Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Friday, September 30, 2005

Language confusion

I find the more languages I try and stuff in my overfilled brain, the longer I have to think before saying anything that makes sense. Words jumble up against each other and the word I need is often on the tip of my tongue, but not quite attainable. It works with sayings too. Like during a recent chat with my little bruv over in Canada.

Becca: Ok, I'm off to boil the kettle. Have a good weekend.
Edd: Thanks, you too.
Becca: Do you even say 'boil the keetle'.?
Edd: I think you can say boil the kettle
Becca: I mean put the kettle on anyway. I need a cup of tea.
Edd: Saying 'boil the keetle' is just confusing though...
Becca: Ha, ha ha. I'm actually sitting here on my own laughing out loud.

Guess you had to be there.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

heart shaped cookies

Last time we were in IKEA, before I was banned for life for spending too much money on things we definitely need, but hadn't quite realised yet, I fell into one of their special traps. You know the ones, where they have a cute little basket of cute little things that are sooooo cheap, and although it's not vital for life, you just have to pop one in the basket (or, more realistically the trolley) amid promises that it'll be used aaaall the time.
Well, my last trap was cookie cutters. Sweet little hearts and stars, even christmas trees for christmas and oh, so cheap.
Well HA IKEA! You thought we'd never use them, you thought they'd be left sculling in the back of a kitchen drawer while we ate shop-bought biscuits and forgot our rosey picture of home baking and good old fashioned fun. YOU WERE WRONG!
We made cookies. AND they taste good, AND they're just as cute as the cutters promised... here's the proof (contented sigh).

Oh, and I know it's a bit early for the trees but we were practising...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Yesterday was Important. Apparently.

I made a soldier giggle yesterday.
I was walking through our little park (I say 'our' little park but I guess it doesn't actually belong to us) and up the steps towards the tram stop.
There's this war memorial at the top of the steps and on Important Days there are flowers and candles and stuff. Well, I didn't know it was an Important Day but apparently it was because not only were there flowers and banners and candles, but two soldiers, guns and all.
Across the road I saw an army car with a few soldiers lounging about, but there was nothing to explain their presence, and I wasn't about to ask, what with them likely to reply in fast incomprehensible Polish and all.
So, I was looking about me with what must have been a slightly puzzled expression, because as I caught the eye of one of the soldiers on guard, he giggled. Actually it was more of a half-swallowed hiccuppy grunt, and as the corners of his mouth twitched and his shoulders shook he did that desperate stare, where you focus on something high up and away from the thing making you laugh, so you can control your facial muscles and hold your gun straight.
Made me smile anyway.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Polish wedding

For all those poor poor people who have never experienced a Polish wedding,
THIS is what it looks like.

It was great. I mean really great. Ok, I'll go into details because I know there are people out there who don't know the joy of a Polish wedding and I'm so generous I'm going to share my vast experience of, er, just the one actually...
The church was pretty church-like. It didn't go on as long as I'd expected but maybe that was because we were at one of seven weddings the poor priest had to get through that day. As we arrived the last lot were leaving and as we left the next were arriving. Who knew so many people got married at the end of September?
The first new experience for me was not so much in the church (where there was lots of Polish as expected and all I understood was the odd mention of 'milość' - love) but the flower giving afterwards. Once the newlyweds had left the church the whole congregation lined up to kiss each of them and present them with a bouquet. What happens to the hundreds of flowers they received remains a mystery to me, but it seems a nice way of ensuring everyone gets to offer their personal congratulations. I should say at this point the newlyweds, Marek's cousin Marcin and his new bride Karolyna clearly had no idea who I was and looked a little bemused in response to my congratulations, presented to them in my best Polish. Then everyone left for the reception which was held in a big room over the fire station in Jabłonna, the newlyweds arriving last and (much to Marek's delight) accompanied by some impressive roaring motorbikes. Once they arrived, the band began to play and everyone trooped into the reception room. No table plans! So much simpler and everyone gets to sit where they want and with whom they like.
No wine, no beer, just vodka. And a man going round replacing the empties. Lots of food already on the tables and course after course of hot food brought round at regular intervals. Lots and lots of singing, rounds and rounds of dancing and really funny traditional games. The whole evening was run by the band who determined when people would dance, when breaks would be allowed for more food and when the shots of vodka should be drunk en-masse. It was so much fun.
People paid money to dance with the newly married couple - a way to raise enough money for the honeymoon apparently, ingenius! The veil and tie were thrown out to the single guys and gals and a new couple formed as a result. One of the (male) singers from the band put on a dress and makeup and sang a song during which he presented the couple with objects they might need in their new life. There was more, so much more, but I think you can only appreciate the simple honest fun of it all by experiencing it first hand.
We stayed until four and then decided to rest our aching feet and hoarse throats by calling it a night. So much fun. You can see the other photos here.

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Monday, September 26, 2005


Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Ru-uth
Happy birthday to you!!

I hope you have a fantastic day all those miles away in London.
I'll be thinking of you and sending you happy thoughts all day long!

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Friday, September 23, 2005

And now for something much more interesting

I'm ill. Not reeeeally, coughing and spluttering ill but head-ache and feeling just a little bit crap and sorry for myself ill. So, as my brain is fuzzy and everything I could conceiveably post about would take far too much effort I'll just link to my little bruv who seems to have a clear head and political opinions.
Meanwhile I'll concentrate on getting myself better for the next cultural event in my life: The Polish Wedding

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Voting starts on Sunday

More on the upcoming elections. Just as a point of interest, I think I can tell the Kaczynski twins apart, so if they make President and Prime Minister they'd better not think they can switch roles when they feel like it.
When the offices of their Law and Justice party flashed up on the news the other night I got a little over-excited as that's where we made the collecting tins for the fundraising for the Poles in Belarus. They even showed Lech Kaczynski striding past the table where we were fed chocolates and coffee.
Shame they're conservatives.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

technical bike update...

Well, this was on Saturday and as you can see, there are several bits missing from the bike. However, when they were all connected it worked. Briefly. Then Marek managed to put oil in the bit for petrol or something, and there was some Polish swearing, and then he used some big tweezery things to rip out some material that was jammed in a hole somewhere and a couple of other screwlike bits were removed, followed by a big important looking cylindrical thing. Then I wandered off to play with the dogs but when I came back, he wasn't too upset and seemed to see how the problem could be solved. At least in theory.
I'll let you know if it ever works again.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I survived!

So I did this presentation today that I've been stressing about for what seems like months (so many people are going to be so relieved it's over) and not only did I not feel my entire body shaking, or make any monstrous mistakes, or have people walk out, or break the laptop showing my powerpoint, or have that terrifying break mid-sentence when you have no idea what the end of the sentence could possibly be, or have people ask me questions I couldn't answer or anything like that, I actually got close to enjoying it... the world's a funny place. Well, that's one fewer thing that scares the bejeezus out of me (until the next time).

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Monday, September 19, 2005

It's funny what you can tell from people's faces

Elections are coming up and I've been trying to get up to speed with Polish politics.
According to the economist, '
Polish politicians are a mostly mediocre lot, keener on squabbling with each other than talking (let alone listening) to the voters. Campaigning in the mainstream of politics is lacklustre and patronising; in more radical backwaters, it is weird, verging on the mad. Even in parties that try to call themselves clean there is a whiff of corruption; in others there is an outright stench. The country's only world-class politician is the outgoing president, Aleksander Kwasniewski. He earned international recognition for brokering a peaceful transfer of power in neighbouring Ukraine during last year's revolution. No one else, least of all from the right-of-centre parties likely to win the elections in September, shows much sign of matching him.'
Not too encouraging is it?
There are billboards everywhere at the moment with politicians vying for votes. Most of them do look pretty uninteresting although I've seen a woman with amazingly red hair, and another youngish guy with those intense Polish eyes. A while ago I spotted a particularly greasy looking guy: Kilroy-Silk style with white hair, fake tan and smarmy smile that turns your stomach slightly. When I asked Marek who it was, he agreed he was awful, and referred to him as the 'Polish Le Pen'. Others seems to have a similarly negative view of the guy and recently I've seen a good few Hitler mustaches sprayed on his posters.
I'm going to try and find some more encouraging political news but until then for anyone who actually wants to know more, there's quite a bit on the eternally useful wikipedia site.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

panic panic panic

Everyone loves to moan about their childhood. Bullying, isolation, academic underachievement, everyone seems to have a pet gripe. I'm slightly weird them when I say I actually quite enjoyed being a kid. Oh sure, there was the usual pigtail pulling and name calling in the playground (especially by one particularly nasty little blond) but aside from normal ups and downs, I was generally happy. Even in the unpredictable phase of adolescence I didn't get my heart broken more often than anyone else, I did well at school and had plenty of friends.
My self-confidence wasn't too battered: I agreed to sing, perform in plays and make speeches in front of people, sometimes hundreds. So what happened?? Why now, when I am supposed to be a fully fledged adult, am I terrified of performing to an audience? Why does the fact that I am presenting my past four months' experience in Poland at an international conference next week send cold chills all over my body? Why does the fact that the room can hold a couple of hundred people get my heart racing? Why do I find myself desparately searching for a plausible excuse for dropping out at the last minute?
When I break it down logically I get annoyed with myself. It's just people! They're no better than me, and may even learn something from my presentation. I'm obviously young, so they'll make allowances for cock-ups and anyway, there won't be any cock-ups because it's all planned out and perfectly prepared.
I think it's the lack of control, or the risk of losing control in front of an audience. That's why I don't get so nervous about plays - as long as the script has been learned, it will follow a predictable route. The problem with presentations in comparison is the audience participation. The way round this is to take control away from the audience I guess. Make myself believe I have all the control I need and that there is nobody who can think of a question I won't be able to answer... Focus on myself and not them. Damn though, just thinking about it though and I get the shivers.
I'll try the tricks. You know, the imagining everyone in the audience is naked, or wearing costumes that make them ridiculous. Bit negative though isn't it? Maybe I'll try the positive thinking approach; imagine myself presenting, the audience beaming, my powerpoint working perfectly, no nervous giveaways and my heart beating at a normal pace. Hm, think I'd better keep practising...

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

bikes and bits

One of the things I love about Marek is the way he introduces me to other worlds. There's the Catholic world and the world where everyone speaks Polish, and last weekend there was the world of motorbikes...
Every year there's a bike market in a Warsaw park. Marek has an old Russian motorbike that constantly needs repairing and he was on the search for a piece that goes round the central part in the wheel and attaches to the brakes (yeah, like you know the name either...) Anyway, I decide it might be a laugh so we went together on saturday morning.
I'd expected the leather-clad burly tattooed men, even the leather-clad burly tattooed women, but there was so much I hadn't expected. The young girl of ten with her helmet casually slung over her shoulder as she followed her father and inspected leather jackets; the family of four in matching motorbike t-shirts; the mini bikes that looked built for four-year-olds but which were being driven round by boys four times older - it was all so fun. Then there were the vans and cars whose owners were displaying their wares in hundreds of little baskets. There were recognisable objects (even to me) like the tyres, wheels, pieces of bodywork and helmets; then there were more abstract things; screws and joints, chains and flaps, wires and lengths of metal. We did the rounds and collected prices for the part Marek needed (which incidentally came with two semi-circular things with rubber on... no idea what they are for). We looked at whole bikes with price tags ranging from the pretty damn cheap to pretty damn unaffordable; the beaten up rusty ones to the sleek brand new Harleys.
The thing that surprised me most were the people on crutches. They were presumably the victims of motorbike accidents, and they weren't just suffering scraped knees either. One had a neck brace so big he looked like he was wearing one of those dog cones and another had his leg in a serious-looking brace contraption. They were either masochists or their love for motorbikes was so enormous it would take more than a serious accident to stop them. I was slightly in awe.
We bought what was needed and Marek has fixed it to the motorbike. Obviously the bike doesn't actually work yet, but maybe that'll mean he has to go to another market, and maybe he'll let me come along.

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Monday, September 12, 2005


I was on the bus the other day and some French tourists were studying the bus route trying to find out which bus stop was closest to Łazienki park. Before I could offer to help them, a lady stepped forward and told them in English that it was the next stop. They thanked her and got off the bus. As soon as the bus started up again, the lady who had helped them started talking very loudly, to anyone who would listen. She was an interesting looking lady, old-ish, with mismatched clothing, obvious makeup and a hat. She didn't seem crazy but she seemed annoyed, and as if she was making statements about the people who had just left the bus, or more probably, their kind... foreigners. It annoyed me that I couldn't understand what she was ranting about, especially as it obviously provoked mixed reactions from those who were subjected to it. Another old lady in a hat frantically nodded her head; a younger woman sitting next to the ranter made a quiet comment and moved to the opposite end of the bus; an old man said something obviously contrary to what she was saying and before he'd finished she started talking over him and waving him away with her hand. The lady continued throughout my bus journey and although I could make out the odd word, she was talking fast and I couldn't grasp her message. It struck me as odd that she'd helped the tourists, knew another language, but was coming out with presumably bigoted views. Of course I could be entirely wrong, maybe she was talking about something completley different. It frustrates me to be an outsider in this way.
I hope that in a few more months I'll know enough Polish to understand anyone ranting on a bus, and the next step will be to learn enough to answer them.

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Friday, September 09, 2005


It might just be me, but I think maybe a sign of madness is not so much hearing voices that aren't really there but seeing faces that aren't really there...

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Abortion? Illegal? Really??

The other day Marek was watching the news when he turned to me and said 'really? is abortion legal in the UK?' I was like 'OF COURSE!!' First I thought maybe he was just confused because we'd watched Vera Drake a few days earlier and he could be thinking Britain was still in those dark days of backstreet illegal abortions... then it dawned on me. 'Marek, is abortion illegal in Poland?' 'Yes.'
Illegal, not just frowned upon, like homosexuality, or contraception, or any of the other big Catholic no-nos. I was so shocked I looked it up. Apparently abortion was legal until 1993, but then the Catholic church managed to push its anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive views into the political sphere. Everyone was rebelling against the communist regime that had so recently fallen, and the Catholic church was once again gaining strength and influence.
Actually abortions can be carried out to protect the mother's life, if the foetus is badly damaged, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. However, many hospitals refuse to carry out such operations. Up to 200,000 women terminate their pregnancies early each year - either by going abroad or paying for expensive illegal abortions. In the 2001 general election the party who won had promised to liberalise abortion, but then needed the support of the church to join the EU. The church said it would support the move on the condition that the anti-abortion laws remain in place. On entry to the EU a clause was added to the Treaty to ensure the anti-abortion laws would remain intact. It's unbelievable.
In February this year proposals were put forward to liberalise abortion. It was voted against 199 to 183. The proposals would have legalised abortion up to 12 weeks gestation and called for sex education to be taught as a separate subject in junior high schools.
I realise the Catholic church is an important part of Polish society nowadays, I just don't understand how such an issue can be treated in such a simplistic way.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Uroziłam się...

Do me a favour. Compare these two sentences and try not to laugh at the sucker trying to learn this language...

I was born in nineteen-eighty.

Uroziłam się w Tysiąc Dziewięćset Osiemdziesiątym roku.

Point made? I think so.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

more mazuria moments

OK, I don't want to overdo it with the 'Marek and me'
photos but I thought it was pretty amusing how we look
like we are on some nudist kayaking trip in this photo...

And this picture of our lunch stop doesn't really make it
much better...

Then we have the skinnydipping picture...

After such an exciting day of nudity in public, what was
there left to do but to put our clothes back on and play
a nice game of scrabble...

Ha, yes scrabble, in POLISH. No, we didn't win.

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The best way to spend a weekend

I used to think that the best way to spend a weekend was to recover from the past week and prepare for the week ahead. A bit of shopping, a film or drinks out maybe, nothing too stressful, nothing too strenuous, nothing too interesting... Actually, I've discovered over the past few months, or maybe even the past year or so, that the best way to spend a weekend is to leave the place you live, do something active you don't usually do, in surroundings that are preferably beautiful and peaceful, and come back refreshed and ready for anything despite the lack of sleep and unusually large quantities of beer that have been drunk in the process...
This weekend we went to Mazuria, the Polish lake district and it was beauuuuuutiful. We went last year too, my first proper trip to Poland, and the weather was as stunning then as it was for us this time - the beginning of September but hot sunny days, clear skies and no hint of Autumn around the corner.
There were four of us and we spent our time kayaking down a river crammed with wildlife, swimming in a beautiful clear blue lake, and on a boat trip (admittedly with a lot of old Bavarian tourists, but the scenery more than made up for that :-)). The food was all fresh fish and traditional soups, the beer was cold and the company great fun. (Who needs intensive Polish courses when you can go away with three Poles?)
So where shall we go next weekend?

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Who the hell invented Polish?

My Polish lessons leave me with a mixture of elation (at having recognised words and managed to strings some of them together in sentences, even varying the tenses occasionally) and frustration (at being taught a whole new list of problems, er, I mean challenges, that are ahead of me). It all started when I learned 'to go' is iść. Then I learned that if you are in some form of transport it's jechać which I can deal with because I learned German. HOWEVER, it's not that simple, because if it is a frequent 'go' (in the sense 'every saturday I go shopping') it is chodzić and if it's a frequent 'go' using transport it is jeżdzić. This is just a minute sample of the intricacies of this language... we haven't even got to the fact that jechać is imperfect so if you want the perfect form you need to congugate pojechać. What a beautifully rich language... and what a bugger to learn.

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

What do you believe in?

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