Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Not In My Back Yard

My Dad has managed inadvertently to become a Town Councillor, in pretty much the same way that I managed inadvertently to become an organist. This means that he has to trot along to various town planning meetings and represent the views of various groups of residents, generally on planning permission issues. From what I can make out, these groups seem to consist of people who are opposing something being built (or kept open late) near to where they live.

Now I love the South East of England: the weather is nice, the pubs serve decent beer and so on, but occasionally people can be prone to sudden losses of common sense.

What on earth is the point of a kebab shop which closes at 11pm?

Do people not realise that this type of food is only palatable after five pints of Stella and a round of Sambuca? And moreover, at that time of night the only other place you are likely to find enough grease to counteract the near-fatal hangover you are shortly to experience is on the hair of the teenage attendant at the all-night garage...

Drunk people need lard and sleazy Turkish guys need to sell kebabs: accept that fact and everyone is happy.

Living on one of the main streets that links the centre of town and Kazimierz to the residential districts on the other side of the river, (and moreover having discovered the hard way that Polish people Love to Sing) I find it difficult to feel much sympathy.

The Camera Saga, part one zillion

My camera has now become well-travelled in Kraków. It has made the trek out to the Kodak service centre no less than five times, come rain or shine. This comes at no small personal risk: the pedestrian crossing over the Aleja shows a green light for just long enough to cross one carriageway, but not quite enough to get all the way to the other side of the road, so you are obliged to sprint across the central reservation to make it to the other lane before the green man starts flashing.
It has been passed around helpful friends with different working hours, and has been shown to anyone who might have a vague idea about mechanics.
Today, I finally marched out to the shop in the sunshine during my lunch break. Victory! The shutters were up! Inside, the camera repair man sat: he was a smiling grandfather type wearing one of those magnifying visors like an old-fashioned watchmaker in a fairytale. I showed him where the problem was, and he seemed quite happy to let me muddle through in Polglais, only once or twice prompting me in pretty fluent English. He asked me what I was doing in Poland, thought it was nice (but clearly weird, from his look) that I was a translator, and was generally very charming.
I am to go back in a week.
I can't wait.

Not content with renovating her own kiosk, the Bad Obwarzanki Lady has had the two derelict huts either side demolished. Clearly this new progress on the road to world domination has mollified her, and last time I approached for apples and juice she was pretty pleasant to me.

Monday, 24 September 2007


Today, for some reason, the Polish nation as a whole has decided to cease speaking Polish as I know (or thought I knew) it. Instead they are communicating in something resembling a little-known dialect of ancient Outer Mongolian.

Either that or the checkout lady at Kefirek didn't put her teeth in properly this morning.

Sunday, 23 September 2007


A couple of months ago I wrote about my total failure to stay upright outside Tesco.

'Alma' is the other side of the Krakow supermarket coin.

Unlike Tesco, this place features soft, buttery lighting and tasteful displays of imported grissini, cantuccini and extra virgin olive oil accompanied by Dean Martin crooning over the sound system. The overall impression is a bit like Italian Waitrose done Polish-style (try and get your head around that one...).
From time to time I get creative in the kitchen, although if I'm eating alone it's just as likely to be Marmite on toast. Last night I got a craving for expensive imported items, which is how I found myself at the Alma fish counter (decagrams and lack of mathematical ability notwithstanding) ordering fresh tuna with the help of Car Guy (see 'Slander'), who has the dubious advantage of having been born Polish.
We watched as the junior fishmonger behind the counter carved away at the end of the tuna with relish.
- A bit thinner... I said nervously, as the first slice, weighing in at around half a pound, thumped wetly onto the chopping board. The boy began sawing anew.
Around halfway down the second slice we noticed the price tag.
- Hang on... how much is this?
- uhhh let's see... sixty zlotys (about ten pounds- which is fine and normal in West London maybe...)
Suddenly my appetite for tuna evaporated.
The boy had to go and fetch his supervisor to cancel the transaction, and we had to think of another fish to go with my tomato sauce.
Fortunately, this supervisor turned out to possess a wealth of knowledge on the flavours of various types of fish and methods of cooking them. Which I suppose is only right and proper in a fish salesperson, but was somewhat surprising given that as a general rule customer service is taking its own sweet time to catch on in this country. I tried to keep alert for useful adjectives and to look as though I understood most of what was going on.
After about ten minutes and some handy information on baking salmon*, I decided to take matters into my own hands:

- What about chicken?

Both car guy and the fish lady looked at me. The fish lady spoke:
- Or chicken, yes, chicken would go great with that.

We moved along to the meat counter.

Another great thing about Alma is that there are always free samples for tasting. Something is always on 'promocja'. This Saturday, they seemed to have excelled themselves. It began with kiełbasa near the poultry counter. Not usually a fan of Polish sausage, still I had to try one or two pieces just to be sure.
Near the freezer cabinets there were nachos and dip. A trip to the biscuit aisle was an excuse for hit-and-run scoffing.
In spite of all the distractions, we still made it to the checkout.
Cheese! We forgot spreading cheese.
- I'll go, I said, this is my local, I know where it is.
I was a cheese-seeking missile on a mad dash to the dairy aisle. At least, I was until I passed the German tasting table on the way back. Several minutes later I arrived back at the checkout, sheepishly rubbing away at the telltale chocolate smears around my mouth. Car guy was not fooled.
There was one customer in front of us.
- It's down that aisle. I said. You have time. Go. Go!
He sprinted off and returned some moments later with a small tower of cheese, ham and rye bread.

All was going according to plan until the checkout girl pointed out that I had omitted to weigh the vegetables.
- I'll go, I said, meaningfully,
- Mmph, said car guy, through a mouthful of sandwich, and set off once more.

When we finally stepped out of the lift on level two, the car was sitting forlornly and conspicuously by itself in the middle of the car park.

*less than useful when you have to use a chair to hold your oven door shut, rendering baking of any kind something of a fire hazard.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Impertinent questions, ice cream, directions

Our Polish class- no longer 'beginners' but 'been doing this for five months now so no excuses for still being pretty rubbish' has increased in number by two. It might be three, depending on whether or not we scared the Dutch guy away.
We are still working on the past tense: this is made more complicated than you'd think because each verb has two versions, depending on whether you did something often-frequently or only once (thank you W.S. Gilbert for a very effective illustration of the difference between perfective and imperfective). A favourite language school exercise involves taking a little picture card from a stack and describing the activity illustrated on it. This is useful because you can do it in the past, future, negative and so on. The framework question is 'How often did you ... last year?' e.g.:
- Last year, how often did you go to the cinema?
- Last year, how often did you go out to dinner?
- Last year, how often did you watch television?
The answer is 'daily', 'once a week', 'twice a month' and so on (i.e. often-frequently/imperfective). Unfortunately, one of the picture cards shows two faces in close proximity. What's that? we asked.
- 'Całowac': to kiss.
Scandal ensued. One of the new guys in the class, with a big grin, has taken to asking the girls how often they kissed last year, last weekend, yesterday evening and so on. The cinema picture is no longer 'jak często w ześlym roku chodziłaś do kina?' but
'jak często w ześłym roku całowałaś w kinie?' - how often did you kiss in the cinema?
The possible variants are endless. I can only hope that I have been kissed in interesting enough places...

For some reason (maybe because I have a deceptively harmless appearance), people always approach me to ask for directions.
Little do they know.
To begin with, I would listen calmly and then respond with 'nie wiem', 'nie rozumiem' or 'nie mowie dobrze po polsku'. However, now I can just about work out what the question is and where the place is. And, thanks to my Colloquial Polish CD, I am An Expert at telling people to go straight on, turn right and so on.
Today, as I was on my way back from the American bookstore, two middle-aged ladies asked me how to reach ul. Piłudskiego and the National Museum. To my surprise, I realized I knew what they were talking about. I couldn't tell you whether my directions were accurate or not (given that I usually need SatNav just to find my way to the muesli aisle), but there was definitely communication of some description, which is a small miracle!
Visitors to Krakow... watch out...

This weekend the sun came out and we had a short-lived Indian summer [in Polish this is known as a 'golden summer' because of the sunlight on the turning leaves and other sentimental things. I think the British name came about because the reddening foliage, coupled with the fact that the rugby's on, triggers a mysterious craving for chicken tikka masala].
On Sunday, having spent an hour and a half rollerblading up and down the Wisła without falling in, I decided that it was high time I tried out the famous ice-cream place on Starowislna (given that it's been just down the road all this time). This unassuming outlet is reputed to sell The Best Ice-Cream in the whole city, so normally there is a resigned-looking queue of people lined up along the street. In almost six months I've still not managed to acquire any kind of Polish stoicism in the face of queues, so up until now I have always passed this particular confectioner by.
Today, however was going to be the day.
As I approached the shop, I passed several cars parked in the street, each with one or two people sitting inside, vacant, beatific looks on their faces and melted ice-cream dripping down their chins onto the dashboard.
A certain amount of organisation is required if you want to frequent any eating-places in Krakow not designed for tourists.
Once inside the door of the shop, you realise you do not get to see the product. Recommendation by word of mouth should be enough for you. There is a list of seven or eight flavours, primarily forest fruits, on the wall behind the counter. You have approximately six minutes to translate them and decide what you want (although the size of the cones is generous, so you can go for several at a time) before you arrive at the till. There are two things to remember: number of scoops followed by list of flavours. It is a slick operation, and before you realise what has happened you are outside blinking in the sunshine with a veritable tower of frozen dairy product causing you some serious wrist strain.

Verdict: fruit flavours are definitely what this place does best. They have a sharp and tangy flavour (I had strawberry and blueberry) which a good foil for the slight sugariness. The berry ices have a smooth texture as they melt and are not sickeningly creamy, although the chocolate (ok, ok, I had three scoops, I couldn't decide quickly enough) was a bit icy. But more than compensation for this iciness was the fact that it contained chunks of real chocolate: decent stuff too, not that cooking rubbish.
Apparently in the winter they switch to doughnuts.

If you're reading this in the office, I do hope there's a decent gelateria on a corner near you...

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Tips for language acquisition part II

I said ten, didn't I? Which means I have to think of another five.

6/Osmosis. Go to a public swimming pool. Share water with Polish people and absorb vocabulary through your skin, like a plant.
If swimming pool is (frustratingly) booked up by school parties until July for heaven's sake, sharing a bathtub with a Polish person may suffice. Please ensure compliance with local customs before jumping in with your loofah: do ask politely, unless you are in a very permissive household indeed.

7/ Technology. Get Polish friends and acquaintances to sign up to Facebook. Spy on them and check out what they write on each other's walls. Insist they write to you in Polish and then complain when you don't understand.
Write text messages in Polish because text follows a grammatical structure all its own. I take no responsibility for your ending up at the wrong end of town at the wrong time on the wrong night.
N.B.: you may be advised to change the language setting on your phone for extra vocab on a daily basis. This is a Singularly Bad Idea, and will double your likelihood of inappropriate telecommunications activity quicker than you can say 'three cosmopolitans and a messy break-up'.

8/ Children's radio or indeed literature. Listening to kids' radio is not a bad idea: since it's radio they have to speak in whole sentences; although if you develop a secret appreciation for Polish children's nursery rhymes you may have some trouble hiding it from the people around you.
Books are something of a problem. Even children here use the accusative case (used for subject-verb-object structures e.g. 'But You Promised Me...'). This should not stop you biting the bullet and buying Yet Another copy of 'Le Petit Prince', indispensable companion to language learners everywhere.

9/Real Estate: Rent a flat. Be so odious that your flatmates feel compelled to emigrate to London. Find yourself obliged to find someone to rent the other room. Very quickly learn words for bills, utilities, not included, floor space, no loud sex on a Tuesday and so on.

And Finally:
(Don't worry, there'll be more... )

10/ Travel. Go to another Slavic country. Understand Nothing. Suddenly realise how very very comprehensible Polish really is. Find that you are completely fluent and insist on speaking it to Everyone, even though it is clearly a completely separate idiom. Every time you pass a cafe or street sign, point and say: "ooh that's so similar to the Polish..." - even if it isn't, just so you don't feel quite so stupid. Notice with regret that your new-found skills evaporate as soon as the train crosses back over the border.

Happy learning!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Tips for language acquisition... (ensure tongue remains firmly in cheek at all times) part I.

There's this brilliant website for student/trainee interpreters which is full of advice for practising etc. By far the best time to consult it is last thing at night, so you can go to bed and dream about all the great things you're going to do tomorrow.

One section on this website is a series of ten tips for learning a new language, written by an EU staff interpreter- using Polish as an example- and they are beautiful, really beautiful, all about crosswords and song lyrics and etymologies (I love etymology, don't get me wrong- don't get me started either, you'll regret it). However, given that I am the sort of irresponsible person who doesn't live in the Real World and forgets to empty their bin on a Friday and hangs out with malorientated motorists, students and sacristans, most of them are utterly beyond me.

So, with all due respect and a great deal of humility, I have compiled my own ten observations on how to eat, sleep and breathe foreign vocab (Don't inhale. It might go to your head). These are strictly aimed at former pre-exam crammers who only limped through their A-levels by burning vocabulary onto their retinas in the half hour before the doors opened and consequently have a short term memory with a strict "one in, one out" on-the-door policy within any twenty-four hour period.

Here are numbers one to five:

1/ Alcohol. Ok, so it's stating the obvious. But anyone who's tried to speak French will know how a ballon de rouge or four can turn you into Proust with beer-goggles (also known to improve singing ability, even in the most hopeless cases). Although in the case of Polish it may simply increase your confidence to the extent that you start adding -owac and -owany to the end of English words and conjugating everything in the genitive just to hedge your bets.*
If all else fails, you can always sit and translate the label on the back of the bottle (for 'translate', read 'bug your Polish friends for translations of...').
Warning: any vocabulary gleaned in this manner will almost certainly be forgotten the next morning.

2/ Biology. Remember those girls who came back from their Erasmus semester with a photo of some sloe-eyed Sicilian in their purses and a fluent command of the Italian idiom? Fraternizing with the natives is a long-established method for acquiring vocabulary without trying too hard, and you may even enjoy yourself. For fairly logical biological reasons, this works much better for girls than for guys. The irony therein is that Polish women, without exception, all look like supermodels**, while the guys look, well, pretty similar to British guys (socks under sandals, terrible haircuts and so on).
Caution should be exercised when using vocabulary acquired in this manner in a professional context.

3/ Crime. Have something stolen. As yet (touch wood) this method remains untested in Poland, but was experienced in a bizarre way involving a rented bike in Italy (bizarre because said bike was returned three days later when the end-of-term party season finished. Northerners are Weird). Following the theft you are compelled to go down to the local nick and attempt to communicate. You then have to pretend not to hear the Entire Station giggling like big girls because your driving licence ID gives your first name as 'Miss'- which, everywhere in Europe except the UK, designates a beauty pageant entrant.
You will never, ever forget the Italian word for a bike lock.

4/ Babcia. Rent a sofa from someone's grandmother in Nowa Huta. This may also be a direct consequence of quarter-life-crisis financial angst. There is No Chance that she'll be speaking any English to you, and you'll have to pick up one or two Polish words otherwise you won't get any dinner. As an interesting side effect, you will learn how to interpret the babcia growl, commonly uttered in queues if you complain that they may have pushed in front of you. Equally common on the tram: if accompanied by brandished umbrella, relinquish your seat Immediately.

5/ Sport. Go jogging in shorts. Very quickly pick up rude things to shout at lorry drivers.
Again, this is generally one for the girls, although you'd be surprised.
And see cautionary note to no. 2.
Interestingly, if you want to steal something on the Bvd de Clichy, this is probably a good way to get away with it.

To be continued...

*At all costs, avoid pidgin German e.g. 'Ich habe weile zutrinken und ich bin auf mein face gesmaschd. Ist hier in die nahe eine taksihaltestelle?'
**Although she will spend the next fifty years metamorphosing into a fierce babcia with a vicious umbrella- see point 4/. Is there any section of the Polish demographic I haven't managed to offend yet?

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Camera Saga

Today I walked out to the camera service centre once more.

The note in the window still read 'closed until 7/9/07.

Except that someone had added '1' in front of the 7...

Sunday, 9 September 2007


A friend had an overnight stop in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago and I've decided to steal one of his travel anecdotes. It fits in very well with the spirit of this blog.*

It would seem that Hong Kong is a fantastic city of skyscrapers: science-fiction shiny in the rain, and bejewelled with neon. A guesthouse here, rather than being a little family-run cottage, consists of a block of rooms halfway up a tower. My friend collected the key, made a mental note of the floor and room number- taking the hotel's business card seemed an excessive precaution- and set out to explore the city.

Upon returning, he takes the lift back up to his room, checks the floor number, says hi to the Chinese lady on the landing, and goes to unlock the door. Only for some reason the key doesn't fit.
Oops, silly me, wrong landing: he laughs with the Chinese lady and descends fifteen floors to try again with a different lift.
This time, of course, it must be the right landing. Only the lady at the top looks suspiciously familiar. So do the doors. He tries the key again. It's the same place as before.
Now a sense of paranoia starts to set in. The room contains all his worldly possessions, and his connecting flight leaves in just a few hours.
He descends again.

Finally someone takes pity on him, explains that the building comprises several different identical towers and points him in the right direction.

[I had a similar experience trying to escape Chatelet-Les Halles metro station. I swear the 'sortie' signs were directing me back to the point I started from. I honestly have never been so panicked in my life, imagining myself traipsing endless concentric circles deep within the Paris underground]

* At the risk of finding myself with a lawsuit on my hands, I should probably explain that this is the guy who, having offered me a lift home from town, stopped short outside Teatr Bagatela.
- what's up? I asked
- nothing, I just can't remember where I left the car. But don't worry, it's definitely on this street. I'll find it eventually.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident.


I'm still going strong (more or less) with my totally organic experience at St Giles'. One problem, however, is that mass is on Sunday morning, and Sunday morning invariably follows Saturday night, and, as a consequence, I often find myself at 10.29am staring at the console wondering how on earth I am to convey the dots and lines from the paper to the keys to the pipes with any degree of success at all.
At this point my head seems to be full of clouds and my fingers clasp helplessly at the keys as if they could stop me from sliding off the bench. Any attempt to sing along throws the whole system into automatic shutdown. And don't get me started on the pedal board.
Up until age 22 I took piano lessons and managed to develop reasonable sight-reading (or at least semi-sightreading/semi-improvisational) competency on the basis that "practice is cheating". This useful transferable skill has saved my skin on several occasions, notably recitals, public speaking and the whole six months since I arrived in Poland.

Today was better than most days: I was about three minutes late but managed to busk my way through everything without dropping anything on the console, forgetting the key signature, pulling out the wrong stops or confidently starting out on the first page of 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring' (or the Oregon Catholic Hymnal version thereof) while the second page was still safely tucked away in the accompanist's binder.

Given that the size of the congregation varies dramatically (depending on how many parties of anglophone tourists are passing through in any given week), I often find myself singing along at full belt, just to nudge things along a bit. And also if I simply fancy a good old yell but don't want to make people stare at me in the Planty. Maybe I should give the karaoke on Grodzka another try.
I've given up being embarrassed about my lack of proper Catholic sensibility and have decided that anything weird I might do can be put down to 'mad old biddy' behaviour: this seems to be used to cover all manner of organist eccentricities in the UK (see well known example in the Vicar of Dibley).

Hurray! Today the Sacristan came up to me after mass and started A Whole Conversation about language schools. I think the older generation are definitely the way forward where linguistic practice is concerned. Everyone else has studied (or pulled pints) in London.
I need to work the 'eccentric old organist' look and develop a neurosis about plagel cadences...

NB Sunday was a special occasion for dog-lovers in Krakow: the annual dachshund parade. Owners of sausage dogs dress up their pets and promenade them around the main square.

I don't see my spaniel allowing that.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Quarter Life Crisis

As winter approaches, the pigeons in the Planty are becoming more and more reckless. You can be strolling along perfectly casually when suddenly they slice past your ears like crumb-seeking missiles. The overall impression is of standing on the runway at Biggin Hill at the start of a Red Arrows display.
Today, all was calm, and yet as I watched the crazy old biddy with the neon lipstick plunge her hand into a shopping bag full of breadcrumbs I could clearly see what was about to transpire: suddenly the air was filled with beaked B52s on a beeline for bounty.

A friend who also graduated last year sent me this link, relating to the Quarter Life Crisis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_life_crisis

At first I was a bit sceptical, but there are several things in it that ring true, especially relating to financial and job insecurity. Who was it who promised that a university education would open doors? Doors to the bank manager's office would be more accurate...
Not to mention the sneaking feeling that everyone else is doing better than you (I went to The Best University in the Country bar none, so in all but a few exceptional cases they are, and will probably be running the show in a few years' time. I do hope I bought enough rounds for the right people...).

And they say these are supposed to be the best days of our lives: the other day I was left fuming after my boss told me to 'join the Real World' because I forgot to empty my wastepaper bin on Friday night. I nearly stabbed him (but we don't have sharp enough office supplies). He went to university when it was still free...

I have started to confuse one or two similar-sounding words in Polish (I take this as a good sign because it means at least I've learnt one or two words...).

The two main ones are ciepły (warm- would a Polophone reader please confirm... *)
and ciemny (dark).
I didn't think this posed too much of a problem until the day I walked into my Polish class wearing an 'I love Guinness' t-shirt left over from my pint-pulling days at The Rummer last year (more time propping up the bar than behind it etc. etc.) and the teacher politely observed that I seemed to be a fan of warm beer.

At first I thought this was a slur on my strange British taste in beverages (although Guinness is Irish of course. And I have to admit that I never saw the 'extra-cold' pump in working order during my time at the pub), until I realised my mistake.

The first time I went to Italy for longer than a holiday, I started confusing 'pomidoro'- tomato (same in Polish- hurrah, at last some sensible vocab!)
with 'pomeriggio'- afternoon (from 'post-meridian' so there's a logic there too).

This would have been no problem had I not been working in the catering industry.

On my third day behind the hotel bar I sprinted round to the kitchen and couldn't understand why the chefs were falling over themselves when I asked for a bowl of pomeriggi to make bruschetta for the evening aperitivo...

*In fact, could any reader who is not my Dad please confirm their presence?? I can hear the echoes.... hellooooo??

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

A frustrating day

Horror of horrors, I've managed to break the camera! You really can't leave me alone for a moment. The dial which operates the zoom lens appears to have become disconnected somehow (possibly connected to spilt fruit juice of some description). This is really irritating, because it means I can't take pretentious close up photos like this one:

On the way back from work yesterday I popped into the Kodak shop on Starowislna (having taken the precaution of arming myself with copious vocabulary from dict.pl: useful things like zoom lens, doesn't work, switch on/off, spilt, sticky, stupid foreign poser, etc.).
The girl at the desk looked at it and then called the guy from the back room. He looked at it, switched it on and off, cleaned the lens, and then told me I'd have to go to the Kodak service centre (he drew a detailed map on the back of their business card).

So, today, desperate to continue posing with my new (broken) toy, I set out from the office to try to find the other shop. As before, there was a bit of rain but luckily my parents (when I met them in Scotland two weeks ago) equipped me with a Proper Raincoat for tackling precipitations of varying intensities.

There is a street in Krakow (and in most other Polish towns- as I found to my confusion in Wrocław) called ulica Długa. This means 'long street'. This afternoon I found out exactly how true this was. After much circling, I found a camera shop which appeared to be on the right street. I approached the desk. But no. It was the Wrong Kind of camera shop. I asked the girl at the counter how to get to the address described on the business card, taking great care not to let slip that I had little clue as to what she was saying. I have more or less given up trying to understand everything in Polish now: my current survival strategy is to fake it as well as I can and hope my guess is more or less accurate. Anything rather than have them speak English to me: this generates deep feelings of shame, probably linked to a desire not to be associated with the beer-swilling British stag parties slobbering all over the Rynek.
In any case, directions are not so complicated (left/right/'some park'/'some large building', etc), and the management in this shop clearly offered much better map-drawing skills training to their employees than in the Kodak establishment.
Finally, after much wandering, I crossed the Aleja and found myself standing at the right street number.

The service centre remains closed until 07/09.

Coffee: I can order coffee in Polish now, it's not so complicated. You say 'prosze', and then you say what you want, remembering the accusative ending if it's a feminine noun. If you want to get technical, you can add simple extras like 'with milk', 'no sugar', 'ice on the side', 'hold the mayo', 'and a vodka chaser please' etc.
There is a coffee shop in Kraków called 'Out of Africa' [I accept bank transfers and PayPal], which serves Coffee Exclusively. It's really cool, with exciting rooms which lead into one another, and bags of coffee beans in a shop at the back. And a piano with a candle on the lid (although this tends to impede spontaneous improvisation). And tea chests to sit on.
The menu is almost half an inch thick, and more securely bound than my MA dissertation. Instead of listing different drinks, it lists coffees of different origins, along with a brief description of their flavour (kind of like wine tasting), in Polish of course.

- What does one normally order here?
I asked
- Oh, I don't pretend to know about these things: normally I tell the waitress how I like coffee to taste and ask for her advice.

Now, I have no problem getting a cappuccino in Polish, but asking a waitress to recommend a particular blend to me on the basis of the different flavour attributes and percentage of Arabica is totally beyond me. How do you describe coffee anyway? I'm guessing 'oaky', 'full-bodied' or 'overtones of forest fruits' would be inappropriate in this context.

The waitress approached, and I was still helplessly flipping through the menu-thesis, trying to think, quickly, of something I could order so as not to let on that I had No Idea about coffee or indeed Polish.

Finally, I went for the simple option: Get Polish Friend To Do It For You.
This is absolutely cheating and I do not condone it in any way. Clearly it would be far more productive if I were simply to continue pretending (although this is a risky strategy when ordering consumable goods). I'll have to go back on my own for a re-match.

In the meantime, I shall compile a coffee glossary (much more fun than the internal combustion engine) and look for a phrasebook called 'The foreign poser's guide to faking it in Poland'.

Monday, 3 September 2007

End of the summer

This morning I merrily got up at seven, washed and ate breakfast and left the house for work, locking the door securely behind me [author's note, I can say all this in Polish now- except possibly the bit about locking the door- aw let me feel pleased with myself, just for a second, please...].

Fifteen minutes later and halfway down Starowislna street I realised that I had turned the key in the deadlock, effectively trapping my flatmates in the house. I sprinted back down the street, across the tram station and up the stairwell, where I had to go through the whole process of unlocking the door, re-locking it (using the other keyhole) and then unlocking and re-locking, three times for luck, just to make Absolutely Sure, before finally racing back down the stairwell.
So much for getting to the office early.

The heady summer weather has broken and autumn is on its way for sure. The other night I attempted to go rollerblading before darkness fell. As I trotted down the street to the river, blades swinging, the first ominous drops started to fall. I carried on regardless, but by the time I reached the river and changed shoes there was a noticeable, if gentle, precipitation. It was really fine until I rounded the bend towards Wawel hill and was caught full in the face by a driving gale.
I took refuge under a bridge (which was rapidly becoming a wind tunnel) with a couple of other bedraggled rollerbladers and one or two cyclists.
We all waited for the shower to pass.
We waited.
And waited.
Summer had clearly moved south to warmer climes.

Finally I ventured out from under the bridge, tentatively stepping off the verge onto the slick asphalt. Instantly the wind caught me from behind and I half-slid, half-allowed myself to be buffeted all the way back to the bridge at the end of Starowislna. Sadly I may have to hang up the knee pads until spring, but I suppose at least I have more chance of staying upright.

Roll on the snowboarding season I say!