Warsaw Hotchpotch 4

Cupids

Cupids were going to be a Warsaw theme, but after a first flurry they didn’t come flocking, so theme was demoted to Hotchpotch. The first two were on plates in the Muzeum Narodowy.

The third one I spotted was in a most unlikely place, the Peru exhibition. There, Cupid was the personification of carnal love being squashed under the foot of an angel embodying divine love. The foot was strategically placed.

Pavement plaque

“We play more when it’s green” is a quote from a song by Wojciech Młynarski. The plaque marks a project to plant a million trees.

Buildings

A Warsaw breakfast

Decrepitude

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A wall of broken china

A panoply of umbrellas

My grandchildren inform me that these were indicators of a street party

Miscellany within miscellany

And the best for last

From the blogosphere to a Warsaw tram! Lindy, Gilly, Jo (and an unknown mother and child). How I love the way our lives conjoined, albeit briefly. Thank you, lovely women.

This is the final post from warsaw2018. I’ll be returning to snippetsandsnaps soon.

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Janek and Maja

It is a year since I’ve seen Maja and Janek. Of course the long-debated decision to return to Poland to catch up with them is the right one, even though they’ll be in Australia in August.

Changes

They’ve grown long and lean; mastered bikes with pedals to the point where they can ride 20 kilometres; developed the habit of dressing themselves (no more dripping sweat on the changing room floor at preschool as I struggle to insert them into their outdoor shoes); learned their way around their apartment complex (something I didn’t manage) and how to make toast, brew coffee, slice bananas, prepare beans, organise their own entertainment. Now they court the camera and collect football cards.

Some things stay the same

Miss Maja is still mistress of the mainly white diet: white bread, pasta, cottage cheese, and pizza with nothing on it. Jaś is so interested in everything he’s easily distracted between Point A and nearby Point B. They both relish odd facts: “Nanny Meg, do you know how heavy a blue whale’s tongue is? As heavy as an elephant. Not a baby elephant. A fully grown elephant.” They still love stories, but now it’s chapter books. I read them the chapter of Charlotte’s web where Charlotte dies: I’m fearful of their reaction, but it is my daughter and I who are reduced to tears. The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary are the current favourite, with lots of debate about whether Ramona really is a pest. Listening to my daughter read these stories takes me back to the time when it was me reading them to her.

They both love dogs and bail up amenable ones in the park to pat, chatting to the owner and discovering all sorts of things to surprise me later. “That dog we talked to this morning likes kids. He plays all the time with his owner’s grandchildren.”

There are vestiges of the stuff we left behind: chalk, textas, Donald Duck comics, pipecleaners, stamps and stamp pads, and straws. They know where they’re stored, and climb on a chair to get what they want.

Managing twins

My management strategies include joining in a race across the courtyard and regimenting action by using the alarm clock. “Let’s see if we can eat breakfast … be dressed … or at preschool … before the alarm goes off.” I have to be careful not to depend on Maja to manage Jaś: to track him down when he disappears or hurry him up when it’s time to go.

Multi skilled

Their competence amazes me. They drive the lift, correct me when I’m heading for the tram going the wrong way, open the gate to preschool with the chip and type in the code to get in the door. Maja translates for us when the two babcias need to communicate, something she’s always resisted before.

Although they appear to be deeply involved in what they are doing they have one ear cocked to adult conversations. “How is that lady an old cow?” Maja asks, after R has been inveighing against a workmate. Jaś suddenly says “I hope Grandpa J didn’t die while you were away Nanny Meg”. We’re puzzled, until I realise I’ve been talking about friends who have died while I’ve been in Warsaw.

It’s glorious summer weather so they spend a lot of time outside in playgrounds, climbing rope pyramids, scrambling high up on a variety of climbing frames, riding bikes up the winding hilly track, pounding on drums, squabbling over fussball, following a simple maze, trying out skateboards, working themselves up on the swing, and of course eating ice cream.

They have their vagaries. Jaś spends 45 minutes waiting for his ice cream to melt so he can drink it. His allergies seem to be largely tamed, although nuts are still dangerous. Maja won’t go into the playground until she’s seen Mummy pay, always a bit anxious to do the right thing.

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Sleepover: Maja

I have such a good time on my first day with each of them separately that I suggest separate sleepovers. They become the highlights of my visit. I’m a bit hesitant because I have no supplies – no books, no pens, no toys. Miss Maja is happy playing noughts and crosses: games are one of her favourite things – and so is winning. She slices the beans with scissors; draws the cats we encountered on our walk home from their apartment: assembles the toy in her Kinder surprise; and watches Netflix. She chooses two or three cartoons and then says “Let’s watch Puffin Rock”. At bedtime I read her a picture book she brought with her and tell her, in an increasingly soporific voice, a story about some adventure of Cruz. During the night she rotates and when her foot encounters my mouth I kiss it tenderly.

Sleepover: Janek

When it’s Janek’s turn I meet them in the playground. He comes tearing over to me, only briefly losing purpose, leaps on my lap and says “Can we go to your house now?” We blow bubbles from the window as he yells “Cześc” to people two storeys down, me gripping him tightly in case he forgets where he is. He too chops beans “how I like them”, and peels a cucumber. He assembles his kinder surprise with astonishing deftness, reading the pictorial instructions as I tremble at the thought that I might have to help. Soon he has it functioning, pulling a strap and sending a wheel into the air, or onto the floor where it spins like a top.

Then, disaster. He locks himself in the bathroom and can’t unlock the door. I try to keep alarm out of my voice, as I feel him beginning to panic. I decide I’ll have to ring Tata to come and take the door off, but suddenly it opens, and the drama’s over.

We too watch Puffin Rock. I read a Beverly Cleary story on Kindle, and tell an unrecognisable mash-up of the Achilles story for bedtime. Eventually he falls asleep. In the morning, we beat every alarm, and have time to blow bubbles from the top of the rope pyramid on the way to pre-school. But he won’t go in till Maja arrives with Tata.

Waterguns

Every day on the way to preschool they gaze longingly into the window of the toy shop near the tram stop. On the last afternoon we finally buy something. By the time I gather my wits, they’ve already asked for the waterguns they want, their first independent shop. Pani deals with a problem with Janek’s trigger, and then offers to fill them. She tests them, firing out the shop door and almost squirting an amused passer-by. I’m apprehensive about twins with loaded guns on the tram, but it’s only one stop. By the time we walk through Park Dreszera they are emptied, Janek’s in an attack on a flock of pigeons, Maja’s in sly firing at me.

Leaving

As I prepare to go to the airport, they say, seasoned travellers that they are, “Nanny Meg, when the plane’s landing you’ve got to swallow so your ears don’t hurt.” Farewelling them, my heart is melon-balled.

The passing parade

At home, from a folding chair in the dunes. Here, I settle for a seat on a tram, bus, or train; a bench in a park; or an outdoor dining place. Anywhere I can watch with impunity and notebook in hand.

In transit

Crow with a chicken bone stopping at a puddle, placing claw on bone while (s)he drinks and then flying off, without the bone

Tattooed arms emerging from a singlet top like embroidered sleeves

Man jay-running, phone to ear, to catch the tram

Little girl, face intent, holding a tram ticket carefully as she approaches the validating machine

Harassed babcia trying to manage twins with loaded water pistols

From a park bench

Zebra, a tiger, horses in various sizes, go-karts, all wheeled, lined up waiting to extract złoty from grown-up pockets

Architecture of balloons in the shape of Peppa Pigs, Pooh Bears, kangaroos, hearts, soccer balls, Minnie Mice, aeroplanes with faces – all dipping with the wind and cluster-weight

Tiny girl with dark curls and beaded sandals holding a dandelion with tender care

Dad using the climbing net for chin-ups or pushing a pram while his son in a blue helmet and yellow jacket scoots along beside him on a pedal-less bike

Circle of children sitting in front of a man making bubbles, shouting “More! More! More!” whenever he stops

Stary Rynek, Poznań

Pigeon perched on an eagle’s head, high above the town square

Mother wrangling five children under six, one falling flat-faced on the cobblestones, two squabbling

Crouched warrior, helmeted and brandishing a spear, dribbling desultory water

Little children climbing up to peer over the edge of the fountain and splash their hands in it standing on tippy toe

Large family – grandparents, parents and children – out for an orderly stroll

Gaggle of kids trailing high pitched chatter and giggles carrying the treasures of the day, including a set of edible false teeth

A young woman with a large pink bag and toes turned in being photographed by a friend on the steps of the fountain

A pair of look-alikes in jeans and denim jackets

An old man in a red T-shirt stubbing his cigarette in the bin as he surveys it for loot

A nun in a grey habit and sandals and a boy in a white surplice

Chairs

I decided to make chairs one of my Warsaw themes, inspired by Maja and Jaś. When they took a tour of Wilanów Palace Museum, amongst all the splendour their attention was caught by chairs. Their discussion focused on relative comfort: “This one would be much more comfortable to sit in.” “This one doesn’t look very comfortable at all.”

My collection begins with this jumble outsidve a second-hand shop in Praga.

From the streets of Praga, my quest takes me to Fontainebleau Castle via the Napoleon exhibition. These chairs are mahogany with inserts and inlays in ebony, and a pattern of aquatic leaves and small palm trees on the back. The seat is covered with light green silk. To complete the poetry of detail, it is marked by a fire at Fontainebleau.

For grandeur, here is one of Napoleon’s thrones, replete with Ns in case there’s any doubt about ownership.

For seats you can actually sit on, here’s a collection arranged like a railway carriage near Central Railway Station in front of Stalin’s Finger.

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“Worrying is a hard job. It hasn’t helped anyone yet, but it’s hurt plenty.”
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“Crazy people who think they are able to change the world change it”
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A tribute to Andrzej Wajda, filmaker and philanthropist
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Bench for „Mistress and Margarita”, a book full of magic, understatements, riddles, secrets. (I think)
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Who does not know „The Little Prince”? His Rose and the three volcanoes? Sit on this bench and embark on a journey to glimpse what is most important in life.

I finished this post sitting on a chair in the lounge room at Potato Point, part of a set of eight from my mother’s childhood home which I had renovated and reupholstered after the death of my uncle. His canny stock market ventures gave me the wherewithal to buy this house and to seek chairs elsewhere.

Five

Little things that give delight

# the purchase of seven thin blank-paged notebooks

# the nubbly feel of thick cotton sheets

# the gradual dying of a vase of flowers

# stepping into my empty apartment

# buying strawberries, a kilo at a time

Distractions on the route to pre-school

# collecting a worm and watching him curl in the palm of the hand

# running madly, hiding behind a tree and bursting out with a “Boo”

# chasing fluff from poplar trees

# blowing a dandelion

# chasing two cats that live somewhere in the apartment complex

# watching a man dig up his garden

# squatting to scrutinise a dead sparrow

# standing under a drip from an upstairs balcony

# looking longingly at the window of a toy shop

# collecting cat food fallen from a balcony

Pleasant encounters

# an old woman who thought I’d miss the bus because I was looking at my device and tapped me to let me know

# an old man who saw my puzzlement about where a tram timetable was and pointed me in the right direction

# a few perfectly comprehensible exchanges despite mutually incomprehensible language

# a taxi driver who said “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

# a lengthy count out of coins at the checkout, accompanied by smiles

Blunders

# trying to get into the tram driver’s compartment instead of the tram

# taking four weeks to find the supermarket in the ‘hood

# heading for the wrong tram taking the kids to school

# entering the wrong code at the preschool

# booking a ticket for 5 instead of 17.00

Changes

# not so many demands for small coins

# signs for the blind

# renovations everywhere

# Sunday closing

# I’m relaxed!!

Things the wind moves along

# an airborne flock of tree fluff

# an accumulated ball of tree fluff

# a round golden leaf on its edge

# an empty bottle

# a pram in reverse

Things I didn’t come to Warsaw for

# a Napoleon exhibition

# the treasures of Peru

# an exhibition of Japanese wood engravings

# a binge on Netflix

# a week-long cold

Alien sounds

# the ringing, peeling and clanging of church bells *

# the clacking of high heels on pavements

# the roaring and squealing of vehicles in the middle of the night

# the song of birds I don’t recognise

# the sound of suitcases wheeled on uneven surfaces

Regrets

# I didn’t venture out to the Long Night of Museums

# I failed to succour my daughter when she was ill

# I didn’t do enough early morning exploring

# I spent far too much time with Netflix

# I didn’t visit Powsin, the neon museum, Wilanów; walk along the river; or go to the Sunday Chopin concerts

Things for kids

# a special Children’s Day – a day of treats

# the voices of children naming stops on the tram

# books in the park: a rug, craft, stories read aloud

# a custom of standing up for children on public transport

# a variety of plays and music for kids, and special events on The Long Night of Museums

Special memories to take home

# Maja and Jaś taking turns for a mighty run-up to push each other on a hard-to-move whirly thing in the park

# Maja and Jaś suddenly flinging their arms around each other as they walk along

# Maja stalking me quietly and grinning when I turn round and spot her

# Jaś putting on his sweet face and then showing the gap where his first tooth fell out

# Jaś and Maja’s hands in mine as we cross streets, or just walk along

Warsaw Hotchpotch 3

Hands

The hand fixation hasn’t gone away. This time I focus on what women’s hands have spent their time doing in the past, at least when they were having their portraits painted. The hands were amputated from paintings in the Room of Portraits in the Museum of Warsaw.

Church glass

These elegant glass panels were in the doors leading into St Martin’s Church in Piwna Street. That was as far as I could penetrate. The touch of red is from the stained glass window.

Window of life

I’ve heard about windows of life – places in a church wall where you can lift a door and place an unwanted baby in a cradle – ever since my first visit to Poland. Lost in my attempt to find the hotel where Gilly will be staying, I stumbled across one. Unfortunately my photo doesn’t show the interior, the basic plastic cradle, reflecting the bleakness of the act of leaving a baby and the circumstances making it necessary, as the world rushes by.

Palace of Culture and Science

No Warsaw visit is complete without at least one image of this monstrous edifice, preferably dwarfed by something – this time the clouds.

Education on the back of toilet doors

Plantings at a major bus interchange

What a surprise! Woven beds, planted out with flowers, and unless my market gardener memory deceives me, vegetables, even perhaps companion planting.

Two of my favourite things

In one image, I manage to capture both laburnum and a toi toi.

Three ones

In emulation of Sue

Disappearing spring

Stencil memorial

Poznań leftovers

What on earth does he mean?

Floral, avian and molluscal maraudings

And a smile

Churches

St. Florian’s Cathedral, Praga

This cathedral is more formally known as the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Florian the Martyr. It was built as a protest against Russian domination of Poland and its attempt to impose a foreign church. It was the Catholic answer to the Orthodox Church of St Mary Magdalene just down the road. St Florian is the patron saint of professions connected with fire – firefighter, steelworkers, chimney sweeps, potters and bakers.

St Florian’s was destroyed by the Germans as they withdrew from Poland in 1944 after the Warsaw Uprising. It remained in ruins until the 1950s when a reconstruction effort slowly began with support from Praga residents. The rebuilt church, in all its brick splendour, was reopened in 1972.

Parish church of St Michael the Archangel, Mokotów

On the other side of the river, a block or two away from my apartment, this church memorialises WW2 in plaques: people who died in the early days of the war and in the Warsaw Uprising; members of the Polish Underground; soldiers, officers, liaison women, colporters and nurses in various Home Army units; writers, poets, scientists, reporters, and printers; girls and boys who were soldiers in the Home Army battalion Baszta; and individuals such as Elżbieta Sokolnicka, liaison woman of the regiment “Baszta”, who died in Mokotów in the Warsaw Uprising.

Intentions fall flat on their faces, at least in my world. This was going to be a post about various churches. Some I planned to feature I discovered I’d already posted about in detail on other visits. Then, in the week when I was going to tie up lose ends I took to my bed with a mortal cough, a temperature and deep indolence. So, I only feature a contrasting two out of the projected seven. But I’ll be back.

Japanese women

I love living in a city! So many things to see, and so diverse.

In Łazienki I make my way to the Officer Cadets school, and walk through through a curtain marked with elegant Japanese characters into an alien world of wood engravings. I have very little cultural reference and feel a bit at sea. How can I possibly appreciate what I’m about to see? Especially in dim light with small-print captions.

So don’t expect anything much from an encounter between an unformed and uninformed western aesthetic and a hundred wood-engravings, part of the collection from the National Museum in Kraków, which span the early 17th century to the mid-19th century,

What pleasure can I draw from my ignorance? Composition: the way bodies curve and robes fall in folds. Design and detail of robes and hair. Glimpses of a totally unfamiliar way of life. Occasional familiarities as a mother breastfeeds or a boy pulls faces behind his mother’s back or a woman reads. Subtle colours.

I realise I am right to accept my limitations when I read “The white is important to the meaning of this scene because it alludes to the pure colour of a heron’s wings”. Allusions are beyond me. I’m more at home with a print showing a young girl on a bridge in a strong autumn wind: a swirling of robes and leaves and branches and water.

I did not expect to meet large as an ideal of Japanese beauty, but there it is, along with domestic scenes; images of actors; encounters with demons; kimonos, obis and musical instruments; an occasional poem; scenes from the Pleasure District; and women duelling, making music and painting.

The building

What became the Officer Cadets School began life as kitchens, pantry and cellar for the Palace on the Island. There were also rooms occupied by a friend of the king, a major-general, the king’s cup-bearer, the head cook, the royal butler and a couple of pageboys. The kitchen was connected to the Palace by a wooden-roofed, marble-floored corridor.

In 1830 it was the place where the November Uprising against the Russian rulers began. It was unsuccessful and the leader, Piotr Wysocki, was deported to Siberia.

Museum of Warsaw 3

I’ve been waiting for this museum to open ever since I began coming to Warsaw in 2012. My anticipation was not about its contents – I didn’t even begin to speculate about that. What I was waiting for so eagerly was the chance to get inside the Old Town houses; through those substantial doors; under the decorative arches and the decorated lintels; beyond the barred windows.

Now it’s happened. Inside I find arched alcoves – or are they arcaded niches? In the 14th century, wooden buildings here began being replaced by brick as people became richer and building with wood was banned because of the danger of fire. Polychrome paintings decorated niches in the high-ceilinged entrance halls. In the 18th century, people tended to wall up the niches. This arcade was uncovered in 1951 during conservation work. Unfortunately, the paintings hadn’t survived.

Grand doors separate the rooms, hanging from portals of sandstone from the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. Restorers used slightly different material to replace missing bits, so you’d know what was original.

When the Old Town was being rebuilt in the 1950s, remnants of several medieval religious paintings were discovered. One was carved from its wall in two pieces, conserved, restored and placed here.

There are still eleven Rooms waiting to be opened. The Room of Warsaw Packaging sounds the most intriguing, although I sense a possible surfeit of mermaids.

Museum of Warsaw 2

My second visit to the Museum of Warsaw is focused mainly on views of the city over time: these images appear on postcards, china, and tapestry; as a model; and more conventionally in oil paintings, watercolours and a photographed woodcut. I love looking at scenes in all these forms and thinking “I know that place”: that palace, that street, that riverbank, that building. They take me on the Warsaw turkey trot where I jerk between past and present. Oh, there’s that building in ruins after the destruction of World War 2: unruined in 1913; rebuilt after 1950.

Room of postcards

Somehow a framed postcard loses a bit of its essence and becomes merely a view or a portrait.

Postcard makers seem to have a penchant for the Gothic: a building or monument against background of stormy clouds and maybe a moon riding high. They also relish daytime buildings and monuments, preferably grand, and occasionally in ruins. Sometimes they portray historical events, as in the one with soldiers relaxing.

Some are portraits of celebrities – actresses and opera singers – all unknown now and therefore not very interesting, at least to this observer. Except when they are accompanied by some detail. This one is Wiktoria Kawecka, the nightingale of Warsaw, prima donna of the Warsaw operetta in the early years of the 20th century, noted for the timbre, scale and power of her voice, including whistling, yodelling and mormoranda.

There are two cards I can’t resist. One shows a cucumber farmer, surrounded by his produce in that sepia that speaks of another age. I’m always a sucker for anything that remotely smacks of market gardening, because I’ve done that.

Only two cards in this collection display the back with the postmarks, the address, the mangled stamp and the all-important message. This one, one of 17, is a mother writing to a sick daughter recuperating in the country: My beloved Lila. As well as good wishes for Lila’s health they include lists of things mother has sent to help the recovery.

Room of souvenirs

I’m not a souvenir-buyer, so the Room of Souvenirs doesn’t particularly appeal to me, although I am interested in the modes chosen (china, silver, tapestry, pins, plaques); and in the images of buildings and, inescapably, mermaids.

Room of mermaids

I’m beginning to lose interest in the mermaid. She’s ubiquitous, so much so that she’s transforming from icon to kitsch. However she can’t be ignored. So here she is. In this room there are 96 representations from hundreds in the museum holdings, including the fragment of a 17th century glazed ceramic tile, a 1970 paper cut-out by Wojciech Czerwosz and a ration card from 1916.

Room of Warsaw views

Some of the Warsaw views come easy: I just have to look at the vertical plane on which a painting or woodcut of a view from the top of Zygmunt’s column in 1875 hangs; or look down on the horizontal platform for a model of the city; or pull open the horizontal drawers containing watercolours. By now I’ve seen enough grand buildings, so I focus on scenes of working life, pleasure and pigeons; and the brightly coloured modern version of Plac Zamkow (attribution lost).

Observation point

Some views of Warsaw I have to sweat for. I do not like heights and for views from above of the real and present town square and the city beyond, I have to climb a steep staircase with a view down five floors if I dare to look. When I reach the top (lost again, I had to interrupt women at lunch to ask them conduct me through umpteen doors from the office area I’d strayed into) I decide through my trembling and my clutching at the wall for support that it was worth it. I back down the stairs as if on a ladder for added security.