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Babcia’s socks and Pani Bożena’s swirly carpets March 8, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Do not, under any circumstances, go to Poland in winter if you’re watching your waistline. But do go if you like good, heavy, creamy stodge and booze. Not that you can’t have booze (or good, heavy, creamy stodge, for that matter) elsewhere, but innard-warming booze just seems all the more appropriate half-way up a mountain wearing your other half’s soaking trainers because you don’t have any footwear of your own from being the fecklessest winter tourist in Małopolska (or was it Śląsk? I never could tell my voivodeships from my hetmanates).

But, darlings, go on holiday! Why had I talked myself into thinking holidays are cack? “Holidays are for losers!” I’d say witheringly to the Russian whenever he suggested we visit any location further than Lidl. But I’m back in love with the Berlin-busting break and we’ve now got a fantasy holiday-list as long as both Mr. Tickle’s arms brewing for when we’ll both be as rich as Croesus – for about ten seconds, before I grudglingly transfer money to a few of my creditors – at some equally fantastic point in the future.

Lovely southern Poland. OK, perhaps not some of the grimmer industrial bits you crawl through on the slowest train this side of Tal-y-llyn. Katowice can probably be given a miss. Wałbrzych, I’m told (on an almost hourly basis), is one of the nastiest settlements ever to disgrace humanity. But Krakow is properly lovely. Like Prague without the headache, as one of my co-revellers put it. Proper Mitteleuropa beauty. Castles. Jewish bits coming back to life. Stodge. Middle-age-bemoaningly handsome boys with nice Slavic hair.

Speaking of which, my co-revellers and I decided to spend our pink zlotys in a Krakow homosexual tavern one evening. The organiser of the revelry and Poland-lover extraordinaire got chatting to some of the locals. And one of them turned out to be an Israeli who’d emigrated to the land of his forbears. And hands up who knew – BaH, you’re excluded. If that makes me an anti-Semite, so be it – that all Israeli schoolchildren go on a compulsory school-trip to Poland? I didn’t go into greater detail with the Israeli-Pole, but I assume it’s to visit some of Poland’s other landmarks – Auschwitz is just down the road from Krakow, for example – and, I’m even more tendentiously assuming, to see a bit of Europe where Jewish life once flourished. And it was quite a thrill to wander into Krakow’s Jewish bit – I’d missed it on my first trip 15 years earlier – and see that the revival in Polish Jewish life might be more than just talk. Our trip-organiser has studied every language known to man, including Cornish, and he got a thrill when he heard a gaggle of Hasidic boys speaking yer actual Yiddish. And it was here that I got my tingliest cultural sensation of the trip. We wandered into a synagogue and its attached, reconstituted (having been desecrated) graveyard. There was a sort of hollering sound coming from within. I thought at first it was two of the very many vociferous Hasidic boys we’d seen milling around involved in some very loud banter but closer inspection showed it was just one boy, praying with a fervour I’d never before witnessed from such close quarters. He extrasensorily perceived our fascination and spun round mid-sway before turning back round to face wherever it was he was facing – Jerusalem? – to carry frantically on.

And from the wonders of Krakow we trolled on to Zakopane. Alpine towns look much alike to me. Multi-storey pointy houses, folk wandering around in expensive clothes and shoes (apart from me), mountains all over the shop. Were it not for the strapping, great musicians with huge lallies wearing this kind of costume peppering the restaurants of the town, I could easily have imagined I was in Switzerland or Austria. The town seemed just as prosperous too. And there are all sorts of mountain recreations to get up to. Cable-cars here. Funiculars there. Sledding somewhere else. Even skiing and snowboarding, goddammit, if that’s your bag. The Russian and I had a lovely old troll through some pristine bit of National Park, shanks sunk in snow, only remembering to turn round and head back to civilisation and a rewarding mug of grzane wino, or mulled wine, when the avalanche warnings got ever more alarming.

Local wares are hard-sold like nobody’s business. Local cheese. Local honey. (Got ourselves some of that.) Local socks from the local babcia (the Polish take on the babushka, headscarf ‘n all). They came in handy for fending off frostbite and now litter our clothes-horse as a timely reminder of a season almost past. And Poland seems to be trundling along nicely, though Zakopane is presumably loaded from all those tourist zlotys and might paint a false picture.

…but we stayed with a local woman. Pani Bożena has one of those great, big, pointy houses and if it wasn’t for her carpets and her hair, again you might have thought you were in St. Moritz. The Russian and I were in the pointiest bit of the house, with a breakfast view of looming mountains and a frustratingly, just-not-quite-good-enough wireless connection to steal access from whomever it was. By the time Pani Bożena’s been in the business another couple of years, you mark my words, she’s gonna get herself some hair-straighteners, invite nephew Jacek back from plumbing in Peterborough and Poland’s going to be the happiest country in Europe.

Berlin’s nice though too, innit?



1. Marsha Klein - March 8, 2007

Your post title reminds me of a routine I once heard a comedian doing about how you didn’t have to do drugs in the ’70s, owing to the presence everywhere of purple swirly curtains and carpets. Your holiday sounds lovely (even if I did read “the town seemed just as prosperous too” as ‘the town seemed just as preposterous too”!

Glad to find you so happy!

2. Arabella - March 8, 2007

Welcome back: polish honey on toast for breakfast next to an arrangement of gently steaming socks?

3. pleite - March 9, 2007

Marsha, happy. Now there’s a thought. And a worrying one too. Might I be happy? Heaven forbid. I did check with the Russian just in case. “Darling, do you think we’re the best couple in the world?” I asked, both of us two sheets to the wind after some making-life-bearable wine this evening. “We’re the worst couple in the world after my parents,” he answered festively. But I don’t feel especially unhappy at the mo, you’re right. I want to work out a way of making my don’t-have-too-high-expectations philosophy sound paaaaaasitive. Be content with your lot? Sounds a bit lazy and fatalistic. Make the best of things? Sounds equally rubbish. Compare your lot with the lot of the the world’s most forlorn? Seems a bit callous. But I am OK. Although, mid some making-life-bearable wine, I did have an almost tearful moment, though not really sadness-related. The Russian and I sat in silence, as is usual, the candlelight reflected in the light-blue of the toaster plastic, and DJ Lukeski‘s music wafting into the kitchen from the bedroom (where the Russian has a posh stereo newfangledly wired up). And The Wild Rover came on. And I sang along, to break the silence. And it reminded me of non-specific (like urethritis) old Irish relatives and drunken sing-songs and I so almost wanted to cry, but didn’t quite manage it. And then I ran out of words, and the Russian asked if I was drunk after one glass, and the mythicness was gone. But it wasn’t sadness. But I’d hate to lose sight of sadness. It’s so underrated. I aim for contentedness with easy access to moroseness at all times.

Arabella, between you and me, I don’t adore honey unless it’s disguised. So I wouldn’t lash it onto toast, per esempio. But I’m always happy when I realise the Russian’s managed to manufacture it into some sauce or other. And my standard salad-dressing has a honey angle. The honey-buying was a nice Slavic brotherhood moment for me. (The Russian probably didn’t notice. Although he did notice how good-looking Poles were, and that was Slavic brotherhood, as I always accuse Russians – read, the Russian – of genetic fascism and only fancying their own kind.) So we wandered through a market and there was a nice, rubicund, handsome Pole selling honey in unposh-looking jars. And we tried to explain, by trying to slightly derussify Russian and hoping that would make it into Polish miraculously, that we didn’t actually want 50kg of honey… We ended up buying 50kg of lime(-tree) honey in the end, which the rubicund Pole and the Russian nodded at each other was excellent, and I liked them for having close languages (although we Anglos and Germans could do this just as well in this case, actually, with Linden) and knowing about nature. How the hell did this all start? Oh yes, honey. So, um, no, perhaps not on toast, but in a nice sauce with my socks on, while the weather still just about hangs on to chilliness.

4. wyndham - March 9, 2007


5. narrowback - March 9, 2007

ah, the Wild Rover…i’ve had many a drunken sing-song with that tune. tho’ I prefer the pogues version to the dubliners.

the honey story reminds me of my many trips to asian/chinese markets here in chicago…walk away with 3 kilos of lemon grass instead of the 3 grams i needed for the recipe.

saw your earlier comment about receiving the e-mail. great. as soon as i tunnel through the mountain of work and get liberated from the office i can start my berlin daydreaming

6. pleite - March 9, 2007

Wynders, excellent. I feel like we’re neighbours now. Just say if there’s anything you need, like a nice cup of sugar. How does wordpress compare to blogspot for you so far? (The only disadvantage for me, as a stat addict, is that you can’t get such thorough, Stasi stats here as you can there, but it’s not the end of the world.)

Narrowback, excellent. Hopefully it’ll be nice and springy for your stay. I’ll have my drinking cap on. Can’t promise any Irish songs though. But I’ll do my Polish repertoire – one song – if we’re on the same premises as a bottle of vodka. (Please let us not be.)

7. narrowback - March 9, 2007

geez, d’ya know any beer/wine only kneipen in berlin? while it is in my best interests (as well as the general public) to abstain from imbibing hard alcohol in any significant quantities, I don’t have to boycott the joints where it’s sold.

being Chicago there’s more polish radio stations than irish, i may be familiar with the “one” song

8. wyndham - March 9, 2007

Yes, you don’t appear to be able to see who links to you – not that anyone’s linking to me. But I have more confidence in the quality of the stats this time round and it also let’s you see those pernicious people who use feeds! I feel like I’ve moved into a large rooftop minimalist room with lovely flowing curtains blowing in the wind. One can’t live like a student all one’s life.

9. Marsha Klein - March 9, 2007

Oops! Sorry for my intemperate use of the “h” word. I meant, of course, content. Actually, happiness makes me nervous because, being a bit of a pessimist by nature, I always feel that IT CAN’T LAST whereas contentment, I think, acknowledges the fact that bad things happen as well as good ones and is therefore a less nerve-wracking state of being. Or something.

Your non-specific (like urethritis) old Irish relatives made me laugh. Our baby-sitting group is having a St Patrick’s Day bash, so perhaps I should dust off my reditions of “Kevin Barry” and “The Wild Colonial Boy”. On second thoughts, maybe not. “The Wild Rover” reminds me of being about 4 years old and being driven through the streets of Khartoum in a tiny Fiat. Yes, really!

I am very impressed with the look of Wyndham’s new blog (very spring-like!) Perhaps I should re-invent myself in WordPress?

10. bowleserised - March 9, 2007

Has your blog changed format? It’s gone really, really weird. Anyhoo I am even more jealous of your slavic holiday now. I want to be in Prague, and for it to be winter.
BTW The book I was working on last year featuring a tour of the former eastern block and the baltic was ALL about honey. I could tell you so much… The Slovenes are particularly obsessed. And I think it was the Lithuanians who had a word for ‘bee friends’ or ‘honey friends’ – people you shared honey with.

11. leon - March 9, 2007

I’d like to go and have a look at Warmia i Mazury sometime.

12. Taiga the Fox - March 9, 2007

Blimey BiB, your comment about candlelight evening drunken sing-songs made me laugh out loud (I’m still not so sure if I should have done so, but I did, so anyway…) and now all my colleagues noticed I wasn’t really working at all.

13. pleite - March 9, 2007

Taiga, aren’t you the boss? Have them sacked if they get cheeky. (OK, not really.) Or just tell them to buy another Picasso and shut up. And, anyway, doesn’t work in offices only happen in a few fifteen-minute intensity-spurts a couple of times a day?

Leon, you’ve made up Warmia, haven’t you? I’ve been to Mazury. Lovely. Lakey. I studied in Poland in 1992 and we were taken to some lake or other (near Olsztynek, if I remember rightly), and we all enthusiastically leapt in, which was heaven. (Done that in Finland and Russia too. Don’t think I’ve ever leapt into a lake in England.) I was once in Białystok over by the Belarusian border – don’t think it’s still Mazury there – and there it’s all fenny and swampy and marshy with storks hanging conveniently about. We were taken out rafting by our (work-)hosts and it was so lovely. I never seemed to do anything naturey in England, which is, I suppose, down to being a Londoner. But I always felt Russians (and Poles. And Germans, actually) were still much closer to nature than the English.

B., go to Krakow instead of Prague. The co-reveller whom you know was the one who said Krakow is like Prague without the headache. It’s 10 hours on the train though, but dirt cheap. (We paid 50 euros return!) Honey is a very good thing, and our accession-state cousins are right to be attached to it. I used to scoff at non-chemical remedies for things before I made it to Russia but will now quote honey as a cure-all to anyone prepared to listen. Excellent disinfectant (I think. Or maybe it cures something else). (Has the blog gone queer? Might it be because the post has a long title? Dunno.)

Marsha, yes, come on over. Apparently, there are things you have to pay for in wordpress, but I think that’s only if you have a mega-huge blog and want to upload 800 photos a day. I instantly clicked on skipto in blogspot and wordpress to see if you’d taken the plunge but no. (Skipto hasn’t been taken, you’ll be relieved to hear.) Yes, contentedness is where it’s at. Happiness is for mad folk. But, more importantly than emotion, what was the Fiat? A tiny Cinquecento? The tiny Polish Fiat – was it a 650? – has practically disappeared now. (No, it was a Fiat 126. Checked Wiki.) Aber Fiats, Khartoum, Wild Rover? Too much cultural dissonance. I can’t cope.

Wynders, can you actually see who’s using feeds? I don’t know how to do that. But have you spotted the sexy friend surfer, or something like that? It means I can read your blog in my own blog, sort of, and see when you’ve updated, and even see comments to your posts chez moi. A built-in feed-reader, I suppose. But the regular stats should still show if someone’s clicked on your blog from another blog. And you can still use another statcounter, if you want flags and countries, but it just can’t give all the details for a wordpress blog it can for a blogspot one. But do you mean I should actually delete the Triffid link? That would be nigh on blog-blasphemy for me.

Narrowback, I’ll sing it for you next week. Don’t worry. I’ve managed, in over five years here, never to drink vodka/gin/anything else non-beery/winey in Berlin’s finest taverns. Let’s agree in advance not to egg each other on to naughtiness.

14. wyndham - March 9, 2007

Bib, I’d prefer it if you updated your link at some point to my new house, but I’m not going to get rid of the old blog, it’ll sit there getting derelict, much like myself.

15. pleite - March 9, 2007

Wynders, you can just so consider yourself updated. You are now twice-linked. And the opposite of derelict to me. Fancy a beer, now that we’re neighbours?

16. leon - March 9, 2007

It is too a real place!

Not that Wikipedia ever proved anything.

17. wyndham - March 9, 2007

I would love one, although someone has just texted a hideous photo of myself that will be a lethal weapon in my battle against the booze!

18. pleite - March 9, 2007

Good lord, Leon, there’s a place called Sambia in Poland too, which is, I think, what the Germans call Zambia. Poland is lovely. I’ve heard nice things about Lublin and Zamość in the south-east too. So many treasures close at hand. If only I was minted and could drive…

Wyndham, I’ve heard several reports around the internet that you are, in fact, a bit of a dreamboat, so I’m going to ignore intelligence about a dodgy texted photo. Anyway, photoshop it into gorgeousness, if need be. My (sort of) brother-in-law sent me a photoshopped version of himself once where he did indeed look quite remarkably stunning (he’s a good-looking boy anyway) but he’d made himself look as camp as nine pink tents, which I don’t think was the intention.

19. Taiga the Fox - March 9, 2007

BiB, I’d so much like to say yes to everything, but… well. I really wasn’t so busy, because the current exhibition is done and the others still so far away (until I realize the opening is in few days time and all I’ve done is reading blogs, which is not true if someone asks).

20. pleite - March 9, 2007

Taiga, your secret’s safe with me. I won’t tell a single soul. But if a married soul asks, well, I might be tempted.

21. MountPenguin - March 9, 2007

For sexy statistics, Google Analytics is a good choice ( http://www.google.com/analytics/ ) – though I’ve blocked it on my computers for reasons of paranoia.

22. bowleserised - March 9, 2007

The layout has gone totally screwy for me! Not for anyone else? It’s really hard to read… Honey is good for skin and hair, I have to add. And yes, now I want to go to Krakow by train.

23. MountPenguin - March 9, 2007

Looks just the same (perfectly OK) to me. Have a look around where you live for any large trucks or other heavy objects which have been parked recently – sometimes they compress the Internet wires and stop some of the bits getting through.

24. pleite - March 10, 2007

Penguin, I was defeated at the first hurdle when it asked me to sign in with my google account. Or will my old blogger ID work? Anyway, it’s good practice in trying to ween myself off stat-addiction. But why does it give you paranoia? Is it a bit all-seeing and all-knowing? Google will surely soon replace the United Nations as arbiter of all things important.

B., bugger. Don’t know what it can be. Once, when everything went queer for me, Daggi told me wisely to clear my cache and, when I worked out how to do that after about a year, it did, indeed, help. Maybe we bloggers should helpfully include a print-out-&-post service to avoid such difficulties. Speed is overrated.

25. Beaman - March 11, 2007

Welcome back BiB! I was wondering if you had got lost in the potholed roads of Western Poland. Fascinating reading about your travels!

26. daggi - March 11, 2007

You can get around all that blogger-sign-in-with-google-crap by just clicking on “Other” and typing in your name and blog address. The end result is the same. And you don’t have the problem of having to attempt to log in 100 times.d

27. pleite - March 11, 2007

Daggi, how the bugger are you? Far be it from me to harp on about delicious wordpress, aber the only thing that bothers me about blogger now, though I’m still happy to have the blogger ID or then I wouldn’t be able to leave my pesh on some blogger blogs, is that I have to sign in at all when I’ve done so already somewhere in the last fifty hours. Why can’t the bastard remember me? Although, admittedly, it would remember me if I was commenting as a blogspot blogger and not an other. Still, not the end of the world, I suppose. I’m sitting unwashed and useless at the computer, where I’ve been all day. That’s worse, isn’t it?

Beaman, thank you. Poland didn’t swallow me up, but it does now mean the Russian and I do nothing but talk of where we’re going next. Venice is on the cards now. As is every other location in the world bar Stevenage. Are you remaining a man of Kent (or is it Kentish man?) for now or might we one day see you back here?

28. MountPenguin - March 11, 2007

You mean you’ve been sitting inside on this wonderfully spring-like day? When tout-le-monde and its dog and assorted children have been out licking the first ice-cream of the year? Shame on you.

29. pleite - March 11, 2007

I know. It’s a disgrace. But I’ve faithfully checked the weather and it’s going to be a glorious +16 tomorrow and Tuesday (before getting back down to -1 in a week or so) so I’ll try my best to enjoy the sun then. We did almost think of considering making it to the theatre this evening, but I think I’m just about to get into the eating-till-bedtime phase.

30. annie - March 11, 2007

Lovely post. Glad you have been won over to holidays, you work too hard…

‘huge lallies’ – is it what I think it is?

31. dagi - March 11, 2007

Is that a serious point about it being -1 in a week’s time? I was just chuckling about almost being out of coal at the right time and was looking forward to turning my flat into a dry sauna for a few hours when it really does get warm.

I like the sound of this Paní Bożena woman, and her accommodation in particular. Was it cheap? How did you find it? In Zürich I was in a Catholic Students’ Hall of Residence, which was cheap, for Zürich. But fine, and also at the very top with a pointy roof and a view of the mountains. And of people hiding no parking signs (that weren’t even in force on the day concerned).

I’ve just been making that yoghurt I’ve been meaning to make for the past 9 months. And a quiche. I might call it Penelope Quiche, as it has turned out attractive yet old fashioned, and a bit posh (i.e. like Penelope Keith), but I won’t, as that would be just plain stupid.

Otherwise, BiB, a question. What would you do? You’ve been meaning to send someone who you met at uni, who found it all a bit crap and then just vanished back to where he came from, an email for a very long time. Who knows whether he’d reply, but it would be nice as he was a good friend on the melancholic front at least. Anyway, you click on “send” and web.de won’t even let it leave the inbox as his account has gone/been deleted. You have no other contact details. You know where he last lived, and thanks to google, you even know exactly what part of the town he came from. A while back there was a guest book entry in Russian (ethnic Russian, brought up in Estonia, family ‘went west’ in the front of an Aeroflot plane flown by a friend of the father in the mid-80s), but other than that, nothing. But for the parent’s (and it’s obviously them, no-one else having such an ethnic German old-fashioned surname combined with Russian forname in the city of 500,000) address and number at telefonbuch.de. Should I print out the email and send it there? My parents still get phoned every now and then asking where I am, and they dutifully pass on my phone number. But I worry that in this case my friend’s parents might not be able to pass it on. Of course, I could just post his name on my blog and say “get in touch!” – most people google for their own name every now and again, but perhaps he’s just abolished his internet. Which is something I’ve been meaning and wanting to do for a long time.

32. pleite - March 12, 2007

Annie, you dirty thing, you. Unless by ‘huge lallies’, you thought ‘huge legs’, ‘lallies’ being polari for legs. These mountain folk were huge, presumably from the stodge and the back-breaking work of striding up mounatins with sick goats on their backs (and carrying double-basses to restaurants).

Daggi, too true about the -1, though that’ll be the minimum temperature, so presumably only at night when, unless you’re out doing something nefarious, you’ll be tucked up in beddybies like a good ‘un.

…and Pani Bożena – our pal had stayed with her before. Details available if you really do want them – was cheap, as was a perfectly good hotel right in the centre of Krakow. We paid 20 euros a night for a room chez Pani B. and about 30 for a room in the hotel. The train fare to Krakow is 50 euros return. So it really is a pretty cheap holiday, as holidays go. Food and booze cheap. Everything cheap. And it’s all easy and tourist-friendly.

…contacting old friends is always a tricky one. I’ve thought about it galore, when I’ve fallen out of touch with someone. Sometimes it’s just a bit of long-term laziness, and nothing than can’t be remedied with a quick e-mail. But what if it’s more complicated and you’ve lost touch for a reason? But my natural instinct would always be to get in touch rather than not get in touch. Either your friendship wll reflourish, or, if not, then nothing lost, I suppose, unless it would break your heart at some level. So, yes, go for it… You could just put his name up chez toi, but, oddly, from what you say about him, I’ve decided he’s not a self-googler. So that might be slow. Unless his girlfriend googles him, or something, or his workmates do, and direct him to you. But if you say his parents can’t contact him, or might not be able to, then I presume he is now a shepherd, living in a remote Bavarian valley with minimal access to the outside world. But has he actually fallen out with his parents? I’d write to them as, unless there’s feuding, he’s bound to get in touch with them eventually. And prime your parents to give an encouraging response for when he next makes his where’s-Daggi? call.

You want to abolish your internet? But life is not life without the internet, surely?

33. daggu - March 12, 2007

I have no idea if he’s fallen out with his parents, I just fear that he’s gone more mental than I have/am currently. Without my mad boss to help him on his way. Life not life without the internet? Well for a start, the electricity bills would be a lot less. There’s some kind of connection available to attempt to get around the internet-GEZ-tax, i.e. a provider that blocks all public service German radio and television station sites, which is clearly pointless. Now, if there was one which blocked the Guardian, BBC, and more importantly, Wikipedia, that might help. And NHS Direct, for some late night hypochondriac paranoia. But then I wouldn’t “need” the internet. I yearn for the days when you’d just look in the Berliner Zeitung or Zitty and go to some (inevitably) crap concert, instead of going to zitty.de or (better) berliner-nacht.com, finding some concerts, being unsure, spending 2 hours finding out that other people say they were crap, confirm this by finding some MP3s, and then get turned off completely by the invairably crap design of their myspace site. And decide to go after all, and then you realise it’s too late.

34. pleite - March 12, 2007

Well, I must say life without the internet was perfectly manageable when I was in Poland (though I did try to get online, but didn’t slash my wrists when I couldn’t manage it), and I know I spend too much time online when I’m at home, but, like any addict, I try to tell myself that it’s not so bad really. Better than TV. Better than other things that folk get addicted to. But I really am about to get out into the sun now.

Which maddening boss are you working for? Is this at the bookshop? Hang in there, hang in there…

35. Beaman - March 13, 2007

No plans for the near future to return to Berlin but never say never.

36. pleite - March 13, 2007

In that case, I hope England’s being very good to you indeed!

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