Tag Archives: Chopin

Chopin's birthplace – signs of life in the Polish tourist industry?

“Things to do near Warsaw at the weekend” is right up there in the list of World’s Shortest Books alongside “Great French War Heroes”, “1000 Years of German Humour”, “Good American Beer” and “Mother Teresa’s Guide to Erotic Pottery”.

If you live in Warsaw, like we do, you run out of places to “pop out to” at the weekend after about two weeks. You can only visit Kazimierz Dolny so many times before you’re sick of the place and, sad as it may seem, that’s the only interesting place close to Warsaw and even that’s too far away for anything less than a lengthy day trip. Let’s face it, Warsaw is located about as conveniently as Timbuktu and you might think that this would spawn a huge industry in providing places for bored Warsaw folk to go spend some time and money whilst escaping from the city for a few hours. Well you’d be very wrong. In the years I’ve been here I think I can count on half a hand the number of new weekend jaunt options that have arisen. Actually, I can’t think of any new ones right now but Kazimierz has improved so I suppose that counts for something.

It doesn’t really matter what it is – an open day at the Płock refinery, a guided walk through the historical back streets of Radom, a cruise up the Wisła to Pułtusk, who cares? At this stage we’ll take anything we can get.

And so it was, with a sense of deja vu that we ventured out yesterday to go see Chopin’s birthplace at Żelazowa Wola one more time and you can imagine how smacked our gobs were when we found the place awash, positively overflowing, with new developments!

Zosia has to walk away and compose herself (pun intended)

“At last they see my full potential”

The normal routine here ever since dinosaurs ruled the earth was to pay your 5 zlots to the drunk car park attendant, cross the street, pay another 10 zlots each to get in, walk around the garden for 10 minutes (it’s not big), walk around the house for 3 minutes (it’s tiny), then leave and eat a dodgy meal in the restaurant opposite.

The tiny house where Chopin lived for all of 7 months.

A perfect Warsaw family day out! It always looked like a good opportunity wasted because every time we’ve visited we had to play a game of dodge the Japanese person. Chopin must be bigger than Michael Jackson in Japan judging by the numbers that flock to his birthplace. I mean, it’s not even as if the great man lived there very long is it? The house is full of pianos and stuff but they moved to Warsaw when he was 7 months old…so….would he really have been composing and playing in Żelazowa Wola?? Anyway, so what, he was born there and that’s all the Japanese persons care about.

It was really quiet there yesterday, probably because it’s not worth visiting right now, unless you like building sites and write a blog, but there was still one Japanese person there. I even took a picture. I think they have one Japanese person there 24/7, like a sort of vigil thing.

A (surprisingly tall) Japanese Chopin worshipper – with a big camera of course!

Looks like they won the lottery, or worked out how to apply for EU grants. The gardens are being re-laid and there are two new buildings being erected, one might even call them complexes, to deal with stuff that tourists want like souvenirs and coffee – no doubt with piped Chopin tunes throughout.

New gardens, new buildings with a “transparency of architectural forms”

Apparently there are 1,500 visitors a day in spring and summer, mostly pale yellow tourists on a bus ride from Warsaw with money burning holes in their back pockets. For centuries they have been left to wander round in search of somewhere to untrouser a few stówki and been left disappointed, well not for long. The 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth is fast approaching – March 2010 – and those visiting Żelazowa Wola to celebrate will finally get what they came for – plenty of wonga-splashing opportunity a real life pukka tourist hot-spot here in our very own Polska! Hallelujah!

Not only….I say NOT ONLY do they get a proper tourist experience at the birth-site in future but they ALSO get to cross the road and eat in style. Yes my friends, gone is the home of kotlet schabowy, chips and mushy peas and please take a gander at the latest venture for Gessler Gourmet Enterprises, coming soon to a birthplace near you –“Polka By Magda Gessler”:

Good food, fancy waiters & OTT decor = duży yenski.

I may be taking the pish here just a tad but I’m genuinely excited by this. This is the sort of rampant commercialism that Poles need to grasp with both golden hands. Fifteen hundred tourists a day for six months a year in a place where they are well and truly a captive audience is a license to print money. Not only that but it’s an opportunity for Poland to put on a decent show and leave people with a good impression. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happening and I certainly hope it happens a lot more, especially anywhere within an hour’s drive of Warsaw!

Come on Poland – you can do it! Just take a look at what your close neighbours are doing with their composers:

Bach-Haus in Eisenach
The Mozart industry in Salzburg
The Beethoven industry in Bonn
Elgar’s cottage near Worcester


Old style – the phantom car-park carver of old Chopin town.

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Teachers that make no scientists (but make Polish people angry)

A long time ago I intended to write a post about why Polish scientists speak American English. Aleksander Wolszczan, the astronomer, and his likes.

It would be a post coarse in its simplicity. Money rules, blah, Poland pays, blah, for what foreigners take away, blah blah, brain drains worse than acid rains, blah blah, period”.

So instead I decided to wait for Poland to grow rich enough to buy some American brainwaves back. But all we have got is new Starbucks and new Star Wars. [Foreign stars came to this blog free, so it does not count as any brain back-drain.] Poland also failed to capture Switzerland and grab the Large Hadron Collider. Though nobody knows how LHC will pay off, everybody knows it will, eventually. LHC is said to be just as important as Copernicus’ revolution.

Copernicus was German – but it’s not his nationality that counts, it’s the source of taxation. It seems Poland was capable of making economic use of foreign Scientists ages ago — but not nowadays.

I read in the latest NF — there’s science (of analysis) and there’s Science (of synthesis). The big-S Scientists, the elite, the Noble-getters who give reasons for new industries to emerge with profits, they don’t work for Poland. The small-s scientists analyze stupidities: “Chickens can have erection once bombed by gay laughter“. That sort of science — which seems like something Polish analyses could fit in. Mind, Poland never had scientists who make local inventions that earn global fortune.

When my memory got searching for some examples of education, I recalled Aleksandra Lojek-Magdziarz. Fluent in so-many so-what languages. Handling Oriental stuff no one really cares about. Living in-/beside the world that thinks you highbrowed if you happen to know Iran is not an Arabic country. (Or is it?) Past the years to come, what Brits will wrinkle their foreheads, should their small talk divert to AL-M for any yet unobvious reason: “You mean the gal that used to write for the Grauniad?” — I guess remembering AL-M for her Grauniad thing would be as fair as pondering “John Cleese?…You mean that guy from that weird commercial for a bank in…was it Romania?”

Then I vaguely recall the Polish piano guy. — Can you?
No, I don’t mean Chopin — who’s working for the French capital.

No, I don’t mean the Keitel man in the movie about a prostitute selling herself for piano keys.
No, I don’t mean David Helfgott playing at Rach 3 speed – he’s Australian.
I mean that Glaswegian janitor, whose unremembered name I had to dig out there.

Then movie classics — Paweł, Jerzy and Zbigniew. One being a licensed literature professor. All educated enough to renovate a house under the Tuscan sun.
And then many other Poles (whose list I will spare for some other time).


Polish education, when not gone to waste, hastens abroad — but starts walking with the Polish teachers.

Did you know? –- Polish teaching load is 18 school-hours a week. Which means Polish teachers work for 54 round-the-clock hours a month (compared to average Pole’s 160). When they are at work, that is. Save Saturdays and Sundays, Polish teachers enjoy vacations: a summer bimonthly, a winter biweekly, a week in April, some 10 days round Hogmanay, annual Education day, a generous handful of feasts and other reasons to shirk just working. Heck, they can take a year (!) off, to revitalize their health, so they say. (But how could they say anything, when their larynxes and pharynxes are in ruins, so they say?) And when pupils have to buy books, teacher get their copies free. And when pupils pay to go for a school trip, teachers deign to get sponsored. And they get chocolates and flowers in public. And more expensive bribes in secrecy. In addition, they are regularly paid a lot. By the state, the safest payer. Employed by the state, the safest employer. And they score big extras for private lessons, net and untaxed. And at schools, they can just order their class to read some book and then learn it by heart. Or play ball. Or pray bull. If they don’t know how to download some tests from the net, they write ones themselves, but just once in their lifetime — then they simply reuse the stuff. And, hear! hear!, they do keep moaning about how hard it is to be a teacher. And that they have to retire sooner than anymany else.

I guess that’s it. No science’s muscles can be built around that kind of lazybones.

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Warning: there is more about teachers.

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A Guide To Songs About Poland, Heavily YouTube Loaded

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There was a time I envied Hungary a bit of a lot:

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Jethro Tull, my band #1 to take to an inhabited tropical island (or wherever my pension is going to take me) gave out a song “Budapest”. Before the ultimate tearing the Iron Curtain off and away, and today, too, to a certain extent, the national pride of Poland had longed for any honourable mentions in Western production. So that we’d know the civilised world knows we’re not a Russian colony with no history or ambitions.

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We would idolise people feeding our starving egos – like Marino Marini, a medium-popular Italian songster with a one-timer in heavily-accented Polish (but damn, the song is so sentimentally kitsch it’s beautiful):

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Or like Classix Nouveaux. (They’ll never never come out of my mobile). The problem with bands like CN was they would requite the love Poles felt for them — but were not recognised too worldly.

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And Poles would probably remind an English or German foreigner some internationally famous tunes may be of Polish origin.

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Or that Polish Roman Polański directed a movie about Polish Władysław Szpilman playing Polish Fryderyk Szopen. If music should not be enough:

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Or that Gazebo would sing “I like Chopin” [but did he mean Chopin vodka?].

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Or that Midnight Oil sing about Kościuszko, though Aussies misspell and mispronounce him and often think he’s just a mount.

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Or we would speak of Charles Bronson, who was Polish (oh really?), and a harmonica virtuoso.

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Or we would be happy Maidens want us to play pray with them:

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Or that they visit our airports.

That they visit our cities.

That they play our football.

That they see our people.

That they attend our weddings.

So that they could say “Na zdrowie”:

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Or that U2 made a Solidarnosc-inspired song (for which Poles would pay back waving their shirts the other time).

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Or Kim Wilde? Long before she was covered in Cambodia by Apoptygma Berzerk, Polish “affectionate people” had covered her with flowers and kisses and kisses and improvised dancing, live, probably to thank her she came to us capable of saying “Cześć” or “Dziękuję”:

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Hey, we even liked strangers when their admiration came through imitation. For example: Vox, the first Polish boys-will-be-boys-band, singing about aloha-sunny-banana way of life when it was grey and communist outside. The song has been kicking arse, amen. And it still kicks, even if in a Czech remake meant for a TV commercial.

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Our hearts soar when someone such as Eddie Vedder speaks Polish (even if it’s read, and it’s B16 Polish more than Polish Polish).

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Yes, our depression could be low.

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So, what more?

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This premiere-league metal musician took Danzig for his alias. (And Danzig is German for Gdańsk. Hurrah!)

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And then there’s Christopher Poland. (What a nice surname!)

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Any common denominator? Considering Chris got himself into metal albums, and that I found heavy bands like these Danes, it seems the natural way you would musically relate to Poland would be loud and clearly hard.

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Type O Negative is a first class metal band, and its core-man is Peter Steele, born Ratajczyk. Just when one could boast his Polish surname, one would learn Peter sings about faeces, or women that cheat on him, that he posed for Playgirl, that he was clinically treated for depression, or that he converted from atheism to Catholicism. Let’s be confused: is it good PR, or not?

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There are exports, too (to boost up our pride aware of them admiring our guys).

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Vader – the best (selling) thing in music from Poland (*).
I still recall the thrill of the time I saw
the first Polish words on MTVfirst Polish words on MTV, a Polish ballet dancer, a Polish power plant, lots of first class loudness in their video. On the other hand, Vader is not a Polish name, the band IS good (while goodness is international) and singing in English. [And how! Uttering loud lines “We await the silent empire” and “We do believe in silence” is clear irony and wit, and they will discuss stuff like for-snobs-only Pynchonisms, with unprecedented speed (try to say “You’d better never antagonize the horn” in 0.8 second).]

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(*) Since that etude thing Chopin wrote. Yes, that borrowing from a prelude by Birkin. The lending to Beyond The Sea. Yes, the song in American…Or’s it English?…French?…Or Corsican French?…Or French-English on Japanese tv? — It’s all one, anyway.
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Anyway. Jethro Tull went on with “Budapest” for 10 minutes long and more. This could hurt the national pride of a non-Hungarian. Despite the fact Poles and Hungarians have been considered “brethren”. (We don’t speak our brother’s language, we don’t see one another too often, we hardly shared borders. Yes, warm feelings are feasible.)

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Granted, Jethro Tull mentions Poland alright (“the beat of distant Africa or a Polish factory town”) but that’s not quite what I’d expect. I mean — where’s a song entitled “Warsaw”?

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Well, I’ll tell you where.

Joy Division.
Porcupine Tree.
David Bowie (with Brian Eno).

Plus Tangerine Dream (with Poland) ?
Plus Niemen in French?

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Not often a place earns a Babylonian god’s song with German title, English words, Swedish voice.
Not always a madam’s cul in that place gets a mention in a French song, Belgian voice, first verse.
Not bad. Not bad at all.

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PS But now I am going to listen to Laibach. Whose “words are for you, Poland”, says the third sentence, and the beginning rings the bell in its unmistakenly Polish way.

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I can’t dance, I can’t sing.

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