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Laugh of God

Warsaw’s multicolored life

POLAND | Friday, 6 April 2012 | Views [375]

The magic of Warsaw begins at Nowy Swiat Street. Walking away from this historic thoroughfare, visitors are amazed by the sensation of watching a black-and-white film in the district of Praga and by the harmony, beauty, and silence of Lazienki Park. The many small and winding streets give one the illusion of being in a maze. Eleven students from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus recently walked along these streets. They were taking part in a 12-day study tour of Poland, based in Warsaw, with the goal of learning about the various aspects of Polish life.

OLD TOWN

The capital of Poland is known for its special play of colors, emotions, and moods. The unusual local contrasts enchant both visitors and city residents. The old center of Warsaw smiles at people with its multicolored houses that once expressed the moods of Polish noble families, who would pull up in horse-drawn carriages to a ball, dance a polka or a polonaise, the women dressed in exquisite, sophisticated ball gowns, and listen to a performance by Frederic Chopin. Legend has it that at night in these houses you can see a dragon that fell in love with the queen of the capital, the mermaid Siren. Today his bronze beloved stands in the Old Town center. If you listen closely, you can hear the dragon’s love song.

Roaming the little back streets of old Warsaw, visitors can hear the music of bells, violins, drums, flutes, and double-basses. Local musicians seem to have struck a deal to play in unison because you can hear harmony and the same rhythm that has endured throughout the years. No one has ever seen the faces of the creators of this moon-lit evening show.

THE LIFE OF POLES

The entire Polish capital is green and carpeted with flowers. You can see them in huge flowerbeds, on windowsills and balconies, and at intervals of a dozen or so meters you will come across smiling florists, who sometimes offer their wares for free. Varsovians are openhearted and friendly: they address people as “love” or “dear,” while smiling broadly. Salespeople and shoppers always say hello and goodbye to one another.

Warsaw residents spend their leisure time in a wide variety of ways: some flock to the splendid parks of Wilanow and Lazienki, others listen to sailor songs in pubs, while others attend international festivals. Some Varsovians prefer to take classes, take a stroll through some Polish royal castles, or visit traditional and modern museums. The most other-worldly individuals like to carve medieval paraphernalia in workshops. In the evening, most Poles are glued to their televisions, watching their favorite television series Ranczo.

The best form of transport in Warsaw is the streetcar. You can get around quickly on streetcars because there are no traffic jams. There is also a convenient subway — only one line with some very unusual stations. However, it is dangerous and expensive to travel on Polish trains because there are only two conductors for every train. Poles say that passengers are sometimes robbed on trains.

PRAGA

Praga is the only district in Warsaw that survived World War II intact. The buildings here have never been rebuilt. Everything is a surprise in this area. Local residents know everything about each other, and they always greet each other earnestly and loudly even if they see somebody from their balcony. Local cats befriend dogs and lie together on the same windowsill.

There is no answer to the strange things that go on this city district. Why is a 1930s-type dandy shooting, in broad daylight, from his crossbow at some odd targets? Why are a few men playing a card game with only three cards on a broken chair? Why is there only a tiny window in a huge wall? Why do a synagogue, an Orthodox church, and a Roman Catholic church form a triangle? Why are people sleeping with their eyes open next to a window? Why does the wall of a central building have a picture of nuns playing the guitar, and why does everybody love this picture and want to hang onto it?

STUDY TOUR OF POLAND

After seeing Warsaw from the outside, we began to study it from the inside. Bogdan Borusiewicz, Marshal (Speaker) of the Polish Senate, told us that Poland plans to introduce the euro, the national economy has risen by six percent, and a lot of international investments are coming in. He also said that many Poles, especially doctors, are looking for jobs in Ireland, England, and other countries. The marshal noted that all this is relative because the number of well-paid jobs is on the rise, and the citizens of neighboring countries can now come to Poland to work.

Asked about Poland’s strategic interests in Ukraine, Borusiewicz said, “We have a good experience of cooperating with Ukraine. This state has always been a friend of ours, and now we want Ukraine to join the European Union to be able to develop.”

There are many tour guides at the Sejm (Poland’s parliament) and the Senate of Poland because these institutions are very popular with schoolchildren. Parliamentary sessions are open to the public, and anyone can sign up to attend one. The same applies to Polish courts. “There is no corruption here at all,” our group’s interpreter Irena Matiienko said, “because EU offices are monitoring this closely.”

The group of students also visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum, where every second you can hear the beating heart of a Polish resistance fighter. On display are letters, photographs, pages of newspapers, typewriters, weapons, American airplanes, medicines, uniforms worn by soldiers and nurses uniforms, fragments from the ruins of Warsaw, motorcycles, water flasks, military medals, sections of walls bearing tragic inscriptions and the words of Polish patriotic songs, radio sets, and old-fashioned telephones that visitors can use to call up an insurgent and ask about his or her life during the war. The Warsaw Uprising lasted for 63 days, and after it was suppressed the Germans destroyed the city.

The students managed to visit the only synagogue in Warsaw. Out of a total of 400 prewar Jewish temples, only this one survived because the Germans used it as a stable during the war. Today Varsovians have a special attitude to Jews. Krzysztof, a salesclerk in an antique store, said that his boss, a Jew, is 70 years old, but he still comes to the shop every day, sits down in an old-fashioned armchair, peruses magazines for hours, looks out the window, and sometimes tells interesting stories of Jewish life. The elderly Jew never interferes in the salesman’s work, he simply observes.

WARSAW STUDENTS

Warsaw University students have a unique “green” library with an enormous rooftop garden, where you can lie in the shade of a tree among the flowers and drink some tea. The students order books for the library on the Internet. You can find the most popular ones by yourself, while the oldest books are kept in the stacks. There are also specially equipped rooms for blind researchers. Next to the library entrance stand tall columns inscribed with quotations by famous philosophers. Inside there is a globe that you can only see when the sun is setting. Incidentally, the curriculum requires that Polish students read three times more books during one academic year than their Ukrainian counterparts.

Poland is not known for its subcultures. You will rarely encounter a Goth, an emo, or a rocker on the street, and other contemporary trends are simply unknown. In Warsaw young people usually work as volunteers in civic organizations or moonlight somewhere. Young politicians have their own party in the local government, and some young Varsovians travel to Ukraine, stay in the homes of old women in Carpathian villages, study our language, traditions, and mythology and then write dissertations. Sometimes they choose to stay in Ukraine for good. Young Polish men like Ukrainian girls a lot: they say that only our girls have warm eyes and capable hands.

Tags: poland, travel, warshawa

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