Passably Polish

Joann is a new guest on Polandian. She’s an American with Polish roots who recently made the very sensible decision to visit Krakow, amongst other places.

God love ‘em, my parents did try to make their American children at least passably Polish.

They had us painting pisanki at Easter and breaking oplatek at Christmas. As soon as we were big enough to fit into Polish folk costumes, they had my brother, sister and I three-stepping at weekly polka dance lessons. And every Saturday we miserable three sat through a morning of Polish School, pretending to understand what the teachers and their mostly fluent, freshly-immigrated pupils were saying.

But try as they did to give us an appreciation of the culture they left when they came to the United States in the 1960s, my siblings and I had a pretty limited view of what it all meant. Best as we knew, these were the ingredients that made us Polish: Our parents had thick accents and fed us kielbasa and pierogi; We listened to bad polka music on Sunday morning radio; We wore red sweatshirts printed with white Polish eagles on the chest; And come the holidays, we hunkered around the dinner table and listened to relatives dressed in dark glasses and pilled sweaters talk, in between shots of vodka, about how hard their lives were.

Through my parents, aunts and uncles, I had a one-dimensional view of the culture; a 1960s view of Poland, with all our cultural reference points frozen in time.

Then came Krakow.

Twelve years ago, the city lifted for me the curtain on an entirely different side of Poland – the side that had moved on after my parents left. I saw dance performances and music concerts (of the non-polka variety). I wandered into galleries and learned about modern Polish artists. I studied the Holocaust and current Jewish-Polish relations at classes in Kazimierz. In my free time, I sipped coffee from under the rynek’s café umbrellas, watching the bohemians and academics and hipsters rushing to who knows where, and wondering: Kurcze! Why hadn’t I been exposed to all this sooner?

And so it was that at the age of 18, I fell hard and fell deep for Krakow. Twelve years later, and just last month, I had the chance to fall in love with it all over again.

I took a three-night detour through the city during a two-week trip to visit family. And oh, what a reunion it was. So much was exactly how I remembered it. Yet, on a subtle, energetic level, so much seemed different. The square was more vibrant, it’s people more colorful. There was an openness and ease about town that I hadn’t experienced the first time around. Whereas Poles seemed obsessed with all things American a dozen years ago, I sensed this time a more pronounced cultural-assuredness and Polish pride. It was rather like coming home to find your gawky nephew had finally grown into himself. And quite nicely, too.

So what did I find?

Well, here’s what’s stayed the same:

Krakowians still love their “Lady with an Ermine.” I swear, she’s everywhere. And everyone is eager to let you know she’s “the most beautiful” and “in the best condition” of all of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings – Right here! In Krakow! The Most. The Best. The city still loves to traffic in these superlatives. (“Ul. Florianska? Why, it is the most beautiful street in all of Krakow.”)

Chimera is still a nice gastronomic break if you’ve had a few too many Polish meals. Try the green pokrzywy juice, and don’t be afraid. All I had known of the weed was the burning sensation it leaves after contact with the skin. Turns out, it makes a nice drink. Who knew?

Polish coffee is still an acquired taste. What’s with the inch of sludge at the bottom of the glass? And why is it poured, scalding hot, into a clear, handle-less glass? That’s just asking for all kinds of trouble. But then again, I come from a country where coffee shops have taken to marking their cups with “Hot Beverage” to avoid lawsuits from spill-prone customers who are shocked to find their hot coffee is, indeed, hot.

The Sukiennice is still tempting shopping, even if it is the Disneyland of Polish folk art. Meandering through it, I inexplicably felt the urge to buy linens, carved wooden boxes and paintings of Pope John Paul II. Then I snapped back to reality. We’ve already got piles of this stuff collecting dust in my parents’ basement. Call it the Maly Sukiennice of New Jersey.

Krowki candies are still like Polish crack. You think you can eat just one, and before you know it you’re sitting, numb, amidst a litter of empty, scrunched up wrappers. I was basically free-basing the stuff for two weeks.

What’s changed?

The obwarzanki. They’re still as tasty as ever, but I swear the Polish pretzel-bagel got super-sized over the past 12 years. They’ve got to be at least twice as big as before, no? What gives?
Kazimierz. The progress is unbelievable. I know there’s debate about the direction it’s moving in, but I recall how anxious we students were to walk those streets alone, especially after dark. It was desolate, sketchy and, quite frankly, dead. To return and find it alive and buzzing with activity was fantastic.

The main square. I swear, it’s been given some sort of subtle facelift. Everything looks the same, only it’s cleaner, brighter, more vibrant. Flipping through old photographs proves my theory, showing a drab, dreary main square. So, high five to the rynek.

When did they start charging to snap pictures inside St. Mary’s? I can understand limiting photographs of the triptych. But hounding tourists to pay up for shots of other nooks in the church? On top of the general admissions fee, it seems kinda greedy, no? (And besides, WWJD?)

So, those are the ramblings and impressions of an American girl who has a pretty big crush on Krakow. So much so that I’ve got designs to move there next year, short-term, and drink it in for a little longer. Three nights? That’s only long enough to be enamored with it. I’m thinking a stay of 6 months or longer is in order so that I can experience the full arc of emotions, just like a proper relationship: fall in love with her only to be disappointed by her; make-up with her only to threaten to walk out on her; see all her warts only to rediscover the beauty that pulled me to her in the first place.

Because, like the Lady with Ermine, I think Krakow is one of the “best kept” secrets, and “most beautiful” cities in all of Europe.

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59 thoughts on “Passably Polish

  1. Polish-guest says:

    There are of course much more beautyful cities in europe !! lets be fair :)

    But you are right, Krakow is pretty unique because of its jewish-polish-austrian-bohemian-italian-german character. Not many cities can offer such a rich heritage.

  2. Ai says:

    this week i’ll spending some days and hoping to explore more krakow:-) can’t wait to be there.

  3. Aidan says:

    Thanks for your interesting post. From your Polish school comment I assume that your parents did not speak Polish to you, was there any reason for this? From what you say they did make a big effort to teach you Polish traditions so I am curious as to why they would choose not to teach you the language.

  4. Baduin says:

    Why do Americans think polka has anything to do with Poland? I certainly haven’t met here anyone interested in polkas.

  5. Lena says:

    Polka it is Czech, not Polish dance.

  6. schaden freud says:

    Why are so many Poles, including diaspora Poles, so insistent upon looking down upon what today has evolved into the Polka in the “new world”?

    Is it too “working class” for those of you who stick your noses up in the air when polka is brought up? Too “peasanty” in its origins maybe? What’s so bad about being working class or rooted in a rural lifestyle?

    In any case, I agree about the Saturday School crap. It’s a wonder anybody who ever attended such freaking boring torture sessions would ever again want to have any connection with things and people Polish.

  7. ge'ez says:


    What’s the difference between “bad” and “good” polka music? Do you see any? Or do you lump all polka music together as being “bad”?

    You went to weekly polka dance lessons? Or was it Polish folk dance lessons in imitation regional costumes with plastic belts, etc?

    Also, I think those pretzels in Krakow are dry and taste like cardboard (although most other breads are wonderful).

  8. simon says:

    The Rynek got more than just a subtle facelift. Though Warsaw still rules in my book (ducks for cover).

  9. Joann says:

    Polish-guest, okay you got me. There are certainly more beautiful cities in Europe than Krakow. But for reasons that I still feel I haven’t completely nailed down yet, I feel inexplicably drawn to Krakow.

    Aidan, my parents actually did try — very hard — to teach me Polish. In fact, my brother was fluent as a child, and I was pretty well versed in the language, too, when I was quite little. A few things happened: My parents realized that my brother was more fluent in Polish than English, to the point that he had difficulty communicating with his teachers in English at grade school. So my parents decided to pull back a little bit on how much Polish they spoke at home. But they did still speak it a lot (and still do), and they did send us to Polish school with the hopes of filling in any blanks. But the other thing that happened? Rebellion. As I got older, I was embarrassed to speak Polish and refused any more lessons. My parents warned me that in adulthood I would regret that I didn’t become fluent. And what can I say? They were right. ;)
    But, also for the record — I did take lessons in college, and on all my visits to Poland I find that after a few days I can get along pretty well in the language!

  10. Joann says:

    Baduin, I have no idea! But you’re right. Polish-Americans (in certain pockets of the U.S.) love polka music. I can’t explain it, I just know it’s true. And honestly, it was such a big part of my childhood I quite like it.

    Schaden freud, don’t count me among those who stick their noses up at any part of the folk culture. I think you may have misunderstood my gentle humor. I definitely went through my moment of rebellion in my teenage years, but as you grow up you understand the value of having a connection to your heritage. I think my entire family is the same — all my cousins. I think we all have a pride in it. It’s why most of us have been so eager to travel to Poland and see the villages where our parents grew up.

    Ge’ez, nope — I certainly don’t lump all polka music together as “bad.” In fact, as I said, I personally like a lot of it. There’s some really good polka music out there (I tend to like the older, more traditional stuff). That said, there is a lot of “bad” polka, too (just like bad rock or cheesy pop) — it tends to be flat and formulaic, no?

    Anyhow, you’re exactly right on the weekly polka lessons. I remember liking the costumes, even if they were a little bit itchy. I’m not sure how authentic they were, though. (My sister and I had to wear a crown of plastic flowers in our hair, with colored ribbon hanging from our temples; My brother had a square-shaped hat and bells on his jacket, as I recall).

  11. ge'ez says:

    Actually, Joann, I’m surprised that your parents coming over in the 1960s got into polka music and made it a part of your life as well. Most of the Polish emigres I’ve come into contact with in the US who came after WWII want nothing to do with polka music.

    What do you consider to be “the older more traditional stuff”? Certain Polish American bands? Or something going back further, to Poland itself?

    And for more modern takes on Polish folk music, if you haven’t already,you might want to check out groups like Zakopower, the Warsaw Village Band, Trebunie-Tutki, Golec Orkiestra, and Brathanki. Just check them out on youtube.

  12. fred says:

    I sipped coffee from under the rynek’s café umbrellas, watching the bohemians and academics and hipsters rushing to who knows where…,

    >>> You could have done this before the fall of the iron curtain, too.

  13. Polish-guest says:

    there was no coffee before 1989.

  14. simon says:

    The polka music thing is a mystery to me – it must be the name that makes people think it’s Polish music. In fact its origin is Bohemian, and the name refers to its rhythm or something like that. To be sure polkas were popular in Poland at one time too, but turning them into a national symbol is a bit of a farce.

  15. scatts says:

    Hi to all from sunny (yes, sunny!!) Llandudno!

    Nice to see another great guest post.

  16. DC says:

    @ ge’ez. Thanks for the band names. I’ve been looking for recommendations for a more modern sound but still with some folk roots. Please feel free to fire away with more.

    I’ve had Warsaw Village Band “People’s Spring” for a while. Love it. And the sound production is excellent, something which seems not to be a given on CDs I have from Poland, and definitely not a given on US Polka CDs (yes, I like it too).

    @Joann. Nice post. I am another who used to hate Polka since my Dad used it as an alarm clock during those teen years when you can’t get enough sleep. Heh heh. Now it’s nostalgic for me and brings back wonderful memories of huge, unhinged Polish-American weddings in Buffalo and lots of family friends from Poland who are no longer here.

  17. fred says:

    Yes, there was real coffee, P-g, if you had enough money to pay for it as most tourists certainly did (in abundance, actually, given that the zlot was like monopoly play money even for otherwise very working class visitors. . . Change money?). Otherwise, you could have sipped Inka, a refreshing root beverage (not).

  18. schaden freud says:

    Are you guys willing to bet your lives that the polka had exclusively Bohemian or Czech origins with no Polish roots or influences whatsoever?

    You might want to check with Oskar Kolberg. Or Frederic Chopin.

    And why is it so important to determine exactly where it started as if that absolves Polish people from being somehow contaminated by it?

    Why is it so necessary to make an attempt to deny it had anything to do with things Polish?

    Freaking amazing. Worse than the plague, apparently.

  19. ge'ez says:

    DC: Stretching it a bit here, but I’d add 2TM23.

    At times, they crunch it out like a Catholic Death Metal Band.

    Other songs, they sound a bit like Loreena McKennit (sp?)

    Then Jewish…

    Then Polish folk.

    I’m waiting for Tibetan polka.

  20. Baduin says:

    In Poland there is present that kind of regional, peasant tradition – highlanders near Tatras are best known, but there are (or used to be) regional costumes everywhere. There is eg the Cracow regional costume (actually the costume of surrounding villages), usually seen only on little girls. There is also the traditional music: krakowiak, mazurek, kujawiak, oberek, also polka and others. The most widespread would be probably polonez, which was popular among nobles.

    Such things constitute a part of national tradition, but certainly not the whole of it. In fact, in Poland the most important part of the national tradition is language, Polish literature and history. Such poets as Kochanowski, Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński and novelists eg Sienkiewicz are much more important than regional dances.

    And that is my question: in what degree Polish ethnic tradition in USA includes Polish literature and history?

  21. simon says:

    @schaden freud – polkas were at one time wildly popular at least throughout much of Central Europe, but their roots are strictly Bohemian. Of course that doesn’t mean that they haven’t become a part of Polish folklore.
    However, I really think that Polish migrants have become as attached to them emotionally as they have mostly because of the misunderstanding about the name. If the music was called ceska or bohenka or somesuch, you wouldn’t see it played at Polonia events to this day, regardless of how popular it might have been at one time.

  22. ge'ez says:

    Polish and Polish American traditions are bifurcated in certain respects in the USA.

    Are you asking if Pol Ams who are into celebrating the polka read Mickiewicz, et. al.?

    A few might, most don’t.

    I don’t think most of the sons and daughters of recent immigrants from Poland read Mickiewicz, et. al. either. Same regarding knowledge of Polish or Polish American history.

    For some Poles, too, folk music and dance might even be a more important part for them of the national tradition than the great bards and novelists.

    Different strokes for different folks.

  23. s. freud says:

    So Simon, you were there when the polka was “invented” in Bohemia?

    Of course not.

    Amazing how you can so easily today locate in time and place the start of what had to be originally an obscure peasant music/dance form.

    And the polka revolution swept all of Europe, including France, Italy and more, not Poland and like “Slavic” countries (I realize use of the term Slavic is a misnomer, but I hope you can see what I’m getting at). Indeed, its international growth in popularity was even tied into the nationalist revolutionary movements of the day.

    And in the US today, German American and Mexican Americans and even Native Americans have their own brand of polka. Does that mean it is popular to them because it is called “polka”? They couldn’t care less if it comes from a Czech word for half-step or something to do with a Polish woman.

  24. pinolona says:

    Bit off-topic, but I had Exactly The Same experience with krówki.
    I got a hangover the next morning.

  25. Sylwia says:

    I don’t agree with ascribing polka to Poland either. Lately I was turned off because I read some dance master claiming that mazurka is an Eastern European dance. It’s like throwing all of us (Slavic people at least) into one bag (and what about Fins and Greeks?). We are separate countries with very different cultures, and although we borrow things from each other it doesn’t mean that we should steal them. As long as no one claims that minuet is English or a Scottish reel French we also should be seen separately. The Polish culture is rich enough to sustain all Poles.

    It doesn’t mean that Poles cannot like polka, they can, just as they like rock ‘n’ roll, but frankly the last generation that danced it here was that of my grandmother. While mazurka or krakowiak are, and always will be, celebrated as Polish dances, and polonaise is danced at least once by almost every Pole.

    And, to be sure, Poles used to dance minuet, just as the French used to dance polonaise or mazurka. But the fashion is gone.

    The number of Polish regional costumes is counted in tens, just not all of them are equally popular. The one described by Joann is from Kraków.

  26. s. freud says:

    But why do so many Poles seem so eager to dissassociate the polka from Polish tradition especiallly when, as you acknowledge, your grandmother danced it?

    Just because it is not popular now does not mean it wasn’t once and for quite some time an important part of peasant culture in Poland.

    You suggest that the Polanaise is somehow more important but my guess is that not too many peasant Poles danced it back in the day. And my guess is that most peasant Poles viewed the Polanaise as too hoity-toity for their tastes.

    And if the Polanaise is only danced once in a lifetime by every Pole, it doesn’t seem to be that vibrant a part of the culture.

  27. fred says:

    Ein Volk, ein Kultur, ein Polaniase uber alles!

  28. Sylwia says:

    I really don’t understand what’s so strange about it, or what’s so wrong with calling a Czech dance Czech. Poles read Byron but no one claims that he’s a Polish writer, even though he wrote Mazeppa. I used to dance pogo, and yet this article doesn’t mention that it’s Polish. Something that is a fashion in a country doesn’t yet become its nation’s tradition.

    I have no idea whether my grandma ever danced polka. Certainly I have never seen her doing it. But she was a city dweller, so maybe she doesn’t count. ;-) I just referred to her generation as one that used to dance polka. It was popular half a century ago and only for some time. It’s not our tradition. Not more than pogo, rock ‘n’ droll, or tango. And I assure you that those who might have danced it would dance waltz even more often. Then why polka and not waltz?

    Waltz (in a simplified form) is still eagerly danced by our major peasants. Now find me such a popular polka!

    I’m surprised that Polonia celebrates polka as something Polish, but it’s not the first time they managed to astonish me. I was no less surprised meeting someone who claimed that some American football players with Polish, and some even Russian, names were all Polish football players! Well, no. People who weren’t born here, playing some game that is perfectly obscure to Poles, but that people at the other side of the ocean happen to call ‘football’, aren’t representatives of the Polish football team.

    Polonaise originated as a country dance, so the peasants did dance it. Just as mazurka, krakowiak, oberek and others, all perfectly country dances. I didn’t say that it’s danced only once, but at least once by almost every Pole. Which means that for many of those Poles, who generally don’t dance, it’s their only dance ever. Unless they dance the waltz above. :-D

    For a thing to be Polish it must feel Polish and originate in Poland, or at least become polonized by being enhanced with Polish elements that would change it considerably. Polka is a very nice dance, but doesn’t qualify. It doesn’t sound or look Polish. It was popular here for some time, just like in many other countries, but it’s not Polish. It’s nothing personal against polka, really!

    Some twenty years ago Poles would drink only Czech pivo, but it’s still Czech, and still with a V.

  29. s. freud says:

    My point is that nobody is exactly sure where the polka originated. Why are you so resolute in assuming it originated as something wholely Czech?

    Last I looked, too, the Polish football team couldn’t even beat the American side. And some really good Polish football players apparently don’t even want to play for the Polish side, ie.: Klose and Podolski.

    A reprise:

    July 23, 2008

    Are you guys willing to bet your lives that the polka had exclusively Bohemian or Czech origins with no Polish roots or influences whatsoever?

    You might want to check with Oskar Kolberg. Or Frederic Chopin.

    And why is it so important to determine exactly where it started as if that absolves Polish people from being somehow “contaminated” by it?

    Why is it so necessary to make such determined attempts to deny it had anything to do with things Polish?

    July 23, 2008

    So x, you were there when the polka was “invented” in Bohemia?

    Of course not.

    Amazing how you can so easily today locate in time and place the start of what had to be originally an obscure peasant music/dance form.

  30. Juan Havel says:

    The polka is Mexican cowboy music!

  31. Big Foot Mama says:

    It’s Slovenian!

  32. Papawi O'odham says:

    You’re all wet, it’s Native American!

  33. Janusz Radziwiłł says:

    It’s Swedish, yoh!

    We brought it to Poland during Potop!

  34. klaus kinski jr. says:

    Polka is a German punk derivative with a reggae influence:

  35. Sylwia says:

    Both Klose and Podolski are Germans. It doesn’t matter whether the Polish team wins or not. We cheer them because they’re Polish, and not because of their quality. With dances it’s the same.

    Where you there when the American constitution was signed? There’s no sense to pose questions like that. How are you going to prove that polka isn’t Chinese? Do you have [u]any[/u] sourse saying that polka is from Poland?

    What Kolberg or Chopin have to do with it? It was danced yet when they were little boys.

    Why is it so important to make polka Polish? Just because it was propagated as such in the US? Then it may be Polonish, but not Polish. Why can’t it be Czech as the sources claim and all Poles think anyway? And why not waltz that is really much more popular here, and has been around longer?

  36. s. freud says:

    The polka is just for hippies of all national backgrounds where ever they’ve been diaspora-ized:

    And that Brazilian guy on the Polish side is Polish, too. And why do those two German guys speak Polish so well?

    I don’t recall reading anyone here writing that it’s important to make the polka Polish… just that it’s important not to deny that it’s not in any way Polish.

    Just because you’ve read in Wikipedia that the polka is Czech doesn’t make it so.

    All we know with relative certainty is that the polka’s origins are obscure, shrouded in multiple myths but rooted in the peasantry of central Europe. Chinese? Well, accordion is big there nowadays.

  37. Jacques Hey-Sean Chou says:

    It’s French-Canadian-Irish-Chinese!

  38. Jean-Paul Camus says:

    The polka is particularly a French phenonemon as this source clearly indicates:

  39. s. freud says:

    Correction: … just that it’s important not to >claimx< in any way Polish.

  40. s. freud says:

    the blooger took symbols I put in the wrong way:

    Correction: … just that it’s important not to claim that it’s not Polish in any way.

  41. ge'ez says:

    Lawrence Welk and Hegel have been turned on their heads as a new wave of polka phreaks have taken over and they ain’t Polish or Polish American or Czech or….

    International polka lovers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your uptightness!

    Polkafreakout @

    Brave Combo @

    Hypnotic Clambake @


    and last but not least, the Polish Muslims @



  42. island1 says:

    You Polka people are all loony.

    …and everyone knows it’s really Japanese.

  43. Sylwia says:

    Yes, the Brazilian guy is Polish. He has Polish citizenship and chose to play for Poland. That’s good enough for me. And let’s not forget that our PM used to sing carols in German.

    It’s not about Wikipedia, unless you assume that Poles had no culture before they could read about it in internet. It’s just that over 30 million of Poles are quite in agreement that it’s not a Polish dance. It doesn’t mean that there are no Polish polkas at all. There are, just as there are Polish tangos tango 1, tango 2, tango 3. But no one thinks that they are Polish dances. At best they are Polish versions of foreign dances.

    Somehow the Polonia guys decided that polkas represent the Polish culture. Maybe simply because at that time it was a popular dance in the West and it suited their purposes, so they adopted it as theirs. Unlike Polish parents they sent their kids to the above mentioned polka schools in order to preserve what they saw as Polish culture, but what never was Polish culture in the first place. So polka may be Polonish, but not Polish. Poles aren’t going to redefine their tradition according to Americans, and just as it happened in this thread, they’re likely to set straight everyone who is misled by the name.

    It’s also worth noticing that Poles and Czech weren’t so much neighbours back then as they are now. There were Germans living between us (see the map). So polka would be a German dance sooner than Polish.

    Sure it’s Japanese. All the haikus are written to polka music! ;)

  44. s. freud says:

    Sylwia, I bet you are from Warsaw.

    What Polonia guys here decided that polkas represent “the” Polish culture? Please try actually reading the comments and trying to understand them.

    Is “the” Polish culture really that monolithic? “The” Polish culture!

    Do only Warsawians get to decide what constitutes “the” Polish culture?

    BTW, there are no and there never were any “polka” schools in the US. There were and are Polish Saturday schools and the like where mostly recent Polish immigrants try to inculcate their kids with what they consider Polish folk and high culture. Strange mix but that how they seem to few “culture.” They have their kids put on Polish folk costumes and dance pretty much anything but the polka.

    It amazes me that you still insist that the polka is somehow solely and purely Czech. But again, I bet you are from Warsaw and we true Poles all know how Warsawians are. Never wrong.

  45. Sylwia says:

    You bet? Such a long discussion and you haven’t yet checked my blog? I’m disheartened. *sigh*

    Of course, we people from Warsaw never stick our nose out of town, so I wouldn’t know how wrong all of the others are.

    Ahh, blissful ignorance… That’s me!

  46. Smutny Louie says:

    I used to be Happy but now I am sad.

    The veils of my ignorance have been lifted and I have been enlighted by my superiors in Warsaw.

    Now I know that the polka which I have danced and loved and considered to be part of my Polish American heritage is really Czech and Czech only.

  47. Sylwia says:

    Here, here Louie, use my sleeve… no? Oh well, here’s a handkerchief.

    Don’t cry, think how accomplished you are! There must be more Polish American polka performers than Poland could ever supply.

    Zosia Samosia from Warsaw, marvelling on her luck of suddenly meeting so many polka dancers on one page, even though she has never met one in RL. Grzesiuk would be proud!

    P.S. It might be Czech, but at least the word ‘Czech’ is spelled the Polish way. ;)

  48. Sylwia says:

    For a non-Warsawian and even non-Polish source about polka in Poland and the US see this link. It also explains why polka was associated with Warsaw much more than with peasants.

  49. Smutny Louie says:

    A pity. Zosia is a legend in America:

  50. The Ghost of Jakub Szela says:

    Well, if the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians says its Czech, it must be so.

    Seriously, while the polka may well have been first popularized by Czechs, that doesn’t prove that it was originated by Czechs. Why, as the New Grove Dictionary suggests, did the Czechs supposedly/possibly name it after a Polish girl? That’s the New Grove Dictionary article suggesting that, not something springing from my sense of etimology.

    And why in one sentence does the article claim it was originated in Bohemia in the 1830s and a sentence or so later claim there was sheet polka music found (not identifying where — ascribed only to village musicians) from around 1800?

    And please read beyond the first couple of paragraphs in the internet article you cite.

    If you are really interested in exploring the history of the polka, please check out more fully the work of Charles and Angeliki Keil, which is briefly referenced and footnoted in your internet source above — although I don’t think they ever argued that the modern day polka is all that “far distant” from it’s European roots. That’s the article making the claim about what the Keils wrote, not what the Keils actually wrote. Certainly there are differences but roots, afterall, are still roots.

    Indeed, the Keils explore how the polka became popular in urban centers like Warsaw where it was performed and danced by all kinds of city folks –and they explore how and why. To suggest that the polka was associated with Warsaw more so than peasants takes such an association out of context. We need to ask, “Who associated the polka with Warsaw more so than with peasants, when was this association made, where and how?”

    Before long, the Warsawians will want to claim the polka back as theirs and their alone is my guess.

  51. The Ghost of Jakub Szela says:

    And choreographed staged productions ain’t real folk.

  52. The Ghost of Jakub Szela says:

    Oj, niedługo się skończy nasze mordowanie, jak Jakubek z chłopami zrobi szlachcie pranie…

    Kuba Szela twarda sztuka, za swe krzywdy pomsty szukał …

    Pierwszy panom się zbuntował i dużo ich wymordował …

    Bo mu nadto dokuczyli i ciężko nieraz skrzywdzili…

  53. The Ghost of Jakub Szela says:

    Those are the first lines of some happy, snappy, let the good times (and gentry heads) roll polkas written about me, I hear by some Czech guy named Li’l Wally.

  54. ge'ez says:

    Looks like you put quite the damper on the discussion with all those peasant resentments, Jake.

    What’s the deal?

    Burning in hell, you’re only allowed to engage in blog discussions about the polka?

    Lots of accordions but no harps down there, I take it?

    Or is it the vice-versa? Well, I trust I’ll find out after I croak.

    I never have been able to come to grips with that polka song about there being no beer in heaven.

  55. Piotr says:

    What is this chimera and where do i get it in the States?

  56. island1 says:

    Piotr: Chimera is a well-known (semi) vegetarian restaurant in Krakow. Sorry.

  57. Piotr says:

    Oh, i thought it was some kind of plant that helps digestion… :)

  58. Steven Woodruff says:

    I found getting smashed and dancing the polka at the Polish -American club in Denver, Colorado very relaxing and fun. I can’t seem to find a single place in Wrocław to do this this sort of activity. Any Suggestions??

  59. Chris says:

    Steve…build your own polka castle and they will come :D

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