Thursday, 31 October 2013

(Internet) Radio Days

My enforced immobility has been made a pleasurable experience thanks to the internet - what a superb augmentation to human happiness! Not only can I keep in touch with my office and the outside world, I can watch films, learn (what a boon Wikipedia is!), and - a new discovery for me - listen to a wealth of radio stations that can provide exactly the mood I seek.

Watching Woody Allen's Radio Days (1987) made me realise how important radio used to be as the soundtrack of one's young life. Today, with such a plethora of digital channels available, one forgets what it was like to have only one radio station to listen to. In my case, it was BBC Radio 1 (from 1967 to 1973). This is what everyone of my age listened to; what was played was talked about. From 1973 onward, Radio 1 would have to compete for my attention with Capital Radio, until my budget stretched to the regular acquisition of records and cassettes. Into the 1980s, my only regular radio listening was the nightly John Peel programme on Radio 1.

So I have a great deal of nostalgia associated with Radio 1; I was delighted to find this wonderful website - Radio Rewind - which is stuffed full of the jingles that used to intersperse the non-commercial airwaves of the BBC's radio stations. (If your formative rock'n'roll years were in the UK, stretching from the late '60s into the early '80s, you must dive into these jingles - here.) A brief digression here - but when the BBC split its Light Programme into Radios 1 (for the youth of the nation) and 2 (for the easy-listening set), the Corporation had no one to turn to for recording jingles. These had to be done by session musicians in America to get around the archaic unionised structures within the Beeb.)

But one can only listen to so many jingles. The songs - I must have the songs. Not just those number one artists, but the less well-known acts that formed the fabric of the pre-Punk seventies - Colin Blunstone, Hurricane Smith, the Strawbs, Family, Nazareth, Ace, not to mention myriad American voices that formed an integral part of the soundtrack of my early youth.

The first wave of internet music revolved around peer-to-peer music 'sharing' of dubious legality [my thoughts on this issue here]. The cloud has allowed us to move on. President Obama's realisation that American's economy's forward trajectory is predicated on the dynamic growth of digital, and that this is more important than the individual interests of copyright owners and their lawyers, has helped. Much of what you can listen to and watch on YouTube and most internet radio stations is now entirely legal, and there at your fingertips.

Now, part of what makes radio unique is the way that the playlists are structured. Yes, you can put together your own, but even if you own a library of tens of thousands of digital tracks, you'll be listening to what you know, and in an order that you decide. Radio gives over that task to someone else. And that allows for serendipity - the chance to listen to something you'd not otherwise have listened to yourself. A good DJ's task is to entertain and to educate and introduce new sounds to listeners. This makes John Peel the greatest of them all - a role that in Poland was (and still is) filled by Marek Niedźwiecki. A good DJ loves the music, and informs, rather than being a monstrous ego in love with his own voice.

Internet radio is still in its infancy. Lacking disc jockeys, and without (as yet) period jingles, the radio stations offer only part of the whole experience of total nostalgia immersion. If the '70s is you bag, let me direct you here (SkyFM Hit70s) Listening to the playlist here gives good verisimilitude of what we'd have been listening to back then, with hits from both sides of the Atlantic.

However, for something beyond a surge of nostalgia, I found my favourite internet radio station is this one - RAB Radio 1 - American Rhythm'n'Blues from the early 1940s to early 1960s. Lots of Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Howlin' Wolf, Lionel Hampton - I'm here for an old familiar atmosphere and discovery - of acts and songs as today unknown by me.

Like my old record player, cassette player, CD player, typewriter and indeed television, my radio has just become redundant, its functions taken over by my laptop - which serves as the universal centre of entertainment and labour. The theory of digital convergence has become real.

This time last year:
Another office move

This time two years ago:
Manufacturing a City of Culture

This time three years ago:
My thousandth post

This time four years ago:
Closure of ul. Poloneza

This time five years ago:
Scenes from a suburban petrol station

This time six years ago:
Red Arrows over Lincolnshire from 30,000 ft

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

On the mend, slowly

I write the post for myself, so in the future I can see how the muscular healing process progressed on me, aged 56. Over the years, the worst injuries that I sustained have been physical in nature, brought on in transit, carrying heavy things or running. Let this be a lesson to me, and at the same time be of use to anyone who's googled 'calf injury'...

It is just over five days since I pulled my calf muscle while running for the bus. With an overloaded rucksack (apart from the usual stuff - laptop, camera, a book, papers - I also had the power cable to keep the laptop going over the weekend, and two lenses that I'd got back from repair) I broke into a sprint across ul. Karczunkowska for the 809 bus to save me a 12-minute walk home. In mid-stride, I felt a sudden sharp pain shoot through my left calf; my immediate thought was that my heavy 10-24mm Nikkor lens had fallen out of my rucksack and onto my leg. But no - this was a muscle injury and a serious one at that. I caught the bus (thankfully!) and sat down, massaging my calf furiously (it felt like an unending, terrible attack of cramp). I limped home from the bus stop in much pain. That night, the cramp kept coming back - I did not sleep comfortably.

So. Saturday morning. How long would it take to recover, I wondered. Thankfully, there's a host of information online these days. Should I see a doc? Question 1: is there internal bleeding? (purple toes, foot, etc) No. Question 2: is the calf swollen? No. Question 3: is there any numbness in the foot? No. This is a Grade 2 calf strain, partial tearing of muscle fibres, five to eight weeks for full recovery.

Sportsmedicine.about.com suggests that I've not got the very worse degree of calf injury, so no rush to A&E. No point of blocking the surgery, taking up doctors' time better spent on those in a worse state.

That first day, I had to hop everywhere. The act of placing my left foot on the ground was very painful. Moving about required one-legged hops to the nearest handrail, table, door handle. My right leg, taking all the burden, became very tired of hopping.

Sunday was a bit better. With a bit of effort, I could reach down with my left leg (curled up like a claw) and touch the ground, using it to stabilise me so I could stand (just) on both feet. But distributing my weight equally on both legs brought on sharp stabs of pain in my left leg.

Monday - mercifully, the internet has freed us from the physical constraints of having to be in the office, so I managed to do 90% of what was needed online, and sort the rest out by phone. By Monday, there was no more pain in my left leg whatsoever - while resting. Lying in bed, working at my laptop, I'd suddenly stop and think - what am I doing in bed? Nothing hurts! Yet as soon as I placed my left foot on the floor and tried hobbling to the bathroom - ah! Yes. On Monday I realised that I could now get around the house more effectively by walking around on tip-toes. I could still not place my left foot flat on the floor. On Monday night, after a long soak in a hot bath - I found that I could.

On Tuesday morning, I could now stand with my weight distributed equally between both feet, though with a sense of tension in the left calf. Tip-toeing still the preferred mode of motion. Out of bed today, I spent the day working at the kitchen table, eating lots of pumpkin seeds, which according to Wikipedia are a great natural source of magnesium (no.1 in fact, dark chocolate being no.2). And magnesium, according to Wikipedia is a useful for staving off leg cramps.

By this morning, I'm now back to using both feet flat on the floor, though I can't advance my right foot ahead of the left foot without pain. So I'm walking around with a shuffling gait - left leg forward normally, by right leg can only move as far forward as to be parallel with the left leg - and there it stops. After another long hot bath, I discover than the right foot can now be placed some three-four inches ahead of the left foot without discomfort. Those three-four inches need to be extended to two feet (60cm) before I'd consider my gait to be back to normal.

I'd assess my progress as being around 4%-5% improvement a day, so I'm around 20%-25% better, with some 75% to go. I hope my leg is well enough for me to cautiously go into the office on Monday, which means I have another four days of rest at home before then. If I can place my right foot several inches ahead of where it can go today without stabs of pain, I'll be ready. Physiotherapy - yes, I shall book some sessions with Medicover. I need to be able to walk, cycle and run just as I did before, though one vital lesson has been learned - not to break into a sprint without warming up leg muscles first. And for the leg cramps - less coffee (one a day, not two or three), more water, more of those important minerals - magnesium and potassium.

As I write I'm in good spirits, though I missed not having been able to get out and about these past fine days, and I can feel I'm getting flabby around the middle without my usual exercise.

Today I discovered internet radio station RAB Radio 1, American rhythm'n'blues music from 1942-62. Absolutely brilliant. It allows me to hop from Jeziorki to a 1952 Cadillac Eldorado heading west through the flatlands of Kansas on Highway 24 towards the distant Rockies...

This time last year:
Thorunium the Gothick

This time two years ago:
Łódź Widzew or Widź Łódzew

This time four years ago:
A touch of frost in the garden

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

In praise of Retro Design

Over the past few days, the world of photography has been gripped by an advertising campaign by camera manufacturer Nikon, which seems about to launch a new camera that has all the aesthetic attributes of an old camera. I wrote about this phenomenon earlier this year (and indeed last year too) in the context of the Fujifilm X100 rangefinder camera - which I liked, but did not buy.



The retro look Nikon is said to have a full-frame sensor and yet be smaller and lighter than the bulky FX-format DSLRs (the D4, D800 and D610) that Nikon currently makes - but most importantly, the new camera (Nikon DF) will have the aesthetic appeal of that timeless classic, the FM. O glory! If this is the case, I shall have to fight extremely hard to resist the temptation to buy the thing.

I have an FM2n, bought new around 25 years ago. It formed the backbone of one of my two 35mm systems - Nikon for single lens reflex (camera has pentaprism and mirror, you see exactly what you snap, good for telephoto work) and Leica (rangefinder - camera is smaller, less intrusive, good for wide-angle work). Now gathering dust on my bookcase, the FM2n is a mighty pretty camera. It shares space with other mighty pretty film cameras - a Leica M2, M3 and M6, a 1938 Contax II, an Exakta Varex VX, a Zeiss Ikonta 6x9 bellows camera.

None of these are being used, as I've abandoned film for digital; yet the cameras themselves are objects of beauty, far lovelier to look at and to have in the hand than a modern polycarbonate digital marvel.

How good it would be to fuse the aesthetics and ergonomics (knobs, buttons and levers as opposed to scroll-down menus) of the classic camera with the functionality of today's technology.

That's what Fuji did bringing out the Fuji X100 (since improved as the Fujifilm X100S). But it had a few important drawbacks that stopped me short of buying one. A) it was a Fuji, not a Nikon; it didn't feel sufficiently robust in the hand. B) it did not have interchangeable lenses. C) Even if it did (like its more expensive sibling, the Fujifilm X-Pro1), the camera's sensor was not full-frame, hence no improvement on the DX-format I currently use.

But now, here's a camera that looks like it will answer these points. If it has the build-quality of the Nikon FM/FE series of cameras, in production for almost 30 years, if it can take all my old manual-focus Nikon AI-series lenses, if it is full-frame (i.e. a 35mm lens is wide-angle not standard, a 50mm lens is standard not portrait)... I shall have to think very carefully about buying one.

The online forums are buzzing with excitement about the imminent arrival of this camera. The jury is split between those that find retro desirable (people of my age, who remember it vividly first time round and today's hipsters, who find the aesthetic of the mid-20th Century an improvement over what we have today) and those hard, soulless cases that demand convenience at the cost of beauty.

I'll let you be the judge. Here are some Nikons down the ages... Which ones do you find the most attractive aesthetically? (all pics courtesy of Nikon)

1954: Nikon S2 - based on the Zeiss Contax II rangefinder.
1959: Nikon F single lens reflex camera, shared base with S-series rangefinders
1971: Nikon F2 replaces the F; more rounded body.
1977-2006. Nikon FM/FE/FM2/FE2/FM2N/FM3A series, lighter, smaller than F2
1985. F-401S - the nadir of Nikon's camera design. Autofocus, motordrive. Cheap-looking, plasticy and ugly.
1999: Nikon D1 - professional digital SLR. 2.7 megapixels. An aesthetic advance on the '80s.

I'm sure most people will find the earlier camera visually nicer to look at than all that's happened since the mid-1980s. While I'm not into the concept of camera as jewellry, the way a camera looks has an impact on the way subjects react when it is raised and pointed in their direction. Professional SLR cameras send the wrong signals. That's why the rangefinder camera, always the more discreet, is better for street photography. An old retro-style camera looks like the toy of an amateur rather than that tool of the professional; people react more positively.

We shall see next week, when Nikon announces its new camera. I hope it's a full frame digital SLR in a body that looks and feels (and weighs as much) as my FM2. If it is, I'll be hard pressed not to buy one. Especially since the latest tease ad shows the new camera in a familiar setting - a photo exploration of Edinburgh. Been there - done that - three times already and want more.


There is a note of caution building up in me. At the end of the ad, we get a teasing shot of how the camera will look - and I can't see any knobs or dials on the top plate. That would be a disaster. Scroll-down menu driven operation I have in my phone thank you. Retro design requires knobs and dials - good ergonomics requires knobs and dials. We wait and see - all will be revealed on 5 November.

This time last year:
First snowfall in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
Of cycles, economic and human

This time three years ago:
Why didn't I read this before? Grapes of Wrath

This time four years ago:
Małopolska from the train

This time five years ago:
Grading ul. Poloneza

Monday, 28 October 2013

Poland's news portals: why I don't use them

Going online to read what Poland's news media have to say about the life and death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki (see previous post), I discover just how poor they are. I say 'discover'; I rarely bother going online to check national news for Poland. Most days, I'll buy Gazeta Wyborcza at the kiosk, preferring to spend 2.50 złotys (50p), rather than going online to read what's happening.

I start with TVN24.pl. Here, I'm greeted by a huge banner for the new Opel Insignia. Scrolling down past what Lech Wałesa has to say, I get to a b&w pic of a smiling Tadeusz Mazowiecki flanked by a smiling Kaczyński brother (can't tell which one) and a smiling Donald Tusk. Photo from the late '80s/early '90s. This looks interesting. I click on it to read more... Up pops an advert for toothpaste, a woman's smiling mouth. I click to close the ad, but up pops a film clip of a female figure skater. Oh dear. The Great Man is barely cold and I can't get to the story because of an ad for toothpaste. I scroll down. Sport, sport and more sport (note for the famous - try not to die on a Monday, as the news will be crowded out by the weekend's sport), an advert for Chevron, an advert for an investment fund, weather. As a news portal home page, it has one thing going for it - a lack of celebrity trivia... I keep scrolling, and behold, I finally find some interesting content - storm hits England, some new Smolensk photos including a birch with bits of Tupolev wing embedded in it, railway tunnel under Bosphorus opens.

Right then - on to another news portal, Gazeta.pl. Less advertising. the death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki (an iconic figure for the leadership of Gazeta Wyborcza) is the third article after two pieces that reveal an internal power struggle within Platforma Obywatelska (a jobs-for-the-boys story). I question the news value of these stories as homepage leads - evidently Wyborcza is either out to get Schetyna or Protasiuk. Like the homepage of TVN24, Gazeta.pl's homepage is long and scrolling down takes ages. So much packed onto it, including sadly (as it's not something one finds in Gazeta's paper version) celebrity gossip. Again, analysing gazeta.pl, I can see why I'm not a regular visitor. The paper version, however, is more serious, more responsible and more readable - in a different league altogether.

Will Rzeczpospolita's website (www.rp.pl) fare any better? Not really. I open to get a big animated advert for Emirates airline. (I thought web advertising was all about profiling individual readers. Note to Google etc. I have no plans to spend lots of money flying to the Arabian Gulf. None. Ever.) Another ad, for photocopiers. I already got one. A monstrous banner floats down for Pioneer Pekao investment fund. I click to close. Ah! A b&w photo of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. And click here for a comment from... Patrick de Saint-Exupery. Patrick de Who? An outstanding French reporter, says Rzepa. Oh, OK. Good to get some third-party endorsement. The main article about Mazowiecki is well-written piece, with lots of voices from the era, including Wałęsa's recently invented justifications for his ill-judged interventions which brought about the downfall of the Mazowiecki government included. I must say, of the three Polish news portals, Rzepa's is closest to my conception of what a good one should (and shouldn't) include.

Amazingly, Gnash Dziennik's website (www.naszdziennik.pl) makes no mention of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's death, which is surprising, since on the front page we learn that Krakow airport is changing its timetable. Why they have chosen to remain silent about the death of a man who led Poland out of communism is extremely puzzling.

So - have I missed any Polish news portals where the main stories of the day unfold, with quality reporting and commentary?

I must say, I now know why I hardly ever visit any. I do check in regularly to the two main Warsaw news portals (warszawa.gazeta.pl and tvnwarszawa.pl, the better of the two), and to the BBC. This leads me to an interesting observation - the future of online news will be global and local. What goes on in between is less interesting.


Sadness at death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki

It was an anticlimactic moment. Journalists and foreign guests (including me) in the offices of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's first non-communist national daily newspaper of the post-Stalin period, gathered around a loudspeaker to hear the results of voting in the Polish parliament. Tadeusz Mazowiecki had just been voted the first non-communist premier of Poland (indeed of any Central and Eastern European country) since Stalin's day. A group of turbaned Indian visitors clapped and cheered; the Poles around me displayed sang-froid - thus was it meant to be, no surprises, much hardship ahead...

Gazeta Wyborcza had only been publishing for three and half months, and was based in a former kindergarten on ul. Iwicka, just one street across from the gigantic corporate HQ the paper currently resides in. It was the crucible of the thinking that would shape today's Poland.

That day was 24 August 1989, the aftermath of the elections of 4 June that year that determined the end of communism in Poland. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who died today at the age of 86, was to be Poland's prime minister for less than a year and half - but it would be those 17 months that would determine the country's current course. A sudden shock therapy, a disconnection of the command-and-control economy to be replaced by a free market, and a policy (gruba kreska) of drawing a thick line between the old regime and the new reality that made a peaceful transition possible, though bringing with it a sense of injustice. Injustice that old communists were still walking the streets, rather than being made to atone for their 45 years of crimes against the nation - injustice that the end of communism meant the end of guaranteed jobs.

Later that year (or early 1990), I was at a political meeting in the theatre of POSK (Polish social and cultural club) in Hammersmith. Some dissident from Poland was on stage. He was winning the emigre audience with anti-communist slogans, when suddenly he turned on premier Mazowiecki. Consternation in the audience. "Hang on a second - isn't is supposed to be about them (the evil communists) and us (the democratically elected government and its democratically elected prime minister)? Now here's some petty troublemaker trying to insert a wedge into the Forces of Good... Here was the genesis of today's split between PO and PiS.

In November 1990, I volunteered to observe Poland's first ever direct presidential elections, on behalf of the Polish Government-in-Exile. We visited polling stations in Legnica and Wrocław, then, after the defeat in the first round of Tadeusz Mazowiecki (he came third, behind Lech Wałęsa and the populist-from-nowhere, Stan Tyminski), we took part in a meeting of Mazowiecki supporters at Kraków's Jagiellonian University, at which a reluctant majority voted to back Wałęsa in the second round to stop Tymiński (to this day an unexplained phenomenon).

Mazowiecki was more the philosopher than a premier. An earnest, religious, cerebral lawyer, Mazowiecki did not have that rough-and-tumble dirtiness necessary to be a political animal. But he has won his place in the pantheon of the Polish nation, as providing the balance required to ensure that the transition from communism to free-market democracy would be orderly and bloodless.

He was born in Płock in 1927 (the same year as my mother) and schooled at the city's Malachowianka (along with other significant alumni). After the war, he was active as within Catholic organisations tolerated by the communist regime (PAX and Znak), indeed even becoming a member of the communist parliament from 1961 to 1972, before joining the anti-communist opposition in 1976. It was his pre-opposition past that made him an unpopular figure with PiSites. However, I believe that he put his past behind him and carried out a vast amount of good work within the Solidarity movement, suffering imprisonment during martial law, and played an active role in preparing the Round Table Agreement of April 1989 which paved the way for the June elections and the eventual demise of the communist system.

I last saw him about four years ago at a Sunday mass at the Dominican abbey in Służew, alone, tall and contemplative, a thoroughly decent man.

This time two years ago:
More hipster mounts (Warsaw fixieism)

This time three years ago:
Welcome to Warsaw

This time four years ago:
Just like the old days

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Extraordinarily warm autumn

The clocks have gone back - this is for me bad news, it's that turning point in the year, the definitive tipping point from light into darkness. Today, the sun sets at 16:14 in Warsaw. I'll not be leaving the office in daylight for another five months. An extra hour in the mornings is inadequate compensation. I believe that winter time should either come to an end on the last weekend of February, for the sake of symmetry and mental health, or that it should be dropped altogether. [I wrote about this at greater length as the clocks went back in October 2009.]

Yesterday afternoon, the temperature hit 19.5C, while at 09:00 this morning, the Institute of Physics website showed an amazing 15.7C. Looking back over my blog for previous years, late-October has generally been pleasant in Warsaw, with many sunny days and the odd frosty morning. And last year, on 29 October - we had a not insignificant snowfall. But this week has been exceptionally clement, with the temperature falling below 10C only briefly during the wee small hours of Tuesday. And looking ahead, the temperature is not forecast to fall below 10C until next Tuesday evening.

Sunny Sunday morning, from my bedroom window
Autumn - how long does autumn last? Astronomical autumn lasts through to the winter solstice (21 December), but for me, there are two autumns - Polska złota jesień (Polish golden autumn), which lasts until the trees are all bare and while the skies are generally clear, temperatures mild. Then there's a separate season - grim, dark, cold, damp - which begins in mid-November and lasts until the first snow to give lasting cover, which ushers in winter-proper. This usually occurs at the very end of November at the earliest, by mid- December at the latest.

Sunny Sunday afternoon, from my bedroom window
By mid-afternoon, the temperature has climbed to 21.2C, balmy by the standards of an English summer (that's 70F in old money). Absolutely wonderful.

Climate change indeed - global temperatures creeping up ever so slowly, but enough to be noticed over a period of a few decades. Keeping a blog over a period of years with weather observations and photos is a useful aide-memoire and prevents purely subjective memories from muddying the climate discourse.

On Friday evening, while sprinting for a bus on Karczunkowska, I injured my calf muscle. At first, I thought my heavy, wide-angle lens had fallen out of my rucksack and thumped onto the back of my leg; it felt like I'd been given a sharp whack over the calf with an iron bar. Currently I'm unable to walk, but I'm hopeful that full mobility will be restored by the end of the week.

Follow-up: it's 22:30 on Monday night,28 October, and the Institute of Physics website shows the temperature as being 18.3C.

This time last year:
On behalf of the work-shy community

This time two years ago:
Classic truck cavalcade

This time three years ago
Suburban back-roads clogged with commuters

This time four years ago:
Autumn gold, Łazienkowski Park

This time five years ago:
Quintessential autumnal Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Google Earth updates its map of Jeziorki

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Symphony in Socialist-Realism

A grey lunchtime along the lower reaches of ul. Marszałkowska - Warsaw's main north-south thoroughfare - puts me in mind of Western stereotypes of Poland and the rest of the former Soviet bloc - this is how millions of not-too-well informed folk in the UK and North America think of whenever Poland is mentioned.

So rather than show hipster bars selling artisan beer, newly-opened shopping malls, beautiful urban parks, up-to-the-minute public amenities or new motorways - let's wallow in preconceptions. Let us go back to a Workers' (rather than Consumers') Paradise and see Poland's capital as it would have looked at the height of the Cold War. Let us take a short stroll down Marszałkowska, from Pl. Unii Lubelskiej to Al. Armii Ludowej.

Ul. Marszałkowska, corner of  Litewska
Wire netting, where Socialist Realism joins pre-war tenements
Ul. Marszałkowska, corner of Al. Armii Ludowej
Ul. Marszałkowska, corner of Zoli

Ul. Marszałkowska, the lower end.
Warsaw or Łódź? 150m north of Plac Unii shopping mall.

Update: Saturday 26 October - Today's Gazeta Stołeczna has picked up on the state of the southern end of Marszałkowska. In its front-page story about the growing number of empty premises in the city centre, it mentions this stretch of road, saying that there are 11 boarded-up properties between Pl. Unii and Pl. Zbawiciela. Easy to see why - the centre of retail gravity has moved northward (and now southward too). Despite the economic upturn, many shops and restaurants have closed down and the City authorities can't find new tenants for the premises. Less footfall, fewer shoppers.

This time last year:
Glasgow snapshots

This time two years ago:
A slow farewell to our Powiśle office

This time three years ago:
A slow farewell to my Nissan Micra

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Plac Unii open but underwhelming

The Grand Opening attracted dense crowds - a week and a bit later, on a Tuesday lunchtime, the crowds were no longer there. Plac Unii, Warsaw's latest shopping mall, is now fully open for business, though I can't say I'm particularly impressed by the retail choice.

The mall itself is nice enough, and it's a mere two minutes' stroll from my office, but the shops are nought but the usual mall suspects - the retail outlets you can find in Arcadia, Promenada, Złote Tarasy, Galeria Mokotów, Blue City, Klif, Wileńska or any of the lesser Warsaw malls and indeed in malls across most of Poland's agglomerations. There's an H&M, Zara, Maximo Ponsi, Benetton, Deni Cler etc etc. Empik, Inmedio, iSpot etc. A Vistula for me should I run out of suits or shirts.

Food wise - poor. Wiking - overpriced home cooking with a Scandinavian twist, Thai Wok - overpriced stodge with a vaguely Asian twist, a Subway. No Scottish Restaurant, no burger monarchy or pizza outbuilding.

Has a quarter of a century of the free market made me too fussy, or has Warsaw shopping got a tad dull? Architecturally, however, I can't complain. It's a fine building from within (I commented on its external appearance recently), on a sunny day like today, a pleasant place to be. Some snaps then...

Plac Unii is airy and spacious. There are still some vacant retail units.

The interior is 'Y'-shaped with shops on the ground and first floors, a food court and supermarket in the basement. Left: looking west towards ul. Waryńskiego, Costa Coffee tables situated on a bridge linking two passages. Office windows line the upper floors, a glass roof lets the sunshine flood in. 

Maybe local office workers have not yet got used to it, but for a Tuesday lunchtime, the place was very quiet. Or maybe it will get busier as the weather gets worse... Warsaw's best malls are much busier.


There was still an air of 'just finished' about Plac Unii; men in hard-hats and hi-vis vests mingling with shoppers, architects talking on their iPhones while consulting plans. 

Right: I'm curious as to how the glass roof will cope with half a metre of snow that will settle upon this structure if not this winter than certainly some time this decade. The building was designed by the late Stefan Kurylowicz, who died in a plane crash in 2011.


Good to see the neon: Supersam was Poland's first supermarket (1962). It stood on Pl. Unii and was knocked down in 2006 to make way for the new retail and office development. The brand is back, as a supermarket down in the basement of Plac Unii, though I'm told the retail experience is even less exciting than a Carrefour Express.
This time two years ago:
Visceral and Permanent, Part II

This time three years ago:
Autumn colours, locally

This time four years ago:
Edinburgh

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Wine connoisseurs or wine snobs?

Looking over Saturday's Financial Times, with its manifold sections, I came across a four-page wine pull-out. The next day, I spot a 200-złoty bottle of wine for sale at Lidl. That's £40, €45, $65 - a not-inconsiderable sum for London, let alone Jeziorki. How a 200zł bottle differs from one just along the rack and up a bit for 13zł (£2.60) bottle of Western Cape Pinotage which I'm sipping right now, puzzles me.

I consult Wikipedia's page about wine tasting descriptors. The kind of vocabulary used by Jancis Robinson in her FT articles, describing posh Premier Crus costing several hundreds of euros. A world shrouded in its own self-serving mystique, with mega-rich people spending at wine auctions the kind of money that would buy a family house in much of the world. Like fine art, investing in wine has become an alternative to the stock exchange; if supply is limited and demand is constrained only by the wallets and egos of buyers, prices should continue to be buoyant.

But will drinking a fine wine, of the right vintage, from the right vineyard, deliver an experience that is tens, or hundreds, or thousands of times more fabulous than drinking something more modest?

Worth 16 zlotys (£3.20)? Chateau Gros Chene, a Bordeaux from Auchan, as recommended by reader Wilkbury.

Three times (and only three times) in my life did I experience something sublime and transcendental while sipping a wine. The first was at a friend's wedding when a bottle of Hungarian Tokaj, a present given at his father's christening, was cracked open. It was over 50 years old. The second, vintage Bordeaux left to a friend by her late father, struck me as exceptional. The third was a bottle of Chilean Casillero del Diabolo Pinot Noir knocked back with fellow-blogger Toyah in Warsaw a few years ago. (I've bought two more bottles of this Pinot Noir since, but neither had the same memorable magnificence - different vintages.)

Otherwise, wines are either foul (mercifully rare nowadays), drinkable, decent, or OH, YES! On a scale of one to four, which allows no middling grade, the Western Cape Pinotage (drunk right now in the company of wholemeal chleb drwalski bread with Gran Padano cheese and olives stuffed with almonds), ranks a three. A four would be a wine that delivers a greater gradation (complexity or depth) of flavours. So why pay 15 times more for a wine which may deliver a four?

There are two approaches. One is to submerge oneself into the mystique of wine connoisseurship. Read, taste, learn - about grape varietals, terroirs, regions, vintages, methods. The other - to consider the science.

The ability to describe sensations is an extremely important talent. It serves one well, when having to describe, for example, to a doctor, how something feels. Those who can't do it well are at a disadvantage when it comes to being treated. We describe by analogy, by metaphor, by reaching for common shared experiences. When it comes to wine tasting, we compare the aroma, the complex spectrum of flavours and other sensations that flood our senses using terms that will resonate with the reader or listener. So 'smoky', 'herbal', 'acidic' or 'yeasty' we can imagine. But what does 'big', 'modern', 'elegant', or 'round' suggest? These are bullshit phrases. "I wasn't lying... only bullshitting." We move into the realms of the bla-bla-bla.

One famous experiment was conducted in 2008 on students from Caltech. With their head wired to sensors scanning brainwaves (fMRI) to show how much pleasure they were experiencing, they were given various wines to sample, and told how much the bottle cost. Drinking wine from a bottle they were told cost $90 (300zł) was indeed scientifically proven to give more pleasure than drinking wine from a $10 (32zł) bottle. Except... it was the same wine.

More proof is here, that top-notch wine critics can be fooled when they have no cues to go on other than their experience and expertise. Do spend 10 minutes watching this video (below) - a group of experts blind-test 11 wines costing between €14.90 and €1,531 (!!!) a bottle. The cheapest wine came second out of the 11 tasted, the most expensive came 8th, six places below a bottle that cost more than 100 times less. However, credit is due to the wine-tasters - several of them managed to identify the estate the wine came from on the basis of taste and bouquet alone.



And indeed, if you want to have a laugh at the expense of those who overdo the terminology when describing wines, take a look at this paper by Richard E. Quandt of Princeton's economics department.

An increasing body of science is suggesting that wine connoisseurship is little more than snobbery, based on knowing a bit of jargon and geography, but not really linking price to experience. The current snobbery targeting those (who like me) adore the taste of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region, by using terms like 'perfumed' or 'fragrant'... There was, I recall, a similar snobby backlash in England against Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio varietals and those who professed to like them.

Once upon a time, the rule was simple. The more expensive the wine, the greater the chance of experiencing something wonderful. Nowadays, with the New World producers focused on consistency at a lower price point, you can be pretty sure that a bottle of Jacobs Creek or Sutter Home will not disappoint. But the supermarkets, with their mega purchasing power, are bringing quality wines down to an even lower price. The South African Pinotage from Lidl is an excellent example (although my father prefers Lidl's South African Cabernet Sauvignon).

So, then. There comes a point where all those extra euros fail to buy any extra pleasure from the drinking. This is my rule of 'the shoulder'; the graph plotting quality against price. It is as true of cameras as it is of wines. You need to consider where that optimal point is. A €1 (4zł) bottle of wine will be rubbish. At €3 (13zł), you will be able to find wines that are acceptable. At €5-€15 (21-65zł), you'll find the optimal price-quality balance. At higher prices, any extra spent will buy only marginal - indeed debatable) improvements in quality.

Foodies - even those who can enthuse about seasonal asparagus, fleur de sel, artichoke hearts, salt-marsh lamb, fillet steak grilled medium-rare, baked beetroot with goats cheese, avocado wrapped in Breton ham, the merits and demerits of unstoned black olives - can feel daunted by the world of wine connoisseurship. Here, the distinctions far more subtle than those between a Bleu d'Auvergne and a Bleu de Bresse - and how does one describe them without using adjectives like cogent, rotund, bloated, flinty or munificent?

Once again, we come to the life in balance. Not to obsess about minute differences between wines, but to sample, enjoy - and remember not to be over-charged for the privilege.

This is not to rein in my enthusiasm for discovering new wines, new tastes, new experiences, new sensations, new pleasures. It's just that my expectations for finding something outstanding will not be limited by knowing its price.

This time last year:
Poland's golden autumn

This time two years ago:
Visceral and permanent - a short story

This time three years ago:
Crushed Velvet Dusk in my City of Dreams II

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Enduring Ealing

Having spent three days at my parents in Ealing, I will share some reflections on those unchanging elements of London's suburbia.

The sprawl came later. In early Victorian times, as London was expanding to become a global megalopolis, the capital of Empire was a cluster of towns and villages surrounding a concentrated city centre. Brought together by railway, by the end of Queen Victoria's reign, the rural character of places like Ealing was lost, and suburbia came to form London's outer rim. The sprawl - large swathes of uninteresting shopping parades and endless streets of near-identical housing - came after WWI, stretching westward beyond Ealing - Greenford, Ickenham, Yeading, Northolt, Ruislip, Hillingdon - and only then does Greater London give way to countryside.

But let us return to Queen Victoria's first decades on the throne. In 1838, the railway arrived in Ealing. Opened on 1 December of that year (it will be 175 years old in six weeks' time), the connection to London's Paddington Station on the Great Western Railway opened the way to Ealing's rapid suburbanisation. Fine houses of the well-to-do began climbing Castlebar Hill, Eaton Rise and Mount Park. The first houses were plain, solid structures; later the buildings would become increasingly ornate with fancy decoration. This trend reversed as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, and the Victorian era gave way to the Edwardian. (Click here for Ealing Council's Character Appraisal of the Mount Park Conservation Area)

Walking through Ealing today, the sense of the suburb's history, its connection with the 19th Century remains strong. Many of the three-storey family houses along Eaton Rise have been converted into flats, front gardens into off-street parking for numerous cars. But still the essential architectural fabric of Ealing remains as it was in my childhood, and for a century before that.

Looking down Castlebar Road; the spire of the church of Christ the Saviour (1852, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, who also designed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Midland Hotel at St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial). The houses are from the 1850s, and boast minimal decorative features.

Water trough for horses, north-west corner of Haven Green, erected by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in the 1880s. Horse-drawn vehicles would have crowded the roads leading to the railway station.
Details of the facade of the Metropolitan District Railway's Ealing Broadway Station (1879), standing to the north of the current station building (at the foot of the office block in the background). The coming of the underground railway to Ealing spurred a new wave of late-Victorian development.


Decorative mouldings on window bays and neo-Gothic spire (St Stephen's church, 1867) typical of the mature Victorian era. The church, located on an island in the middle of St Stephen's Road, was converted into flats in the late 1980s, the spire remains a landmark. 

Spreading out from the church are many broad, tree-lined streets of houses for prosperous families. Prices? A flick through the local newspaper's property section reveals that you will need to find somewhere between £1.5m to £1.7m for a large, double-fronted house with large garden at rear.



Later-Victorian house; 1880s or '90s; ground floor window bays are in stone, plainer upper storey. Leafy gardens boast mature trees.

At the latter end of the Victorian era, simpler, cottage-style architecture became fashionable.

The year 1898 visible on a decorative element above a school on Castlebar Road.

Clearly Edwardian; built between 1900 and the outbreak of WWI, simpler in style, less ornamentation, timber-framing harking back to Merrie England.

Ealing went on to experience continued development throughout the inter-war years; my parents' house by Cleveland Park was built in 1933. A further wave of development took place in the 1960s, with new estates springing up around Castlebar Hill (the ugliest buildings in all Ealing, in my opinion). Townhouses, with integral ground-floor garages, also appeared here and there, filling gaps between existing buildings. The 1980s saw the apogee of the conversion of big houses into numerous flats, and the primacy of the car over public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

Today I see a tendency to restore; to expose and delight in original architectural details. Car use in London is falling, Londoners are among the most satisfied citizens of any EU capital with their public transport system. But a note of caution - the rich-poor divide is becoming increasingly visible in the Borough of Ealing; cross the railway line west of the Argyle Road and you will enter the dismal world of pay-day loan stores, shuttered shop fronts and decay of West Ealing; ten minutes on foot yet a world away from the leafy Edwardian and Victorian streets around St Stephen's church.

This time last year:
Pl. Zbawiciela's rainbow vandalised

This time two years ago:
Why no one is Occupying Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Of sausages and drains

This four three years ago:
In search of the Sublime Aesthetic at 36,000 ft

This time six years ago:
London from the air

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Liverpool's waterfront

A great tourist destination - Liverpool, one of Britain's great and historic cities has turned around decades of decay and decline and now has become a UNESCO world-class tourist draw. Here are some photos of the city's refurbished waterfront.

Your first port of call should be the Mersey Ferry. Once its duties as a commuter vessel are over, the morning rush-hour past, it serves to carry tourists across the Mersey. Gerry Marsden, who wrote and sang the hit song "Ferry Cross The Mersey" back in 1964 provides a fascinating historical narration to what you can see on both sides of the river. 

Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral, the largest church in the Church of England, looks over the recently-refurbished Albert Docks. The weather was ideal - sunshine breaking through frequently to bring out the best in the architecture.

Looking along the Mersey embankment, the Albert Docks to the left, now a shopping/tourist/housing complex. Beautiful use of post-industrial space, retaining the maritime character of the original buildings.

Around the four sides of the dock, moorings for vessels, plenty of shops and restaurants, above them offices and flats. 

The hexagonal clock-tower standing at the  entrance of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal; behind it, the tobacco warehouse, the world's largest brick-built construction. Beautifully atmospheric.

Classic Liverpool riverfront - "the Three Graces" - from left to right: the Royal Liver Building, Britain's first reinforced concrete skyscraper). Topped by the two Liver Birds (pron. 'lajwer'), symbols of the City of Liverpool. In the middle is the Cunard building, to the right, the Port of Liverpool Building. All three were completed between the beginning of the 20th Century and the outbreak of WWI. In front of them, the ferry terminal.

King Edward VII surveys the Mersey from horseback; equestrian statue in front of the Cunard Building with the Royal Liver Building to the left. During his reign, Liverpool as a port was at its zenith.

An ice-cream van as I remember from my earliest childhood years. This is a Commer BF van from the late-'50s-early '60s. Wonderful nostalgia set against a historic backdrop.

This time last year:
The meaning of class - in England, in Poland

This time two years ago:
First frost 

This time six years ago:
First frost 

(2013's first frost was on 4 October)

Monday, 14 October 2013

Why can't all airports be like this?

My taxi collects me at 04:20. I'm at Departures at 04:32. No queue at check-in (Poles are hyper-punctual; the rush for the 06:00 WizzAir departures was half an hour ago, the second check-in opened). I'm through security (six out of eight lines are operational) and air-side within 13 minutes of stepping into the airport.

You may think it's because I hit a quiet time of day - not so. In the ten minutes between 05:55 and 06:05, no fewer than eight flights are scheduled to take off from Warsaw's Okęcie airport, mostly Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s, each carrying around 150 people on average loading. Over one thousand passengers handled in a short space of time - efficiently, without stress.

I compare this to my last two return flights home to Warsaw, from London Heathrow and Luton respectively. In both cases, turning up at exactly two hours before scheduled take-off time, I was left with a mere 15 minutes in the departure lounge, because check-in and security took so long. Both experiences were miserable and stressful.

But back to Okęcie. It's five am and most of the duty free shopping is open (although the prices do not tempt - the retail operators might make up more profit from volumes than margins if they lowered prices to levels that were truly competitive internationally.

And back to hyper-punctual Poles. My flight for Liverpool takes off at six. At 05:08, the flight is called. Everyone stands to join a queue that we know will remain stationary for at least half an hour. Everyone at the gate will get on the plane; so why all the unnecessary waiting? It's now 05:18, the front of the queue has not moved, the back of the queue is getting ever-longer.

My answer for swift and hassle-free boarding is as follows. Stay seated as long as possible. The low-cost planes flying from Okęcie are not connected to the terminal building via a sleeve; passengers are taken to the aircraft by bus. Two buses are needed to take all 150+ passengers. The first bus takes around 80 people. The second takes the rest. There is no rush. It's now 05:23, most people have been standing unnecessarily for a quarter of an hour; I've been benefiting from free wi-fi and topping up the battery on my laptop from the electrical sockets conveniently placed under the window seats.

It's now 05:26, and the people with infants under the age of two, and who've bought priority boarding, are starting to be let onto the first bus. The queue begins to move slowly. Five minutes later, the queue's moving faster. 05:31; time to get up, unplug and join the back of the queue for the bus...

I board the plane at 5:44,  take-off is 06:17; landing at Liverpool John Lennin Airport, 08:39 (that's 07:39 UK time). Time for a restaurative coffee; Okęcie airport at five am is buzzing, Liverpool is still asleep at 8am. In a few minutes I have a bus to the city centre, and my first ever visit to Liverpool. I've been through and around the city, but have never delved deeper into it. I should have plenty of free time around my business meetings to take it all in.

This time last year:
Rapid development in the wetlands

This time two years ago:
Sun shines down Al. Jerozolimskie

This time three years ago:
Warsaw Metro vignette

This time four years ago:
The most dangerous word in the English language

This time five years ago:
What a difference a day makes

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Ranking Poland and Polish cities

Earlier this month, an organisation called Global AgeWatch published the first-ever ranking of countries by how well they look after their elderly citizens. A goodly and well-meaning initiative - rankings serve to nudge politicians, policy-makers and bureaucrats out of their complacency. But hang on - what's this? Poland's only 62nd out of 91 countries surveyed - and ten places behind Tajikistan? And 23 places behind Albania?

OK, Poland does not offer its senior citizens the comfort that Scandinavian countries can afford. In Poland to be old means to be poor. But to be ranked 26 places behind Sri Lanka

A slap in the face for Poland, Poles, Polishness and everything Poland stands for. In cases like this, the first thing to do is to reach for - methodology*. How have these people at Global AgeWatch reached this (frankly) insulting conclusion?

It seems the reason is health. Poland comes 87th out of 91 for health. Spending several minutes poring over comparable countries, I see that at Global AgeWatch, someone has blundered. Countries ruled by despots (hello Belarus) come out worse and yet are ranked better than Poland. The hard indicators for life expectancy and healthy life expectancy are significantly worse across our eastern border (three years less in both cases). But the soft measure 'relative mental/psychological well-being', Belarus gets an 'n/a', while Poland gets a rather poor 60.4 (the percentage of Poles over the age of 50 who think that their life has meaning compared to the number of Poles aged between 35 and 49). And so, somehow, Belarus, lacking data, comes 80th out of 91 for health while Poland comes 87th.

Next year's Global AgeWatch will inevitably show that Poland is in 55th or 44th (or whatever) place in the ranking. And as such, it will be trumpeted by the Polish media that "Poland is the fastest-improving country in the world when it comes to living conditions for old people". Which will be just as silly as saying that Poland's an awful, third-world level country when it comes to living conditions for old people.

This is why global rankings should be examined very critically. Some, with a long track record, a lot of very bright people putting them together, are valid and credible (I'm thinking the World Bank's Doing Business, Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index). Others are dodgy and ideologically motivated (anything that ranks Serbia number one, for example).

Poles are particularly prickly when it comes to way the world sees Poland. Any ranking that shows Poland in a good (or improving) light is swiftly publicised. Any ranking that shows Poland in a poor light is considered to be methodologically suspect. In some cases that's true, in others - well, Poland does need to improve its performance in quite a few areas of governance. 

I'm writing this ahead of tomorrow's poll to depose Warsaw's mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. Marcin commented on my post that Mercer's global ranking of cities put Warsaw at number 84. And London at 38. Well guess which city I'd rather live in - from the point of view of ease of getting about, congestion, crime, green space - Warsaw by a long shot. 

I'm proud of Warsaw - the progress I've witnessed here over the past 16 years has been truly magnificent. According to EU stats, Warsaw's GDP per capita is higher than the UK's average. 

* Poland's right would instinctively reach for a list of the authors' names, looking for any Greenbergs and Eisensteins, as proof of the intrinsic anti-Polonism of this ranking, part of a broader a conspiracy to do Poland down.

This time last year:

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:

Friday, 11 October 2013

Ale, architecture and city politics: comments follow-ups

It's been an active week on the blog, with a record number of comments. Time, then, to reply to some in greater prominence.

Number one: Beer. The explosion of hipster bars serving craft ales from microbreweries in Warsaw has been noted - a big thanks to Bob for recommending Kufle i Kapsle [lit. 'Beer-mugs and Bottletops'] on ul. Nowogrodzka 25, a stone's throw from my old office (though this place was not around a year ago when we moved out). A 'multitap' bar, it has many goodies on offer, though for fellow-blogger Paddy and I the star attraction was King of Hop, from Ale Browar. According to the microbrewery's website, King of Hop is no longer being brewed, which is a shame, as this phenomenally hoppy ale is even hoppier than Atak Chmielu (from microbrewery Pinta, which I sampled at Cuda na Kiju). So down the little red lane went two half-litres of Kings of Hop. Below: the beer menu at Kufle i Kapsle.


Number two: Plac Unii. This new shopping centre opens tomorrow, topped by offices. As Neighbour commented "Please go to Łazienki park, exactly there: +52° 12' 48.12", +21° 1' 58.31" So I went. And there is is, changing a once classic vista (click here to see the same scene exactly six years ago, in daylight). Can you imagine something like this looking down over shoulder of the White House or Buckingham Palace? A gross error of judgment on the part of the city's architect, or an oversight? Or will Warsaw get over it and take Plac Unii to its heart, as Paris learned to love the Eiffel Tower, the Pompidou Centre and La Defence? Incidentally, Plac Unii opens tomorrow.


Number three: Sunday's mayoral referendum. Many voices on this one, the most convincing one belongs to fellow-blogger Student SGH... "After the last week of pre-referendum intensive campaign, I would lean towards staying at home. The civic initiative to oust a bad mayor turned out to be a purely political campaign from which several politicians try to benefit. Referring to what you wrote many times - this is coarse politics with no policy. Mr Kaczynski, Mr Guzial, Mr Wipler and several other politicians sling mud at Mrs Gronkiewicz-Waltz, while none of them comes up with constructive criticism - no one says how things could have been done better, no one offers any specific ideas in return. First step is depose the mayor and then... jakoś to będzie."

What are the 'depose HG-W' camp saying? Get rid of her, then we'll see. What will Jarosław Kaczyński do? Reduce the number of flights over Ursynów. How? Cut the cost of public transport. How will he cover the increased shortfall? No solutions offered - all (party) politics, no policy.

It doesn't look good for Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, with 39% declaring an intention to vote (29% being the threshold for a valid ballot), and the majority of that number wanting her out.

This time last year:
The pros and cons of roadside acoustic screens

This time two years ago:
Moaning about trains again

This time three years ago:
Warsaw streets - Dolna, Polna, Rolna, Smolna, Wolna. Lost?

This time five years ago:
Ditches, landscapes, autumn

This time six years ago:
Golden autumn in Łazienki park

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

To vote or not to vote in Sunday's mayoral referendum?

For readers outside of Poland; Warsaw's mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz faces a no-confidence referendum this coming Sunday, brought about by an alliance of opposition party PiS and local Ursynów district mayor Piotr Guział. For her to be kicked out of office, a majority from a turnout of 29% of the eligible electorate is required. In other words, 14.5% +1 of all registered voters in Warsaw.

This is political opportunism riding the wave of public protests that followed recent public transport price hikes. Has HG-W had her day? I don't know. I'm against public money being spent on a referendum to oust an incumbent that will face regular local government elections in less than a year's time; having heard PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński on the radio the other day, I can see his policy (rather than political) arguments are wafer-thin and this referendum really boils down to right-wing PiS trying to cash in on leftie discontent for party-political reasons.

So - the dilemma facing me on Sunday is do I go to vote (to keep HG-W in), or do I boycott the referendum as being a waste of time and money?

Before I make my mind up as whether to vote or not, I'd like to know more about the division of responsibility between City Hall and district hall. Who's really responsible for ul. Karczunkowska still not having a pavement? Who's really responsible for the appalling state of ul. Hołubcowa? (not so much as street as a giant puddle used for dumping household and construction waste) Who's really responsible for the lack of asphalt on ul. Poloneza (between ul. Jeziorki and ul. Ludwinowska, and between ul. Krasnowolska and Platan Park?

Guział or Gronkiewicz-Waltz? Where does the buck stop in issues concerning the city, and issues concerning individual districts (in our case Ursynów)?

The referendum is spurious. If less than 29% of eligible voters within Warsaw's city limits turn out to vote, the result is null and void. So - given that most of those who will be going to the ballot boxes on Sunday are PiS-ites and assorted fellow-travellers, surely those who wish to see HG-W seeing out the last nine months of her second term of office should stay at home, and let the febrile political posturings play themselves out against a vacuum of indifference?

I'm genuinely in need of advice here - smart tactical voting decisions. Gazeta Stołeczna gives me no lead - for every tactician there's an ideologist wedded to the notion that the right to vote was hard-won and should always be exercised. I'm tending towards the former view, but would be interested to see what readers think - I'd be grateful for your suggestions (you don't need to be a registered Warsaw voter to contribute).

And indeed, if you think that HG-W should go - please tell me why... Maybe you can still convince me. Four days till the polls open.

This time last year:
Gorgeous cars from Czechoslovakia

This time two years ago:
Donald Tusk and Co. get re-elected

This time three years ago:
Poland's wonderful bread

This time four years ago:
An October Friday in Warsaw

Monday, 7 October 2013

Warsaw has a new landmark

Won't be long now until Our City gains yet another shopping and office complex. This one's right outside my office... Temptations by the score... due to open next month, in good time for Christ's Mass.

This is Plac Unii, located on Pl. Unii Lubelskiej (Plac = Platz = Place = Square but this one's more of a roundabout). Like Rondo ONZ 1, the development is named simply after its address.

Since moving here, I've been watching it grow and grow; controversially, its height looms large over the panorama of the Belvedere palace from Łazienki park. "Sacrilege!" shout traditionalists - they have a point.

But in the less rarified environs of the bottom end of ul. Marszałkowska (where it meets the top end of ul. Puławska), the new development is a) welcome and b) pulls the neighbourhood in an up-market direction. It is, however, a shame that Warsaw's first self-service supermarket, the modernist Supersam (1962), had to go to make way for it.

Anyway, today, for the first time, I noticed that shops are in place in the new complex. There's a Maximo Ponci on the corner. There's an ING logo on top of the office tower. And leaving work this evening... Hang on a second... That's wonderful! Just look at that lighting...






May I be the first to offer a popular name for the building... Kameleon?

This time last year:
Tatra time (worth another watch and listen!)

This time two years ago:
The passing of Old Poland

This time three years ago:
A glorious week

This time four years ago:
Trampled underfoot: Sobieski and the Turks at Vienna

This time five years ago:
The first, spontaneous signs, of a Park + Ride at Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Early autumn atmospheres, Jeziorki