Friday, 31 July 2009


I saw the Weather Babcia today. I passed her on the stairs taking the rubbish out, and when I tripped and dropped one of the bags she said 'Ciepło, ciepło!'
I thought this was a way of warning me to stay calm on the stairs but it seems she was commenting on the weather again because she limped on...

... ale będzie zimno wieczorki i ranki...

Three floors down, I overtook Smoking Babcia just before the front door. 'Don't hold the door for me!' she said, but I thought it safest to do so anyway.
Smoking Babcia is the most impressive babcia in the building because she stumps along on two walking sticks, puffing energetically on a cigarette clamped firmly between her lips.

I am amazed at her persistence, both in her bloodyminded determination to continue enjoying her cigarette, and her insistence on walking the twenty metres to the tiny nearby park to sit in the sun every morning.

Thursday, 30 July 2009


I'm stealing someone else's idea for this one.

A friend - ok, a Facebook friend - posted a link to a TED talk by Alain de Botton on success.

It struck me in particular and I watched the whole thing because for the past few years I've been under the influence of success anxiety or status anxiety linked to my job or whatever the exact term is.

De Botton points out that we envy people who are similar to us but have achieved more: they appear more successful, and this is based on the assumption that we all have equal opportunities and therefore any failure or lack of success on our part is a failure to take advantage of these opportunities. In other words, it's our fault. When in reality it may not be.

It also struck me because of a conversation we had last night about beggars in Kraków.
On the way back from Kazimierz at about 11.30pm, a woman with a child heard us talking in English and came up saying 'please money food'.
My flatmate's policy here is not to give, because everyone has a chance to work and these people could get a job somewhere. By giving them money, you perpetuate the vicious circle in which they are already trapped. My policy is that things are more complicated than that: so I feel extremely guilty but still don't give.

I was trying to work out what it is that makes me so reluctant to give these people money. From time to time (maybe one in three) I give money to someone who is sitting and begging with a cup, as quickly and discreetly as possible and with as little actual communication with the person in question as possible. However, I really hate giving money to people who pester me. I feel as though I'm not being allowed the time to make a rational decision. In this case I'm pretty sure it's about more than just resenting the loss of a few zlots.

Another friend said that we give money to beggars because we are purchasing a Good Feeling. We see them, we feel bad, we give them some cash and then we feel as though we are a Good Person.
My argument here is that, up until the guy limped up to me with a sign around his neck asking for money for an operation, I wasn't feeling Bad. So he has created a false demand for this good feeling while at the same time being the nearest and most convenient local supplier.

I also don't like it when people target me in English. I feel as though I am being exploited as a rich foreign tourist (which is sadly something that I am not).

My default reasoning is that begging is a very humiliating thing to do and that if someone is asking for help, there must be a good reason behind it and therefore I should give. But I resent the emotional manipulation that goes alongside it. So I'm stuck with a dilemma. Either I pay, and pretend I didn't for fear of ridicule among my more sensible friends, or I don't pay, and I feel bad. Which instinct is correct?

Going back to success: I went to a very good school and to an excellent university and my friends are all doing pretty well. I'm even aware that some of them look down on me for doing what is perceived as a poorly-paid menial job (translation) and for working as a freelancer rather than for a respectable multi-national with a good pension scheme.

Then again, I think about all my efforts over the past few years to do yet another training scheme, yet another bit of work experience, and I wonder whether the best thing would be just to live somewhere where there is plenty of sunshine, where I can go roller-blading in the morning, where there is a nice river to walk along, and just to earn enough money to travel and to rent a decent space in a nice city where I can sleep undisturbed in the sunshine in the afternoons.

Here's the talk. Let me know what you think:

Monday, 27 July 2009

w kawiarnii

Outside Tribeca, Rynek Główny, Sunday, 6.30pm:

Waitress: Czy mogę zapytać co Pani robi?

- Robię korektę.

Waitress: ???

- W angielskiej wersji menu są błędy. Normalnie płacą mnie za to. Jestem tłumaczką, to mój zawód.

Waitress: ...

Saturday, 25 July 2009


Every so often, my flatmate and I decide that we will do something culturally improving. I mean, it's great to go out and drink beer and go dancing at Piękny Pies and watch downloads of 'How I Met Your Mother' for five hours straight, but occasionally - just occasionally - we feel that it might be a good idea to do something that is actually going to broaden our horizons, nurture our inner selves, expand our minds. Something wholesome, something Good For Us, something arty.

Unfortunately, our good intentions don't always translate into reality.

For example, in June we went to a panel discussion, with a couple of friends, on the opening of a new exhibit in Bunkier Sztuki.

After approximately thirteen minutes, all five of us - very discreetly - got up, politely shuffled our sheepish way out of the row and legged it up the stairs as soon as we were out of sight of the panel.

Then there was the book signing in Empik. Our intentions were so good: we arranged to meet inside after work at 5pm (if you actually meet inside Empik, instead of in front, the world changes in a subtle yet significant way. I have yet to write a post about meeting people outside Empik. This is negligence on my part).

Unfortunately my flatmate had to work late on a project, and I got an urgent job, so we never got there.

Once we even nearly made it to Teatr Bagatela! Having decided that our Polish was just about good enough to understand drama (although after watching Trans-Atlantyk I very quickly changed my mind), we decided to go and watch a play.
Teatr Bagatela is the theatre of the absurd in Kraków (it's also another place people meet in front of, but that's not important right now). This means - best-case scenario - visual comedy that even we can understand and - worst-case scenario - satire, ironic Polish in-jokes and utter incomprehensibility. We asked some Polish friends to come with us and looked up tickets but unfortunately there were none on the day we wanted. Then my flatmate went on holiday and I had a school trip and it simply never happened.

So when I heard about the live drawing show yesterday I was slightly sceptical about our ability to actually get there.

And yet...

Somehow at 7pm we were sitting in the cool of the gallery, facing a huge sheet of brown paper parcel-taped to the wall, waiting for the performance to start.

The artist - who is French but of Polish family - introduced himself briefly and then sat on a chair at one end of the 'canvas', looking at his feet in silence. We waited. He began to whistle a few bars of Chopin* and then - still whistling - got up and sketched a huge crescent moon in charcoal and chalk. Underneath the moon, the towers of Wawel quickly emerged, chalk moonlight glinting off the charcoal spires.

So the story began in Kraków...

He sketched the whole fairytale for us, acting through the drawing: sometimes drawing over an old episode, sometimes tearing off something to replace it somewhere else, occasionally whistling a clue (like the Marseillaise, for a French character).

And it was fun! Slightly confusing in parts, but then afterwards the artist was there so you could ask him to explain it. We were charmed. Apart from the magic of watching the picture appear on the paper before our eyes, this art was not something to stand in fear of and to be afraid to admit not understanding. It was clear, the clues were there to follow, you could watch the technique and best of all you could actually ask questions.

It turns out there's another pictorial storytelling session next Friday, so if you're interested I'd highly recommend it - Dietla 11, 7pm, at Otwarta Pracownia.

We might even go again...

*Nocturne in E-flat major.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Gdanśk and Gdynia

I did promise pictures, didn't I?


And Gdańsk:

The Black Pearl

Friday, 17 July 2009

Music Room

Last week I did two things I haven't done for a little while.

No, not that. If only.

Hidden deep in the bowels of the conference centre are three music rooms. Not so far from the interpreting booths actually - the old disused ones that look out onto nowhere.
There's a lovely black Bechstein piano and a dog-eared copy of Bach's Woll-Temperierte Klavier as well as some Schubert impromptus on fragile leaves and as your fingers stumble over the keys all the chatter clears from your mind and you can really think finally.

You might think, for example, that you found and that you played from exactly the same ragged fragments of music last year and that this year it is somehow more difficult: the memory of the music moves your hands but in some way they are less agile, less accustomed to the exercise - they trip and falter under the sheer emotion of the melody and you cannot fill the notes with the expressive quality that you would like.

This week I bit the bullet and recorded myself in the booth. I won't go into details but - if I could forget just for one second that it was me speaking and pretend that it was some complete stranger - the comedy value would be immense.

As with the piano, I want to express the idea elegantly, I want it to sound smooth and pretty and legato but I am out of condition and it's more staccato, rubato and generally agitato with the odd note of vibrato where more than a hint of a doubt starts to creep in.

Why is it that choosing one way means missing out on something else?

I love living in Kraków, and I value the experiences of the past two years, but I wonder what I have missed by being here. Could I have lived for two years in Paris instead, spending Sundays at the market near Bastille or daydreaming around the Butte de Montmartre? If in two years I managed to learn enough Polish to stagger through a conversation in the back room of Kolory, imagine how much I could have improved and perfected my French instead! I could have travelled to Italy, lived in Florence, taught English and finally Learnt to Appreciate Art! Or moved into London and worked in a suit in the City.

Can't you hear the doors slamming shut all around you?

So you make choices and you travel and you run after one thing and neglect another. You forget that you are a musician, or a writer, or a lover, and you chase something else that you have never been.

Eventually you flit from place to place, trying to catch up with whatever essential intangible thing it is that you are missing. You avoid commitment to one home as you avoid attachment to one person. When you want to daydream, well, you take out old memories like photographs, blow the dust off them, and leaf through them, soothed by the fact that they are closed history and that you can just as easily slip them back into the album where they belong.

So what now?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Did you know...

... that soft drinks are known in francophone Switzerland as sportifs?

You've got to respect a country that is so muesli-slurping virtuous it can make even Coca-Cola sound healthy...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

I love it when...

... Simplus sends me text messages, whenever I'm abroad, providing me with the telephone number of the nearest Polish Embassy.

- Ambasada Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej w Genewie, słucham

oh, hi - I was wondering... um... I don't suppose you're on the same street as the British Embassy by any chance? No? Nie? Ale dobrze rozumiem po polsku!!

... etc.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

more travels

Somewhere between Basztowa Lot and Dworzec Głowny (tram stations in Kraków):

- come on, we get off here!

Pino (wracked with doubt): Are you sure you saw me turn the gas off??

- yes, let's go!

Pino (furrowing brow): cos I know the eggs cooked quicker than I expected and then I took the pan off the heat and at that point the cat knocked the beer on the bed and I don't remember turning the gas off... d'ye reckon I could get a taxi home and back?

- NO! we don't have time.

We went to Trójmiasto (or at least dwie trzecie miasta). Photos.... later.

ps, I didn't leave the gas on.