Pozdrowienia z Polski 3 2/28/08
Greetings from Poland 3
The snows of winter have descended again, and I’ve been ill with throat and sinus problems, hacking and coughing for several nights. So I have stayed home in Joanna’s flat for three consecutive days, relaxing with TV treatment including BBC News, CNN News, and HBO movies overdubbed in Polish, drinking beers, and writing some poetry and other stuff. Staying inside and vegging-out feels very good after much touristic running-around. But this week it’s back to the old touristic grind, and I will soon be going to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising during WW2, accompanied by Joanna’s best friend Stanislaw, an 82-year retired forester. He is a really good old guy who whips out the vodka every time we see him. While sitting around talking he keeps saying, “dawnosmy nic nie pili!” which means “it’s long she we last had a drink” — and then we have another round. Stanislaw lives downtown with his brother, Zdzislaw who is slowly wasting away from lung cancer.
Death ever lingers here. During my first week here, Joanna and I visited her friend Malgosha, an editor in her office who has been hospitalized for months with bowel problems. She was operated on for the fifth time a few days ago and then died. When we saw her in Szpital Bielanski, a gray and dreary hospital, she was thin and weak, in a room with various other patients vaguely smelling of excrement. Malgosha was the same age as Joanna, 53. Another one gone, says Joanna, referring to the loss of someone else dear to her. She feels very alone, says I am now her closest ally.
Yesterday we attended Malgosha’s funeral in a large and beautiful cemetery nearby that is non-denominational, ie, not Catholic. Her estranged parents were there, and a collection of friends. Words were said over her grave site and then the father threw in a handful of dirt. Joanna said Malgosha’s mom treated her as a slave at home; her illness was probably a way out of domestic tyranny. Joanna says most Polish women are slaves to either their husbands or their families or both. Afterwards Joanna & I went to the Catholic cemetery, even larger, where her parents are buried. I think we walked most of a mile in a straight line past endless graves before we came to theirs. Her father Witold has a marble slab; her mother Hanna, who was cremated, has a plaque. Joanna said that when her father died, cremation was frowned upon and was not approved my her mother.
The cemeteries here are awesome, like museums of the dead, crammed with funereal artwork of every description. The marble-covered graves are in good shape, the plain-stone ones are covered in green moss, like the surrounding trees. The whole place is a necromantic treasury of sculpture, statuary, shrines, tombs, and variation of every kind. All these graves, packed in tightly, row on row, avenue after avenue, are like a separate city that reflects the history of Poland. There is one immense section of crosses for the dead of WWI. Nearby is another expansive section of crosses from WW2. There is a separate section for graves of those murdered by the Russian NKVD. Another section is for the Poles who served the Russians during the postwar socialist era before Solidarity. Another section for the thousands of Polish officers murdered at Katyn (which is the subject of Polish film directed by Andrzej Wajda that was recently considered for an Oscar). Another section for the famous artists and politicians (Aleja Zasluzonych — Avenue of the Distinguished). One prominent grave near the entrance, covered in flowers, marks the grave of a Polish hero who was an American spy for the CIA against Russia, adorned with quotes from Ronald Reagan. Another tall and impressive marble monument salutes heroes of the Uprising, but Joanna scornfully laughed that this particular one is a public lie; because the men honored here only claimed to serve but did not. Apparently there is a lot of politics concerned with who gets buried where and how, depending on what they did and how much money they had. Every year in November people collect private money for renovation of all the monuments standing on the territory of Stare Powazki Cemetery to honor the history and memory of those buried here.
I watch a fair amount of TV here, in between other stuff. The linguistic offerings are impressive — besides dozens of Polish channels, of course, there are channels in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. In Radom one night I watched a trilingual film, original script spoken in Croatian, with English subtitles and Polish overdubbing. The premium channels like HBO and Cinemax also offer programs in either the original language (usually English) or with Polish overdubbing. News, weather, fashion, game shows, and movie channels dominate, along with many sports-only channels that feature soccer and winter sports especially but also boxing, volleyball, basketball, and even ping-pong tourneys (which are more interesting than almost any other sport I’ve seen).
Virtually all channels have advertising but they graciously announce that the ads are coming by stating “Reklama” (“ads”) before they begin. The ads themselves are similar to those in the US for the most part — cars, beer, food, cosmetics, OTC medicines — but I notice quite a few travel ads to exotic destinations such as India, Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, and Moscow. From Europe, these destinations are close. And after midnight come the plethora of sex ads and porn sex shows, as I discussed in an earlier email.
Advertising in Poland is more prevalent and more extreme than in the US, if you can imagine that. Ads are virtually everywhere in every form possible — on billboards that line the highways and city streets; on electronic billboards that constantly change their message; as murals on the sides of buildings (sometimes enormous in size, larger than any I’ve seen in America); on skyscrapers as programmed messages in the form of moving lights; as decorations entirely covering the sides of the busses and trams; as stickers pasted on practically everything including buildings, bus and tram stops, light poles, fences, traffic dividers; on street corners in the form of large round poster-pillars that serve no other purpose (some of which even rotate); as handouts being distributed to pedestrians walking by; as handouts placed on the windshields of parked cars; as handouts placed on doorsteps; and of course everywhere in magazines and newspapers – of which there are many more than I thought possible in a small country.
The whole place is nuts with reproduced visual messages on every hand. In fact, there are many companies that reproduce posters, signs, and ads for both business and retail customers — which I don’t think have any equivalent in the US, I suppose because their is no comparable demand. In addition to this is the prevalence of graffiti on practically every building in Poland. Much of it consists of gang-style designs and pseudo-words, much of it is artistic or at least colorful, some is cartoon-like, some consists of rebellious political scrawls such as Capitalism = Exploitation, Eat the Rich (but in Polish, of course). All in all, Poles are the most visually bombarded culture I’ve seen, maybe the most anywhere. When driving, every km is dense with ads because there is little empty place between building and the next. Poland is crowded.
Probably related to this visual craze is the fact that Polish poster art is world famous for about 100 years. There is a special museum in Warsaw devoted solely to this indigenous art form that I hope to see later.
Last Sunday we went to a New Age Psychic Faire, called here a Targi Medycyny Naturalnej (Natural Medicine Fair), at an old hall that was once a sports arena of some kind. It reminded me very much of the annual Nevada City fair of similar title. Iridologists, masseuses, astrologers, tarot readers, vitamin vendors, health machine vendors (juicers, light therapy, massage wands, etc.), health juices, ear candling, and much more. One booth featured live leeches for drawing blood, which I have not seen in NC. There was a Chinese food booth at which two very friendly sisters offered excellent Oriental dishes, and it turned out they spoke English as well as Polish, Vietnamese, and two dialects of Chinese. Joanna treated me to a full-body massage with a Korean masseuse, a bio-energetic session with a very large gent who also does magnetic therapy (he can make metal objects stick to his chest), and an ear-candling session supposedly to remove ear wax and healing sinuses. As we left, we also shared a large apple pancake made to order in a large pan of hot oil, covered with powdered sugar, quite tasty.
Have I mentioned the food? The food everywhere is delicious, and we have been to many terrific restaurants from fast food to fancy fare. It does not seem to matter the price range; the food is excellent everywhere. However, the standard everyday fare at home is basically meat and potatoes with thick slices of bread and butter, washed down by endless cups of tea. Kielbasa or Polish sausage is truly the national dish, eaten daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and every store offers about a dozen different kinds and grades. And cheeses and ham of all sorts. And sauerkraut. And mushroom soup and beet soup. And fresh unpackaged breads and cakes. And vodka and beer, lots of it. Maybe I’m just pregnant but my stomach is getting very round and large. I’m afraid to weigh myself.
However, I must give thanks to Dale Jacobson for liberating me from my reluctance to eat foods like kielbasa that contain animal fats. Dale wrote a paper entitled “The War on Dietary Cholesterol: How Corporate Medical Quackery is Rapidly Degrading America’s Health – A Discussion of Fat, Oil, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease”, which I brought with me to Poland to read. The gist of it is that cholesterol is good for you, especially so-called “bad” cholesterol. He presents facts proving that the higher your cholesterol level, the longer you live — not just true for individuals but for entire societies. Higher cholesterol in the blood goes along with long life, and the opposite is also true: the lower the cholesterol level, the higher the mortality. I have read this paper three times and am convinced that what he says is true. Animal fats, eggs, butter, and whole milk are good for you; vegetable oils (except olive oil), margarine, refined foods and low-fat foods are bad for you. Is it any surprise that corporations and pharmaceutical companies lie to you for profit, and many doctors knowingly or unknowing support this horrible scam? Copies of this article are available at Dale’s Office; I highly recommend it. Jacobson Chiropractic, 194 Gold Flat Rd, Nevada City CA 95959.
Another faire we recently went to was the Targi Staroci or antique bazaar in the suburb of Kolo. About a square block filled with people selling a huge variety of old goods from wooden booths, from the trunks of cars, the inside of trucks, or just laid out on the ground on blankets. The things are mostly prewar things including old furniture, new furniture rebuilt from old wood, art of all kinds, old photos, jewelry, rugs, dishware and silver utensils, documents and medals, rugs and carpets, traditional clothing, brass and ironware, antique farm items and tools, rare coins, weapons and helmets, swords, memorabilia, and more. Beautiful and wonderful things to look at, much of which would be worth more in the US but there’s no simple, economical way of getting it there. Joanna says that some Poles come here to buy things that give them a phony social pedigree. She also said that many items are likely stolen, and some buyers actually come here to find and buy back their stolen goods. She said this was particularly true just after WW2. There are of course antique shows and fairs in the US but I don’t think there is an equivalent to this weekly Targi Staroci. Joanna says it is fashionable here for wealthy people to have antiques in their homes, and it is good news that so many beautiful pieces of art are available on the Polish market because it means not everything was stolen or destroyed during WW2. Meanwhile there are many IKEA stores here to furnish the young people at reasonable cost.
I also want to mention that I have been going every Wednesday night to the Shambala meditation group that meets downtown. This is new for me, as I am no Buddhist, and have never wanted particularly to meditate as a spiritual practice. Yet I have found it enjoyable and productive. In my case, instead of meditating, I practice contemplation. In particular, I have been using these weekly session to speculate about how to use such meditation for healing. In fact, during the course of my weekly contemplations I have conceived a healing process that I have written up as an article called, “Now Here Be Well: A Way To Use Meditation for Healing.” It describes a meditative self-healing technique that I practice during these sessions and sometimes as I am going to sleep. It’s a bit long, about 20 pages, but I’d like to share it with others because I think it might be helpful to anyone wanting to try healing their ailments through focused intention. See another category of this blog if you are interested.
KFC on Jerusalem Street
The KFC on the main drag in Warsaw
Is a piece of USA easily incorporated here.
The fried chicken is good, just like at home.
The corn on the cob is soggy, like at home.
But the babble of talk is all in Polish, and
The wall photo shows the Palace of Culture.
No one here knows what KFC means,
But that’s probably true at home too.
The whole place is gleaming clean, and
The bathrooms smell sweetly chemical.
It’s freezing cold and snowy outside,
A good night to linger with light music
In the plastic booth under the bright lights
And give thanks for Yankee corporate culture
So far away on a busy street named Jerusalem
Beauties of Warsaw
O matko boga, o jejku, and no tak —
The beautiful women of Warsaw
Explode upon my innocent eyes
Like bliss-bombs from Nirvana.
Their madonna-like faces fur-framed
By stylish hoods and flowing capes,
Slim ankles peeking beneath long coats
Or in tall boots with sexy clicking heels,
Their taut dresses and skintight pants
Portray soft curvaceous torsos and
Dispense visions of perfect femininity.
My neck aches from gleeful swivels
Tracking goddesses, my eyes like pies.
For here in Warsaw I languish among
Living, moving works of female art,
A parade of perfectly formed beings,
Amazons still bearing all their breasts
And other parts delightful to go into.
Yet however much I do admire them
I swear I do not care to possess them.
The wise man readily loves beauty but
Knows that craving it leads to misery.