Ed Buryn, Vagabond


Greetings from Poland – 2
April 28, 2008, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Poland

Pozdrowienia z Polski 2 2/15/2008
Greetings from Poland 2

I’m gradually trying to get a handle on Poland’s impossibly complex history — 1000 and more years of duchies, monarchies, dictators, invaders, priests, popes, ever-shifting borders, dissolution and rebirth — in an attempt to make some sense of it. Poland disappeared as a country and was divided amongst Germany, Russia, and Austria for 123 years, from 1795 to 1918 — a period roughly approximating all of American history from the Revolutionary War to World War I. Would America come back if it were dissolved? Hmnn. Modern Poland reappeared only with help from America — after the Polish piano master Ignacy Paderewski, who became famous and popular in American due to extensive performance tours, influenced President Wilson to negotiate for Poland’s rebirth as a nation in the aftermath of WW1. A major plaza in Warsaw, Plac Wilsona, celebrates Wilson as the progenitor of modern Poland. There is also a Wazyngtona Boulevard honoring our first president, probably because two Polish heroes, Thaddeus Kosciusco and Casimir Pulaski, served George Washington in the cause of the American Revolution.

Even so, following the Russian Revolution, Russia invaded Poland in 1920, intent on once again destroying its new sovereignty and taking it back. But a small Polish army commanded by the former Russian prisoner Josef Pilsudski defeated a far larger Russian army on the river near Warsaw in what is referred to here as the Wisla Miracle, ensuring Poland’s survival and ushering in a brief Polish golden age under Pilsudksi’s subsequent presidency, with Paderewski as the prime minister.

The national museum here possesses a huge and marvelously interesting collection of art across many centuries and cultural eras. The early Christian pietas (13-14th century) are ornate and gory, with multitudinous, agonized Jesuses repeatedly pricked with bloody wounds and looking at least as scary as the Devil. Then there are myriads of regal portraits of gilded personages, panoramas of gargantuan battles pitting opposing armies in tortured but glorious struggle. Artifacts of bygone times fill gallery after gallery on multiple floors, an overwhelming display of mankind’s fascination with itself at its sorriest. The best part for me was the Polish art, sculpture, film, and more from the 1920s and 1930s, which was clearly a high point here, between the wars when Warsaw society flourished, producing outstanding art little known elsewhere but revered in Poland itself. Then, on September 1st 1939, Hitler attacked from the west, and on September 17th Russia attacked from the east. The Warsovians of that era quickly saw their culturally rich lives turned into ashes and death.

Another fascinating visit was the Warsaw Citadel, a 42-acre prison built in 1835 by the Russians, a classic monument to man’s inhumanity to his own kind. The brute ugliness of this place is awesome, especially when viewed on a misty day with almost no one else there, making me feel alone with history at its most terrible. Graves and crosses, execution plazas, prison cells, torture instruments, walls of victim’s photos –yikes! Imprisoned and murdered here were patriots in the 1863 uprising against Russia, and later victims of countless other persecutions. One cell, draped with red & white banners, belonged to the afore-mentioned Josef Pilsudski, who escaped by pretending insanity that got him transferred out of the Citadel. He became president in the good years between the world wars, 1918-1939, two decades of freedom that saw the development of the country in all areas — industry, economy, culture, art, and architecture. Many other exhibits at the Citadel commemorate Poles who were deported to labor camps throughout Russia and especially Siberia during the 1940s and 1950s. Photos, paintings, and documents attest to their harsh lives in gripping exhibit after exhibit.

Joanna says there can be little understanding of Polish-Russian relations by Americans. She cites the metaphor of someone whose belly is full (America) and someone who is starving (Poland). What does it mean to be Russian slaves for 250 years? What was the damage to the minds, attitudes, health, and personal history of the many Poles who refused to cooperate? — as in the generation of people born in 1920-30s and also for their children behind Iron Curtain until 1989. And then there is the thousand-year-old restrictive influence of the Catholic Church. Joanna says: We had no freedom in any aspect for so long.

Later I walked to the nearby Wisla River along its deserted paths and weed-choked banks, gazing into its swirling waters and existentially wondering what this confusing experience called Life is ultimately about. Nothing much, I guess. It remains a mystery. Like my mom always used to say, all your life you live and learn, then die dumb.

Joanna & I went to Radom again last weekend, continuing the effort to empty her deceased mom’s flat. It’s challenging, not just physically but emotionally. Her baby booties are here, her childhood schoolbooks, her family albums. Her father Witold, an economist by profession, kept detailed records of all the family income and expenses throughout his life, and had shelves of databooks, diaries, journals, magazines — extensive artifacts of a life finally ended by stomach cancer in 1993. Joanna says he suffered from clinical depression because he could not find any satisfaction in life and as an intellectual, anti-communist, and atheist felt like an outsider in his own country. Apparently he literally could not stomach life. His wife Hanna, who died of heart disease last year, was similarly broken-hearted by her life. Dealing with an entire household of personal goods and a complete history of generations of one family is difficult, especially in another town in another country. And it’s all on the fifth floor, 72 steps up and down, 15 trips just this weekend, 20 trips last weekend — like descending a skyscraper on the stairs, laden with luggage, then climbing back up for more!

Best wishes from the ever-expanding present, en route to the ever-shrinking future,

Ed

—————————-

Death In The Family

Losing someone you love
Seems an emotional curse
That keeps extending itself
When their possessions
Need to be disposed of —
Ongoing exposure to pain,
Memory as punishment,
Once-dear objects serving
As instruments of torture.
The beloved dies yet again
As each personal treasure
Reminds us again of loss.
But may we take heart
Knowing the truth that
Death is but life after life, and
Life is but death upon death?

————

Mac Store Warsaw

On a small side street downtown
In contrast to adjacent old shops,
The modish Mac store in Warsaw
Displays neoteric Amerikanski tech
On polished plate-glass counters
Where flat-screen monitors glow
And crispy white AppleCo boxes
Beckon seductively for ownership
By fresh and green Polish nerdskis
Eager to interface with the West
And join the contempo conspiracy
To transcend the tired toxic past
And hyper-neo-technocratically
Embrace the coming toxic future.



Greetings from Poland – 4
March 16, 2008, 8:37 pm
Filed under: Poland

Pozdrowienia z Polski 4 14 March 2008
Greetings from Poland 4

Awhile back Joanna & I had a great meeting at a fancy downtown coffee shop ($12 for two cups of coffee and a slice of cake) with an American woman named Juanita who is married to a Polish author and philosopher-poet named Henryk Skolimowski. She is the sister of my accountant Wayne Cameron (also my daughter Jan’s one-time boyfriend before she married her husband Kevin). Juanita or Joan is a warm and vivacious 60-some lady who is leaving shortly for several months in the US, which she does every year because Poland is hard on her. She and her husband also have a home in Greece where they go every summer. We may meet Henryk sometime because he has a new book for which Joanna may be able to help find a publisher. Henryk has an interesting web site at http://www.ecophilosophy.org including quite a few poems of his that I like. The five key tenets of his eco-philosophy are: 1) The world is a sanctuary. 2) Reverence for life is our guiding value. 3) Frugality is a precondition for inner happiness. 4) Spirituality and rationality complement each other. 5) To heal the planet, we must first heal ourselves. {Right on, dude!]

Juanita says that Henryk, although he was a professor at the University of Michigan for a long time, now prefers to live in Poland because of the dark political situation in America. Juanita is also a poet and has published a bilingual book of poems in Polish-English. Juanita told us that when she first arrived here to live in Poland years ago, she was struck at how aloof everyone was, and so she resolved to always smile at women on the street (smiling at men of course is not a good idea) despite how they ignored her friendliness. She persisted in this for months before she got the first hint of a return smile. But that was years ago, in the old hostile Poland. Today she says that she receives smiles in return quite often, a positive sign of the new Poland.

——-

Richard Marcus asked via email about anti-semitism in Poland today. I have seen no direct evidence but then I am a Yankee know-nothing unlikely to. Joanna says that many Poles either dislike or detest Jews, usually to the same extent that these critics are communist, socialist, conservative, nationalistic, or unsophisticated (ie, from the villages). The most liberal newspaper in Poland is Gazeta Wyborcza, for which Joanna used to work, with many Jews on its staff including its director Adam Michnik. Joanna says this paper is widely disliked for being pro-Jewish as well as liberal and democratic — but it is also the strongest voice of intellectual Poland and tells the truth however unpalatable. The recently ousted government of the Kaczynski twins (one president, the other still prime minister) was nationalistic in that it supported the ideal of Poland for Poles, which is to say, no Muslims, no Jews, no foreigners, no non-Catholics. Kaczynski at one point urged Poles to have more children in order to keep out the Muslims hordes. Still, the this government was recently voted out and a more liberal regime presides today.

As for the future, it is impossible to say or guess what will happen. Millions of the best and brightest Poles, usually the youngest, are leaving Poland to work and live in other countries of the European Union and abroad (the biggest group is now in Ireland and UK, fewer in Germany, Scandinavia, France, Austria). Meanwhile, Poles at home are caught between poverty and politics, materialism and Catholicism, modernity and tradition, tempted by the West and afraid of the East.

There is a Jewish Center here that I hope to visit, and I want to learn more about the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. Much to learn. Joanna always points out to me the boundaries of the Ghetto as we drive around town, and points out how in places the level of certain streets slightly rises and falls or how the buildings are placed on embankments — because she says it all is built upon uneven piles of rubble and graves and bodies from the former Ghetto. She is one Pole who never forgets this. Joanna’s historian friend Stanislaw says that during the Ghetto Uprising lasting four weeks in 1943, many sympathetic Poles helped the Jews by supplying them with food and guns as long as they could. There was also Zegota, a Polish resistance organization whose objective was to help Jews during the Holocaust. Among others, Zegota was responsible for saving 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. So there is also a humane counter-element that is also part of this horrific story.

There are a lot of reports on the internet about modern Polish anti-semitism (and other difficult issues regarding Poland) but it’s hard to assess the truth. Knowing Poles and something of Polish history, I’d say that anti-semitism is strongly and historically rooted in Poland but at the same time is repudiated and disavowed by the best and most liberal modern Poles. (And by liberal Poles of the past, such as the revered Marshall and President Pilsudski of the 1930s).

Joanna says that politicians are one of the main sources of contemporary anti-semitism. The second was always and still is the Catholic Church, which states that Jewish people killed Jesus (while failing to note that Jesus also was Jewish). No, probably Jesus Christ was Polish (it was even proposed in parliament to make Jesus the king of Poland), had blue eyes and long blond hair, so for sure he was Polish. And of course Madonna Mary was obviously Polish and She is the Mother of Polish nation and the only one.

All I can say from my own experience is that there is no blatant anti-semitism here, but any definitive look at Poland must admit and allow that various elements of Polish society have always been and probably will always be brutish, ignorant, prejudiced, and dangerous to more enlightened points of view. Polish history is not pretty but its human stories are indelibly engraved in world history.

———-

A few days ago I went to the Muzeum Powstanie, or the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is a new (2006), world-class, ultramodern, multimedia, must-see attraction that tells the almost unbelievable story of the 1944 heroic and tragic uprising of the Polish underground against the German garrison in Warsaw. It lasted 63 days, during which 18,000 Polish Home Army soldiers died (25,000 wounded), while 180,000 citizens of Warsaw also died (mostly murdered) and what remained of the city was systematically destroyed under Hitler’s orders to wipe Warsaw off the map of Europe. (Reported German losses were 10,000 killed, 7,000 missing, and 15,000 wounded.– which were their greatest losses in any battle except on the Russian front.) To put this in perspective, 5,000 Americans & allies have died so far in Iraq & Afghanistan in five years (about 30,000 wounded) — so the American war deaths are averaging under 3 per day, while the Polish underground army deaths during the uprising were 300 per day, AND 3,000 Polish civilians dying each day. Yet this people’s army resisted longer than did the well-equipped French army in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg. The Warsaw Resistance failed after two desperate months because, not only were they poorly equipped (no planes, tanks, armored cars, artillery, or heavy mortars as the Germans had in abundance), but mainly because they were betrayed by the Russians and virtually ignored by the Allies. In the Spring 1944 Yalta Agreement, before the Uprising, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to abandon Poland to Stalin. As a result, the Polish Home Army felt politically compelled to try to liberate Warsaw from the Germans because they felt it was their best chance to avoid Soviet totalitarianism in the aftermath of WW2. They wanted to show the world that Poland would fight for its own freedom, not only from Germany but from Russia. But they failed, and thus Poland was forced to undergo Communist domination for another four decades following their five years of Nazi domination. Finally, in the 1980s another Polish uprising — the Solidarity Movement — erupted and ultimately succeeded, becoming the first crack in the Iron Curtain that finally toppled the USSR itself. One of the most horrendous aspects of this story is that the surviving Polish leaders of the Uprising were repatriated to Poland after the war, only to be arrested by the Communist government and sent to Russian prisons where they were tortured and murdered. Stalin was as bad as Hitler.

This epic story of triumph and tragedy is told in the Warsaw Rising museum in vivid and graphic detail. The exhibits include an B24 bomber suspended from the ceiling (commemorating some supplies dropped by the Allies during the siege), a 500-foot-long, Vietnam-Vets-style memorial wall engraved with the names of almost 20,000 dead, a re-creation of the brick sewer channels in which the insurgents moved supplies and escaped the incessant air raids, films and combat photographs by the hundreds, a b/w slide show on a large suspended screen showing pre- and post-uprising photos of prominent Warsaw sites, first as handsome buildings and then as piles of rubble still recognizably the same places, and much more in the way of interactive exhibits.

One of these is a video interview with Marek Edelman, a Jewish-Polish hero and leader in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, AND the 1980s Solidarity Movement (which itself was almost a decade-long struggle against Communism that finally succeeded in 1989 with the election of Lech Welesa, and the later withdrawal of Russian troops and bureaucrats). Edelman, a remarkable survivor, is still alive and lives in Warsaw, and has written several books about his experiences of a lifetime struggling against Nazi and Communist tyranny. To me, the museum testifies that resistance against the most monstrous oppression can ultimately succeed if the populace is sufficiently courageous and willing to sacrifice everything for their freedom. The motto of this museum is: “We wanted to be free — and to owe that freedom to nobody else.”

As a kind of postscript to the museum, today Joanna and I drove to Kampinoski National Park, a large forested area north of Warsaw to take a walk in the woods on a budding spring day. Before long we came to the Palmiry cemetery and execution site with 2,200 graves of murdered partisans and citizens including several mayors and even a prewar olympic medalist. Reminders of the great Polish sacrifice are everywhere. Joanna believes the Uprising was disastrous for Poland because it destroyed an entire generation of its finest young people and degraded the national gene pool, but in any case, Poland’s war dead are omnipresent and grim reminders of Poland’s modern heritage.
—————————-

Lest all this gore and mayhem prove too depressing, there was also a delightful visit we made to Wilanov Palace at the south end of Warsaw, to which one drives on what is still called The Royal Road. This present-day museum was the home of several centuries of kings and wealthy families, and is a treasure-house of antique furniture and art, portrait galleries, and dozens of wonderfully beautiful rooms decorated and embellished to an astounding degree. Their are formal gardens with topiary, lavish statues, a king’s tomb, a private museum of Greek and especially Etruscan art that was collected personally by various owners of the palace, friezes and frescoes, tiles and tapestries, gold and gilt to the max. When you go in, you have to put on disposable plastic bags over your shoes. (We forgot to take ours off and walked around outside in our plastic bags for quite a while.) As we left the grounds, we saw some tiny crocuses poking up through the soil, the first harbingers of spring.

—————–

Feels So Damn Good

I wake at night
Needing to pee,
Stagger around,
Find the bathroom,
Void my bladder–
Feels so damn good.

Stagger back to bed,
Blow a cleansing fart–
Feels so damn good.

Lie back down and sigh,
Knowing I can sleep
As late as I want–
Feels so damn good.

Reach out for her
Warm naked body,
Skin pressed to mine–
Feels so damn good.

Back to my dream,
Relaxed and at ease,
Drowsy and smiling–
Feels so damn good.



Greetings from Poland – 3
March 16, 2008, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Poland

Pozdrowienia z Polski 3                            2/28/08
Greetings from Poland 3

The snows of winter have descended again, and I’ve been ill with throat and sinus problems, hacking and coughing for several nights. So I have stayed home in Joanna’s flat for three consecutive days, relaxing with TV treatment including BBC News, CNN News, and HBO movies overdubbed in Polish, drinking beers, and writing some poetry and other stuff. Staying inside and vegging-out feels very good after much touristic running-around. But this week it’s back to the old touristic grind, and I will soon be going to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising during WW2, accompanied by Joanna’s best friend Stanislaw, an 82-year retired forester. He is a really good old guy who whips out the vodka every time we see him. While sitting around talking he keeps saying, “dawnosmy nic nie pili!” which means “it’s long she we last had a drink” — and then we have another round. Stanislaw lives downtown with his brother, Zdzislaw who is slowly wasting away from lung cancer.

Death ever lingers here. During my first week here, Joanna and I visited her friend Malgosha, an editor in her office who has been hospitalized for months with bowel problems. She was operated on for the fifth time a few days ago and then died. When we saw her in Szpital Bielanski, a gray and dreary hospital, she was thin and weak, in a room with various other patients vaguely smelling of excrement. Malgosha was the same age as Joanna, 53. Another one gone, says Joanna, referring to the loss of someone else dear to her. She feels very alone, says I am now her closest ally.

Yesterday we attended Malgosha’s funeral in a large and beautiful cemetery nearby that is non-denominational, ie, not Catholic. Her estranged parents were there, and a collection of friends. Words were said over her grave site and then the father threw in a handful of dirt. Joanna said Malgosha’s mom treated her as a slave at home; her illness was probably a way out of domestic tyranny. Joanna says most Polish women are slaves to either their husbands or their families or both. Afterwards Joanna & I went to the Catholic cemetery, even larger, where her parents are buried. I think we walked most of a mile in a straight line past endless graves before we came to theirs. Her father Witold has a marble slab; her mother Hanna, who was cremated, has a plaque. Joanna said that when her father died, cremation was frowned upon and was not approved my her mother.

The cemeteries here are awesome, like museums of the dead, crammed with funereal artwork of every description. The marble-covered graves are in good shape, the plain-stone ones are covered in green moss, like the surrounding trees. The whole place is a necromantic treasury of sculpture, statuary, shrines, tombs, and variation of every kind. All these graves, packed in tightly, row on row, avenue after avenue, are like a separate city that reflects the history of Poland. There is one immense section of crosses for the dead of WWI. Nearby is another expansive section of crosses from WW2. There is a separate section for graves of those murdered by the Russian NKVD. Another section is for the Poles who served the Russians during the postwar socialist era before Solidarity. Another section for the thousands of Polish officers murdered at Katyn (which is the subject of Polish film directed by Andrzej Wajda that was recently considered for an Oscar). Another section for the famous artists and politicians (Aleja Zasluzonych — Avenue of the Distinguished). One prominent grave near the entrance, covered in flowers, marks the grave of a Polish hero who was an American spy for the CIA against Russia, adorned with quotes from Ronald Reagan. Another tall and impressive marble monument salutes heroes of the Uprising, but Joanna scornfully laughed that this particular one is a public  lie; because the men honored here only claimed to serve but did not. Apparently there is a lot of politics concerned with who gets buried where and how, depending on what they did and how much money they had. Every year in November people collect private money for renovation of all the monuments standing on the territory of Stare Powazki Cemetery to honor the history and memory of those buried here.

I watch a fair amount of TV here, in between other stuff. The linguistic offerings are impressive — besides dozens of Polish channels, of course, there are channels in English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. In Radom one night I watched a trilingual film, original script spoken in Croatian, with English subtitles and Polish overdubbing. The premium channels like HBO and Cinemax also offer programs in either the original language (usually English) or with Polish overdubbing. News, weather, fashion, game shows, and movie channels dominate, along with many sports-only  channels that feature soccer and winter sports especially but also boxing, volleyball, basketball, and even ping-pong tourneys (which are more interesting than almost any other sport I’ve seen).

Virtually all channels have advertising but they graciously announce that the ads are coming by stating “Reklama” (“ads”) before they begin. The ads themselves are similar to those in the US for the most part — cars, beer, food, cosmetics, OTC medicines — but I notice quite a few travel ads to exotic destinations such as India, Greece, Turkey, Montenegro, and Moscow. From Europe, these destinations are close. And after midnight come the plethora of sex ads and porn sex shows, as I discussed in an earlier email.

Advertising in Poland is more prevalent and more extreme than in the US, if you can imagine that. Ads are virtually everywhere in every form possible — on billboards that line the highways and city streets; on electronic billboards that constantly change their message; as murals on the sides of buildings (sometimes enormous in size, larger than any I’ve seen in America); on skyscrapers as programmed messages in the form of moving lights; as decorations entirely covering the sides of the busses and trams; as stickers pasted on practically everything including buildings, bus and tram stops, light poles, fences, traffic dividers; on street corners in the form of large round poster-pillars that serve no other purpose (some of which even rotate); as handouts being distributed to pedestrians walking by; as handouts placed on the windshields of parked cars; as handouts placed on doorsteps; and of course everywhere in magazines and newspapers – of which there are many more than I thought possible in a small country.

The whole place is nuts with reproduced visual messages on every hand.  In fact, there are many companies that reproduce posters, signs, and ads for both business and retail customers — which I don’t think have any equivalent in the US, I suppose because their is no comparable demand. In addition to this is the prevalence of graffiti on practically every building in Poland. Much of it consists of gang-style designs and pseudo-words, much of it is artistic or at least colorful, some is cartoon-like, some consists of rebellious political scrawls such as Capitalism = Exploitation, Eat the Rich (but in Polish, of course). All in all, Poles are the most visually bombarded culture I’ve seen, maybe the most anywhere. When driving, every km is dense with ads because there is little empty place between building and the next. Poland is crowded.

Probably related to this visual craze is the fact that Polish poster art is world famous for about 100 years. There is a special museum in Warsaw devoted solely to this indigenous art form that I hope to see later.

Last Sunday we went to a New Age Psychic Faire, called here a Targi Medycyny Naturalnej (Natural Medicine Fair), at an old hall that was once a sports arena of some kind. It reminded me very much of the annual Nevada City fair of similar title. Iridologists, masseuses, astrologers, tarot readers, vitamin vendors, health machine vendors (juicers, light therapy, massage wands, etc.), health juices, ear candling, and much more. One booth featured live leeches for drawing blood, which I have not seen in NC. There was a Chinese food booth at which two very friendly sisters offered excellent Oriental dishes, and it turned out they spoke English as well as Polish, Vietnamese, and two dialects of Chinese. Joanna treated me to a full-body massage with a Korean masseuse, a bio-energetic session with a very large gent who also does magnetic therapy (he can make metal objects stick to his chest), and an ear-candling session supposedly to remove ear wax and healing sinuses. As we left, we also shared a large apple pancake made to order in a large pan of hot oil, covered with powdered sugar, quite tasty.

Have I mentioned the food? The food everywhere is delicious, and we have been to many terrific restaurants from fast food to fancy fare. It does not seem to matter the price range; the food is excellent everywhere. However, the standard everyday fare at home is basically meat and potatoes with thick slices of bread and butter, washed down by endless cups of tea. Kielbasa  or Polish sausage is truly the national dish, eaten daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and every store offers about a dozen different kinds and grades. And cheeses and ham of all sorts. And sauerkraut. And mushroom soup and beet soup. And fresh unpackaged breads and cakes. And vodka and beer, lots of it. Maybe I’m just pregnant but my stomach is getting very round and large. I’m afraid to weigh myself.

However, I must give thanks to Dale Jacobson for liberating me from my reluctance to eat foods like kielbasa that contain animal fats. Dale wrote a paper entitled “The War on Dietary Cholesterol: How Corporate Medical Quackery is Rapidly Degrading America’s Health – A Discussion of Fat, Oil, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease”, which I brought with me to Poland to read. The gist of it is that cholesterol is good for you, especially so-called “bad” cholesterol. He presents facts proving that the higher your cholesterol level, the longer you live — not just true for individuals but for entire societies. Higher cholesterol in the blood goes  along with long life, and the opposite is also true: the lower the cholesterol level, the higher the mortality. I have read this paper three times and am convinced that what he says is true. Animal fats, eggs, butter, and whole milk are good for you; vegetable oils (except olive oil), margarine, refined foods and low-fat foods are bad for you. Is it any surprise that corporations and pharmaceutical companies lie to you for profit, and many doctors knowingly or unknowing support this horrible scam? Copies of this article are available at Dale’s Office; I highly recommend it. Jacobson Chiropractic, 194 Gold Flat Rd, Nevada City CA 95959.

Another faire we recently went to was the Targi Staroci or antique bazaar in the suburb of Kolo. About a square block filled with people selling a huge variety of old goods from wooden booths, from the trunks of cars, the inside of trucks, or just laid out on the ground on blankets. The things are mostly prewar things including old furniture, new furniture rebuilt from old wood, art of all kinds, old photos, jewelry, rugs, dishware and silver utensils, documents and medals, rugs and carpets, traditional clothing, brass and ironware, antique farm items and tools, rare coins, weapons and helmets, swords, memorabilia, and more. Beautiful and wonderful things to look at, much of which would be worth more in the US but there’s no simple, economical way of getting it there. Joanna says that some Poles come here to buy things that give them a phony social pedigree. She also said that many items are likely stolen, and some buyers actually come here to find and buy back their stolen goods. She said this was particularly true just after WW2. There are of course antique shows and fairs in the US but I don’t think there is an equivalent to this weekly Targi Staroci. Joanna says it is fashionable here for wealthy people to have antiques in their homes, and it is good news that so many beautiful pieces of art are available on the Polish market because it means not everything was stolen or destroyed during WW2. Meanwhile there are many IKEA stores here to furnish the young people at reasonable cost.

I also want to mention that I have been going every Wednesday night to the Shambala meditation group that meets downtown. This is new for me, as I am no Buddhist, and have never wanted particularly to meditate as a spiritual practice. Yet I have found it enjoyable and productive. In my case, instead of meditating, I practice contemplation. In particular, I have been using these weekly session to speculate about how to use such meditation for healing. In fact, during the course of my weekly contemplations I have conceived a healing process that I have written up as an article called, “Now Here Be Well: A Way To Use Meditation for Healing.” It describes a meditative self-healing technique that I practice during these sessions and sometimes as I am going to sleep. It’s a bit long, about 20 pages, but I’d like to share it with others because I think it might be helpful to anyone wanting to try healing their ailments through focused intention. See another category of this blog if you are interested.

love,

Ed

————————————

KFC on Jerusalem Street

The KFC on the main drag in  Warsaw
Is a piece of USA easily incorporated here.
The fried chicken is good, just like at home.
The corn on the cob is soggy, like at home.
But the babble of talk is all in Polish, and
The wall photo shows the Palace of Culture.
No one here knows what KFC means,
But that’s probably true at home too.
The whole place is gleaming clean, and
The bathrooms smell sweetly chemical.
It’s freezing cold and snowy outside,
A good night to linger with light music
In the plastic booth under the bright lights
And give thanks for Yankee corporate culture
So far away on a busy street named Jerusalem

——————-

Beauties of Warsaw

O matko boga, o jejku, and no tak —
The beautiful women of Warsaw
Explode upon my innocent eyes
Like bliss-bombs from Nirvana.
Their madonna-like faces fur-framed
By stylish hoods and flowing capes,
Slim ankles peeking beneath long coats
Or in tall boots with sexy clicking heels,
Their taut dresses and skintight pants
Portray soft curvaceous torsos and
Dispense visions of perfect femininity.

My neck aches from gleeful swivels
Tracking goddesses, my eyes like pies.
For here in Warsaw I languish among
Living, moving works of female art,
A parade of perfectly formed beings,
Amazons still bearing all their breasts
And other parts delightful to go into.

Yet however much I do admire them
I swear I do not care to possess them.
The wise man readily loves beauty but
Knows that craving it leads to misery.



Greetings from Poland – 1
March 16, 2008, 8:29 pm
Filed under: Poland

Greetings from Warsaw–                        2/5/2008

This blog seems a way to be in touch with friends who may be interested in my doings despite our not being in contact often enough — and with strangers who may become closer. For starters,  I’m here again in Poland to commune with my Polish fiancee, Joanna Przybylska Mlodzinska, an editor living in Warsaw. She is 53, divorced, childless, and a rare Buddhist in an all-Catholic land. She came to visit me last spring in California, and I am now returning the favor.

————

As my plane landed in Warsaw after 12 hours en route, cross winds were blowing so strongly that the pilot touched down the wheels briefly but then took off again and circled the airport for another try — a trifle unnerving. But that’s Poland for you.

It’s generally no-nonsense cold here almost every day, and it snowed a few days ago (although apparently not as much as in Nevada City recently) . The wind seems to blow more or less constantly, creeping stealthily into every crevice. There are many parks in the city but all the trees are bare and brown. Winter is a real presence here but I am coping well enough thanks to warm clothes and California attitude.

My impressions of the city’s architecture so far, gained primarily from riding around with Joanna in her car, is a gray-brown mix of utilitarian housing, neoclassical civic monuments, and skyscraper moderne. It definitely has an old-world look but of course tinged everywhere with store signs and street billboards, buses and trolleys covered with advertisements, many in English as well as Polish. Advertising is everywhere, visual blight to the max. Plus vicious urban sprawl that extends endlessly outward into the countryside.

The Stare Miaso (Old Town) is another matter, however. Totally rebuilt after WW2 destruction, this is a breath-taking area of cobbled squares, decorated buildings in medieval style, monuments, castles, museums, shops, restaurants, coffee-houses, and historic sites. Old Europe at its most beautiful. A touristic paradise.

In the square is the Museum of Warsaw, which presents the city’s history from the 13th century to the present, with special emphasis on the devastation of WW2. It’s hard to imagine or appreciate the horror of what happened here, but the photos and survivors’ statements are amazing and intensely moving. Everyone in the world should come here to find out what it means to be human – at its most cruel and most heroic. Warsaw was the most war-devastated city in the world, 85% totally destroyed, and most of the population killed – at least 200,000 people.

Another day I happened upon a memorial at Umschlagplatz commemorating countless numbers of Jewish Poles who were gathered at this spot for deportation to labor and death camps, at the edge of what was the Jewish Ghetto. Next door is a building with a plaque stating it was the first building liberated from the Nazis at the start of the Resistance Uprising. And next door to that is another monument commemorating millions of Christian Poles who were sent to labor camps in Siberia during the war. The entire city of Warsaw is a vast memorial and living tribute to suffering and renewal that Americans and other nationalities can hardly imagine. Being here where these events actually took place is a powerful experience, and I am constantly aware of the interactive layers of history whispering behind these modern facades.

I took a long walk from Old Town to Downtown a few days ago, crossed two bridges of over the river Wisla, and wound up on Alleja Jerozolimskie, the main street, at the same spot where I stayed at a youth hostel forty years ago, across the street from what was once Communist Party Headquarters, a monolithic and forbidding fortress of fear and paranoia. The youth hostel is still there but the building, ironically nicknamed The White House, is now a bank.

I clearly remember how it was then, in the 1965, with few cars, poorly dressed people trodding the avenue with heads down, nothing but cheap junk in the shops, a scarcity of food in the restaurants, and with the scars of war still evident everywhere. Russian soldiers were commonly seen and English speakers seldom encountered (people spoke either Russian or German as a second language). Experiencing the exact same place now is like some weird sort of time travel, and a personal revelation. Today the same street is full of bustling traffic, with autos of every European, American, and Japanese make (no more Russian cars), the sidewalks thronged with well-dressed pedestrians, the stores brimming with goods, and a palpable sense of vitality and hope. Not mention the presence of McDonalds and KFC and multinational corporate presence everywhere. The towering Palace of Culture, built by Stalin in the 1950s, was then by far the tallest building in the city and a despised symbol of Soviet domination. Today it is still a civic landmark but considerably diminished by taller, modern skyscrapers like the Marriot building. And the Soviets are long gone, since Lech Walesa and the Solidarity Movement in 1989, although most Poles still fear that the Russians wish to retake Poland, especially now that Putin is in power in Moscow.

On another, more pleasant topic, every day here I note that today’s young Polish women are amazingly attractive! Although their famous beauty is everywhere evident, it is delightfully hard to get used to. Through Joanna, I have met a number of these women, and am quite impressed. They are beautifully dressed and groomed, very friendly, and generally speak English well. I might add that the young men are likewise attractive: mostly slim, often bearded, intense-looking. I like the look of Poles and I love hearing the language being spoken, because it is both complex and sonorous. I am learning new words every day and beginning to read signs and speak simple sentences. Speaking it is more difficult; the consonant combinations are awesome; it has been said that speaking Polish sounds like biting glass.

Joanna’s apartment, although tiny (about 10 x 15 feet altogether), is attractively appointed, and, as a fourth-floor walk-up, has a pleasant view overlooking a tree-lined street and other nearby apartment houses. It is in a northern suburb called Bielany, with a forested park nearby and not too far from the Wisla River, Poland’s largest. Her flat is amazingly compressed but contains all we need: a kitchenette, bathroom with shower, small washing machine, bookshelves, storage closets, and enough floor space to unfold two foam mats at night. A radiator provides adequate heat but is non-adjustable so if it gets too hot we open a window as appropriate. Just for me, she ordered the installation of cable TV with HBO plus internet service so I am now online in my underwear. When I was last here, there were three grainy b/w channels; now I have about 80 channels including several in English, two in German, one in French, one in Russian.

Late at night, numerous of the junk channels that feature game shows, fashion, shopping, and local programming suddenly switch over to outright pornography. Normally I am in bed here by 10 or 11 pm so I didn’t know this until the other night when I stayed up late hoping to watch the Super Bowl. Despite all these channels, it was not available (at least in Radom, another town where we spent the weekend; perhaps it played in Warsaw, I don’t know). The interesting thing about the porn offerings is that apparently no genitals can be shown but just about anything else goes: breasts and nipples, of course, but also fondling, masturbation, fucking, fellatio, titillation and outrageous exhibitionism of every kind – just as long as no genitals are explicitly displayed. It’s a commentary on the prevailing Catholic mentality, which, because it denies sexuality, channels it instead onto late-night tv screens as a kind of sick reactionism. Joanna says that many Polish married women refuse to have sex with their husbands after they have children, so there is an active trade in prostitution. Some prostitutes park their cars by the road in the suburbs and solicit passing traffic.

So far, Joanna and I are very busy most of the time. We went to one party on my first night, a gathering of some young Buddhists who offered a great spread of bread, cheese, and kielbasi, with beer, wine, vodka, whiskey — plus lots of music, singing, and laughter. The next day we went to visit some friends of Joanna’s and then attended a dramatic reading in the evening. Occasionally we do some odd shopping — like trying to buy a voltage converter so I can run my computer and recharge my camera battery. I have also visited Joanna’s office near downtown at the headquarters of Poland’s primary dramatic magazine: Dialog – located on the grounds of the Polish National Library. Another day we went shopping on a cold wet day to a large outdoor street market, one of many throughout the city. It was quite large, spread over several blocks, with farmers and merchants of every kind, goods spread out from trucks or in small sheds – huge variety and cheap prices, colorful and crowded. We’ve also eaten out a few times. I had a traditional Polish dish called “bigos” – a combination of various shredded meats mixed with sauerkraut and sauce. Quite good but never again, I think. Another night we went to a downtown Indian restaurant that could only serve a total of four people at two tables. Yesterday, driving back from Radom, we stopped at a lovely new dome-shaped restaurant and I had cheese pierogi (dumplings) and salmon. Yum. Also, the beer is great and quite cheap, a dollar for a big half-liter. It’s a good thing I am going to be here awhile because there is so much to see and do. And I have been to her weekly meditation session, met numerous other friends and colleagues, and so on. This evening we will have tea with her ex-husband. I will also be going to her weekly Shambhala meditation group. Later I want to go to a dentist, an optometrist, and a doctor – but so far not time for that. Busy, busy, busy.

Joanna’s mother, who lived in Radom, a good-sized city several hours drive to the south, died a few months ago, leaving Joanna the task of clearing out four decades of possessions and selling the flat there. Joanna and I will probably be going there every weekend until the job is done, and quite a job it is. Her mom’s flat is on the fifth floor, which I went down and back up about 30 times this past weekend, carrying loads of clothes and stuff to be donated or junked. Although there are many thrift stores everywhere, they do not accept donations and most of the stuff cannot be sold easily or at all. So we are throwing out many valuable items that would fetch good prices in America but are effectively worthless here. Joanna found a hospital, an elder care home, and various friends to donate clothes, linens, towels and we loaded and drove them to these places. Her father, deceased many years, also had all his life’s possessions in the flat, including many valuable specialty and collector books (in Polish, of course, with some in Russian), dictionaries in multiple languages, maps, tools, and hobby items such as cameras, models, and collections. There is also a huge collection of family photos, including many antique ones on heavy visiting cards from the 1800s, family crystal ware, silver service, pots and pans, dishware, and on and on. I am going to attempt selling some things on Polish eBay, now that I have internet hookup and my laptop computer here. But there there are so many things, and all will need to be described in Polish, then uploaded, and then mailed if sold. And it’s all in another town, several hours drive away. It’s a huge undertaking, whichever way we try to do it. It reminds me of when I had to dispose of my deceased daughter Jan’s possessions, and I also note how emotional Joanna feels while doing this, just I did then.

Meanwhile, Joanna works four hours per day at her office and then does free-lance editing and proofreading at home for a variety of publishers and  magazines, often working nights and weekends to make ends meet. So, my being here is not exactly a vacation, or I could call it a working vacation. In any case, being in Poland is fascinating and tremendously educational, even though only part of our time is available for relaxation and sightseeing. However, Joanna is a charming companion and gracious hostess, while also being a virtual font of linguistic, historical, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual information and conversation. We are comfortable together and I feel at home in her tiny flat. Things are going well but we often feel exhausted at the end of the day because each day is full of activity and stimulation.

Best wishes and love,

Ed

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Warsaw Crows

The first thin traces of dawn
Illuminate the snow-clad trees
Of Bielany district apartments,
Sets free a cacophany of crows –
Loud, raucus, untamed cries
That inspire the pigeons and dogs
To come awake and also sing,
As early Sunday church-goers
Gamely trod the sodden streets,
Allowing crows to just be caws,
Allowing gods to just be dogs.



The Warsaw Rising Museum
March 14, 2008, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Poland

A few days ago I went to the Muzeum Powstanie, or the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is a new (2006), world-class, ultramodern, multimedia, must-see attraction that tells the almost unbelievable story of the 1944 heroic and tragic uprising of the Polish underground against the German garrison in Warsaw. It lasted 63 days, during which 18,000 Polish Home Army soldiers died (25,000 wounded), while 180,000 citizens of Warsaw also died (mostly murdered) and what remained of the city was systematically destroyed under Hitler’s orders to wipe Warsaw off the map of Europe. (Reported German losses were 10,000 killed, 7,000 missing, and 15,000 wounded.– which were their greatest losses in any battle except on the Russian front.) To put this in perspective, 5,000 Americans & allies have died so far in Iraq & Afghanistan in five years (about 30,000 wounded) — so the American war deaths are averaging under 3 per day, while the Polish underground army deaths during the uprising were 300 per day, AND 3,000 Polish civilians dying each day. Yet this people’s army resisted longer than did the well-equipped French army in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg. The Warsaw Resistance failed after two desperate months because, not only were they poorly equipped (no planes, tanks, armored cars, artillery, or heavy mortars as the Germans had in abundance), but mainly because they were betrayed by the Russians and virtually ignored by the Allies. In the Spring 1944 Yalta Agreement, before the Uprising, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to abandon Poland to Stalin. As a result, the Polish Home Army felt politically compelled to try to liberate Warsaw from the Germans because they felt it was their best chance to avoid Soviet totalitarianism in the aftermath of WW2. They wanted to show the world that Poland would fight for its own freedom, not only from Germany but from Russia. But they failed, and thus Poland was forced to undergo Communist domination for another four decades following their five years of Nazi domination. Finally, in the 1980s another Polish uprising — the Solidarity Movement — erupted and ultimately succeeded, becoming the first crack in the Iron Curtain that finally toppled the USSR itself. One of the most horrendous aspects of this story is that the surviving Polish leaders of the Uprising were repatriated to Poland after the war, only to be arrested by the Communist government and sent to Russian prisons where they were tortured and murdered. Stalin was as bad as Hitler.

This epic story of triumph and tragedy is told in the Warsaw Rising museum in vivid and graphic detail. The exhibits include an B24 bomber suspended from the ceiling (commemorating some supplies dropped by the Allies during the siege), a 500-foot-long, Vietnam-Vets-style memorial wall engraved with the names of almost 20,000 dead, a re-creation of the brick sewer channels in which the insurgents moved supplies and escaped the incessant air raids, films and combat photographs by the hundreds, a b/w slide show on a large suspended screen showing pre- and post-uprising photos of prominent Warsaw sites, first as handsome buildings and then as piles of rubble still recognizably the same places, and much more in the way of interactive exhibits.

One of these is a video interview with Marek Edelman, a Jewish-Polish hero and leader in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, AND the 1980s Solidarity Movement (which itself was almost a decade-long struggle against Communism that finally succeeded in 1989 with the election of Lech Welesa, and the later withdrawal of Russian troops and bureaucrats). Edelman, a remarkable survivor, is still alive and lives in Warsaw, and has written several books about his experiences of a lifetime struggling against Nazi and Communist tyranny. To me, the museum testifies that resistance against the most monstrous oppression can ultimately succeed if the populace is sufficiently courageous and willing to sacrifice everything for their freedom. The motto of this museum is: “We wanted to be free — and to owe that freedom to nobody else.”

As a kind of postscript to the museum, today Joanna and I drove to Kampinoski National Park, a large forested area north of Warsaw to take a walk in the woods on a budding spring day. Before long we came to the Palmiry cemetery and execution site with 2,200 graves of murdered partisans and citizens including several mayors and even a prewar olympic medalist. Reminders of the great Polish sacrifice are everywhere. Joanna believes the Uprising was disastrous for Poland because it destroyed an entire generation of its finest young people and degraded the national gene pool, but in any case, Poland’s war dead are omnipresent and grim reminders of Poland’s modern heritage.