.
Friday, 3 July 2009
And what could be more quintessentially rural Poland than the scene above? A narrow path, a wooden fence - that Polish lovely word 'opłotki' - a lane running between fences or hedges - a white painted cottage, a cherry tree full of ripe fruit, clear blue skies, yet lots of vivid greens for the time of year.
Trains terminating at Czachówek Południowy use this canopied platform (above) to the north of the through-train platforms.
I've mentioned in previous posts the junction layout at Czachówek, where two lines cross. There are four spurs running off the main lines to connect them. The two northern spurs running north-east and north-west are in daily use; the south-western one rarely, but the south-eastern spur is evidently not used at all. Despite that, PKP is still using electricity to light signals on this spur line (something I've also observed on the unused line at Tymbark). Above: A Warsaw-bound Koleje Mazowieckie train between Czachówek Południowy and Czachówek Górny on the main line. The photo was taken from the spur - as you can see, it's totally overgrown.
Above: The concrete sleepers on the south-east spur have been smashed, apparently by accident. Trains cannot use a line in this state. Signalling is still operational, though, at both ends of the spur. A case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.
And back to Czachówek Płd. for the train home. Strong sunlight from a midsummer sun just before dusk nicely illuminates the facade of the ticket office and waiting room (above).
This time last year:
Piccadilly Circus - mapa mundi
When things break down irredeemably, the causes can be traced, the breakdowns diagnosed. A radiator hose splits, causing coolant to escape, causing the engine to overheat, the cylinder block to seize up. A malicious virus rips into your hard disk and starts devastating data and starts spreading out across the net.
It's the undiagnosable ones that interest me; it's the maddening 'intermittent faults', the ones that mysteriously cure themselves whenever you take your car/camera/laptop to have it fixed. "Sorry sir, can't find anything wrong with it..." "But it was not working properly only this morning!"
Maddening intermittent faults such as the leakage of light or lens flare (can't even say which!) onto the film frame of my Leica M6 camera. I've discussed this on the Rangefinder Forum, a handful of other members have had similar (though not identical!) flare issues - and no one has been able to diagnose the problem. I snap two frames side by side, one had it, the very next one doesn't. The crankset on my bike. One minute creaking - next minute silent. Can't replicate it.
Or the recent battery memory problem I had with my Nikon D80. Snap a pic, and the battery dies. Cycle on/off and it's working. Happens one in every six shots. Then one in three. One in 20. One in one. I buy another battery. Same story. Then, all of a sudden - gone! Cleared up! By itself!
My theory is that if you care for your stuff, it will repay you with years of good service. I don't mean 'care' as in 'not abuse', I mean care as in 'being emotionally attached to'. My dear, immaculate showroom condition, one owner from new, 16 year-old Nissan Micra is a good example. I feel it knows I care about it and doesn't want to let me down. Despite the fact that I drive it down ul. Poloneza several times a week. And I'm sure Dyspozytor feels that well-maintained Px48 or Ty-2 steam locomotives have souls too.
Does that sound silly?
Everything's made of atoms - you, me, my Nissan Micra, the EN-EL3 battery that powers my Nikon D80, the Magic Flute CD that's kept on being played frequently over 20 years. It was Jonathan Wood who coined the expression 'the atomic will'. What is it, I ask, that keeps ALL the universe's hydrogen atoms' electrons whizzing around their nucleii for the best part of 13 billion years?
It's WILL, I tell you! Tap into that sub-molecular, elemental force and be in harmony with your things!
And, as if by magick, I stumble upon this article linked to a comment to a New Scientist article about consciousness within single-cell organisms. I can't pretend to have read the whole thing, but there are chunks that are philosophically mind-blowing. The history of consciousness bit is fascinating. When - and how - did consciousness first appear on our planet? And when the world of quantum physics starts to intrude upon mankind's understanding of consciousness, then things get really interesting.
To put the centuries-long debate about the nature of consciousness into perspective, it's worth reading the Wikipedia article on the Philosophy of Mind. In a nutshell, there are two schools of thought - dualism, which holds that consciousness and body are two separate entities, and monism, that consciousness is simply a product of the body. I hold the first view.
Readers familiar with the English language will be aware that the German term zeitgeist has come into common usage, meaning 'spirit of the age'. On this blog I've been regularly writing about 'spirit of place' - by inference, platzgeist. Now this, dear reader, is spirit of thing. Dinggeist?
This time last year:
"Be seeing you," land of Big Brother...
Thursday, 2 July 2009
The cars! No! Not the cars!
Is this Pyongyang on Kim Il Sung Day? Are we in Chernobyl? No, it's Thursday lunchtime on ul. Przemysłowa, Powiśle, one mile as the crow flies from the very centre of Warsaw. Normally, you cannot squeeze a paperback between the bumpers of cars parked along this street. OK, we're into the second week of the school holidays - but, like, where have all the cars gone?
I arrived back at the office today knowing that something's changed for ever. Gone are the free-and-easy days of driving to work, when finding a space was the commuter's only worry. As of yesterday, Warsaw's parking meter zone was extended out towards Powiśle (where our offices are). Residents can still park for free, but an eight-hour stay will cost commuters nearly 30 zł, around six quid. A significant chunk of most people's daily earnings around here.
My strategy for getting around this is not perfect, as Warsaw's wonderful Metro runs three bus stops short of my office and starts a long way from home. So I drive (20 mins) to Metro Stokłosy (lit. "Hundred Sheaves") station, which has a Park + Ride facility - free parking for those using public transport to get into the centre. To park for free, you need a network ticket valid for at least 24 hours. As this costs 9 złotys (less than two quid), for which I get parking plus two Metro and two bus rides, it makes good sense. In terms of petrol, currently 4zł 70gr/90p a litre or thereabouts, taking Metro and bus to work from Stokłosy is saving me around a litre's worth a day. So overall I'm less well off and having to make that awkward change from Metro to bus at Politechnika station; time-wise I'm losing out too, and I miss not listening to TokFM (quick plug for EKG with Tadeusz Mosz, an excellent economics talk-show).
So for all my talk about the benefits of cycling to work (which I'll do tomorrow) and public transport, I actually feel a sense of loss at being deprived of the liberty of driving to work and parking outside the office for free. Still, public policy needs to be a mixture of stick and carrot.
I wait for a decent carrot in the form of improved public transport to and from Jeziorki. Above: Stokłosy P+R at 7:15am; plenty of space available.