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, October 30, 2007

remembering to count blessings

"Look at all the tourists!" I said, peering through the car window as we passed the entrance to Lazienki park. They were looking through the railings into the President's garden, which was being half-heartedly guarded by a bored-looking guy with a big gun.

We continued down the road, past the embassies and grand ministries. They have begun replacing the old functional street lights with elegant cast iron ones.

"Warsaw's going to be unrecognisable once all these renovations are complete.' I remarked, noting all the scaffolding and freshly painted exteriors. 'The twirls will rival Vienna's soon."

Marek smiled. "You won't recognise it when you come back to visit' he agreed. 'Has Armani always been there?"

I looked out at it all in silence, thinking about how I would miss seeing the city change over time from up close. Of all the cities I've lived in, Warsaw may not be the most beautiful, but it's the one I've come to care most about. Stupid really, to be so attached to a load of bricks, mortar and tarmac.

As we approached the roundabout with its comical palm tree, Marek pointed to the other side where a group of police cars had gathered. "What's all that?" he asked, "why are there so many flashing lights?"

The traffic moved slowly around the roundabout and I noticed the huge rubbish collection lorry that was surrounded by the police cars. "That's weird," I said. "What's the rubbish lorry done?"

As we came closer and turned, I saw the body. Half-covered by a plastic sheet and lying between the wheels of the lorry, he was definitely not moving. I looked away.

There is nothing quite like a dead body to put piddling little worries right into perspective.

links to this post

Friday, October 26, 2007


We crunched through the leaves, fingers intertwined, collars up against the cold.

'That one?' he asked, pointing.

'Sure, it'll do.'

Multicoloured leaves scattered as we made our way over to the bench and sat, Marek brushing a space clear for us with his coat sleeve.

I brought the box out of my bag and opened it. When I handed him an overstuffed sandwich, his eyes lit up and I laughed as he tried to get his mouth around it. We chatted about our mornings and watched the people walking past.

Warmed by the food and office gossip, we continued on our way, still chattering and laughing at the stories. We got to the theatre just as the surly box office lady was about to go for her lunch, but she sighed and sold us tickets anyway.

I walked him back to the office, waving him off with a smile, and picked up some groceries on my way back to the flat.

It was just an ordinary lunchtime but it felt different. Everything feels different.

Now we know our time is limited, no day is standard. We don't say, but it's there. A feeling that reminds us to make the most of what time we've got together. To soak it all in and be grateful for what we have.

Soon, it will be what we used to have.

links to this post

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who knew a psychology degree would be so useful?

This new future has temporarily (I hope) brought out the manic depressive in me. Except that rather than months of mania followed by months of depression, my mood swings happen after just a few minutes.

It's such an opportunity! This is mine despite all the odds! A real job with responsibility and a salary! I have waited for this moment for years!

But to leave everything I have in Warsaw... Living in a rented property when we have such beautiful place of our own... Paying mortgage and rent every month... Not to mention how I will cope so far from the Pole...

Luckily I'm wearing myself out. This emotional rollercoaster can't last long. I foresee my next psychological state as a little more stable.

Next stage: planning stage. Practical solutions. Lists.

links to this post

Monday, October 22, 2007

the future starts soon

I lay there in the half-light, wide awake. I should have just turned over, emptied my mind and gone back to sleep, but something was nagging.

Someone could change my life today.

I lay on my side, watching him breathing slowly and steadily. Fast asleep and free from the anxiety I was feeling, the uncertainty of whether our lives were going to change direction or stay on this path.

Two options, both with their attractions, no longer in my control.

I imagined the first, with its excitement and opportunity. In my heart of hearts this was what I wanted. It would come with responsibility, and shape everything that followed. But it would mean separation, even if only temporarily. Uncertainty, hostility from some people and tears for sure. Would I be strong enough to break away from this secure home we have created and start again?

Thinking of the second, a lump hardened in my throat. To be passed over again. So close but sent home without the prize. In many ways the outcome I was expecting, trying to prepare myself for. But not what I wanted, if I was brutally honest.

I just had to wait.

And then I had to wait some more.

The call didn't come.

The weekend came.

I waited.

The elections brought hope for change in the country and the voters came out in the sunshine. Job done, a different party took over and pointed Poland in a new direction.

I waited and realised I didn't mind the waiting so much. In fact, I was even half hoping for a different outcome now. We had a new plan for the future. I had convinced myself I already knew which option the call would present me with. I cushioned the disappointment I would feel. It would all be for the best. I was ready.

The call finally came.

My life is going to change after all.

links to this post

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wienerschnitzel und Weizen

I left the hotel, smiling goodbye to the man on reception. I was grateful to him for humouring my attempts at German so well, without once resorting to English. The Viennese accent is pretty much incomprehensible to me, so I was impressed that everyone was dealing with my Bonn-learned German so well.

Turning left down the side street the hotel was on, I immediately dismissed the bar opposite. The dark smokey interior was visible through the open door, and the bare-armed waitress was wiping the bar in long, bored strokes. No, I needed somewhere with a bit of life. And food.

Turning left again, I scanned the street ahead for restaurant signs. I wasn't very hungry but it was dinner time, and I needed to distract my mind with something other than the hotel tv. I spotted some golden arches beckoning up ahead, but refused to take the easy option, and turned instead to an authentic-looking restaurant-bar type place. A quick look at the menu and I decided it would do.

Walking in, I didn't get too much of the silent staring I hate so much when walking into a new place alone. I chose a corner seat and soon the waitress handed me the menu. Wiener Schnitzel (pork not veal) and a salad. Yeah, I could manage that. And a weissbier. Definitely.

I took a look around, and wished I'd bought a book. Eating out alone just feels weird. There was a lone guy a couple of tables away reading a newspaper and putting his head up occasionally to shovel food in. There was also a table with a couple of business men, talking in hushed tones and drinking wine. Nothing to look at while I waited.

Then a man entered and without looking around, headed to what I assume must have been his regular table. He was old and disheveled, thick glasses magnifying his staring eyes. The waitress brought him a beer and he handed over the cash, a transaction that had the ease of one that takes place daily.

A rose-seller came in next, offering his bucket around with smiles and winks. He spotted Old Guy and went over to shake his hand, pumping it up and down enthusiastically. Then his demeanour changed and he brought his face close to Old Guy's, to talk directly into his ear. After a couple of words Old Guy exploded, throwing his arms up and spouting a load of incomprehensible shrieks. Rose-Seller retreated, smiling in a more sinister fashion and repeating aloud that he was owed two euro. While he weaved between tables, offering his roses to all the customers with no success, Old Guy shouted and cursed, denying the debt.

Sipping my beer and no longer feeling the lack of a book to keep my mind busy, I watched as Old Guy's friend arrived. He greeted the waitresses, and listened patiently as Old Guy spluttered out the story of roses and euros. Laughing it off, he scanned the room, a wide smile on his face complementing the jolly orange jumper he was wearing.

At this point my food arrived. A schnitzel the size of a large dinner plate, and a mixed salad. I thanked the waitress and tucked in.

'Guten Appetit!' Jolly Guy said, causing Old Guy to twist round in his seat and look back at me. 'Guten Appetit!' Old Guy added, giving me a toothy grin. 'Um, Danke.' I smiled weakly, unwilling to interact with the table I had assigned as my evening entertainment.

I ate quickly, the Guys' conversation creating a backdrop of sound, and tried not to think about the next morning. The waitress cleared my plate and I paid my bill. I felt the Guys watching me as I put on my coat, and heard 'Auf Wiedersehen' and 'Schoen Abend noch' as I walked towards the door.

'Auf Wiedersehen' I replied, and thought sadly that they were probably going to enjoy the rest of their evening more than I was.

links to this post

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Grüß Gott

I'd been to Vienna before, but not for years, and it all looked new to me. New and fancy.

Vienna is grand. Not the faded grandeur you might expect from the ex-capital of an enormous empire that no longer exists, but the rich grandeur of a long established and extremely wealthy European capital that thinks very highly of itself. It is grand and twirly and very over the top.

After Warsaw's sparce architectural beauty, Vienna is a bit of a shock to the system. If you walk down a perfectly standard Viennese street and look up, you will generally see this:

Big old highly decorated buildings. With additional twirls.

These additional twirls are very often paired with a couple of expressive little statues for good measure.

For a while I just wandered about, looking up, snapping away at the twirls and sculptures, amazed by the detail in the faces, and the height of the curly bits at the top of buildings.

Then I got dizzy.

Then I decided, if I was going to see anything of Vienna I'd have to stop taking pictures of twirls. And statues.

But that just got me fixed on the ironwork. Sweet Jesus. Why make a straight metal line if you can make it twirly.

Gates can be so dull.

Not in Vienna!

So, after a couple of days of this - being in these flouncy, rich, curly, intricate, twirly, whirly surroundings, I didn't stop noticing, but it stopped being such a big deal. It was the same kind of deal you get with rich Belgian chocolates. The first couple are amazing, you start wondering how you can ensure a daily supply. The next couple are ok, still undoubtedly good quality chocolate, but getting a little cloying and sweet. And after that, you start feeling a bit sick.

This was my favourite statue. Far from any buildings, no flounce, and lots of feeling.

links to this post

Thursday, October 11, 2007


As I walked past the fire station this morning, I was met by what looked like all the neighbourhood firemen. Not a situation to complain about, I agree, but a little confusing and out of the ordinary.

They were standing about by their fire engines a little way down the road from the station. All had an air of quiet resignation, as if they were prepared to wait as long as it took.

Although they weren't exactly lined up, it reminded me of school practice fire alarms.

Surely not though eh?

links to this post

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The short walk to the train station reminded me how much I like living so close to the centre. The bustle of office workers heading to their shiny glass offices; the sun breaking through the hazy but crisp air; even the hoots and shouts of annoyed drivers just added to the sense of a normal weekday morning in a normal working city.

As I know all too well though, Warsaw isn't completely normal. The station didn't fill me with the same kind of apprehensive dread as the post office might, but I still expected at least one unforeseen obstacle. Would the train be fully booked? Would they refuse to sell me a ticket on my credit card? I tried to imagine all the barriers I might face, in the desperate belief I have held since childhood that if you imagine the worst thing that could happen in theory, it is less likely to happen in practice.

We'd already called to reserve the ticket. We'd got the number from the official, impressively professional-looking, also-available-in-English website. Unfortunately, this veneer of professionalism was destroyed when the lady at the other end indignantly refused to make a reservation, demanded to know where we had got the number, and denied that she could do anything to help us. At all.

So, I had decided that a trip to the station was unavoidable. The station looks pretty normal, if ugly in a 70s kind of way, from the outside. Inside the main hall it is also pretty self-explanatory. The real danger though is being sucked into the rabbit run of kebab stands and newspaper kiosks that create a dark and dingy underground city on the way to the platforms. I was determined not to venture down there.

After scanning the hall for a sign indicating that someone might sell me a ticket to Vienna, I spotted a PKP intercity sign over a door. Victory number 1. So far so good.

I checked my watch against the opening times and found them open (victory number 2!) Going through the door, I came into a large open area, several desks lining the walls, each manned by a person in a smart PKP uniform. Nobody was doing a thing. They all turned to look at me.

I took a ticket.

My ticket said 8.

A man dinged his bell and a big 8 flashed above his desk.

No queue? No shouting? The efficiency I was experiencing was scaring me.

I went over, told him what I wanted and he started tapping away on his (new) computer. Emboldened by my dizzy success so far, I told him I was 26 and asked if there were any reductions. He asked when my birthday was, I told him next month and he told me I'd get a 25% reduction. I stared at him in shock. Not only were they going to sell me a ticket, they were going to give it to me cheap. Woah.

After admittedly a rather long time while he brought up details, checked times, wrote numbers down from my passport, told me it would cost 380 zlotys and took my card, he suddenly looked up at me.

'But Pani is 26 already!'

I nodded. Yes, that's what I'd said.

'No, but the ticket is only cheap until 26.' So much for my excellent communication skills in Polish.

Embarrassed, but determined not to over-apologise as I tend to do, I said I had misunderstood. He sniffed, shook his head and went about the business of annulling the card payment and recalculating my ticket price.

Suddenly something came to mind. 'I had a look on the internet and there was a promotion for Vienna tickets.'

The indignant attitude he had been displaying suddenly disappeared. He went slightly pink. 'Pani is right, I'll check availability.'

Tap tap tap.

'Yes. I can give Pani the promotional price on one of the tickets. The return is full price'

Tap tap tap.

'350 zlotys please.' He was red. I had managed to wangle an even cheaper price.

I tried not to grin too widely as I took my tickets and thanked him for his help. Victory number 3.

links to this post

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

or maybe I just have flu

The only downside of a sailing weekend is its crazy unstablising, unbalancing effect.

You know, all those boats on the water bobbing about, and the fast turning to make sure the wind is in the sail, and the tilting so you feel you might just fall off any minute into the cold cold water, and the clenching of various muscles to persuade yourself you're not going to fall in...

Well, all that makes you feel a little unstable even when you're back on dry land, and have been for, oh, say, at least 24 hours. You, ok I, I still feel a bit tilty.

I've been walking around the flat steadying myself on door frames since we got back.

links to this post

Monday, October 08, 2007

what shall we do with the drunken sailor?

The first time I came to Poland, when I barely knew Marek and we were living hundreds of miles apart, we went to the Polish lake district for a weekend. We had a fantastic time, kayaking around the rivers and going on long romantic boat trips across the wide lakes, the stunning scenery lit by a low autumnal sun.

Ever since, we have tried to return to Mazury as often as possible. And failed miserably. This year, we have spent a grand total of one afternoon in the lakes, that weekend with the fancy car. Until this weekend that is. This weekend, we made use of another perk of Marek's job, the fancy company yacht.

There are many worse ways of spending a weekend than in a whopping great yacht in Mazury with a couple of good sailors who expect little more of you than the effort it takes to pull on a rope every so often.

We sailed, we partied with the rest of the port and there were surprise bonuses, like these jolly folk who just sat in the middle of the water, strumming their guitars and belting out shanties...

links to this post

Friday, October 05, 2007

It's not that I have nothing to write about...'s just that every time I start writing, the words are wrong. I write, re-write, edit, delete and start again. Then, when I've finally finished a post, I re-read it, hate it and delete it.

I think it's a phase. I hope it's a short one.

Pictures will have to do for now. These are my favourite from this morning's walk...

a leaf

a snail

a flower

a dog

links to this post

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

yeah, I'm house-sitting again

Jack's an old guy, steady and calm, who brings to mind words like stout, jolly and fellow. Daydreaming next to him conjures associations with old England, country walks and game hunting.

Open and friendly to all, he makes no unnecessary noise, just catching his breath and reminding you he's there when there's a chance some of that food could be for him. Gentle nudges with his head show you he expects a bit of effort on your part, and when he gets a stroke and a pat, the pleasure shows through his eyes, and the enthusiastic stump that waves back and forward, as a puppy's might.

Mornings, we tramp through the long damp grass, him running ahead with newly discovered youth. His excitement at bushes and lamposts only fades as we near the house again. His breathing becomes more laboured and his gait more restrained.

A grateful glance up from his lopsided face as I open the gate and we're back. A quick drink and then a heavy slump onto his cushion. Deep sighs slowing his breathing until he's asleep, with another day to dream away.

links to this post

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.