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

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Starting with the worst and working up

I wasn't going to blog about the tragedy near Katowice, not because I haven't been saddened by the event but because others have covered it and I felt I didn't have much to add. Needless to say, I changed my mind.

The thing that has really struck me, has been the Polish public's reaction to what happened. It is not a new thing for people to come together in times of grief, and this is the most devastating accident since 1987 when a plane crashed near Warsaw, but it has been incredible.

From yesterday until tomorrow the country has three official days of mourning; flags are flying at half mast and people are taking to the churches in even greater numbers than usual. The television stations and Polish websites have black logos, or messages of solidarity. People have been flocking to donate blood and money to the victims of the disaster, and psychological counselling is widely on offer. Even hotels near the scene are offering free rooms to families of those affected.

It's very touching, and somehow you get really get the impression it's coming from the heart. I mean it seems to me that in the UK for example, these things are more quickly forgotten. People are somehow less affected by death and destruction. After the July bombs, which remember was no accident, London friends of mine have said how people were more aware of others and courteous on the tube, for maybe a day. Then it was back to the regular pushing and shoving, staring into the middle distance and ignoring those around you. It's a very different atmosphere here.

If you have been paying proper attention to my weather pixie, you will have noticed that we're up to -2 today. Whoo! After our -25 temperatures last week, this week is feeling pretty unexciting but relatively warm.

Last but in no way least, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!

I hope the card reached you (I have no faith in the Polish postal service since each post office I've been in has been run by morons and it took a month for my Christmas package to get from Poland to the UK). If you haven't received your present yet that's because it hasn't been bought, packaged, or sent, but I'm working on it... Have a great day!

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Monday, January 30, 2006

More Polish tips for beginners

Actually, my shiny new red IKO book doesn't say beginner anymore, I am now (drumroll) a 'low intermediate' (pause for incredulous gasps). I know!

They've notched it up another level now. None of this pussyfooting around with instrumental and accusative cases, we're getting down to the seriousness that is locative. Oh yes. We brushed past this case in the beginner course; for example when you say you live in Warsaw, you say 'mieszkam w Warszawie.' See what happened? Warszawa changes into Warszawie. Why? Don't ask stupid questions, this is Polish, you have to learn to accept the unexplainable.

Anyway, you use the locative in a variety of bizarre situation, the latest of which I learned is if you are talking about something. I mean if you want to say 'I often talk about politics' one way of putting it is 'często dyskutuję o polityce' (polityka changes to polityce). Are you still with me?

This is obviously one of those things that has been invented for the sole purpose of tripping up foreigners. It doesn't really follow obvious rules and word endings change in a variety of ways in the locative case (-ta to -cie; -ść to -ci; -ła to -le to name but a few). Apparently it's 'intuitive'. Honestly.

A fellow student of mine was first to fall victim to the locative case. He wanted to say 'rozmowiała o kanapie' ('she was talking about a sofa') but actually came out with 'rozmowiała o kanapce' ('she was talking about a sandwich'). I don't expect you to understand, but to the rest of us, struggling to accept this new complication to a language already bulging with peculiarities, it was incredibly amusing.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

My little brother? You're right, he's not so little...

If I could teleport somewhere today, my destination of choice would be Toronto. Without going into tooooo much detail, things are a little complex in Edd's life at the moment and if anyone deserves a really happy birthday today, that would be him.

Happy Birthday little bruv!

I was a little bitch of an older sister when we were young. My favourite clip from a family video, which demonstrates what I mean, goes something like this:

A child's playground in a London park. Sounds of children's laughter and play all around. A wide shot of the playground shows many happy famillies climbing, swinging, sliding and so on. Close up of the top of the slide shows a girl of about 6 preparing to descend. She is preening herself, checking around to make sure her spectators are aware that she will now do something spectacular. In the background one voice can be heard over the hubbub; a younger boy, of about 3, is at the bottom of the slide looking up at the girl with admiration, waving a twig and shouting:

Becca! Becca! I gotta 'tick!

The girl ignores him and the boy, as if used to being ignored, continues undeterred.

Becca! Look! Look! I gotta 'tick! Becca!

The girl, having fully prepared herself for her great feat, slides effotlessly down the slide, arriving at the bottom with a small smile of victory. She gets up
proudly and jumps off the end. Ignoring the small boy, she turns, as if to walk around to repeat, for her audience, her amazing sliding skills. The boy follows her, waving his twig and shrilly repeating himself

Becca! A 'tick for you! A 'tick! I gotta 'tick for you!

The girl hesistates briefly, looks down her nose at her younger brother and with one sniff dismisses it and him: Don't want it.

For a split second the boy's face falls, then with a slight shrug he drops the unwanted twig on the ground and follows his older sister.

I was heartbroken when I saw that. He was so cute, and I was so mean and full of myself and condescending and mean. Would it have killed me to take the damn stick?

I am sorry for the way I trampled you Edd.

Just so you know, if you ever got the urge to give me a stick nowadays I would definitely want it.

Happy birthday.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

No mention of the weather... at all.

This cute baby just got cuter...

It used not to bother me at all that living outside the UK meant long journeys every time I wanted to see my family. That sounds really bad written down, but that's not really how I mean it. I was having a great time exploring other places, I always got regular news about how everyone was doing, and the visits back were all the more special because of the their novelty.

The thing is, now that my cousins are settled and married, with Cath and Jimmy's first baby born and growing 'like a weed' as my Gran informs me I sometimes feel I'm missing out. Just a bit.

My grandparents, Aunt, Uncle and Cousins all live in each others' lives. I used only to see the negative points this inevitably results in: the claustrophobia, abundance of unwanted advice and lack of independence.

Living in Warsaw with my parents in Brussels and my little brother in Toronto however I increasingly see the benefits my UK-based family has that we cannot. Even with the wonders of skype and msn I have to travel for half a day to give my brother a hug.

It's a cliche, but you just have to accept that every situation has its positives and negatives. I'm still enjoying the positives, but can't help but wonder if the negatives are going to become increasingly influential in the choices I make in the future.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

post 101

You know what? I was so busy bitching about the weather that my 100th post totally passed me by without so much as a celebratory mention. To rectify matters I'm going to make a big deal of my 101st post before going back to my rather repetitive moanings about life in sub zero conditions.

Actually, it's not possible to think of other things at this temperature. (Did you know Poland is currently colder than both the Arctic and the Antarctic?)

Forget Orwell's room 101, this is post 101, the post that brings together the worst things in the world, or at least the worst aspects of living at bone chilling temperatures (oh go on then skip it, see if I care)

* Frozen snot
* People dying of cold (that probably should come before the snot thing)
* Falling on your ass because of frozen-over steps, roads, paths, hills...
* The layers
* The thing about not having to work when it's colder than -20 not being true...

Actually, I think I've run out. It's not really all that bad, despite my moaning. And anyway they say the warm weather's on its way. You know you're getting used to these temperatures when a forecast for -8 seems almost tropical.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

down down down

So apparently it's -26 outside. I say apparently because there is no way I'm stepping foot outside this flat until I really have to.

I hid out over the weekend, until Sunday afternoon when I decided it was time to stop being a wimp and face the beautiful sunny day. After all the layers had been fastened, zipped, buckled and buttoned we headed over to Łazienki park and joined a few other wrapped up adventurous wanderers. Once you get used to the way you can't actually feel your face and the numbness of your fingers despite their being in gloves, in pockets, it isn't at all unpleasant. There's loads of snow about, and the bright orange sun yesterday made it all very picturesque.

Still, I was very glad to be able to come back to the flat. Even with our drafty windows which seems to be accumulating an impressive amount of ice on the inside, it sure beats being on the streets.

Be warned though: any of you thinking of chasing away the cold with a drop or two of vodka may want to reconsider. Of the 21 people who died over the weekend as a direct result of the weather in Poland, an awfully large proportion of them were surprisingly not homeless, but drunken people who tragically fell in the snow on their way home or fell asleep at bus stops.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

It's no good

I give up. It's just not possible to colour coordinate with this many layers. I have never in my life worn so many clothes all at the same time. It's already driving me mad and it takes so much time!

First you have to rummage through your knicker drawer finding underwear which will cover the maximum amount of skin. Then you have to identify the tights, socks, short-sleeved t-shirt, long-sleeved t-shirt, trousers (don't even think about wearing a skirt, unless of course it's over the trousers), hooded jumper and thick cardigan. Then we can add a second pair of socks, the boots, the coat and finally the scarf, hat and gloves.

Then up goes the hood of the hooded jumper over the hat and the scarf wraps around as much of your face and neck as possible before the coat is zipped right. up. I find putting the coat's hood up for good measure is a nice touch.

Yes, I look ridiculous, but no I don't give a flying fart because I'm warm and in -17 you are more likely to be worrying about your nose falling off than matching accessories.

Talking of noses, I have a piece of advice you will not fully appreciate until you are in such arctic temperatures as we are finding ourselves in here at the moment.

If you have the slightest hint of a runny nose, blow it before you go outside. Honestly.

When I went out this morning and took my first inhalation, my nostril hairs all froze rigid. This would be ok, if you didn't need to breathe, say. But with every breath you take in through your nose, little frozen spears jab your brain. Take a big sniff and you are doomed.

Unfortunately breathing through the mouth is equally unpleasant, as it sends the freezing air to the core of your being, and if you breathe in and out of a mouth covered by a scarf the scarf first turns damp, and then frozen, which just turns your lips blue, and who wants blue lips?

'Tis a tough life.

I copied from Aaron and now have my own little weather pixie, just to the left there. She's cute huh? You can now follow every plummet in temperature from the comfort of your own glowing computer screen.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006


For people living in countries that are relatively warm (i.e. above freezing, nah, even a little under) at the moment, I have just one question:

How would you feel if this was your weather forecast for the next five days? I mean hello? We're waaaay colder than Toronto and not far off Minsk and St. Petersberg. Brrr is a bloody understatement.

It's interesting that it'll get below -20 early next week - I've heard nobody has to go to work if it gets that cold... My emergency plan is to curl up in a blanket and thick socks and read until May. Don't know why I didn't think of it earlier.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Polish gentlemen

Marek and I are a pretty sickening couple. We're the sort that just get on. We agree, we are nice to each other, we take care of each other.

You can be sure though, that any hint of a little conflict between us generally stems from one or other of us taking a 'feminist' position ( as if!) and the other seeing things from a traditional Catholic Polish perspective (no prizes for guessing who's who.)

The main subjects on which we disagree tend to involve gender roles and their appropriateness.

Don't get me wrong, he's pretty handy in the kitchen and does his share of the housework, as well as admitting I can assemble IKEA furniture in half the time it takes him, but still if it was his decision alone I don't think our home life would be quite the way it is now.

At New Year when we were in the mountains with friends he ambled over to me, took a deep breath and mumbled 'so, um, what are you and the girls preparing for the party?' I could see he was already cringing in anticipation at my response so I smiled sweetly and said 'whatever you and the boys help us with.'

Not yet defeated, he continued with his original intention but changed tactic. With a cheeky grin and wide blue eyes he said 'it's a shame the kitchen's so small or we could have helped, but it looks like with the three of you girls there'll be no room for us.' I was ready for that one: 'well, you can have my place then!'

'but they'll think you are ashamed of English food then' (clever, I liked that one)
'no, I think they'll admire the fact that you are so multi talented'
'but I can't cook'
'liar! You can, you don't want to'
'but you cook better than me' (flattery will get you nowhere)
'all the more reason for you to practice' (yeah, lame but I was holding on to whatever I could by this point)

Anyway, to cut a long story short the bulk of the food preparation was indeed done by the girls, but Marek was the only boy from the group who chopped an onion or two.

This was just to give you a little background so that you can fully appreciate the picture I snapped last night.

No, it's not cooking, it's even better...

wait for it...

Aaah, it warms the heart doesn't it?

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Co Pan powiedział?

Good God, he's even crazier than his brother!

Catholics are discriminated against in Poland?

The government should strengthen its grip on the radio, television and press industry and institutions connected with education?

What the hell is happening in this country?

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

This is what I was talking about...

Shame you can't hear the swishing noise the ice made, it was really something.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Postcard from Toruń

I was slightly concerned after the projectile vomiting reports that Toruń would be intimately linked with illness, but so far I seem to be getting away with my standard winter cough and cold. Not too bad I guess.

European Voluntary Service 'mid-term training' is what's brought me to this city and I'm very grateful to it for doing so. We have had a frantic training session so far; about five meals a day and lots of 'sharing' discussions... no structure, no aims and objectives, no real content. It's great being with the volunteers though and everyone knows how much I love exploring new places.

When I told people I was coming to Toruń, and that I'd never been before, they were all falling over themselves to declare it one of Poland's most beautiful cities and so far I have to say they're right.

Once I'm back in Warsaw at the end of the week I will be sure to upload my usual truckload of photos and you can see for yourselves, but so far the thing that has impressed me with its beauty even more than the architecture, the ancient ruins, the churches, or the pretty streets still decorated with festive lights is the river.

The river has chunks of ice flowing in it. They are not just rough chunks either, but an assortment of shapes, large and small, all with a rough edge of jagged snowy ice, shaped I imagine by the numerous clashes that are inevitable as the pieces are floated along by the fast current. The ducks have a tough job trying to swim in between them and are often forced to take to their awkward wings, lumbering off with a great deal of fuss. A couple I noticed had given up and were sitting defeated in the middle of their icy islands. Today the sun was shining brightly but the river still had a mist hovering above it, giving the scene a surreal feel. The whole place is very enchanting, I will definitely be back.

Wish you were here... if you're lucky I'll bring you back some gingerbread.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Piotruś Pan... on ice.

I'm not sure why this made me laugh quite so much.

Maybe it's the Polish-isation of Peter Pan becoming Piotruś Pan. Maybe it's the ridiculous expression on his face. Maybe it's the 'on ice' part.

Whatever, I found it incredibly amusing.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Punk's not dead

You may not agree with his (or her) sentiment, but you can't fault this punk's apostrophe use.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I really didn't need to see that

I had an incredibly disturbing experience this afternoon: I don’t think I’ve seen a flasher before. I remember one time when I was about twelve, there being rumours about one in a park near my school, and I did walk past a man in London once who was crouched near a bush and seemed to be injecting something into his penis, but generally I have escaped seeing naked parts of the male anatomy flailing about in public.

This afternoon I was returning home from a comforting coffee and browse at the British Council library. I was trudging through the slush, my hood down over my eyes, concentrating on finding the drier pieces of pavement and not slipping. As I approached my tram stop, I shook off my hood to see the stationary tram’s number, and when I’d seen it wasn’t one for me my eyes skimmed along the carriage. In the last carriage of the tram, right at the back, just before looking into the distance for the next tram, my eyes snagged on the figure of a man. Something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t realise exactly what until I glanced back. I wish I hadn’t.

A man, in his late fifties or early sixties, bushy moustache and woolly hat, had his pants down and was totally exposed. He wasn’t just flashing it either; he was playing with it. My initial reaction was to laugh, but it wasn’t funny. The few people waiting at the stop either hadn’t seen or were studiously ignoring his challenging stare. For a split second his eyes met mine. I turned away abruptly and concentrated on the tram tracks running off into the distance, determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing any effect of what he was doing.

The tram pulled away and from the corner of my eye I saw him calmly tucking himself away and turning back towards the inside of the carriage. I felt a bit sick, but mainly puzzled. Why would you do it? Is it just extreme attention seeking, or an illness? I also wondered about him. As far as I remember from my brief glance, he looked reasonably respectable from the waist up; a normal Polish older man. Is that kind of behaviour a choice or something he can’t stop himself from doing? Does he have a ‘normal’ life with job and family, or is indecently exposing himself just one of a variety of abnormal behaviours he indulges in?

I wish it hadn’t had such an impact on me, after all I guess that’s what he was aiming for, but certain things I can definitely do without seeing.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year!

Ok, so I'm three days late but I have a good excuse. I was seeing off the old year and welcoming in the new, accompanied by a group of friends and a good deal of vodka in this beautiful place:

We were staying near Zakopane, a rather obvious touristy sort of place, but the mountains were stunning and all that snow was great fun. Of course there are photos, thought you'd never ask...

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