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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Because nobody wants scaled skin

It was a special day for the English language yesterday.

On my way back from the galleries, I went to our local 5 zloty shop. After picking up and swiftly rejecting some plastic bananas, some gold-sprayed fake roses and a 'magic' cloth (where does it all come from?), I spied some wire baskets.

Since we moved, I've been keeping potatoes and onions in bowls, or more likely in the bags they were bought in, and they've invariably gone rotton, or at least mouldy (fascinating I know). The point is that when I saw the wire baskets I realised they were exactly what I needed and got my purse out.

What I didn't realise until I got home was that now I can be someone who is leading a new feeling of luxury life.

Jealous? I know you are. But wait, it gets better.

These tags are true Engrish examples, from a 5 zloty wire basket bought in Warsaw...

So don't forget kids, cleaning grail will make you healthy, fruit in receiption rooms is luxury and, most importantly, if you put snails in my wire basket the water will be drained.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's ahrt dahrling

To escape the paint fumes and mysterious knocking and hammering noises of our handyman's final final day's work in the flat, I went and did some research for my project (read: I went and sat in a cafe for a couple of hours surrounded by books and scribbled a lot in a notebook, then I went and bummed around some art galleries for the rest of the morning).

First I went to this place, which had some fancy art do on. The reception girls mistook my scruffy hoodie and jeans for arty chic and I almost got away with a goody bag, but my honesty won over my greed and I confessed that I was just there to have a look around. 'In that case' a snooty man who was obviously in charge of the Event said, 'please avoid the first floor.'

I had a look around the second and third floors, after peeking into the first floor and being quickly scared away by too many people in sharp suits and square glasses. There was quite an interesting thing on Russia, but the portrait series left me cold. I took in how they were framed and decided that for my exhibition I'll probably do them unframed, but on that photoboard material. (Making decisions like that allows me to justify visiting galleries when I'm supposed to be WORKING.)

I went to another gallery on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, which documented reactions to the demolition of the supersam supermarket, near our old Mokotów haunt. I went in there a couple of times when we lived in the neighbourhood, but never looked at it all misty eyed like the artists who are distraught about its demolition did. It was a 1960s building that was undoutedly exciting when it was first built, but I'm not totally convinced that they demolished a work of art...

Next up was the Zachęta gallery, which didn't impress me much, probably because most of it seemed to be closed and the surly elderly security men and women outnumbered the visitors. Still, there too there were examples of photography, some covered with glass, some even stuck straight on the wall like wallpaper. I liked some of the 1980s shots of Poland, but most of the rest was a little dull and uninspired. Also, the description of the collection was pure shite.

Sorry, but I studied art up until I went to university, and I have first hand experience of 'artists' coming up with the justifying blurb that accompanies the 'art'. This is classic:

Er, pardon? OK, let's just say the translation is a bad one... need a copy editor?

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

I think I should start yoga

Dear Mr. bus driver,

I'm awfully sorry I don't know your name, but I think you may recognise yourself as we go along. Do stop me if I get anything at all wrong.

I'm the girl from the bus stop at centrum. You were driving the 522, and it was at the bus stop, oh, around 18.22 or so? Yes, I know there were two of you, but I'm really talking about the second one. Second bus, second driver.

As I ran up to the first 522, puffing and red-faced from the arctic temperatures and the fact that I had run at all (something I take care to avoid doing usually, especially with heavy bags and on snow-covered pavements) the driver there showed me that there was another 522 bus right behind. As he was pulling away from the stop, trying to forge into the dense traffic that was a bumper to bumper for as far as the eye could see, I followed his hint, and ran back to the next bus, YOUR bus. I think you should know who you are by now.

I can see you're very proud of your bus, with its fancy illuminated lettering and clean new lines. It's obviously quite new, and maybe you are too. That may explain your bizarre behaviour. It was half empty (probably because it was directly behind another 522) and I thanked my good fortune. I really needed to sit down. I had had a long stressful day and I had to get back as quickly as possible to feed the dogs I'm looking after this week. As I ran up to your front door and showed you I wanted to get on, (and this is where you may need to correct me as I may have misunderstood) you seemed to shake your head.


Admittedly you were about 47cm away from the stop and you had already closed the doors. Maybe at bus-driver-school they tell you that once the doors are shut that's it! No turning back! No soft-hearted wussiness opening the door to frozen puffing girls. Maybe. Or maybe the power of being mighty bus driver man just went to your head. Maybe. Or maybe, and this is the theory I'm tempted to go with, you haven't quite got the hang of the button that opens the doors.

I'm quite sure the button exists, and the new buses seem to be all bright! and colourful! so I imagine you know where it is on the dashboard thing, but for some reason you really didn't want to push it. You stared ahead, moved the bus forward a centimetre, and ignored me.

You may have noticed my mouth opening and closing in astonishment, although you were doing your best to look straight ahead and not at the increasingly frustrated and wild eyed girl who started walking along with you, demonstrating the stupidity of being able to walk next to a bus stuck in a traffic jam NEXT TO THE STOP with a driver who REFUSES to open the doors.

Ignoring me was probably wise, as it turns out, or the fizzing hatred sparks that started shooting out towards you may have caused your stupid little goatee to catch fire, one hair at a time. If you had looked at me I may have been egged on by your smirk to smash my hand through your frosty glass door, rip off the steering wheel and crash it over your head. If I had caught one glimpse of your bald shiny head looking my way, I may have taken out my lunch fork from my bag and walked around the entire outside of the bus, sticking it in each tyre. Hard.

As it happens, I just turned around, swore under my breath and raced you. You may not realise, but the next metro stop is two bus stops away and you were in a jam and the metro came just as I got to the platform. The fact that I came out the wrong side of the road, in time to see your bastard bus pulling merrily away, does not take away from the fact that you were VERY close to having an out-of-breath foreigner shouting obscenities at you in stuttering Polish. I know some choice Polish words my friend. Be warned.

Next time, open the pierdolony door.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

cakes from a pan

I did my bit bringing British tradition to Poland and force-fed Marek pancakes last night. Well, it obviously didn't take that much force-feeding.

Anyway we made so many traditional ones we didn't have room to finish all the fancy shmancy yeasty-appley ones so we had them for breakfast. Something tells me you're not meant to have pancakes on ash wednesday, but I'm sure I'll get over it.

Marek's taking this lent fasting thing deadly serious and is planning to forego alcohol for the duration, as well as cutting down on the evils of meat and fat. Following his admirable lead, I've given up chocolate (as usual) although chocolate Easter eggs aren't so prominent in Poland so I don't have that to look forward to.

40 days isn't all that long right?

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I'm one of those snobs who holds the (inherited) opinion that lotteries are basically just extra ways of making the poor poorer, and a small minority richer. After all, the rich have no need to play the lottery, and the odds are such that the people who want to win so badly give out more than they can afford, with the firmly held belief that next time it could be them.

I very rarely play the Polish lotto, but Marek's a big fan. The very first time I came to Poland, he made me choose the numbers for him (at that point I was indulgent of all his little whims.) I picked them and of course we won. Not the full amount, but around 100zl, which we happily spent the next time I visited him in Poland.

When I moved over here, I started my regular ranting against the lottery and spread about my theory about making the poor poorer and nothing being for free in this world. Marek humoured me and carried on buying the odd ticket, usually getting me to pick the numbers, claiming I was his lucky charm and that I should make the most of it.

Marek's family told me about a distant relative who also had good luck and won thousands with various lotteries and gambling projects. Marek's mum looked at me earnestly and said I really should play more often. I smiled and told them my luck's all been used up and that now was the time to stop playing.

Over the last couple of years I've played maybe five times, and won another 15zl or so. Every time we get nothing, I smile a little smile and feel vindicated. Last saturday we went shopping with Marek's sister and she bought two tickets. She held them out, face down and told us to choose one. I picked one and thanked her, then forgot all about it.

Just now, I found the paper screwed up in my pocket and checked the numbers. We got four out of six - 233.30zl It's not a fortune but it's enough to buy Marek's sister a big present and keep all the talk of lucky charms coming for some time to come.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

end of week round up

So we had Valentine's (a lovely bunch of deep pink tulips thank you very much) and 'fat thursday', which is the same idea as shrove tuesday, except with doughnuts, and the week before so you can really stuff yourself before lent. Then we had friday, which is always a good day, and THEN last night we got another Polish wedding.

It was the usual mixture of friends and family. The bride, her bump almost concealed under the huge traditional dress, smiled and blushed and the bridesgroom looked proud. There was the usual enormous amount of food and freely flowing vodka. The band led games and dances, and I danced with my fair share of drunken uncles and enthusiastic cousins. One in particular kept hurling his girlfriend in Marek's direction and dragging me onto the dancefloor, to whirl and twirl with an incredible amount of energy.

The end of carnival is as good a time as any to hold a wedding I guess, but if I ever get married it is not going to be in February in Poland. The church was freezing and the poor bridesmaids turned blue. Blue bridesmaids is not a good wedding look.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

I have a question...

What the HELL are silver fish for?

Actually, I have two questions - also, what the hell are silver fish?

They're not fish, that's for sure. As far as I can tell, they are just little weird creatures that race around in terror (I assume) when I switch the bathroom light on. If I go to the loo in the middle of the night, I'm walking aorund on tiptoes trying not squish them all. Urgh.

They are mostly silver, but I've seen big brown ones too, and little translucent baby ones. Where do they live? What do they eat?

The all knowing wikipedia tells me the little buggers have been around for 300 million years. I don't know if I want an insect that old living in my bathroom.

The best sentence in that entry is: The damage caused by silverfish is negligible and they have no direct effect on human health beyond psychological distress to people who dislike them.

Well who would't dislike things this rough looking...?


Oh, also Wikipedia tells me the adults can be killed by freezing, but it is difficult to kill the eggs. If I don't want them in my bathroom, why on God's green earth would I want them in my freezer?

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Friday, February 16, 2007


I took a deep breath and looked for the upside down h. Ah! There! The next couple were ok, then the back to front R. Got it. What about the one that looks like pi? There, next to the o.

My project requires me to get permission from the refugees I photograph. I was going to refugee centre full of Chechens the following day and as I didn't have any permission forms that hadn't been filled in, didn't have a version saved on my computer and hadn't yet had cause to invest in a scanner (although this gave me a damn good reason to get one), I was typing it out again. In Russian.

No, I don't speak Russian, nor did I know anything about the cyrillic alphabet. I saw it was only a couple of sentences and had that stupid 'how hard can it be?' thought. I can now tell you that the only letter that is in the same place on a computer keyboard in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets is c. Whenever that came up in a word I felt enormously grateful towards the text.

It's incredibly difficult to see words composed of letters you have no idea how to pronounce, and stop yourself from trying. As I looked over what I'd copied I heard 'dnuhpoxohehne', and similar guff, in my head until I made myself giggle with ненужное which sounded to me like 'hey (*hiccup*) ho' but I'm guessing sounds nothing like that in reality.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Never trust an old lady in a Polish post office

Although the post office had only been open for eight and a half minutes, as I pushed open the door I could see they were already in full battle.

I took a ticket, and eyed the woman in a ridiculous red bobble hat, who was waggling her finger at the woman behind the desk. It's a good thing they have those glass panels in front of the desk, or she might have had an eye out.

'It's just not acceptable!' the woman was protesting. 'Every time I come to do the same thing you give me a new form. What are all these forms for? I don't need a form, just do what I'm asking you to do!'

'Proszę Pani,' the lady in the booth said, slightly louder than was necessary, 'I don't make the rules, I'm just telling you. Fill in the form.'

'Why can't you do what I ASKED you to do?'

'Please don't SHOUT at me'


She went off muttering, to fill in the form. I noted the numbers going by quite fast, and soon there were just a couple of people in front of me.

An oldish lady came over to near where I was waiting, and did that thing they do. You know, that thing where they start talking, not aiming the chatter anywhere, just generally talking with the hope that someone will answer and they'll be able to latch on to that person and talk him or her to death.

I made the mistake of catching her eye.

'I have to go to work. Are you next? Would you mind if I just went ahead? It won't take long, I have to be there in ten minutes.'

I looked up wearily and protested feebly, 'I have to go to work too.' But she knew when she'd found a soft-hearted idiot and showed me what she was carrying. 'Look, I just need to get some money, and these small bits and pieces. I'll be ever so quick, and I really have to get to work.'

I sighed. My number came up and I showed the lady the way to the desk.

I stood behind her and immediately saw that this was not going to be a quick thing. She gave the post office girl a list of numbers and tasks, and I settled down to wait.

The bobble hatted woman was back, having filled in her form and was once again exchanging snarls and growls with the lady who insisted that she fill in the form. As they fought, the young man at the next desk rolled his eyes and smiled in disbelief at the older generation.

Another desk became free and I went over, abandoning the desk that was rightfully mine, and stepping out of the way as the bobblehatted lady finally exploded and walked out with a 'I'm NEVER coming back to this damn place.'

My letter was found quickly and I walked out before the 'I'll be ever so quick' lady had got through even half of what was on her list. I gave her a little smile on my way out.

I've learned my lesson.

Update: and now I have another little slip of paper that will take me to another post office tomorrow morning. It's a package, which is more promising than the tax return form I got this morning...

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday walk

The thermometer was pointing to 10 below freezing but the snow looked inviting and the sun was shining weakly so off we went.

Accompanied to the gate by the excitable dogs, and seen off with a barked show of bravado, we set off down the road. We soon turned off down a narrow path that took us, one by one, footsteps fitting into snowy foot prints, towards the river.

Our conversation, muffled by scarfs and padded layers, soon died down and we walked in companiable silence, every so often pointing out a particularly beautiful sight; snowy layers on branches or animal tracks in the deep snow.

The hazy sun was strong enough to make the whiteness sparkle, and the views were stunning; a monochrome landscape with texture and depth.

We walked along the ridge, following a cross country skier, who soon disappeared into the distance. A couple of deer bounded by, made visible by the unmoving white landscape. We looked towards the river and a wild boar ran into our line of vision, soon disappearing into the trees.

We trudged on, into the woods, where the snow fell from the branches, disturbed by the wind. We followed small tracks, breathing in the good cold air and letting the excesses of the night before fade.

After a good hour, legs fully warmed up and aching slightly, we were back, lightly dusted with snow. The dogs welcomed us in and followed us back to the house where soup and hot tea were waiting.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

port pass

I emerged from the lift and a bored looking security guard stood up.

After showing him my form, he got a hand-held beepy device out and ran it over my winter coat. I suppose I could have had a small handgun hidden in there somewhere.

He told me to go through, and I went along a corridor into the visa and consular room. After figuring out the crowd of people were all waiting for visas, I went towards the empty desk and pushed the button it said to push. Nothing happened. I stood back and looked at the visa crowd, considering whether it was worth asking the lady dealing with them to call a colleague for me.

I pushed the button again, a bit harder this time and suddenly a great blast of 'Auld Lang Syne' started up. I had to suppress a giggle as a lady appeared to help me. Jokers.

I handed in my form, and a great wad of bank notes. She counted them out and I thought folornly about all the pages I had had to copy-edit to earn what I'd just handed over (over 50 if you want to know).

After apologies about not being able to verify the photo (whatever that means) because the system between there and London was down (probably due to that terrible weather they're having), she told me it would take a week.

Feb 16 it will be ready - my brand new vastly expensive biometric super duper British passport.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The place to be

Not only do we have the fantastically laid-back and trendy Chłodna 25 cafe/bar/hangout just down the road, and the spot-on commie Red Pig restaurant with its beer tubes and red carnations across the way, we now also have the Chłodna bistro, next door but one.

I haven't been yet but these lovely people say it's great and the views I've got from the odd peek through the window have revealed a comfy-looking almost classy little place. Plus they have a great sign.

Just in case you thought I was getting bogged down in the winter blues, let me remind you I LOVE our new (how long can it stay new? we'll see shall we...) flat.


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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Tiger-sized scrumptious happiness

I finally got round to making (probably very inauthentic) Thai green curry with big fat scrummy tiger prawns last night for dinner.

Pretty huh?

It was fab for three main happy reasons.


I've had the recipe for months, and every time we couldn't think what to have for dinner, I thought oh! I'll make that prawn thing I've been meaning to do. And then I'd realise we didn't have pawns. Or coconut milk, or other major ingredients. But finally we bought all the stuff we needed and I actually made it. I like ticking things off my 'to do' list.


When I go to a restaurant and see something with tiger prawns in, I always want it. It's invariably overpriced and they always seem to give me two, maybe three prawns total. I end up wishing I had ordered something else. When you buy your own though, it's cheaper and you get to put as many as you like in the thing you're making. Recipes are only guidelines after all...


It was fantabulously delicious, quick and easy. I salvaged my conscience after far too many 'let's just get a pizza' nights.

Can you tell I've perked up?


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Saturday, February 03, 2007


If you've looked at the bbc news website recently, you may have noticed this story, which was then followed by this one, about the duck who refused to die.

If you didn't see it, basically a hunter shot a duck, took it home and put it in his fridge. The hunter's wife discovered two days later that it was still alive. The duck then went through surgery to remove the hunter's bullet and stop breathing twice during the operation. It survived and they're now raising money to provide long-term care for the bird.

I thought about this story a surprising amount. The duck survived against plenty of odds, but a long chain of people, starting with the hunter's wife, helped it. They have gone out of their way to keep the duck alive and ensure it has the best possible conditions for survival. All for a bird. A bird that someone originally intended to eat, presumably.

Why can't more people use that kind of effort helping people?

I've got nothing against the duck. Actually, if it wasn't absurd to admire a bird, I might find myself doing so, but it seemed a little unbalanced.

Not sure I have much of a point.

Could try and tie this into living a country ruled by the 'Duck' twins, or try following the duck's lead - getting up again whatever knocks you down. I could do with some of that duck's fighting spirit at the moment.

Maybe it'll come to me if Poland beat Germany tomorrow in the handball final...

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