My Polish Street: The Ballad of Pani Basia

polish street

I don’t remember the first time I saw Pani Basia, but I do remember the last. She was sitting on a battered chair on the pavement outside my building. Blue lights and paramedics were standing by, hands on hips. It looked like she’d fallen again. I didn’t see her fall, but then I didn’t see her fall the first time. We just found her on her back, struggling, for all the world like a cartoon turtle, except the splash of blood from her head wasn’t funny.

She was on the south side of the street so she must have been on her way home already. Plus it was the afternoon. The rigidity and slowness of her routine had become something of a talking point. About 11 every morning I’d see her on the outward leg. Standing by the window, smoking and gazing down at the street in the habitual pose of the freelancer avoiding work I’d see her almost every day. Tiny shuffling steps, myopic gaze switching constantly from pavement to some hazily distant objective, shopping bag swinging empty, and every 30 or 40 steps the inevitable pause to check her watch. I only rarely saw her coming back; only if I happened to be outside, because she always came back on the other side of the street. I still don’t know exactly where she went that took three hours and yielded a loaf of bread.

We tried to call an ambulance even though she refused with the iron conviction of one who has been refusing ambulances for many years. As soon as she was back on her feet she made a break for it. “There’s an old woman here who’s fallen over.” “Is she conscious?” “Yes.” “Can she walk?” “Well, yes, she trying to walk away from me right now but I’ve got a pretty firm grip on her shopping bag.” “Does she want an ambulance?” “No, not really.” “Nothing we can do.” She couldn’t really walk. If we hadn’t followed her all the way home an arm’s distance away she would have fallen a dozen more times. That bump on her head had done nothing for her sense of balance.

She was running from us the whole time. It took us 45 minutes to traverse the length of the street and turn the corner but she was trying get away from us all the way. I guess we were pretty scary for her. Two impossibly strange people from an impossibly distant generation trying to get their hands on her shopping bag. And one of them speaking a weird foreign language. She watched TV, she knew the score. Even this imminent threat wasn’t enough to prevent her pausing every two minutes to laboriously check her watch. I had the creepy feeling that if I looked I would see it had stopped in 1934, or that it had no hands.

We looked at each other a dozen times wondering if we should just leave her to it, but then she would sway backwards onto my outstretched hand and we knew we couldn’t. We took her all the way home. We stood behind her like orthopedic equipment and stopped her toppling down the steps while she searched for her keys. We followed her shuffle across the hall, the final check of the watch, and the interminable business of unlocking a door using 90-year-old hands. We stood mute as she she went in, creaked the door shut and locked it seventeen times. She didn’t say a word.

In the neighbor’s kitchen we ate the special white Ferrero Rocher chocolates for guests while she tried to get in touch with the daughter. She didn’t live alone, there was a professor who stole some rare books, it was on the news, maybe her son, maybe not, terrible people, her children never visit, on old woman like that, it’s not right. We wondered how long we would have to stay.

I spotted Pani Basia again about two weeks later. She was back on her route. We laughed because we were relieved she wasn’t dead. We followed her movements more closely. She was seen halfway down Karmelicka sitting on a bench. We speculated about month-long trips to visit her twin sister on the other side of the street, annual pilgrimages to the cake shop and lightning three-day trips to the other side of her kitchen. It was only because we’d become so attuned to her movements that I spotted her on that chair surrounded by paramedics and blue lights a few months later. “So, they finally caught her,” said my wife.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen Pani Basia, but I haven’t stopped watching for her. As far as I’m concerned she on her way back from the post office and is expected any time in the next six months.

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19 thoughts on “My Polish Street: The Ballad of Pani Basia

  1. adthelad says:

    Have to say that some of the latest posts have been more than a bit ‘wacky’ in character and left me most dissapointed. Naff new graphics added to this. What had happened to the Polandian I knew and ‘loved’?

    Well it looks like it’s there somewhere – great to see it resurface with this splendid post.

  2. Ana says:

    I like the new graphic, it is good that the blog’s been changing and developing.

    And I dont see anything “wacky” in it!

  3. island1 says:

    Since I’ve written all the posts in the last month I can only hang my head in shame.

    Do you really not like the new look? You’re the first person to even mention it, I wasn’t sure if anyone had noticed.

  4. Mick says:

    I like it too.

    Great post. Quite moving actually.

  5. Scatts says:

    Adam’s clearly just fed up talking to a baby and thought he’d come on here and unhinge a little.

    Jamie’s been doing a fine job with no support and I won’t hear a bad word said about him!

    And now you’re outnumbered on the graphic as well, so ner ner with knobs on! Or were you talking about Jamie’s graphics?


  6. adthelad says:

    Humbug! I’m just a lone voice crying in the wind.
    Development- yeah but…; graphics – well – not too bad ; New front page – no, no, no. Not my cup of tea. Why do I have to seperate click to get anywhere. Is this all to do with user profiling or monitoring of topic popularity by seeing where people click – yeah – thought so.

    Island – sorry mate. call ’em as I see ’em. Thought some recent posts were not of your best. Still, what do i know ;)

    scatts – Moaning is not my default mode, by the way, however much it might seem like it :). Would have commented sooner re changes/ recent posts (seeing no one else was doing so – including the big nobs) but preferred not to be entirely negative. This new topic gave just such an opportunity :)

  7. Bartek says:

    this story reminds me of what happened to me about a month ago, on my way back from school.

    After stepping off the bus on my suburb I ran across an old lady who didn’t know where she was, but only knew she had to head for her daughter’s house, but didn’t know the address. She wasn’t actually even sure whether she got off the bus on the right stop.

    For a long time she grumbled about her senility and that she didn’t remember the route to the daughter’s mansion.

    Finally she managed to find in her handbag a slip of paper with the daughter’s landline number written on it. I called her and asked to pick up her mother from the arranged place – next to my house.

    Soon she arrived by the shiny Mercedes C220, not extremely happy to see the old lady, also she held it against me that I had called her. As a polite young man I told her she was callous if she had let her senile mother get lost somewhere in the city outskirts, she talked back with accusing me of the attempt of kidnapping. The subsequent exchange of pleasantries between the well-off woman in her forties and an overgrown, but up-and-coming teenager had to be edited out, as it included several swear words.

    I somehow hope the old lady had a good time at her daughter’s.

    PS. two down, eight to go ;)

    Island1 – was nice to read sth distinctive here

  8. MaterialGirl says:


    I don’t like the new front of Polandian too, but it’s beczuse I’m rather KONSERWA conservative, so I don’t like changes.
    But this is THEIR page, so they can even put shit here, though naturally as a girl I prefer le parfum de Paris!!! :)

  9. island1 says:

    Not really, the new front page was intended to make it easier for people to see what’s been going on recently without having to scroll down and down the page. The thumbnails and image for the most recent post are intended to give a visual hint as to what the post is about. We did think about the fact that readers would have to click to get to the latest post, but thought it justified on the grounds that under the new system you click once and get the post plus all comments whereas under the old system you had to click to see the comments associated with a post. Since most people like to read the comments this doesn’t add to the number of clicks. Having more stuff visible ‘above the fold’ on the front page does encourage people to click on older posts as well, especially if they are new visitors, but I’m making no apologies for that; it’s in our interests to increases our readership.

    No worries, I have no problem with criticism.

  10. adthelad says:

    Island1’s most excellent post about by Pani Basia has been semi hijacked by big mouth me re page design. Might as well trudge to keep it all in one place… shrug.

    island1 – aha!! I see the idea behind the changes now more clearly and totally agree with your motives.
    However, if I had anything to do with it :)), I would make a few tweeks, if technically possible..

    1.’Welcome’ would run under top graphic across width of whole page.
    2. Featured post feature I would move to top rhs section replacing intro (all thumbnails I would put to right of their text and not to the as they are presently – as they distract instead of supplement – different if they were in 1st column).
    3. I would have all posts scrolling down the page as before (newest post would be in narrower column, as is now, widening to normal width after ‘Asides’ which would be under present two rhs columns. Only ‘negative’ is intro photo to new post would be narrower and remain so till the next new post.
    4. Clicking on comments (which should be linked to at the top and bottom of each post to allow their viewing or hiding), would open the comments in the front page so scrolling up or down would take you to earlier or later posts (as before).
    5. Clicking on the rhs links to earlier posts would take you to those posts within the front page (if not too old) and open posts, with earlier and later posts still scrollable (as before).

    Comments would still be accessible at one click but everything would be on one page avoiding clicks back and forth between pages.

    The added advantage is you need less clicks to read recent posts since they scroll (meaning your more likely to do so)but can also click away if you like that sort of thing.
    One of the things that I enjoyed about Polandian was that the format was scrolled and did not involve having to load new pages to read recent posts (I’m one of those who went ballistic when the grauniad changed it’s comments format to having them on seperate pages (rather than favouring the norm as it was then with all on one page).

    perhaps it would be fairer to throw all posts re page design into a seperate topic so they don’t take away from those commenting on the Pani Basia post. Apologies if I have wound anybody up.

  11. island1 says:

    Good story. We had a similar situation in that the neighbour was very keen to keep us around until the daughter had been called so she couldn’t be accused of anything. Weird.

  12. island1 says:

    Well thanks for the suggestions ad, but the chances of me finding the time to do a complete redesign again are slim I’m afraid. Unless you want to volunteer?

    This is a classic “magazine” style theme designed by some far other bright spark, not me – I don’t have the skills.

    I remain unwound.

  13. chris says:

    I like the new look and loved the story. I think we all have known a Pani Basia in our lifetimes… least once. (in the beginning I thought it was leading up to something like one of our commercials here…I’m Falling and Can’t Get Up)

  14. Lucie says:

    Dear Polandian:

    I realize I’m coming to the discussion a bit late, but it’s actually quite germane to my post. I find the new organization of your blog so counter-intuitive that I’ve actually stopped coming to read. I used to love your blog. I would get lost in all the wonderful posts, that were easy to peruse and read as much of each entry as you wished and then simply scroll down for more. I feel like you’ve added glitz and aesthetics without any material gain, nay, even to the detriment of your blog’s readability.

    Please bring the old blog back! I have no idea how to find my way through this one!

  15. island1 says:

    Well that’s not good. I don’t think we’ll go back to the old one but maybe I’ll try and make some changes to aid navigability. It’s a learning process.

  16. […] Polandian, “My Polish Street” series – here, here, here, and here. Also, a post on “drifting” into “voyeurism” in […]

  17. […] Polandian, “My Polish Street” series – here, here, here, and here. Also, a post on “drifting” into “voyeurism” in […]

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