Tag Archives: Copernicus

The pressure

Recently a lot of Polish people have been complaining to me about pressure. At first I assumed they were talking about career stress but then I remembered none of the people I know have proper jobs. They meant atmospheric pressure. I’ve never heard another human being comment on the dearth or abundance of air molecules above their head before. “I feel terrible and I couldn’t sleep; the pressure is so low” said one. I boggled. A whole new world of undreamed of and slightly unsettling possibilities opened up before me. “You can actually feel that?” I gaped. “What’s it like? Does it hurt and, more importantly, is it going to start hurting me?”

Earth's atmosphere

The atmosphere. It’s there all the time and probably up to something.

I’ve become a bit paranoid about it now. I lay awake in bed trying to sense the behaviour of the trillions of tons of gasses pressing down on me. It’s all a little unnerving but, so far, I seem to be completely insensitive to barometric variation. As far as I can make out it’s a talent unique to Poles. I’ve certainly never heard a British person comment on the pressure and we spend at least 65 percent of our time discussing weather. This could be my big break. If I take the idea back to the UK and start a blog about pressure I could add a whole new dimension to British weather conversation. I’ll be up there with Darwin and the guy who invented the phrase “It’s too cold to snow.”


Darwin – quite bright but failed to add anything meaningful to the discussion of weather

The only trouble is that I have a sneaking suspicion it’s all a load of bunkum. Surely if it was a real ailment there would be a pill or a powder for it. Actresses pretending to be the mothers of small boys would be hawking the stuff every five minutes while I’m trying to watch Sniper for the nine hundredth time: “When it come to protecting my Tomek from pressure I don’t experiment; Press-o-stop was good enough for my grandmother and it’s good enough for us.” – small boy jumps out of airplane followed by beaming mother and grandmother in wheelchair.


Tom Berenger and some other bloke in Sniper. This film is on more often than the news in Poland.

I’m intrigued and a little afraid of what other hidden talents I may uncover the more Polish I understand. “Cholera jasna these fluctuations in zero-point energy count are playing havoc with my bowels this morning!” “I know, and I still haven’t gotten over that dreadful gauge boson storm yesterday.” “Oh I’m a martyr to it…” etc. It may turn out that Copernican cosmology was simply an elaborate explanation for a throbbing headache.


A 16th-century Polish pamphlet on nagging headaches and their cause

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Polish exhumation mania

Sometimes it takes a while to notice national characteristics or manias. I learned early on that mushroom picking and harvesting change from unwary shoppers were national pursuits on a par with English cricket or American baseball, but only recently have I stumbled on the Polish national obsession with exhumation. There seems to be something about a buried body that nags at the Polish consciousness, especially if the body belonged to somebody famous. A Pole who does anything of note in his or her life has a slim chance of resting peacefully in the grave. Some manage to get in a good few centuries coffin time before they are unearthed, others barely have time to begin decomposing before the shovels start clanking away, and a few have been dug up and reburied so many times they may as well have had revolving doors installed on their tombs. Either lying around under the earth just offends the Polish work ethic, or there is something else going on. I wouldn’t be the first internationally-renowned authority on Poland to note the Polish tendency to poke at sleeping dogs, assuming I was an internationally-renowned authority on Poland.

gravesThe grave – not necessarily the permanent residence of the Pole.

By randomly clicking through the Wikipedia entries for famous Poles I’ve come up with a startlingly long list of them who have been dug up in one form or another. Since I consider this article the founding document in the soon-to-be burgeoning study of Poland-based exhumania I’ve organized it under three separate morbid reasons

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Reason 1: Maybe he was a saint?

This question usually comes into play shortly after a particularly religious or holy person has snuffed it and is part of a wider Catholic and Orthodox obsession with the incorruptibility of the sacred. In both of these faiths the failure of a body to decompose in the normal manner is seen as evidence of sainthood. Consequently, if you were a noted holy person during your life the temptation to dig you up and see of you’ve decomposed yet is eventually going to be overwhelming.

Incorruptible saints have a long history in Central and Eastern Europe. One of the reasons the communists preserved Lenin and put him on public display was to capture some of the Russian people’s centuries-old adoration of incorruptible bodies for their secular saint. The practice of exhuming popular bishops, priests, and cardinals was rife in Poland throughout much of its history. It is still one of the favorite “miracles” among the faithful today. The story of Padre Pio’s miraculous state of incorruptibility when he was exhumed in 2008 was all over Poland. The fact that the Catholic Church had quite deliberately and clearly stated that he had been artificially preserved and that they had put a latex mask on his face for public viewing didn’t stop thousands jumping up and down and claiming incorruptibility.

The story of Piotr Skarga is instructive on this point. Skarga was a renowned and highly respected Polish Jesuit during the period of the Counter-Reformation. Once he had died and people could no longer contain their excitement over whether he had decomposed or not he was duly dug up and inspected to see how saintly he was. Unfortunately for Skarga the examination revealed that he was indeed in a miraculously good state of preservation, but that he had accidentally been buried alive and therefore wasn’t eligible for sainthood. Seems a little unfair. There was probably some boring political reason that I can’t be bothered to research.

john_paul_2Hmm, I see exhumation in my future

Think we’ve seen the last of Jan Pawel II? I’d lay good money that his “incorruptible” visage will be staring out at us from the front page of gazeta.pl before too long.

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Reason 2: Dead, but in the wrong place.

The fact that a lot of notable Poles have found it necessary to move to other countries in order to become notable rather than, say, rotting in a Russian prison has meant that a lot of them have died away from the motherland. Although Poles are justifiably proud of their great and good they get a little nervous when said great and good aren’t conveniently lying around in Polish soil so that they can point them out to tourists. Dying as a famous Pole in a foreign country, especially if you’re a poet, makes you a prime candidate for the exhumation game.

Of the three giants of Polish literature (Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, and Zygmunt Krasiński) two thirds (that’s two of them) were exhumed and reburied in Poland. Mickiewicz has the dubious honor of having been exhumed and reburied twice. He died in 1855 in Istanbul and was buried in handy crypt he happened to have in his basement. Seriously. Shortly thereafter he was exhumed and reburied in Montmorency near Paris and in 1900 he was exhumed again and moved to Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. So far he has managed to remain buried for over a hundred years, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a triple just yet.

adam_mickiewiczMickiewicz, exhumed twice… so far

Other famous grave dodgers include Henryk Sienkiewicz, who had the rare privilege of being cremated somewhere between his first burial in Switzerland and his second in Warsaw, Józef Bem, who went six feet under in Aleppo and ended up doing it all over again in Tarnów 79 years later, and Stanisław Witkiewicz (known as Witkacy), who is my favorite. Witkacy was a famously loony playwright, novelist, painter, and photographer who delighted in confounding expectations. He famously killed himself somewhere in eastern Poland a few days after the German invasion in 1939 and was buried there. Years later he was exhumed and moved to his beloved Zakopane, except he wasn’t. Somehow the communist authorities managed to dig up the wrong body and, realizing their mistake, refused to allow anyone to look in the coffin before the remains were reburied. In 1994 the remains were exhumed (again) and found to be those of a Ukranian woman. Some theories hold that Witkacy didn’t in fact commit suicide and lived out the rest of his life in Łódź. Whether in Łódź or absurdist heaven Witkacy was surely laughing his rear end off.

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Reason 3: Hey!

Moving into the period of the reborn Poland, post 1989, a new exhumation theme emerges – the theme of vindication, proof and blatant curiosity. The paradigm of this new excuse to dig up the dead has to be the case of Władysław Sikorski. Sikorski died in a plane crash off Gibraltar that may or may not have been orchestrated by British Intelligence, Russian spies, or malignant Venusians. Like Mickiewicz he achieved the rare double exhumation. He was first buried in Newark-on-Trent, England shortly after his death, and reburied in Wawel Cathedral in Krakow in 1993. He was exhumed again in 2008 as part of an investigation to find out if he had been bumped off or not. The unpopular results suggested that he had died from crashing into the Mediterranean in an airplane. Who knows how long it will be until somebody comes up with a new reason to unearth the general and subject him to further tests.

sikorskiSikorski – a sure candidate for the triple exhumation?

Other examples include the bizarre search for the body of Copernicus, which went on for years and finally ended with the announcement that his remains had been found in 2008. They knew he was dead, and they knew he was buried under Frombork Cathedral so exactly why they felt the need to dig up his body I am unable to fathom. Presumably it was to see if he was wearing an “I love Poland” tee-shirt thereby ending centuries of controversy over whether he was actually Polish or German.

In 2008 the Polish government was petitioned for permission to “exhume” the heart of Frédéric Chopin, which was “buried” inside a pillar of Warsaw’s Kościół świętokrzyski (Holy Cross Church) in order to find out if the composer had died of tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis, because that’s really important to know. Chopin’s heart had previously been exhumed and hidden during the war to save it from German heart thieves. The rest of Chopin’s body has been safely entombed in Paris for 160 years, but who knows.

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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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