Sunday, January 29, 2006

All in all

Gustav and I tried to write everything up this morning, but his computer ate the post. Grr.

I arrived in Warsaw at two and Gustav was there to meet me. We went back to his flat and drank some coffee and ate kebabs. Really good kebabs! Much better than Poznan. You can't get a pita here to save your life.

Then, as I'd never actually visited Warsaw, we took a tram and he showed me around. We were walking down Nowe Miasto when Beetroot called up. He was at the bookstore half a block away! So we met up and walked around. They took me to the Market Square and, I must say, I was thoroughly unimpressed. In Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw, Torun, and basically all the other cities I've visited, the Rynek is the center of life. Warsaw's Rynek was absolutely empty except for three tourists and us.

At 8:00, we went to Bierhalle, a german-themed brewpub. Not a terrible place, but not a place to chat. And we wanted to chat. So we went to a quaint but trendy place with very expensive beer. Sorry Warsaw, but 9 zl for a beer is outrageous. Still, the company was good.

The fun lasted well into the night. Gustav, Becca, and Beetroot had the unique opportunity to place things on a hairy American and photograph him in all his vulnerability. Vultures!

What do you call a piece of wood that lives in Warsaw and is fond of large, white, aquatic birds?




Think about it.




A goose stave.

Sorry. Had to do that.


Too much p3-ing is bad for your health.

Friday, January 27, 2006

You'd better hurry.

This is what my barman friend told me when I offered to burn him a CD. "Why do I need to hurry? It's only Jimmy Buffett!"

"I have to go to the Army on February 1."

I was shocked. Here's this young man in front of me, perfectly content to serve drinks and listen to reggae music and he's been conscripted!

Now I don't want to get too involved with Polish politics. It's too comical to be taken seriously. But I just can't see the logic in this. He'll have to serve for nine months. Only nine months. That doesn't seem very economical to me. All the resources necessary to train, house, and feed this man and they'll only get nine months out of him.

Of course, they'll get only the bare minimum out of him because he's a conscript.

I'm not saying that he should have to serve longer. I firmly believe that conscription is one of the most foolish ideas in human history.

I'm not good at political analysis, so I'll just bring this back to my level (a quite low one, indeed). Here I am sitting at a bar with a young guy who's going to have to leave his family and friends for nine months for no discernible cause. And I have no words with which to comfort him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Highly paid Poles invade the Isles

Just a few years ago the only recognizable Polish footballer, and the only Polish National Team member, playing in the British Premiership was Jerzy Dudek. After Poland's entry into the EU, all of that has changed. The winter transfer window has been uncommonly busy with Poles getting transferred or linked to the Isles left and right. No less then eight Polish National Team members currently play in leagues across the UK: Maciej Zurawski (Celtic), Artur Boruc (Celtic), Jerzy Dudek (Liverpool), Tomasz Frankowski (Wolves), Kamil Kosowski (Southampton Saints), Tomasz Hajto (Southampton Saints), Grzegorz Rasiak (Hotspur) and Emmanuel Olisadebe (Pompey). Other leading Polish NT players are being linked with possible moves, Jacek Krzynowek from Bayer Leverkusen to Pompey, Marcin Baszczynski from Wisla Krakow to West Ham United, and Radoslaw Sobolewski from Wisla Krakow to Southampton. It looks like the majority of Polands starters playing in the World Cup this summer will be from the leagues across the UK. With other up and coming Poles also being snatched up: Bartosz Tarachulski (Dunfermline Athletic), Ziggy Malkowski (Hibernian FC), Bartosz Bialkowski (Southampton Saints), and Tomasz Kuszczak (West Brom), it appears that unlike the Polish plumber, no one fears the Polish footballers. It is quite a stunning turnaround.

The reason behind this sudden influx is Poland’s accession into the EU, before joining the EU a Polish player would have to fulfill certain work permit criteria - that is he would have to play in 75 per cent of Poland’s internationals to play in the Premiership. Now, any up and coming Pole has a shot of being signed, even "The Sausage" Grzegorz Piechna was linked with a move to Birmingham this winter. Just as Polish masons and plumbers have benefited from being able to work freely in Britain; Polish footballers are finding the UK to their liking. Interestingly enough Poles haven't been snatched up in any greater numbers by French, Spanish, German (though Germany has always had a larger proportion of Polish players) or Italian teams.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A new jersey in town

A new Polish jersey! I don't mean Jerzy, as in Jerzy Dudek, I mean jersey as in soccer (or football for the British blokes) jersey. The Polish NT unveiled new jerseys just in time for World Cup 2006 today, and unlike the plain traditional jersey's featuring the red and white colors of the Polish flag, Puma decided to emblazon a background image on these puppies. Although some people inaccurately assume the image to be of the Polish Eagle, it is actually the famed Polish Hussar. Poland's winged horsemen are etched into every Poles psyche, and indeed every Pole knows that King Sobieski, with the Hussar's playing the prominent role, was able to defeat the mighty Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Vienna on September 12, 1683. So now every Polish player will be able to play with spirit of 1683.

Still, is it a good move to use military symbols on a team jersey? I mean, what if the US decided to put an image of the M4 Sherman on its jersey? Okay, so no one remembers being overrun by a Polish Hussar, and the same cannot be said of the Sherman. Still, I think I should ask the Turkish NT whether they still feel any stigma over 1683, I'll let you know if they respond.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sub zero Warsaw

Just got back from a walk with the dog in the park, 11 O’clock at night, temperature - 14.

The dog, Chagall, loved it. For over a week now the paths in the park have been glassy with ice, and he has been tottering around the place like a woman on 10 centimeter high heels. But now fresh snow has fallen, my tricolor collie has been running around like a supersonic Findus Frozen Fish Finger.

The thing about this type of extreme cold weather is that it takes about half an hour to get ready to go out. You have to plan things like you were preparing for a polar expedition. Long johns? Check. Two pairs of socks? Check. Two pairs of trousers, three jumpers, two coats? Check. Thermos flask, compass, map, sleigh and huskies? Check. Willie warmer? Er…check.

I had so many clothes on that I was warm as toast. I was also wearing one of those rather fetching fur hats with the two bits hanging down over the ears, so I looked as canine as my dog. Alsatians tried to mount me! Even poodles showed an interest.

The only part of my anatomy that was exposed to the elements was my nose. After ten minutes the snot had frozen solid. I’m serious! After fifteen minutes my nose had turned to a block of ice. If I put my head downwards then it looked like a stalactite hanging from the roof of a cave.

It’s going to be this cold over the weekend, and on Monday it will get below minus 20 degrees - which is similar to what they are having in Moscow at the moment - so wrap up warm.

Miss World 2006

I’m confused. But then I find many things in this country confusing. Maybe you could help me.

Someone please explain to me how the recent comments by the other Kaczynski in favour of moral censorship are consistent with the decision to host Miss World 2006.

I didn’t think traditional Catholic values supported girls in bikinis.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Let’s talk about sex

No, I’m not gonna be takin’ dirty. I just want to ask you a personal question. If you don’t mind.

When was the first time anyone talked to you about sex?

Was it with your friends at school, behind the bike shed? Was it when she said “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours’? (Nobody ever asked me to show them mine…and this at a time when the whole playground seemed to be showing each other various parts of their anatomy in an orgy of infantile exhibitionism. After a couple of years on the sidelines, I got a bit of a complex about it).

Was it your parents? Did your mum and dad sit you down one day after tea and, red faced and uncomfortable, try and tell you that, well, ‘You know, son, er, well, those noises you occasionally here on a Sunday morning when mummy and daddy are having a lie-in are not fighting – like you thought – it was, er, um, you know…’ And all the time you just wanted to get back to playing with your Scalextric (this was back in the pre-history, Jurassic days before Playstation).

Or was it when the teacher finally, and after much playground pre-publicity (‘he’s gonna be talking about Doing It’ snigger, snigger) strode into biology class with a couple of rabbits, and tried to persuade you that, on the night of your honeymoon, you and your wife will indeed be acting like rabbits, fortified with champagne, carrots and lettuce leaves.

Sex education in Poland

Yes, I have finally got the point of this post. According to the annual, international survey by Durex (adobe), the average age Poles hear about the ‘birds and the bees’ is when they are 13 years old (‘birds and bees’ is a rather strange euphemism, when you think about it – male birds and bees don’t even have dicks, and most bees never actually ‘do it’ at all – never: they are as celibate as a priest on bromide. Bee communities have special ‘gigolo’ bees, whose main purpose in life is to service the Queen – a bit like the UK’s Prince Phillip, in fact, but let’s not go there).

Thirteen years old. If they waited that late in London, these days, then kids would be hearing about the ‘facts of life’ about two years after they had first indulged in them – if, that is, they can find enough time for it, in-between binge drinking, breaking into the next door neighbor’s, and scoring the latest joint, or maybe something stronger. Modern day, twenty-first century kids are truly the devil incarnate.

But if they did first talk about sex at 13, then who talked to them about it? It certainly wasn’t their teacher at school.

Four years ago, during the election campaign, politicians could talk about nothing else but sex, sex and more sex. Should sex education be put on the syllabus, Polish moral guardians asked themselves over and over? In the election last year, the subject had disappeared. Perhaps they were too busy talking about gays – the new Polish Satin in satin pants.

Four years ago, however, sex was at the top of the list for politicians seeking to get elected, alongside inflation, unemployment, corruption, the usual…

The ex-communist SLD, which won the election in 2001, came to office armed with proposals for compulsory sex education in schools. .

In 2005, when they got unceremoniously kicked out of office, compulsory sex education was still not on the school curricular.

The problem was: what should be taught in schools? Should we teach kids ‘natural methods’ of ‘family planning’? (crossing your fingers and hoping for the best!); should we teach that sex should only be indulged between married couples? And what about sexual diseases? And so on…

For arch-Catholics, textbooks by well-known sexologists such as Zbigniew Lew-Starowicz – which are much like the old Masters and Johnson, ‘Joy of Sex’ books – are full of dangerous western liberal ideas and moral and sexual promiscuity. Catholics would much prefer books by people like Teresa Krol, with its lecturers on the dangers of sex, and the ‘sin’ of abortion.

The sex education debate is part of the Polish ‘culture wars’.

So, due to the politicization of sex education, politicians have found themselves at an impasse, and sex education has been left to those embarrassed parents.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the red faced parent is the last person who wants to tackle this thorny subject. A poll by CBOS found that though 57% of kids said they could confide in their mothers, only 20% said dad was as approachable.

“The level of knowledge about sexuality is embarrassingly low in Poland,” Wanda Nowacka of the Women and Family Planning NGO, told Trybuna. She presented the newspaper with a series of letters she had received from Polish teenagers. One said: “Is it possible to get pregnant in ways other than sex?” Or another wrote: “I have the symptoms of being pregnant, but I have never had sex.”

But kids are still having sex, even though some of them might not actually know that they are. Another poll in 2002 found that the average age of ‘loosing your cherry’ in Poland was 18 years and four months. This is relatively late by British standards (I lost my ‘cherry’ years when I was 16 years and three months! It was a major disappointment, but I can’t blame my rabbit assisted biology teacher for that, alas) but more and more kids are starting earlier here. Nineteen percent of 15-16 year old kids have already had sex in Poland.

Sex education is taught in some schools, usually at 7 a.m. before the main school day starts. But most kids are left to find out stuff for themselves, from embarrassed parents, or back behind the bike shed.

And with the new PiS government, with its arch-catholic political support, sex education will not be appearing on the formal school curriculum anytime soon.

But isn’t it time – the 21st century, no less - that kids got the facts? Until they do Polish youth will simply be fumbling in the dark.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Another slice of life, PROSZE!

I sensed the need to input some fresh material. So now another "slice of life" Aaron post.

I love milk bars. I love milk bars for the same reason I love blues music: they're both forgiving. No matter what you've done, no matter what crime you may have committed, the blues is there for you. No matter in what station of life you find yourself, no matter how much money you have, the milk bar is there for you. They both provide nourishment.

I wish every visitor to Poland could go to a milk bar. Best food in the country for insanely low prices. The experience is something like this:

You walk in. You see a long line (it feels good to say line knowing that most of the people reading this will cringe) of people from all walks of life but mostly students and the homeless. They are all gazing at the big sign with the prices. These places are--I believe--partially subsidized by the government, so the prices are weird. Tomato soup, for example, wil set you back exactly 1.07 zl.

Once you get to the cashier, you feel a bit put off. She may not even look at you. She spends most of her time looking at her register. She just gives you a "prosze" or, if she's in a bad mood, a "słucham". You then mumble out your order in the best Polish you can. For me, it's like this:

Ja, uhhh, prosze, uhhh, poprosze pee-err-OH-gee, prosze, i ZOO-paa po-me-door-OH-ve.
She then furiously taps out your order on the cash register and tells you an obscure number (yesterday it was 5.63). You give her the money and she yells for the next person in line to come up.

You step aside and look confused. When is the food coming? You see other food, but none of it is yours. You grap a plastic fork and knife and a piece of flimsy wax paper, er napkin that is and wait.

She reaches through a small hole in the wall and extracts a plate with two rolled-up pancakes. But you didn't order pancakes. You are confused even more. She lathers them with whipped cream and pours some red gelatinous substance over them. Then the yell.

What? What was that? Before you know it, some balding, stinky old man with hair coming out of his nose edges his way past you and takes the pancakes, moving very slowly to make sure he doesn't drop them, as he has done on many past occcasions.

You understand. She takes the food from the kitchen, places it on the counter, and announces its presence to the entire bar. OK. You get it. You wait a bit.

Three minutes later, your food comes out. Or part of it. Maybe you get the soup first, maybe you don't.

But it's all worth it once you sit down to eat. The food is amazing. When people think about authentic food, you realize, they are talking about this. Your soul warms up. Your glasses steam up. You are content.

So here's a proverbial toast to milk bars!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year in Zakopane

I visited Zakopane before, last year in the Autumn, when there was plenty of drizzle around and fog obscured the mountains. This time though, the snow was piled high and we got stunning views.

When I told people we were going to Zakopane for New Year they either got all dreamy eyed and started waxing lyrical about the beautiful scenery, or they wrinkled their nose in distaste, declaring it was far too touristy for them.

The town itself does indeed have a few too many neon signs and burger bars, but it has its charm. You can buy thick wool mountain socks and rubbery sheep's cheese that squeaks on your teeth from ruddy faced stallholders. You can sip warm beer in wooden restaurants while a small band of musicians plays traditional mountain tunes. And you always have those amazing snow-covered mountains in the background.

2006 was seen in in true Polish style, with lots to eat all through the night, plenty of vodka to wash it down with and a total lack of appreciation for firework safety. Happy New Year everyone!