Tuesday, 18 December 2007

one wooden pencil holder and a grass rabbit please

Can’t get my arse into gear these couple of days and write proper posts. Maybe that’s because our little digital camera collapsed and I can’t be bothered lugging the SLR around with me every time I step outside. Or maybe because it has been freezing cold and stepping outside in itself is a bother. Although I do like my beanie. Or beanies. I have a whole collection.

Fave headwear, courtesy of Nat.

Christmas is next week and Krakow is lit with fairy lights. I won’t show you the pictures because I do not have any. There is a Christmas market out in the Square as well and it drives me bonkers, mainly because it is very shit. What’s with the Square’s necessity to constantly exhibit wooden folk crap to sell on every occasion possible? What about introducing genuine arty/graphic style stalls or handmade items that are not mass produced in a wooden mountain shack in the Tatras by a horde of arthritis-ridden goat herders? It’s all very quaint when you fly here for the weekend and you want a whiff of the cows, but when you’re dealing with this kitschy hey-Poland-is-so-villagie-vibe all year round, it gets on your nerves. Krakow, despite its large quantities of sheeps' cheese, is not an agricultural heritage park. Can we start showing its urban side, which, unbeknownst to most, is actually pretty bloody good. There are people out there who are producing great photography, design work, prints and crafty art, but who have not been business-mindedly kicked in the pants. Do you know which annual festival gets the largest amount of cash from the City Council? The Pierogi Festival (dumpling). No comment. Tourists please stop buying wooden crap. Locals start selling good shit that I can buy and give to my friends and family with my head held high.

The plus side of it all is, is that the Russians have arrived!!! They are swarming in through the streets of Krakow in alarming numbers and I love it. I think Russian is the greatest language on earth, and the Ruskies one of the more interesting societies, so I take great pleasure in following them around and eavesdropping on their conversations (just for the pure sound of their language, since I can only understand an eighth of what they are saying), being amazed at all the glitz, pink and trash they like to wear.

They are coming in large numbers to get their shopping done before the Schengen Agreement kicks in on the 21st of December. This means that Poland will no longer have border control with any of its neighbouring EU countries (Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania) and no check points (you will be able to drive from country to country like in Western Europe without even having to put the brakes on or flashing your passport). But what it does mean for the Russians, the Ukrainians and the Byelorussians is tighter border control, EU implemented border regulations, harder to get visas and tighter security. So no more popping in for shopping or skiing weekends in Zakopane. The highlanders are already wincing in pain. They will lose a whole heap of dosh over the Christmas break due to the lack of the very generous rich Ruskies who usually come in massive amounts and spend big. Decline in the hotel and hospitality sector will mean an increase in wooden shit production.

Our home does not look at all Christmasie, but it smells it. Michal decided to bake ‘paszteciki’ on Sunday, and poor Tukan just happened to arrive at the wrong moment and was forced to help. The filling is wild mushrooms stewed with sauerkraut (what else). The pastry is some sort of yeast variety. Very fluffy but filling. You eat them with a hot cup of borsch (which Michal also cooked and added a bit too much chilli). Good effort from Bake Boy.

I stole the table for craftiness.
Michal was forced to fight the slanted walls of the kicthen.

Marcin proved a very good pastry technician.

I like the turd looking one on the far left.

Monday, 3 December 2007

birthday weekend

Justyna: Where are we going?

Michal: I’m not telling you.

J: C’mon give us a clue.

M: It’s in Poland.

J: And?

M: And that’s it.

J: Will I like it?

M: Not sure. I know your mum would love it.

J: Do I take my backpack?

M: Nope, your wheely suitcase.

J: What do I need to take?

M: Your Blunnies. But also a dress and some heels.

J: Is it posh?

M: Nah.

the castle poshness in paszkowka - some 30ks south of krakow

castle blunnie poshness

castle bannister poshness

back of castle poshness

castle departure poshness

chamber poshness

I have never stayed in a castle before. It is rad staying in a castle. Thank you Michu for taking me to a castle.

Also wanted to say a huge and wonderful thank you to all who thought of me on the day, sending me excellent wishes, emails, smses, cards, phone calls and gifts! It was a truly tops birthday!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Knee deep in snow and no chance in hell of being ‘outdoor active’. Yes there is skiing, but that’s hardly an option at 6pm on a Tuesday night. In fear of having my arse permanently stuck to the desk chair during the dreary dark evenings, endlessly surfing through YouTube and checking out the latest clips Wong sends me the links to (although I highly recommend this Russian gem), I decided to join a volleyball team. It’s mixed, it’s free, and it’s at the local primary school. The team is run by the teachers who work there. Got in through connections (Michal’s mate Szymon teaches maths there). Now when you think primary school, you usually think cozy one-to-two storey type building, with classes of 25 and lots of paper cut-out flowers stuck in windows. This school is a bit different. It is four levels if you count the underground gym bit and caters for 1200 primary school kids. There are over 35 teachers and classes are divided from year 3 along high-school mechanics, i.e. different teacher for PE, different teacher for maths, different teacher for chemistry, Polish etc. The school is equipped with two gymnasiums (basketball court, volley ball net, indoor soccer goals, handball, and bits and pieces needed for gymnastics), an atrium, showers, changing rooms AND this leave-your-winter-boots storage solution thingy so that children don’t slosh around in their wet footwear round the corridors. They even have special bags for their slippers or ‘dry shoes’ that they bring with them and hang up in the morning. There is also a portiere who sits in the school’s lobby and the floors smell of lemon scented cleaning detergent.

The teachers have a shit common room though, with one photocopier and only 15 or so chairs for the whole lot of them. They have to bring in their own mugs, coffee and have no regular access to their own computers or the internet. There are nice curtains though and plenty of pot plants. They also get paid next to nothing. When I say next-to-nothing, I don’t mean the usual teacher whinge. I mean next to nothing. Szymon, in order to make a standard living wage, has to tutor privately about an additional 25 hours per week. Lucky he is a maths teacher. They’re in big demand. Imagine if he taught home-ec. He’d be rooted.

As for volleyball? I am officially the midget retard. Amongst burly men who are over 1.90m tall, who whack the ball like jackhammers, and who block volleys in a way that make me look away with fear, I have come to accept I may be there because everyone is too polite to tell me to rack off. Stuff it. My ego is intact and I am having fun. Only once did I feel like vomiting out of sheer horror and embarrassment for being so completely shit. With every week I get a little better. For example yesterday I even managed to score 4 points. In two hours (for those who know anything about volleyball – that’s a really bloody awful average).

foot locker with shoe bags

some of the jackhammers

volleyball does not have to be poncey

midget retard

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

more winter tales

This one is from last week, before the snow really fell in Krakow. I needed to get to Nowy Sacz which is some 100km south of town. I didn’t feel like waiting for the tram to take me to the bus stop that would take me to Nowy Sacz. So I decided to ride by bike to the bus stop and chain it to a fence. Now, the temperature wasn’t all that inviting. In fact it was about +2 degrees. My bike thought it was finished for the season. I thought differently. With a million layers of clothes and a scarf covering half my head, I managed to get to my destination which was some 3ks away. I hopped on the bus and was glad to be warm.

Having finished my business in Nowy Sacz and nine hours later the town was knee deep in snow. I was on a bus that was snailing its way back to Krakow at a pace of about 50ks an hour. With a two hour delay I reached Krakow which by this stage had turned into a massive white doona. I scratched my head and wondered what to do with my bike, which I barely found hidden amidst a tonne of white fluff. I started to wheel it and rang Michal to maybe come pick me up. As I hung up I felt disappointed at my lack of trying to rely on myself in a winter blizzard. The disappointment did not last long. Quickly the conviction was formed that I could indeed fight the elements. I got on the sucker and started peddling home.

On a bike with slim line city tires, no gears and only a back peddle brake, I started to think I was going to crack my head on the edge of a footpath (zero helmet, warm winter beanie instead). But the Ukrainian machine rolled on, trenching through the snow like the plough it was not. Michal found me a kilometre away from home, tapped his head with his forefinger exclaiming I really was retarded, took my heavy bag off my back, got back into the car and drove off yelling “I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun!!” Right he was, because I was grinning like a mad idiot happy that I was RIDING MY BIKE IN THE SNOW!!

I only slipped about 10 times and fully stacked it twice. A week has gone by and I do not have pneumonia. Success.

drawing made on an envelope - excuse its shitness

drawing on some more scrap - you get the idea

about 11:30pm, after the ride and before a hot bath - pretty!

desnowing - an activity done by all who have no garage

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

thick socks required

I enjoy a hike in the mountains. A heavy pack, fresh air, sore quads, beautiful semi-alpine scenery, utter exhaustion at the end. Hiking in winter is even more pleasurable for the abovementioned reasons plus many more: frozen snot, constantly slipping in the waist deep snow, sliding on your arse, drinking cold water in minus 5 temperatures, reading the ‘warning avalanches’ signs, sweating inside your wet weather gear, wondering if there is a hungry bear still not in hibernation. And the mind blowing landscape. Nothing beats it. I had an excellent weekend.

Krakow is also covered in snow. If this is early to mid November we will all be so rooted by December.

We went hiking with Konrad and Aga who came down from Wroclaw on Friday night to our place. They returned home on the Sunday after the hike. The trip usually takes 2.5 hours from Krakow to Wroclaw on the freeway. It took them 7. The ploughs hadn’t cleared the freeway from the snow and all the heavy semi-trailers couldn't make it up the small inclines. Plus they were still on their summer tires. For those not in the know – you have to switch your tires to winter ones for the snow (deeper grooves), for better traction. Because the snow has come early, tire change places are booked up with massive queues and there are plenty of spazzos slipping and sliding all over Krakow’s streets.

this is the mountain shelter we stayed at on Sat night - at about 1000m

first icicles - they can be lethal in the city and pierce skulls

ascend begins


in the end there was no need for cramp-ons because the snow was still very fluffy -
good thing too beause we didn't have any

Monday, 5 November 2007

duck and quince

Today was the first day where the temperature dropped below zero. Home projects have therefore become activated. To keep the body and mind sane. What is on our agenda? Homemade quince tincture! Michal even bought scales this year. The bastards are really hard to cut and have a shitload of seeds. But the effect is worth it. The fermentation processes will last at least a couple of weeks. Just in time for snowy evenings and visiting friends. We have enough spirit (98% pure alcohol) and quince fruit to make about 15 litres of liqueur with it. It is delicious and not at all strong (about 25% alcohol) once the whole process is completed. Michal’s dad is a master at it so he has been getting plenty of phone calls from his son who is not always sure of the proportions.

first you cut, then you remove the seeds, then you slice

then you weigh - 1 kilo quince : 1 kilo sugar

you then place sugar and quince slices and let it sit for a couple of days
before you pour the spirit in - the sugar reaction forces all the juices to flow!

And since we are on the topic of winter culinary delights, lucky we visited Michal’s cousins who live in the country the other day. They have plenty of farmyard animals including some 20 cows (they run a small dairy farm). Hospitable as all hell they gave us a freshly killed duck. City folk know bugger all about real healthy food out in their parts, hence the poultry present. We baked it on Sunday (we finally got an oven) and my was it delicious. Our first duck and such success!

now you see it waddle?

now you don't!

first you boil a kilo of fresh beetroot -
then you shred and stew with lemon and fresh cracked pepper and salt -
a must with any duck

and here are some animals we did not kill

Friday, 2 November 2007

all saints' day

Celebrating the dead on November the 1st is a massive tradition in Poland. So massive in fact that it is a public holiday. When I was told stories about it by my parents whilst sitting round the table at Oakie, I used to think how freaky the concept was. You spend a lot of the day at the cemetery, walking around, looking at graves lighting a candle or two. I thought the idea was very creepy, morose and unnecessary. Why would anyone want to spend a day free from work in such a fashion?

But then I experienced it for myself. And it is, I think, my favourite celebrated Catholic day in the calendar. Even better than Christmas. Really. There is no gluttony, no unnecessary consumption and overeating, no fussing about presents, worrying about how clean the house will be for the holiday, the right height of the tree, the mandatory church going or whether there is enough of this or that. All Saints’ Day has all the good bits of Christmas though – the family gatherings, the lighting of candles, the atmosphere that there is something special in the air ...

You arrive at the cemetery early in the day with flowers and candles and adorn the graves of your loved ones who have passed away. You walk around visiting the graves of your ancestors who you never met, but your grandma is there next to you explaining to you your family tree. She tells you about her dad, about how he used to hide pigs from the Germans during the Occupation, about Fred who had cancer and died at 32 and about her mother in law who used to live with the young couple until the first kid was born. You then run into some distant aunts whom you’ve never met but the fact that you are standing in front of a mutually known grave is enough of a reason to receive hugs and kissed and well wishes for the future. The vibe is a happy one. There is no sadness in the air. People are happy to talk about the deceased they have come to say hello to. You tug at your heavy autumn coat and start wandering that maybe cremation is not all that is cracked up to be. It’s nice to be visited. Even in death.

Then after a hearty soup and some chatting at home you wait until it gets dark and with the daylight saving being finished, the wait isn’t all that long. You again rug up in the coat, some boots and a beanie and head out to the graves once more with the family in tow. And this is when the real magic begins. You enter through the gates and momentarily your breath is taken away. You forget how splendid and enchanting the place can be. It is aglow with all the candles that have been lit during the day, with hundreds of families wandering quietly lost in their thoughts, and the smell of fresh chrysanthemums suspended in the autumn air. The graves shine with splendour, maybe even better than any Christmas tree. Better, because the candles and the flowers are a sign of how much the deceased are still remembered and how much they are missed. There is no silly talk of ghosts, scary movies or morbidity. You walk through that quiet wonderland and slowly you are not afraid of death anymore.

I watched the kids being led by their parents and thought how lucky they were, to be shown that dying is normal but that it also can be celebrated.

The mutual reflection of all who were visiting seemed to me that evening extremely powerful. It is pretty extraordinary to realise that Polish society is so strong and deeply rooted that it can think about death collectively. Even if it be just for that one day a year.

the little glass candle holders can keep a flame going for hours

these photos don’t do it justice

at the grave of the 'lost soldier'

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

fort oakie

How can you make a suburban house look more uninviting than it already is? With more palm trees? With paving instead of a lawn? With five cars parked outside its two garage drive in? With plastic Santas still left on the roof in May? Oh no no no no. These are all incorrect suggestions. The answer is FORTIFICATION!

See example below: our old house in Oakie. Trees (okay, palm trees included) have been removed in favour of a concrete wall. Who and what are these new owners?? Is there a bunker being built out back? What war are they preparing for? Do they have a crazy killer kid who cannot escape the compound? Maybe it’s a new Oakie cult I am not familiar with.

When my aunt Dana sent these pics through today, I nearly shat myself with fear. I don’t think Dana and Marek will be making any more sentimental trips down Gersham Grove…

Also I believe it is the only house on the whole street that has now a front fence. These new neighbours must really be loved. Go private space!!

I'd cry if I cared - photo: Dana Weiss

graffiti anyone? - photo: Dana Weiss

Monday, 22 October 2007

last of the apples

view from our window on Saturday morning

złota polska jesień - the golden Polish autumn - and when you leave the city your realise just how true the statement is! It is absolutely beautiful out there at the moment. The trees have taken on about a zillion different shades of yellows, oranges and reds.

Woke up on Saturday to find that our street was covered in snow. Ah, the first snow fall of October. Apparently it is the norm. The snow then melts, and the sunny disposition of autumn returns. I’m not counting on it. Day by day it is getting harrowingly colder. What is worse veggies are becoming more expensive and the selection more disappointing. Root vegetables are in at the moment. There is not that much one can do with a celery root. Wish sweet potatoes were more available.

last of the apples

celery root - my mum always had a tough time finding this veg in Sydney - it's boiled in soups here or shredded into a salad
overrated in my opinion

last of the sunflowers too - we have about a kilo of seeds from Matylda -
lots of nibbling for those cold winter nights


soup is massive here - MASSIVE -
and these little 'convenient' soup parcels make me smile (NO PLASTIC!! - well minus the rubber band)

kohlrabi (kalarepa)
delicious when cut up into sticks and eaten with yoghurt and garlic dip

pretty coloured plums -
they grow on many trees just outside of Krakow so no need to waste your money.
It's tops going walkies and picking them off as you go along.
Got to be careful though - plenty of maggots (but therefore no pesticides)!

Also, bears are having it tough up in the mountains. A young cub who had left its mother’s side wasn’t prepared for the cold and snowy conditions, so was wandering the walking tracks looking for sandwiches left abandoned by tourists. It stumbled on a group of 6 dickheads who, apparently in self-defence, stoned the bear to death and then threw its body in a stream. Rangers found the dead bear and a quick arrest was made, once the dickheads were located. The 6 claimed the bear was attacking them. No scratch marks or bites were found upon medical examination. The bear might have roared, but it did not lunge. It was small enough to have been chased away with some yelling and a shaking of a stick. Charges have been laid. The dickheads if convicted are facing a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment. Lucky bastards. They should be facing a tidy lil’ stoning.

the poor dead bear - photo: tv24.pl

electoral party

It is 03:17 in the morning and I am ecstatic. I have been voting for the last 10 years and for the first time ever I have felt that who I am voting for really matters. It means that the party that I have voted for will change the country. And I don’t mean meaningless tax exemptions. It means changing the core of the country. It is significant. The mentality of the Polish people has changed. Today the Poles voted. The turnout was over 53 per cent. The highest since 1989. The highest since the collapse of the Wall! It means the students mobilised themselves and voted. It means that people who didn’t give a freakin’ hoot in 2005 got off their fat arses and went to the ballot box. Enough was enough. A change was mandatory. It means that people are celebrating tonight and will have a foreign policy to look forward to that they can accept and not be embarrassed of. The Platoforma Obywatelska (PO - Civic Platform) won with a sweeping 42 per cent (the official numbers are in on Tuesday), whilst the tyrant extreme right (PiS - Law and Justice) - whose major concern was turning Poland into a police state - ironic, given the country's commy past, - admitted its defeat (with a tad of class – I’ll give ‘em that), curling its tail between its succulent well-fed buttocks. Donald Tusk will be the new Prime Minister of Poland and although his Slavic formal breeding forbade him to crack a smile, we all knew the shiny eye socket meant he was about to shed a tear or two at the victory. Warsaw electoral turnout just a little under 70 per cent. Krakow came in second. The Poles of Dublin waited in 40 min queues to vote. 95 per cent of Poles living in Sweden voted. The Poles of Chicago voted for a sweeping PO majority. Ah, it is good to be here. Fuck. It is exciting.

Besides I am pissed and I cannot type properly. We had an electoral party at our place tonight and I take back everything I have written before. We were all happy, enthusiastic, with a lot to say. We popped champagne and congratulated ourselves that PiS will be thrown to the dustbin of shit.

I am typing on the computer whilst Mat is chanting in his sleep in an induced coma ‘Polska, Polska, Polska!’. He is sleeping in our spare room on the floor. I love it. “I wonder how many places in Poland are celebrating like we are today…?”, he is muttering. I bet a lot…

Truly. I am happy to be here.

Magda. Accountant. "Ostatnia niedziela" - Fogg

Tomek. Software engineer. "If we don't have Ireland by next year, someone will have a lot of answering to do"...

Wojtek. Engineer student. "So long PiS. Good riddance".

Justyna (Titka) . Portuguese translator. "We needed to reach the bottom so that we could rebound".

Mat. Gets called in on the job to make a last run to one of the voting centres that still hadn't closed.
Photographer. Gazeta Wyborcza (one of the major leading newspapers in Poland). "C'mon Tusk! Loosen up! Just take off your suit jaket and do a victory dance!!"

Marcin. Audit specialist. "It is just easier for Poles to unite agianst evil..."

Congratulating ourselves.
Then we all stood up and sang the national anthem with the telly (I haven't done that since year 2).

Tusk wins. New PM of Poland.

Victory jig at ours. The neighbour came in around 2am in his boxers with a pleading look.
I nodded. We turned down the music.