Thursday, August 6, 2009

Warsaw Poland (Part II)

Warsaw Poland (Part II)
Saturday, August 1, 2009

Michael and I have had a lot of good luck on this trip, ending up by accident in the right place, at the right time, and bumping into the right people. But on Saturday August 1, at 5:00 pm, our strange luck was turned up to eleven. We were seated in the middle of the oldest square in Warsaw, and two beers had just been delivered to our table. Hundreds of people milled about the square, tourists licking ice cream cones, young couples walking hand-in-hand, and vendors selling children’s games and flowers. Then, something very strange happened. At precisely 5:00 pm everyone stopped moving and fell silent. Those who had been walking stopped in their tracks. Those seated, stood up. And when I say everyone, I mean every single person stopped moving--at all. We learned later that even cars and busses and bikes on the roads had stopped.

And the whole city fell entirely silent except for the church bells, which rang for exactly 60 seconds.

I can’t begin to tell you how odd it is to see a city suddenly stop--freeze frame. People stood with ice cream cones, not licking them. People’s dogs stopped and sat down. Watching it was so surreal. At first I thought perhaps I was loosing my wits (what few wits I have left.) After one full minute the church bells quieted, and in an instant hundreds of people were moving again.

It didn’t take me long to ask the waitress what had just happened, and, as I supposed, the moment of silence was in reverence for those who died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. By luck, we had ordered our beers five minutes before the 65th Anniversary--to the minute--of the beginning of the Uprising.

The Warsaw Uprising began when Polish Resistance fighters in Warsaw rebelled against the Nazi forces that held the town. The Polish fighters wanted to free the city from the Nazi’s before the immanent arrival of the approaching Soviet army. The fear was that if the Soviet’s took the city then Poland would be abandoned to the Soviets at the end of the war (how right they were). This rebellion happened shortly after D-Day and Polish expectations of help from the West were high. But no help came from the West, and the Soviet Army camped peacefully on the opposite side of the Vistula River and watched as Warsaw was flattened. In the end Nazi forces killed 200,000 people in Warsaw and destroyed every building in the city. The entire city was quite literally crushed. When the destruction was complete the Soviets waltzed in, kicked the Nazis out, and claimed Warsaw as their own.

In reverence to the Polish resistance fighters, each year, at precisely 5:00 pm, the people of Warsaw stop moving, fall silent and stand up for one minute. It is a beautiful, moving tradition.

What was once a flattened pile of smoky rubble is now a Unesco World Heritage site. In the 1950s, with no support from the Soviets, the people of Warsaw rebuilt their historic city centre. Using old photographs and memories, the city was painstakingly reconstructed, brick by brick. Hundreds and hundreds of buildings were rebuilt from scratch. This is a photo taken near where we were. And when looking at this photo remember that the buildings you are looking at were reconstructed from rubble in the 1950s. (Click on the image to enlarge):

And Mike offers us this film of the same area:


Warsaw, Poland 31 July-1 August

As we rode the train, our last train, into Warsaw, Kevin noted (with the help of our trusty Lonely Planet) with some incredulity that there was a bar/restaurant in Warsaw called Sense, a few blocks from our hotel. Surely this must be some conspiracy. Bratislava denied us entry into Nonsense Club & Restaurant (see this blog entry for the ugly details), but now we were being handed Sense on a plate? Could Eastern Europeans be so protective of their nonsense, and so eager to orient the world (or propagandize it) towards their sense? The only solution to this would be for us to visit Sense. And subvert it.

After we settled into our hotel, we girded ourselves with all manner of potent nonsense paraphernalia, including the benevolent balderdash blunderbuss, two vintage bunko barettas (with plum pudding flags that shoot out the end), and a trained amphibious amphigory. None of these, mind you, are to be handled by nonsense neophytes. We headed out to Sense to do our worst. I present to you the exact moment of our assault:

Sense was not prepared for our hobgoblinry. With the help of some very tasty drinks, we proceeded to desecrate the establishment by creating all kinds of nonsense within its hallowed walls. I cannot describe the proceedings in detail because of the potential infringement upon the territory of certain secret Nonsense Societies, but I can say that nonsense pieces were produced, and a certain menu, that used to have the word “Sense” attached to various food items (as in “Sense Fries,” “Sense Pasta”), now has the word “Nonsense” as the descriptive moniker. When we left, we thought we heard the soft exogamous squish of Sense’s walls roiling and tumbling into a pile of quivering nonsensical noodles.

The next morning, perhaps not quite recovered from the Pastafarian Massacre, we had an appointment to meet at 1pm with Anna Fornalczyk, an academic who also works for a leading journal of translation in Poland. We were having a lovely relaxed morning at our hotel before the meeting, getting ready to depart, until we got a call from Anna around 12:30. I wasn’t able to receive the call, but suddenly a bat flew out of Kevin’s left ear as he said, “We were supposed to meet her at 12:15.” Somehow, even though he had written her the day before that we would meet her at 12:15, he had confused the times. To be fair, most of our recent meetings had been at 1… So we called her back, told her we’d be right there, did a quick primping (my switch-blade moustache comb is a delight--thank you AC!), and headed out. The meeting place, a bookstore closer in to the old town, was a bit farther than we had thought, so we hopped into a cab and were speeding our way through the streets of Warsaw… until we heard the marching band. As we sat in traffic, we could see ahead people marching in military uniforms and certainly hear the military bands. The cab driver drove around a little but then stopped on the side of the road, speaking a perfectly incomprehensible Polish to us and gesturing to the closed roads ahead. It seemed we were at a dead end. Back on the street, we realized that the cab had actually driven us slightly farther away than we had been at our hotel. Kevin switched into high gear at this point (and anyone who has walked beside Kevin knows his legs move with astounding velocity) as we wound our way through the city, past the parade of Polish military, and youth military groups. We had no idea at the time what the occasion might be, but there was no time to ask. We were extremely late, so we fast-walked our way about a mile in the hot sun, around the university, until we finally found Anna, waiting patiently in the bookshop. She was quite understanding, and as we gently sweat into the bookstore upholstery, she went through many texts that she had copied for us. She had a good sense of nonsense—a rare find—and had brought some promising pieces from both literary and folk tradition, from different time periods. She had also gone back to some very old volumes to dig out a few excellent folk texts. Lastly, she was kind enough to allow us to record her reciting two Polish children’s rhymes: click below to hear her.


Anna was gracious and helpful, patient with our lateness, and promised to provide more material, overall showing us, yet again, the rich nonsense tradition of Poland.

ps. This is not related to our trip in Poland, but I have to pass on a link I was sent by one Belle Rudetha Prannyshake (a devoted philollower and phrend), a lovely example that includes mustaches and Spanish and nonsense. Click here for the video!