Category Archives: REVIEWS

Coldplay, Warsaw, 19 Sept 2012

Last Wednesday we had a family outing to the National Stadium here in Warsaw to see the Coldplay concert. Why they chose Wednesday for a gig that finished at 11pm I don’t know, especially as they must have expected a few nine year olds who have school the next day :-/ We were not entirely sure about taking Zosia but she likes Coldplay and it seemed a good chance to give her an early experience of a live concert in the stadium. As it turns out she was not alone and not the youngest we saw. My own first concert, by the way, came in 1973 when I went in my early teens (without parents) to the “New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert” to Wembley Arena and enjoyed the glam rock of Slade. I may be old but they are still playing “So here it is, Merry Christmas!” on the radio every year, even in Poland! This memorabilia is tempting for 45 quid.

I had bought the Coldplay tickets some months ago , a well located seating area (trybuny), VO5, close to the stage. Tickets were 275 zlots each and it was worth it as the view was great and the seats surprisingly spacious and comfy, not that we were sitting too long. The standing area where the pitch would be (płyta) was sold out, more than Madonna could manage, and the seats were also full with the exception of those right up in the Gods. My guess is attendance was around 60,000 but I can’t find any official figures online.

The stadium as a venue worked very well although they need to improve signage to help people find their places. Entrance to our VO5 for example was through a doorway called VO1-VO2 and then onto D20 and then turn left and keep walking! Outside, around the perimeter of the stadium we could find no signs to show us the right way to walk around the stadium to find the correct entrance. The stewards were nice but not all that clued up. Getting in was easy with very small queues, getting out was slower but not horrendous and nice to completely pedestrianise the bridge back to town.

Inside it is an impressive arena with all-round good visibility but there are mixed reviews on the acoustics. I suppose it depends on your expectations. I had heard bad things about the acoustics so was pleasantly surprised. You can’t expect anything like the recorded work in a massive arena with an open roof and trying to please everyone in a 270 degree radius but there was nothing we heard beyond the occasional echo off the back wall that detracted in any way from our enjoyment. Those I know who were on the płyta said the sound was good down there too.

The band communicated with the audience very well. I thought Chris Martin was perhaps a little OTT on the “I love Poland” stuff, unless he really truly does. There were many similar comments along with waving Polish flags, kissing the stage (in a Popeish way) and so forth. It’s a big country, they can sell a lot of stuff here and the audience lapped it up. There was no shortage of gimmicks either – fireworks, balloons, confetti, videos, lasers, walkways, islands…..you name it. best gadget was the LED illuminated wristbands (Xylobands). Everyone was given one on entry, different colours. They consist of a small plastic box that houses a battery and the controls and then a fabric wristband with LED lights inside. They are radio controlled and the band can light up the audience whenever they want, often to the rhythm of the music. You can read more about the set and the xylobands here.

They switched between ballads and louder stuff with ease and musically they were pretty tight all the way through. Chris Martin’s singing was impressive given the length of the tour so far but he seemed to turn the quality setting up and down a bit, lower when had to force something out and higher when there was nothing much to cover him up. This is compared to the recorded work, which is unfair. They were far more rocky than you might imagine and I often got flashes of U2 coming through. I read later that U2 were/are a big influence for Coldplay and whilst I’d never picked that up on the recorded work I certainly did at the gig. What I like about gigs is the way you can find an appreciation for tunes that you hadn’t already switched on to. Major Minus and Us Against the World stood out more than they do on the CD, for example. I might have misjudged but I think the Polish audience gave the biggest shout of joy for Viva La Vida but were generally energised throughout.

Quick mention for the support acts, neither of which were known to us. The first, Charli XCX, we missed because they were first on after opening at 16:00 and we didn’t get there until 20:00. The second, Marina and the Diamonds, were strange but actually pretty good and well worth finding a download or CD. Her drummer looked like a right nutter, in the Keith Moon mould of nutty drummers!

We had a great time and give the Coldplay gig a rocking 8/10. Lets hope it brings more big acts to Warsaw.

Below – set list, video, photos.

  1. Mylo Xyloto
  2. Hurts Like Heaven
  3. In My Place
  4. Major Minus
  5. Lovers In Japan
  6. The Scientist
  7. Yellow
  8. Violet Hill
  9. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  10. Princess Of China
  11. Up In Flames
  12. Warning Sign
  13. Don’t Let It Break Your Heart
  14. Viva La Vida
  15. Charlie Brown
  16. Paradise
  17. Us Against The World
  18. Speed Of Sound
  19. Clocks
  20. Fix You
  21. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall

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Phantoms, Death and the End of the World in Breslau

One of the main ways a foreigner can get to know more about another culture is through literature. However, the difficulty in Poland with learning the language can mean that literature can usually take a back seat until more pressing issues such as job, friends and speaking the lingo get sorted. To simplify the literature search, translations of existing publications will always be the easier option. Thus, I was pleased to find some books written by Marek Krajewski which have been translated into English. Krajewski has written a few series in the past twelve years, notably the Eberhard Mock series, Jarosław Patera series and most recently the Edward Popielski series.

Krajewski writes criminal thrillers, and is best known for the Eberhard Mock books. He is from Wrocław originally, and thus sets most of his books around Wrocław, especially in the period between the First and Second World Wars (from approximately 1919 to 1950) – thus giving rise to the “… in Breslau” grouping of books. The subtitle for each of the books in the series is ‘An Eberhard Mock investigation’, with the eponymous ‘hero’ featuring in each of the books. Mock is a detective in the Breslau Police Force, classically schooled in Greek and Latin, and yet flawed. He is never too far from a bottle of schnapps and a cigarette, and yet is at his best when forced into situations where he relies on alcohol and other stimulations for sustenance. In each of the books, he has to investigate brutal and often gruesome murders. His experience with the Vice Department also comes into play, sometimes in professionals matters and other times in his personal life. He works with members of his team such as Kurt Smolorz and Herbert Anwaldt to investigate and in many cases, they need to delve into the aristocracy of Breslau and a number of sects and cults who are involved in the murders.

There are 5 books in the Eberhard Mock series, Death in Breslau, The End of the World in Breslau, Phantoms in Breslau, Fortress Breslau and Plague in Breslau. Only the first three of these have been translated into English, but the others will surely follow shortly. Krajewski uses a very descriptive style which expertly presents Breslau, down to the imagery of the streets, the people and the life of the city in the 1920’s. Naturally, the city is Germanic at that time, but touches of Poland and Polish sneak through which seem to be reflective of how the city has evolved over time. When it comes to the murder mystery part of the novels, the step into Mock’s mind gives a glimpse into the requirements and pressures on a criminal detective. I also think that excellent translations have been applied to the books. As a native speaker, the best recommendation I can give is that you would not notice that it is a translation. The descriptive elements are so well presented that it makes it easy to get lost in the story. And now the only difficulty would be in finding other such Polish novels which are also well translated and well presented. Until language fluency ‘kicks in’, that has to be the next best option, and in this case Marek Krajewskis books work very well.

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Warsaw restaurant review – Butchery & Wine

Firstly, apologies for butchering the logo but they don’t make it easy to advertise the place. You can see all the proper images on their website here – http://www.butcheryandwine.pl/en/

Before I go any further, there are three rules for eating at this place:

  1. You like meat
  2. Someone else is paying
  3. You have made a reservation

I can blame both halves of my boss for having the chance to eat here. One half is Belgian, lives in Warsaw, knows about food and wine and had this restaurant appearing on his Outlook calendar a suspiciously large number of times. The other half is British, lives in the UK and was visiting Warsaw last week. So, the first half brought it to my attention and the other half provided the reason to splash out although fair to say I think he’d have preferred the curry house just around the corner!

It’s located on Żurawia, which leads down from Marszalkowska to Plac T.K and which, following the success of places like the trendy Szpilka i Szparka, is rapidly becoming a posers paradise and somewhere for people like me to avoid. Nevertheless, a good street for business albeit not over-blessed with large retail units in which to locate a popular eating establishment, which is why Butchery & Wine is a touch too small and hence the need for a reservation.

It continues what is threatening to become a sustainable trend of people opening restaurants that are not only well designed but also serve good food. That’s not to say the food in Poland is not good because at grass roots level it is. You could, can and always will find somewhere serving very acceptable food of a ‘Polish style’. That’s to say the menu that includes kotlet schabowy, mizeria, żurek and so on – although it has to be said I would have no clue where to find such a place inside Warsaw. I’m also not saying that Warsaw has never had a good collection of restaurants, because it has, aside from perhaps first two or three years I was here, but what’s been missing until recently is good restaurants that stay open more than a few months to a year. In the past they would appear and then just as they had made it onto your short list of favourite eating places they would disappear again. In the most recent years however the situation has stabilised. Good restaurants are surviving and the list is being added to every year. Within easy striking distance for us it probably started with Mielżyński’s wine bar back in 2004 and the rate of new additions has been accelerating ever since.

Back to B&W. We all skipped the starters, which is a shame because the choice looks very tempting and on the next visit I’ll be trying either the white onion & parmesan soup at 15 zlots or the seared scallops at 55 zlots depending on how rich I’m feeling. That’ll be the soup then! For the main course I shared a Cote de boeuf from minimum 2 weeks aged beef Red Angus with Grzegorz while Paul had the Aged beef fillet with fondant potato, spinach & truffles and Michał the Grilled tuna steak with salad Niçoise. All were delicious and, whilst I’m not a world expert on Cote de boeuf, this was every bit as good as the one we had in Paris in February. The extras of creamy mashed potatoes, raspberry tomato salad and so on were also very tasty.

Having skipped starters we felt justified in going for deserts and so a few Creme Brûlée were demolished by the rest while I went for a bread and butter pudding with ice cream. Along with two bottles of Tuscan red wine two large bottles of water and coffees the bill came to about 880 zlots, 220 per head. Like I said, best if someone else is paying but not ridiculous for what we had and the obvious quality of the ingredients.

We all enjoyed it and I will at some stage return with the family. They say that the French love their food and wine and know where to find the good stuff, if that is true then the fact that on the night we visited at least 50% of the guests were speaking French must be a recommendation in itself.

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Stop and Think

A picture paints a thousand words, and these images created by Polish artist Paweł Kuczyński display illustrations worthy of millions of words in their satirical expression. Originally from Szczecin, some of his works received recognition a few months ago through a series called ‘Stop and Think’. However for many people, they will be still unknown.

 

Some of his most thought-provoking images have been included below, with more to be found at: http://capu.pl/node/271

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Book review: Maus

Only one comic book has ever won a Pulitzer prize, that being Maus – A Survivor’s Tale. It won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992 for its author, Art Spiegelman. However, to call it a comic book does not do it service, as comic implies a level of humour involved. The term graphic novel would suit more, as the book is an artistic representation of the author’s father and his recounting of life as a Polish Jew in the 1930’s and his subsequent interment in Auschwitz. The story switches between the author’s father recounting the wartime and then his later life in New York.

The book is written in two volumes, with the first part called My Father Bleeds History which chronicles Vladek Speigelman’s time from the mid-1930’s to winter 1944. The second volume is called And Here My Troubles Began and describes time spent in Auschwitz and ends with the later life of the author and his father in 1970’s New York.

The story is very gripping, but what distinguishes it from our tales recounting the war years or Holocaust, is the understanding of how the situations experienced affected the person involved later in life. Vladek Spiegelman was a well-educated businessman in 1930’s Poland living in Częstochowa. He worked in the textiles and fabrics industry before he met his wife to be, Anja Zylberberg. Her family owned a factory in Sosnowiec, so they moved there after getting married in the mid 1930’s, having a young son shortly afterwards. As the Nazis decided to become aggressive, eventually invading Poland in 1939, life for Jews like Vladek and Anja became much more difficult. Eventually as the Nazis advanced, they sent their son to stay with a friend but as the Germans came to bring Jews to the gas chambers their friend decided to poison herself, her children and Vladek and Anja’s son to avoid death in the gas chambers.

The couple eventually were taken to Auschwitz in 1944 to labour in the work-camp. A strong work ethic, good contacts from his life as a businessman, and some good luck helped Vladek and Anja survive. However, 20 years after the war, Anja committed suicide, supposedly as a result of trying to deal with the effects of the war. Vladek remarried to another Auschwitz survivor called Mala. However, his life had also been changed for the worse by his time in Auschwitz, for exmaple mainfesting itself in a hate to waste food, to the point of returning half a box of cereal to the supermarket to get a return on the money paid as the cereal would not be eaten. The author himself, Art Spiegelman, has to deal with his mother’s suicide, his increasing frustration with his father’s behaviour and also his own guilt that he does not understand the Holocaust because he did not experience it (as he was born in 1948 in America after Anja and Vladek moved to New York).

One key part of the structure of the story of Maus is anthropomorphism – that is animals being represented with human characteristics such as walking on two feet, talking and using human gestures and expressions. In this book, Spiegelman used specific types of animals for different races , religions and nationalities. The main ones are listed below:

Jews as mice (regardless of nationality)

Germans/Nazis as cats (chasing mice)

Americans as dogs (chasing the cats)

British as fish (hunted in a way by cats by usually protected by the relative safety of water)

French as frogs (as a stereotype?)

Swedes as deer

Poles as pigs

Spiegelman said said that he tried to represent all people of a nationality as one kind of animal as a metaphor for the absurdity of dividing people based on these lines. In an interview with Comics Journal in 1991, he said “these metaphors… are meant to self-destruct in my book — and I think they do self-destruct.”The book is highly acclaimed and is very much worth reading. Because it blends the experiences of surviving Auschwitz with dealing with later life and the knock-on effect it really shows more than many other tales recounting Holocaust experiences. It should be recommended reading for anyone with an interest in this time in history. Praise for the book includes:

“An epic story told in tiny pictures” The New York Times

“A quiet triumph, moving and simple – impossible to describe accurately, and impossible for achieve in any medium but comics” Washington Post

“The most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” Wall Street Journal

 

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