Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Zimno mi

Wizzair airport bus, around four in the afternoon:

Eventually the bus pulls away and, sitting in the corner of the back seat, I can see colours and shadows outside but little else. The window steams up quickly with the passengers packed so close inside and when I try to wipe it clean, I find that the condensation has frozen on the glass. Ice has actually formed inside the bus.

Somewhere near Teatr Bagatela:

My friends live in an old kamienice with high ceilings and tall windows and a storage heater system which doesn't stand a chance against the sub-zero temperatures of a Polish January. The old thermometer on the windowsill outside shows minus eleven, but it seems to have been like that all day. The cat has not moved from the top of the heater since morning.
I take my teacup in shivering hands to the window and look out, over the silent snow-clad rooftops, towards the pale echoes of the sunset. Trails of chimney smoke curl gently into the dusk. Through the blackened branches of the bare trees, the sky is a wash of soft lilac and salmon shades and wisps of dove-grey cloud.
I stare past the houses and trees and catch a glimpse of a lost winter fairytale, long-forgotten, or perhaps never told...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Off on hols...

... wearing three jumpers because my miserable Wizzair cabin baggage allowance only lets me take 10kg in a suitcase the size of a jumbo matchbox. Why oh why am I going on holiday to a country where the temperature is averaging around the minus 15 mark?!

All right, I'm going, I'm going!

did I leave the gas on??

January! Still here?!

Monday. Monday in January. Not a lot has been going on in January - after Week One that is - as you may have already guessed from the turgid streams of drivel trickling through this blog over the past couple of weeks. My favourite Waffle (apart from the yummy Liegois ones with lumps of sugar inside) says that she can write a post in less than an hour. With no editing.
It takes me all afternoon to write a blog post. Often I leave them to marinate overnight. I edit compulsively.
And it's not just blog posts at issue here. I can't even write a wall post on Facebook in less than half an hour. Admittedly I do other things in between and come back to it, but still. So much for the instant gratification society.

But maybe I should just blurt it all out. Thirty mins max and then *Publish*! Say exactly what's on my mind. Nah... you don't want to hear that. Really? Are you sure? Right then, here goes.

  • Embarrassing shopping. Namely at the hands of an overtly, gleefully discreet lady pharmacist.You know when you're thirteen and you go shopping for feminine hygiene products with your Mum and she refuses to pronounce any of the operative words above a whisper? 'Do you need any - you know - *whispers*?' 'Sorry Mum, did you say TAMPONS?'. Lobster-faced shame. It's that dramatic, stage-whisper type of discreet. 'No, not the cream! I want the pessary! Single dose! Not that I... I mean, it's just in case, you know.' 'Anything else Mademoiselle?' *sigh* I'm about to go to the land of pierogi and precle and other low-fibre treats, and my stomach hates travel. I pronounce the relevant item and her face crinkles up in delight. 'Absolutely! We have our own special preparation'. 'Not too strong!!' I call urgently as she bustles off into the back room of the pharmacy.
  • Bills. It's so confusing being a grown-up. I had to pay tax, all by myself, for the First Time Ever. On Sunday night, having put them off until the Very Last Minute, I lined up all the bills, opened the unopened ones, juggled money from account to account, took a deep breath and clicked on 'Pay'. All this without even touching the emergency Pain Quotidien chocolate spread Noir or the emergency frozen Absolut.
Urgh, I told you. This post has been open in draft for about five hours already. It is now 1am. Typically, I am not able to sleep before travelling, to give me more time not to forget anything (or to make me sleepier in the morning so I do forget things).

Goodnight, see you all in Kraków tomorrow. Oh did I not mention that?

*edit - 1.20 am.

Friday, 22 January 2010


Oh dear, I really don't speak French at all. The tap in my bathroom has been dripping for ages and eventually I got my act together enough to email my landlord about it.
About a week later, the landlord's wife comes round with a handyman (they call each other 'tu', so I assume he's a relative or something).

All finished, they ask me for a 'torchon' and I, who learnt to speak French in France, handed over a tea towel.

Confusion and amusement.

- No, no, don't you have a mop or something? For the floor?

Oh dear, I really don't speak French at all. As French wikipedia points out, a 'torchon' is a mop in Belgium. Why can't they all just agree on these things?!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Is it really still January?!

This blog has been going for quite a wee while now. To start with it was a travel blog. Then a 'learning Polish' blog. Then a sort of student interpreter blog in a very discreet way because interpreters are bound by all sorts of unspoken confidentiality rules (I'm still not clear on whether or not I'm crossing the line simply by owning up to actually being one). After that it briefly mutated into a sort of personal therapy whinge centre, a phase which is thankfully now over. It occasionally moonlights as a half-hearted satire wannabe. One thing it's never been though is particularly girly.

In fact I can only apologise for the almost total lack of love interest on these pages. It must make for very dull reading. What kind of a human being would rather stay in on a Saturday night and read about the genitive case than sit awkwardly in a cinema and engage in circular conversations of the 'ça t'a plu?' 'oui, ça m'a plu, et toi, ça t'a plu?' type. There's probably a grammar issue there to do with agreeing feminine endings come to think of it but I can't be bothered. The great thing about blogging is that sooner or later someone else corrects your grammar (usually someone else Polish).

When most girls talk about what they'd like to see in a potential partner, the list generally includes tall, dark, handsome, good sense of humour, near-saintly tolerance of lateness, familiarity with a washing up bowl, etc. Personally, I'd like to improve my spoken French, maybe learn German, and absolutely nip in the bud an unexpected and highly perverse taste for Dutch boys because, like it or not, the Dutch language will never be useful for work.

(Overheard in a bar near Merode:
Anonymous Female Ex-pat Blogger no 1: Dutch boys are SO nice! They're so tall...'
AFXB no 2: 'oh yes, and really athletic!'
AFXB no 3: 'and they have these rosy cheeks like they've been out sailing a boat all day'
AFXB no 1: 'and they all have funny accents like Sean Connery. In Bond I mean.
AFXB no 2: 'I had a Dutch boss once *sigh*...'

In any case, the situation is not going to change now. Love interest on these pages will continue at an average rate of little-to-none, largely because any eligible men within a half mile radius tend to get frostbite. I can't help it... I just can't be nice. It's against my upbringing.

That's not true actually. It can't be my upbringing that is at fault. My Mum is very nice indeed. She stays at home and looks after the kids (which now means only my 26-year old brother) and cooks, and puts up with complaints about the food, and always kisses my Dad goodbye when he leaves the house (out of an irrational fear that he may be abducted by aliens or have a nasty accident with the space-time continuum or simply not come back). My Mum is nearly sixty, but when she can't start her car in Tesco carpark hundreds of dashing young doctors flock to her rescue. Many of them probably Dutch.

Oh dear. I was going to go all girly and talk about bikini waxing and why small bra sizes only come in virginal white, but I appear to have reached the standard recommended post length. Actually the bikini post I had in mind was rather funny. Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


These are white, muffled days, curled up in the flat, with blessedly little to do. The freeze is over, but the outside world is still blanketed in snow.
My fifty pages of translation for the end of the month fit neatly into five pages a day: a morning's work, even at a fairly relaxed place. The flat is small and warm with plenty to read, TV in five languages, fast internet and a piano with headphones. I go out once a day and walk about, sometimes as far as Park Woluwe, sometimes to meet friends for coffee, sometimes to Carrefour for an arbitrary series of items, added to and ticked off the shopping list as they occur to me.
In the evenings, I drink cinnamon tea, watch the BBC and try to learn about current affairs. I am making very, very slow inroads into my To-Do list. I have little concept of time and am physically incapable of punctuality.
I am being kind to myself for a few days, after three years of pushing and working and saving and worrying. There will be plenty of hard work again soon.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

oh gosh...

... I should write something.

You know when you have a really big important thing to do, like an exam or an interview or something, and other things come up which are clearly much less important, like health insurance and tax returns and cable TV bills, but you just leave them to one side to deal with after the big important thing is over?

Well, I did the big important thing and spent the rest of the day wandering around like a loon in the snow and the sunshine and drinking too much pretend champagne at choir practice. Then the next day was a write-off due to abovementioned pretend champagne, plus some extra bits of translation that I accepted and then forgot about, plus the inevitable sudden post-stress brain fail.

And now it's the weekend, so of course I can't deal with the Big Long List of Things I Put Off Til Later today because everything is closed until Monday, so that's a relief!

Instead I bought a mop, and some spray anti-cafards, when what I meant to buy was a plastic toboggan. I suppose at a push I could slide in the mop bucket. Or on my Carrefour eco-bag.

I also found the fève in the free samples of galette des Rois at Pain Quotidien (a cross between a bakery and a coffee shop which always gives me a sugar hangover). Quite why they were giving bits of galette away I'm not sure: the big buttery pastry rounds were piled high in the window display, so maybe they're having trouble shifting them in this weather (I bought a dense, almondy slice the other day and felt sick for the rest of the afternoon).

- ah vous avez gagné! said the guy behind the counter (actually he probably didn't, but I've given up trying to reproduce accurate, realistic French dialogue here), produced a crown made of gilded card, and tossed it flamboyantly in the direction of my head. I smiled and very quickly handed over the golden crown to a tiny girl whose parents were next in the line, with a placating 'wow, qu'est-ce que c'est jolie!' or something equally un-French like that. She scowled at me hard while her parents and the guy behind the counter made similar cooing noises, and we left the shop.

Joyeuse Fete des Rois everyone!

Better start opening bills now I suppose.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Obligatory New Year's Resolutions Post

I seem to recall we originally learnt the future tense (niedokonany) in Polish by writing out our New Year's resolutions, for example:- w przyszłym roku będę uprawiać częściej sport, nie będę pić piwa, nie będę palić papierosów, będę się uczyć polskiego codziennie itp.

I'm not going to do it in Polish.

But I am going to do the very obvious start of the year list of resolutions post because my creativity is sapped and I'm low on imagination, at least for the next few days.

- I will start lying about my age. I'm getting fed up with the shocked looks, and with being asked what I'm studying (and referred to as 'jeune fille' or 'Mademoiselle'). If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I reckon I can get away with about twenty-four.

- I will stop complaining about terrible dates and join Meetic already. I will also find a use for the three Durex Avanti in my bathroom that are due to expire in March 2010. Even if it's just filling them with helium and releasing them from the balcony into the sunset. Or stretching them over a phonebox. Did you know you can stretch a condom over a phonebox? I think the tough part is probably making sure that the caller inside doesn't notice. Or finding a caller who still uses phoneboxes and hasn't succumbed to the now ubiquitous iPhone.

- I will concentrate more on the pretty sunshine and not worry about pension plans until I am actually in a position to start one.

- I will pay as little tax as I can reasonably get away with. If I were a British MP, I would definitely have claimed my mortgage on expenses and I bet you would've too.

- I will resist the temptation to try to learn Dutch and/or German for as long as humanly (or rather language-geekily) possible.

- I will eat chocolate and drink beer and find a place to go rollerblading in Brussels.

- I will go away for weekends more (credit card and Easyjet allowing), and visit friends who live in exciting places.

- I will learn to improvise on the piano, for the purposes of Career Plan B (move to Paris, become jazz pianist, live in garret).

- I will stop being shy. It's just inconvenient. I will also talk to strangers more and not look at the ground all the time.

- I will accept that my life will probably always be more of the hippy studenty vagrant variety rather than the get a proper job, get married, buy a house variety and I will stop feeling bad and admit that secretly I prefer it that way.

Ok, your turn now...