From the train

Intentions create themselves: the three-and-a-half hour train journey between Warsaw and Poznań deconstruct into silhouette and line, becoming what Cathy at wanderessence so aptly called “intentional noticing”.

I’m always surprised by the flatness of the Polish landscape on this route. It sometimes gives the completely horizontal Hay Plain in western NSW a run for its money, and provides the perfect venue for silhouettes to pose against a dull morning sky.

The delicate tracery of cranes. Towering, tapering brick cylinders and chimneys. Apartment buildings emerging, rectangular prisms, from the horizon. Birds in flight, some flapping energetically, others merely coasting. Electricity towers, arms open to embrace the wires connecting them. Frameworks of buildings, windows to the sky. Black shapes of untidy nests in bare trees. A thin red and white striped tower with a narrow ladder crawling up its side. A willow tree on a raised island in a ploughed field. Smoke coiling up from a backyard fire. Brick turrets, square and conical. Trees outlined from the ground up by mist. The red-tipped arms of turning windmills: a flock of them pacing the landscape. Neat silo cylinders, concrete and silver, arched concrete bridges, piles of containers. Briefly, a low line of hills. A procession of thin trees. A big oblong truck against the clouds.

Always churches, claiming the highest point in any town – a grand brick church, main spire green, flanked by two smaller spires; a low gracefully squat church with one humble beautifully proportioned spire; an onion dome above a grove of trees

However, it’s not only silhouettes I notice. The greening fields and farming activity of spring draw my attention to line.

Furrows, freshly ploughed; plantings a few inches high separated by a narrow, shallow trench of earth; irrigation channels; rows of fruit trees; the straight trunks of plantation trees; the neat lines of hedges; the tidy pyramids of round hay bales; the straight edges of an oblong dam; cows grazing along a waterway; an avenue of tees leading to a farmhouse. Cars, and once a man a woman and a dog, waiting at a crossing; the gravestones in a town cemetery; palettes piled in a yard; a yellow house with orange diamonds; men rolling hay bales and a man a woman and a wheelbarrow in alignment.

I’m going to Poznań to visit a friend who lives in a village on the outskirts. The transition to bus 1 is simple, just outside the railway station. I miss the bus 2 connection, and the next one doesn’t come for two hours. I find two helpful women in the nearby garage, one who knows buses and only speaks Polish and one who doesn’t know buses but speaks English. Between them they direct me to another bus to Anna’s village. But nothing phases me these days. When I see a taxi, I hail it and give the driver double the fare in sheer gratitude when he deposits me in exactly the right place.

My reward? A lovely few hours with Anna and ten-month-old Hannah, who grins at me immediately and giggles inexhaustibly at a game of “Boo.” I’m glad. By the time I see her again I’ll be incomprehensible.

The journey back to Poznań is straightforward, as is the entrance to my apartment despite two codes and a key. I climb the grand staircase grinning still. The taxi driver spotted my address card when I was fumbling around looking for it, played dance music to which he gyrated, grabbed my knee, and said “I love you, I love you, I love you” as I got out of the cab. I did not tip him.

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Museum of Warsaw

At last I’ve visited a museum it’s hard to fault. The Museum of Warsaw, revamped after a long and varied history, is located in a line of town houses in the Old Town market square, and not least of its pleasures is access to these buildings.

If I said this museum experience begins with a number of rooms of statistics, you might be tempted to give it a miss. These are in the form of infographics: clear and to the point, in impeccable English (as well as impeccable Polish, I imagine), and readable without having to put your nose on them and peer. They stretch along otherwise unadorned walls in a series of cellars, and deal with changing demographics; religious patterns; important buildings and the protests that took place in their vicinity from the 1850s to the present; the evolution of the mermaid image; the expansion of the city; and historical firsts. I wonder whether my growing knowledge of the city makes them more attractive: maybe a newcomer dashing through wouldn’t feel the same interest. I after all have gaps to fill.

I move on through the cellars to archeological finds, many dated to the 14th and 15th century, excavated around Warsaw: clay pots, ceramics, Dutch faience, pipes, glass and tiles. It’s the domestic and the quirky that catch my imagination: the large rusty iron 17th century shears; the chamber pots for ladies to carry under voluminous skirts for discreet peeing during long sermons; the rack for shaping clay pipes. I also like the glass cases full of fragments of glass or pottery, all carefully numbered, and the incomplete plates and bowls jigsawed together. Part of their charm is that they were used somewhere near where I am now.

Here again presentation is classy. Discreet drawers beside the exhibits pull out to reveal attributions and information – so discreet, I must confess it takes me a while to find them: my eyes are busy searching for captions.

Not for the first (or last) time recently, I get lost and benefit. An unobtrusive guide – I don’t see him till I need him – ushers me to the lift, and up to the silver floor where all is gleam, with only the occasional dent to humanise opulence.

Looking through my creatively-formatted concertina starter guide to the museum over coffee at Mood café, I realise I missed three galleries – the Room of Postcards, the Room of Warsaw Views, the Room of Souvenirs – and the Observation Point. I could also see at a glance future pleasures in store in other rooms still under development.

Getting things sorted

Camera

This is what the screen of my camera has been looking like for two weeks now.

I press every available button, over and over, and nothing changes. I accommodate myself. But I have a photographic project in mind that requires controlled shooting in the dim and this screen does not allow that choice. Eventually I decide to do something about it. I find a Sony shop and Mr Google Maps gives me very clear directions. How did I manage without him? The only price I pay is revealing my location.

So I set off, earlier than usual. All goes well till I swap from train to tram. I run up and down staircases with increasing irritation. I can see my tram stop – 08 – but always from the other side of a busy non-crossable road. I resort to lifts: they don’t curve around and lose me my orientation. Still wrong. At last, after taking every available exit from underground I end up on the Number 1 tram to Banacha.

From there plain sailing. I find the camera shop. I show the man my problem. He presses a button. I have my desired screen back.

Mind you, I pressed that button many times myself.

iPhone

I don’t know whether I should get started on the matter of phones. They’ve been tormenting me since before I left home. The cheap new phone I bought has rejected three SIMs from three different sources. The iPhone won’t allow me to text anyone at home, except my son. Not even on Telstra roam. It gives me internet with my second Polish SIM for a glorious two weeks, and then used up a recharge on one search. I replaced it with my first Polish SIM and got phone, but no internet. I’m off to Poznań soon and I need my newly-discovered navigator, so I went to a nearby service provider shop with my requirement written in Polish, intent on buying a third Polish SIM. “Sorry. We don’t have any SIMS in your size.” What???

I become determined. I find another Orange shop. This time I take all my SIM packaging which I’ve luckily labelled so I know which SIM is currently in my phone. The woman in the shop pulls up my account, and frowns at her compute screen and my settings screen for ten minutes. She finally slides some button on my phone, says “Aha” and informs me that I have 6GB of data.

I’m not altogether convinced. I wait for a moment of leisure and strength and check my email. It opens swiftly and effectively.

And the rest

Why is it that botanical gardens give so much to the photographer? I visited this one for African violets, but there was much more. In the corners of the glasshouse leading to the display of African violets, glass cases of what google translates as African wrench or African twister: Jude suggests they may be Cape Primroses. In the tropical glasshouse, leaves, multicoloured, deeply veined and water-dropletted; flowers of strange configurations; and a waterlily pond.

African violets and a black cat

This post is for my friend Rosemary, who is a fan and nurturer of both African violets and cats of any colour

It’s spring, so of course botanical gardens host exhibitions. This week, African violets – next week, wait and see!

The Polish habit of starting the day around my lunchtime got me an uncrowded hour, when my photography could be leisurely and considered. The exhibition wasn’t very big, just a couple of tables, but oh what colour, shape and variety. Frilled, fluted, ruched, ruffled petals. Delicate edging of purple, pale green, white surrounding deep pink. Rich purple slashed with crimson. African violets such as I had never seen before.

For some reason that may be fascinating a lot of the labels were in Cyrillic (maybe Ukrainians are great breeders of African violets). Three names that tickled my fancy from the English labels were Mamma’s Backhoe, Crimson Ice and Bold Party Girl.

A black cat wove his way through my scrutiny and meowed at me in an expectation I couldn’t fulfill. He kept manifesting as I moved through glasshouses. If only I’d kept the plastic shoe cover full of cat food the kids scavenged on the way home yesterday!

Crypt

I set off for the crypt under Warsaw cathedral, full of expectations and words to create the anticipated atmosphere. * I was ready to describe dank walls, rotting coffins, stumbling gloom, a sombre feeling of foreboding, light that was tenebrous or at least crepuscular. My expectations were formed by reading “Moonfleet” as a child.

But I wasn’t about to have a “Moonfleet” experience. Not at all.

A bored priest was sitting behind a stand waiting for customers. He looked as if he should be reading his breviary, or whatever priests read in idle moments. He took my 10 zł note, ceremoniously opened a door in a dark cupboard behind him, and pulled out from amongst what looked like a naturopath’s pharmacopeia an ancient cash box. He rooted around in it for my 5zł change.

Then he ushered me down the stairs to an interactive information screen, told me I’d be coming out up a different flight of stairs, and left me to it.

The walls were not dripping with moisture and moss. There were brightly whitewashed, tasteful boulders protruding in places, and the-anything-but-dank arches were illuminated by discreet floor and ceiling lights. There were heads on spikes, but they were heads of stone, sculptures rescued from the pile of rubble the cathedral became in WW2.

The ossuary contained a scattering of imitation skulls.

As I walked through the whitewashed caverns, I didn’t get sepulchral atmosphere, but I did get funereal information, lots of it.

A whole treasury of words: cenotaphs, pilasters, friezes, cornices, cartouches, volutes, catafalques, escutcheons.

An introduction to the coffin portrait, unique to Polish coffins of the Baroque period, a realistic octagonal portrait, painted in oil on sheet zinc that had previously treated with a primer, usually garlic juice.

An explication of the symbolism of peacock feathers representing immortality and eternal life, and therefore hope; and candles, representing a combination of matter and spirit.

The large fabric information panels give me the wherewithal to help you plan a sumptuous Polish funeral of the Baroque period.

Firstly, you hire a funeral designer and an MC. Then you construct triumphal arches on the road to the church. There’ll probably be several hundred priests and thousands of invited guests. The MC leads the procession wearing the armour of the dead man (Pompa funebris for men only?). You fill the church with candles, cover the walls with damask, and drape the coffin stand with crimson velvet. After the service, the MC enters the church on the horse and ceremonially falls off it: other knights break the sword and lance of the guest of honour. You can probably expect all this to come close to bankrupting you.

The pomp of the funeral was made lastingly visible by the grandeur of the marble-and-gold sarcophagi.

The Crypt of the Distinguished had niches for eminent Poles: bishops, presidents, generals, Nobel prize winners, and pianist-composer-presidents. Including a president who had five hundred godsons – during his presidency he became godfather to every seventh son.

And then there were the details: Polish eagle and Catholic cross predominating.

I did indeed emerge via a different staircase, right beside the altar.

* This thesaural preparation is the result of the pervasive influence of Cathy at wanderessence

Coda

I snatch every opportunity to fill out my knowledge of Warsaw’s history.

The first German air raid on Warsaw in 1939 did serious damage to the Cathedral. Then during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, there was an insurgent barricade at the front door, fighting inside the building. The front line ran through the middle. A Goliath mine completed the damage.

Reconstruction began in 1948 and was completed in 1956: the facade was rebuilt in Vistula Gothic style with a stepped brick spire. A crucifix that survived by a miracle was returned to its previous place.

Images taken from the interactive screen.

RegularRandom: 5 minutes with …

… what on earth is it? About my only certainty is that it’s not an African violet, although I saw it the day I visited an African violet exhibition (post to follow). Right there lying on the low wall of the fern garden in the tropical glasshouse at Warsaw Botanical Gardens. First sight, gasp-inducing with a question mark at the end. What is it?

I soon lost interest in the impossible task of naming, and set to with the camera, circling my prey, accompanied by more gasps and mutterings of delight as its details unfolded. Although perhaps there is something a bit sinister about it.

This is my first Warsaw post in DesleyJane’s weekly RegularRandom challenge, an exotic companion to her beautifully photographed Mother’s Day biscuit.

Warsaw Hotchpotch 2

Trees and ways to accommodate them

Old Town building embellishments

Street art

Two anomalies in parkland – a table with a cloth and flowers, and unaccompanied keys.

And another anomaly outside the loos at a restaurant

An inferior version of spring

Would a desk like this improve my writing?

Or a cabinet like this my identification of rocks or shells?

Polish flags disposed to celebrate May 3

Home cooking or eating out? And who has a penchant for dill?

Always bikes

A posy from my grandchildren, following the family tradition of flower-theft

Cemetery

I visit the main Catholic cemetery on a day of bright sunshine and loud Poles. Hovering there is the woman I once was, new to Warsaw, new to my son-in-law, and on the verge of my first Polish disease. That day was bitter and I wasn’t dressed warmly enough: All Saints Day, when families visit their dead with lanterns and flowers.

Today there are a few people tending graves: a woman with a carry bag of little pots of flowers, one of which tips out on the ground as she fumbles it; a man with a broom sweeping away the droppings of spring; and an old woman, walking stick leaning against the tomb, holding her back in some pain as she rises from her grave-nurturing crouch.

I become aware of my own Warsaw dead: people whose lives ended while I was here. Christine, woman of intuition and waterlilies, who was just beginning to be my friend. Paul, friend from university days, who fought a pitched battle with motor neurone disease for 20 years while he continued his high-powered educational career. Auntie Beryl, Aboriginal elder, and friend from way back in the days when I worked at the Aboriginal homework centre. Peter, my next door neighbour who lapped me as I walked along the beach, cleaned my carpets, and did the odd job for me.

Although there are memorial offerings, Death is everywhere in the cemetery: In the rusting rings; the worn-away carvings; the tumbles of broken stone; the proliferating lichen; the fallen blossom of horse chestnuts. A magpie pulls something fleshy from a decorative urn: a small dismembered rodent, which he leaves draped on the edge of a tomb.

For another walk through this cemetery, see here.

Festival of white, pink and purple

My last post was about getting lost in space. In this one, I get lost in time, heading off to an exhibition that hasn’t begun yet. But there are compensations. I thought I’d missed tulips but Łazienki has blazing plantings of white ones, the first lot garlanded by blue forgetmenots; the second lot surrounding a statue with his hand in the mouth of a lion, their unthreatening mouths lifted to the spring day.

They welcome the camera into their most intimate places.

In the Dutch garden at the Orangery, where a man in yellow protective gear is spray-cleaning the statues, the colour scheme changes from the elegance of white to the flourish of purple and pink, with a touch of sunset and yellow.