Thursday, 26 April 2007

trust the stranger

This tale is not intended to elude corn nor pukedom. A dude was travelling alone in his car on a Saturday night to visit his parents. Some 100 ks from Krakow, at dusk, he saw two hitchhikers, a guy and a girl, waving down cars with their backpacks perched against a tree. With a screech of the tires the dude stopped his car, reversed and picked up the couple. They turned out to be Estonian, hitchhiking their way back home after spending a backpacking holiday in Croatia. Five days on the road they were trying to make their way to Warsaw by the night in question. The driver attempted to speak to them in Russian. It turned out that the first year and fourth year uni students were much more comfortable with English. They chatted for some 60 ks, before the driver announced he would be turning off the main highway making his way to his parents place. Night had set in, and the driver suggested he would drop the couple off at a nearby motel. The motel was booked out. The Estonians, in the middle of nowhere started to look anxious. The dude then said he would drive them to a hotel that he knew of at the other end of town. Once the three entered into what looked like an unaffordable harbouring for the two budget travellers (who at this stage started to display signs of distress at the situation), the driver dude pulled out his wallet and paid for their accommodation plus breakfast. Gobsmacked the hitchhikers hugged the driver before they said their goodbyes and the driver left. After years of being at the receiving end of hitchhiking hospitality, the driver knew that what goes around comes around.

It is excellent to be back home in the arms of my driver dude.

Monday, 23 April 2007

murray and the madman

saw the filming of sesame street in washington square.
apparently that's murray

I’m not sure what you have been hearing about the Virginia Tech Massacre in your respective homes, but you can well imagine the Cho bombardment in the media here. Now, you’d think there would be plenty of gun law issues being raised at this time and possible calls for stringent gun control. Well, you’d be wrong. What has been typical is the debate about ‘the system’ and whether the mental institutions did enough, whether the police did enough, whether the university did enough in dealing with a student who had obvious psychological issues. No one yet has talked about the fact that clearly the American society is incapable of social interrelations and face to face communication. The parents spring to mind, as do the two bloody dip shit roommates who lived with the psycho plus all the idiot students who failed to deal with the problem like normal people do! Sheesh.

On a brighter note today I took the advice of Liam and hung out in Washington Square in Greenwich Village. I loved it. Especially the dog runs (special fenced in areas, not dissimilar to kids play pens, where owners let their puppies run around together, chase, attempt to hump, and play before the owners return them to their handbags and carry home ala Hilton). Watching the mutts was hilarious. Not as hilarious though as the proud owners sitting and pretending they were watching their grandkids. The dog culture is astounding in NYC as it exemplifies the dog as the ultimate accessory. It was also sausage dog day hence the trendoids came out with their elongated pooches.

my fave was the ultra hot lassie
in the blue number

The day was also spent on errands. I scoffed a cupcake for Jodie from the Magnolia Bakery (nice but too much icing) on Bleecker Street and had a slice of floppy pizza for Marta. This stuff was the food of every American telly teenage slumber party with Marta and I watching in envy holding our own sad stiff excuses from Pizza Hut, dreaming of the time when we too could sink our teeth into the ultimate pizza flop. The dream burst today, resulting in a monthly intake of oily cheese on the one slice.

the upper roof of my mouth was left scratchy

tasty but half the icing was removed with my index finger

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

wheyz da tee'shird section huh?

easter display in front of the rockefeller centre

Frigg. If I ever come back as anything or anyone in a future life I want to be a gay man in New York. These dudes exude sharpness of the cut fabric like no other. They are walking hot machines oozing class and elegance, way beyond the trendoidness of their Oxford Street counterparts. I have never seen so many attractive men flawlessly dressed at the one time. Ever. Needless to say this city rocks. Fortunately enough I have not drowned in the flash flood that occurred here on Monday nor did I happen to fly unexpectedly to Virginia Tech yesterday, hence I am alive. I have already blown more than half my budget on hiking boots, Chuck Taylors (so I can be like them) and a frightening amount of comic books. It is amazing how quickly the shopping culture eats you alive here. For the last two days I have been feeling like a crazy person convincing myself that I need to buy shit, and then telling myself out loud that I am being a knob. I have however, stayed way away from the God awful grot that is Starbucks. Except for emergency urination requirements. My biggest surprise occurred today when I accidentally walked into what turned out to be a wadyaniggamudda-sup-y'all shop, where a shopper mistook me for a person that worked there, hence a street wise ass crackin' no bullshit Yank. Crap. I was trying to go for a 'European' look. Aside from retail experiences I have done proper stuff too. Like eating a chili dog from a hot dog stand. The Brooklyn Bridge at 10pm tonight was brilliant. And the crazy black guy on the Subway yelling that we're all equal coming out of the one womb like him out of his mother's pussy, made me grin with excitement at the authenticity of the moment.

Maybe it is the number of wogs here or maybe the unconscious longing to be living in a metropolis again, but New York has made me sentimental about Sydney and what I have left behind. Of course it is a behemoth beast and I have only but whiffed its underpit, but somehow New York has a feel of the familiar about it. As I tucked into a steamed pork bun today breathing in the familiar smell of Chinatown, I fondly recalled the words of my Public Law lecturer Drew Fraser "multiculturalism is the death of a city's own identity". Face value at this stage thanks.

I am sending this post from the NYC Public Library, the most impressive library on my world library tour list.

lot flight

Sitting on the Lot ("Flight") flight. Have one spare seat next to me, which means I can spread my limbs somewhat and attempt to have a nap. Nice. I have now drunken two bottles of wine (Spanish. The only Polish branded flight food has been the butter - very good), eaten a shithouse chicken pasta, avoided thinking about the artificial components of my meal and have been entertained by the self proclaimed chatterbox babcia sitting one seat away from me. She's tops, about 70 and visiting her grandsons. It's her fourth trip to NYC. Last time she took over bottles of vodka and Polish Eagle t-shirts. This time she is taking bottles of vodka and registration number plates for her grandson Greg who is an avid collector. They're brand new too. Not rusty crappy ones like expected. She thinks Washington DC is a pile of uninteresting rubbish and the White House not as good as the Polish Presidential Palace (??). Apparently the Cathedral in NY is not worth seeing although there is a Holy Mary painting hung by a Polish painter. Hmm. Will I make a trip to see it? Doubt it. Apart from Manhattan the rest of New York is like Poland, i.e. three storey houses and gardens. And here I was thinking that was only the case of the Sydney western suburbs minus the three storey bit. She’s going to a christening of her great grand kid and staying on for two months, but isn’t all that worried because she has excellent neighbours who will water her plants and pick up her pension cheque from the post office. The in-flight movie is the Ben Stiller Night at the Museum one. There are no individual video screens and the passengers have to put up with the old communal system of one screen at the end of the alley. I will not be able to see shit. Doesn't matter. Apparently the only valid element in a Lot flight is the availability of grog. No shit. I can slowly see the passengers getting happy and relaxed. They must do with wine, whiskey and beer though. Vodka has long been banned, but the tomato juice remains.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

fun days ahead

The tough homosexuals are being put to work again in Krakow. Looks like next weekend they will be holding a "culture of toleration" festival not only to convince the skinheads and Christian fundamental freaks that they are part of Krakow, but to educate the average Pole that no, the country does not hold a 100 per cent hetero rate. It would all be fine and seemingly normal if it wasn't for the fact that the All Polish Youth, an extremist right nationalist youth group (licking the balls of the League of Polish Family Party - currently part of the ruling coalition) - with a huge Catholic national ideology - is scheduling to host a counterattack march on the same weekend. Last time one was held in Krakow, it was pandemonium. Michal attended in support of the peaceful march of the gays and lesbians and witnessed how the Polish Jugend skins broke in and began to cause havoc. This time the Jugend kids are promising it will all be peaceful and non-violent. Doubt it. But what is interesting is the official poster war that is happening across the city. Free speech still exists and there is no talk of minority group rule. Yet.

Festival for cultural toleration. March with us on the 19th of April 2007

Stop propagating homosexuals in Krakow. Stop sexual deviation
And then various paragraphs about the sin of sodomy and whether we want that to be a symbol of Krakow, homosexual excess, impudent homosexual manifestations etc etc.

Now I am off to bed. Tomorrow I fly to New York. Work is sending me there for one week. Meeting clients. Whatever. I'm just peeing in excitement to be going to the Big Apple!! Never been. Will take the laptop and try to post some pics.

what bead shop?

fossil snails

Went to the mineral fair today. Not entirely for the love of the rock (although the snail fossils were quite good), but because this is the place you want to be when you want to score some cool beads and shiny polished silver. Spent over 100 bucks on coral, lava and bronze. Good deal really. There is not one single bead shop in town, so bead fans order their goodies either online or frequent these fairs and stock up on clasps, roundels, spacers, hooks and wires. Also if you happen to be a precious gem collector you can make deals with the gem merchants who use those tiny scales to weigh their goods brought all the way over from Madagascar. And here I was thinking, skewed by days in criminal trials, those scales were only good for dope.

Friday, 13 April 2007

'ain't no welfare state no more

Recycling exists in Krakow. I wouldn’t say it is developed on a huge scale, but if you want to make an effort there are containers for glass, metal, paper and plastic usually provided on some corner street or other. This means you have to take your recycling crap down and separate it yourself accordingly to the abovementioned communal containers. Hence, recycling hasn’t taken off as much as it should have, mainly because people are too lazy to bother. However, by 2010 Poland has to reduce its waste by 50 per cent, or else the European Union is going to get the royal shits and whack on massive sanctions. Or else turn their attention to Romania, the new EU member state predicted to fuck up big time. I long for the days when Poland is as organised as the Germans in terms of recycling. Instead of going shopping or to church on the weekend, the Krauts spend their sunny afternoons separating their trash in massive recycling depots. I applaud. But Poland has its wonder moments too. It has its very own scrap-metal-and-shit guys. These people are pretty incredible. At first glance they appear to be your regular bum, wearing layers of dirty stinky crap, reeking of grog and missing vital teeth for opening beer cans. But behind the bum exterior, there lies a working man spirit! Equipped with make-shift trolleys (either made from old prams, wheelbarrows, bike wheels, falling apart trailers) these scrap-metal-and-shit guys walk around from dusk till dawn throughout Krakow and collect recyclable waste that nobody wants, like old fridges, aluminium cans, computer parts etc. They then sell the products off at scrap metal yards and earn a good penny. It’s tough work too. We had two scrap-metal-and-shit guys come up to our apartment we were renting on the 4th floor to take out an old washing machine that broke down. The landlord organised it and warned me the day before not to be frightened of them (lucky good old Ben was visiting at the time). And sure enough, the two men who were probably 35 years old but looked to be 50 came in mismatched cardigans, stinking of beer, calling me ma’am and swiftly removed the old piece of junk that weighed more than 300 kilos. It then went straight to the scrap yard, bypassing the tip completely. Unbeknownst to most Poles who treat the scrap-metal-and-shit guys with distaste and scorn, these men are the true eco warriors.

I tried looking for some scrap-metal-and-shit guys today and to take their photo, alas none could be found. So this picture is taken from a Polish film called Edi, dealing a bit with the subject matter at hand. The dude who played Edi was a real scrap-metal-and-shit guy and the movie stirred some discussion about homeless people in Poland.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

the potato clause

Michal and I are buying a plot of land some 16 kilometers south of Krakow. Once a farming field, it is now a tops bit of dirt for a home with views of the mountains based at the foot of a forest. To complete the cliché, when we visited it once, a deer ran across it. But what makes me very excited is the existing land owner. She is 74, never married and childless. Her arms are the size of tree trunks. Even at her age. She is the strongest woman I have ever seen. When our car got bogged, she came out to assist by pushing the damn vehicle out of the mud. And didn’t even slip. She spent the last week chopping down the trees and shrubbery to make a clearing for the road that the council is promising to build. They paid her 1000 zloty for the chopping (some AUD $450). Yet she is softly spoken and trusts you completely as long as she is confident you’re not out to screw her over. And we’re not. There is a small problem in closing the deal though. We’re taking out a mortgage for the land and the bank will only pay out the sum via account transfer. Normal, yes? Well not if you have never owned a bank account. As in ever. She was first hoping that we would arrive at the solicitor’s office with a suitcase full of cash (mind you, we did just that when we were putting down the 10% deposit), and was a tad disappointed when we asked her this evening to open a bank account to complete the contract of sale. I too was a bit shattered. I was really hoping to don some black shades, whack a cigar in my mouth, and slam a briefcase filled with 90 000 zloty and smirk ‘ya gonna count that?’ But she consented to the bank idea. Michal and I in the next week or so will drive her to Krakow and help her open an account. Fancy that! The vendor trusting the buyer with the vendor’s money! Only in Poland. In exchange we have agreed for her to plant some potatoes on what will soon be our plot. Nice bit of contracting that, methinks.

visiting the jaskies

Easter in Debno? Swell thanks! We had a great time hanging with the Jaskies. The house is tops, my mum looks happier and my dad is busy distilling various spirits and smoking meat. The eggs were blessed and eaten on Sunday. My dad has gone a tad mental in collecting old shit for the house. Examples include the 120 year old timber logs for the pergola (taken from an ancient barn in Dobra, courtesy of Karolina’s uncle), a tiny rustic looking window for the bbq area, old rocks and stones collected from various villages to restore the cobble stone effect in the driveway. I especially like the water pump and the well – it is still in operation and will be used to water the garden.

When the collecting first commenced the locals thought my dad to be a bit bonkers. People tend to favour the new and the shiny there. Little by little though his conviction for the old is starting to bring about a few nods and praises here and there. The local baker has started to hang fresh bread and rolls on my parents’ fence each morning, whilst the young carpenter that works on the house brings them fresh ham from home to smoke in the new bbq/smokehouse.

the pump
wee window

smokin' it up

we returned with cherry juice (yummo), pickled apples, and strawberry jam,
all courtesy of my babcia

Thursday, 5 April 2007


It is 11pm at night. In four hours I have to get up. We are driving 500ks west to spend Easter with my parents (aka The Jaskies – in translation The Johnnies, my dad’s name in a diminutive) and are dropping off Michal’s boss at the airport in Katowice – an industrial mining town that still happens to accommodate late flights to Rome for the Easter break. I shouldn’t be writing. I should be in bed sound asleep. But tonight is Wednesday, official day of the Slav version of the Crafties (an ideological concept that actually works, developed by Tabitha – noseyinnewtown - for women friends to meet and make super cool shit) and I wanted to throw in my final two cents before I disappear for the long weekend.

We’re heading to Debno, the town my dad was born in and the place where I get to see a lot of people that look like me. It’s small but cozy. And finally I will get to view the house my parents bought and renovated. It was a bitch, but somehow they managed to convince the local tradesmen to work for the Polish zloty (Debno is on the German border). Plus I will get to eat a zillion dishes made from herring. The salty substitute has almost made me forget the taste of prawns. Almost. But most importantly Michal and I will get to hang with my parents. It’s been too long. Five bottles of wine are packed for the long weekend (two from Italy brought over by Michal) and my mum’s favourite mayonnaise – she couldn’t get it in Debno – and one kilo of Ethiopian coffee (again, impossible to get over her way). Feeling quite the merchant coming to exchange goods. I’m sure we will return with radishes, raspberry jam and what not.

The Easter pics are from the Krakow market square. The sheep, well the lamb really, is the Easter icon here. Yes. It has huge Catholic connotation (sacrifice etc etc), but also manages to keep the cute and cuddly effect. The baskets are big on Saturday. You fill them with food and have them blessed in church.

Hope you all have an excellent Easter with plenty of goods in all your baskets!

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

jog in the park

Went for a jog on Saturday. It was the first boost of physical activity since morbid flu recovery. A warm sunny day, lungs conking out at about 1km. Not fit. Yet. The place of choice for a quiet jog? My local concentration camp! The rolling green clearing down the road from my place is now a reserve and memorial park for what was once the Plaszow concentration camp for the Krakow ghetto Jews (it was a holding depot for the prisoners awaiting transport to Birkenau and the like). There is a monument erected and buses drop off Israeli school kids coming to light a candle. But there are also park benches, mums with prams, dogs being walked and young boys kicking the soccer ball around. At first I was a bit thrown as to the use being made of this public space, expecting people to walk around with bowed heads and in silence. But now I think the recreational option is more preferable. E.g. ball falls out of bounds, you must retrieve it out of the still existent yet rusty barbed wire fence and you think – shit all those poor people back in WWII. See, footy and history lesson! And it’s better than catching the train to Auschwitz with fat loud tourists. Or watching The Pianist.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

the telly

I’m not too huge on television. More to the point I am not too huge on Polish television. Most of it is crap. Maybe that is why Michal only sticks to the 10 pm news and the occasional indulgence of Name that Melody. The soaps reek of boring family shit like whether the Belarus nana-aunt boils the potatoes for too long (The Clan – Klan) or whether the young Warsawvian hottie will make it back from her Afghanistan lets-build-a-school aid programme (L for Love – M jak Milosc). Or better yet, whether the parish priest will sell enough Easter candles to rebuild the church tower (The Presbytery – Plebania). There’s never any sex, parental abuse, not much adultery and hardly ever any drugs. Soapies my ass! Further, any thing that is imported from England or elsewhere (Heartbreak High, umm from 1997 and the most current episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful – in translation A Trend for Success!!) is hideously dubbed with a Polish narrator (always the same man - Little Britain for example is unwatchable due to the bad narrating) forcing me to pin my ear to the television set to catch the English words. Tiring. But if I ever become deaf I reckon I will be an ace lip reader!

My dad, however, used to cry when watching episodes of the Clan (hand-me-down VHS tapes making their way across the Pacific) in Sydney. The Polish dinner table, complete with the wise words of a grandfather and a steaming bowl of fried beetroot were too much for him. He would yell out from the living room between great big sobs “Justynka come watch this episode! See what a real respecting family looks like!” He and my mum would then remain glued to the television for the next 3 days until they had to pass the VHS tapes on to the other Slavs in the neighbourhood.

And on that note I will now watch the first episode of this year’s season of Magda M. A Polish Ally McBeal. Except attractive. With a sexy main man. And better clothes. But way shittier court scenes, not much witty dialogue and much smaller compensation claims. She probably whines a little less too. There is a homosexual couple though. Whoa. And single women in their mid thirties living alone!!!! And divorce. And NOBODY goes to church. Absolutely revolutionary stuff. Plus everyone has a great paying job, cool apartments and they all go out for sushi. So it is not very much like Poland at all.

that's magda m, the barrister. not too keen on those robes. solicitors wear ones with blue trimming.

This post is dedicated to Hugh and Libby who once knew a lot more about Polish soaps than me.

Monday, 2 April 2007

palm oil

Bribing is part of Polish culture. It is the way things are ‘done’. Statistically, as far as Europe is concerned, Finland is the least corrupted country followed closely by Germany. Poland is nearly at the bottom of the list because no one can beat Russia. Today on the morning radio people called in with the best-greasing-of-the-palm tales...

At the city council...

gee your table is a bit wobbly. Let me level it up for you (slips a 100 zloty bill under one of the table legs).

Civil servant: Now you’ve really made it unbalanced. Please fix the other side.

Customer slips in another 100 zloty bill under the other table leg.

At the public hospital...

Surgeon storms into nurses’ tea room slamming a box of chocolates on the table

(yelling) what the frigg?! She expects me to do the operation for her for a shitty box of freakin’ chocolates?!!!!!!! Where does she think she is?!

The nurses open the box of chocolates and reveal a wad of notes amounting to 10 000 zloty (about AUD$4 500).

At the land registry office...

Customer to civil servant:
I bet you 1000 zloty you will not be able to register that straight away!

The poor university student has it the toughest of all. Passing exams depends largely on ‘who’s your daddy’ and whether your taste in whisky selection is the same as your law professor’s. I am exaggerating. But only a tad. The story that churned my gut the most was the tale of Michal’s good mate. He threw in his political science PhD grant after working on it for more than a year as he could no longer stand the bribing demands of his academic supervisor. The clincher came when the aspiring scholar was told his doctorate was on the line...that is unless the supervisor’s apartment was re-carpeted by the end of the week.