Tag Archives: Poland

Jesus builds giant Poland in Central Europe

The supernatural world was riven this week by news that Jesus, youngest son of Yahweh, has begun construction of a 300,000 square kilometre country to be called Poland in the centre of the European continent. Stretching a thousand kilometres from end to end, Poland will be the largest country called Poland ever built.

“The plan,” said Jesus, “is to build a whopping big country that will be totally devoted to me, and then give it a really hard time for the next two thousand years.” “It will be highly fertile and nice and flat, hopefully attracting invading armies from far and wide,” he added. “At the moment, almost nobody goes to Central Europe, partly because my dad hasn’t invented people yet, but also because there’s just a big hole there at the moment. I’m going to change all that.”

According to winged sources close to Jesus, the initial plan was for a modest island somewhere in the Baltic, but over time the project has grown in scope and ambition to take over a large proportion of the neighbouring continent. Odin, who was planning to build a tree with branches that held up the sky on the site, is said to be furious.

Critics have slammed the plan as an act of “tasteless megalomania” and the project has been hit by a series of technical setbacks. “It’s true that the initial shipment of mountains we received did not meet regulations and had to be scrapped,” admitted a spokes-angel, ” but we’ve filled in the gaps with a whole bunch of forests left over from the Canada site.” Asked to reply to criticisms that the drainage system was defective and could lead to regular and catastrophic flooding he added: “No comment.”

Poland is set to open Thursday, assuming plans for living creatures to teem the waters are completed on schedule.

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The kominiarz con?

I don’t often talk about my other writing outlets on Polandian because I assume everyone knows how wildly famous and loved I am already—they’re just too polite to mention it. This is also my working theory for why people never ask for my autograph on the street and why strangers never buy me drinks in bars. I regularly get soundly spanked in the comments to my Okiem Angola posts, which I don’t mind at all, partly because I thoroughly deserve it and partly because I don’t understand them well enough to get viscerally angry. I’ve been advised to spierdalaj off to my own country more regularly than a Basra-based Marine. My resistance to the defenders of Poland’s honour is approaching superbug levels. I only bring it up now because of the weird response I got to a recent post about chimney sweeps.

Am I really famous if there are no comments?

The piece was about a recent visit by a kominiarz (chimney sweep) begging for money. If you’ve never been to Poland, or you haven’t been here long, I should explain that Polish chimney sweeps are the subject of various superstitions here—touching their buttons is supposed to bring you good luck. I have no idea why this is and I’m not convinced my life would be better if I did. One of the ways Polish chimney sweeps take advantage of their superpowers is by traipsing around to every building in town and handing out rubbish calendars in exchange for reluctantly accepted cash. If you haven’t read the post, and who would blame you, let me summarise it like this: a drunk man dressed in a chimney sweep’s uniform turned up at my door and offered to exchange an utterly useless piece of paper for a 20-zed note on the grounds that he had saved my life by ensuring my building had proper ventilation. I also made a lot of smart-arsed and irresistibly amusing remarks about superstitions, priests and the advantages of tipping Internet writers with anonymous donations, but the drunkenness, the money and the chimney sweep are the things to focus on here.

I received the usual mix of death threats, offers of marriage and mildly alarming lunacy in the comments, but also a lot of comments claiming that my chimney sweep wasn’t genuine. I was disappointed and confused. Here is a typical comment:

Pozdrawiam kominiarzy

To my kominiarze mamy problem bo ludzie chcą nam guziki wyrywać. Popieram kolegę, żaden prawdziwy kominiarz nie rozdaje kalendarzyków, a tym bardziej nie chodzi pod wpływem alkoholu do pracy bo uprawnienia można stracić (a co gorzej zdrowie,lub życie). A co do przesądu to poczytaj pan sobie na necie. Pozdrawiam kominiarzy.

And my ham-fisted and self-serving translation:

Cheers to chimney sweeps

We chimney sweeps have enough problem with people constantly wanting to play with our buttons. No real chimney sweep would distribute calendars or work under the influence of alcohol because it costs you strength (not to mention health and your life). You can find out about the superstition on the Internet. Cheers to chimney sweeps [in case you didn’t get it the first time]

So my question is this: are there really fake chimney sweeps around and, if not, why are we supposed to give money to real chimney sweeps anyway? I beg, and promise to accept, the wisdom of the Internet on this one.

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This TEDx thing doesn’t look hard. I watched TEDxKrakow yesterday and I reckon we could do just as well. The first thing you need is a theme. The theme of TEDxKrakow was “Texting the Dragon,” which was supposed to inspire speakers to: “show how Krakow (and Poland) can be modern and progressive in the context of a rich historical tradition.” The next step is to get a bunch of people to talk about things that have nothing to do with the theme. Seriously, the only speaker who even mentioned it was our friend Charles Crawford. Perhaps TEDx themes are supposed to have a surrealistic relationship to the actual content of the conference, in which case I suggest “Tweeting Adam Małysz—the ski-jump as a metaphor for modern Poland.” I will be presenting a segment entitled “Hurtling downhill followed by scary flailing around in thin air.”

TEDxKrakow was a bit disappointing. I watched it online because I’m socially inept and didn’t get tickets. I’m kind of glad I got to watch it lounging on my sofa in a state of unshaven dishabille—I’m not sure the buttock ache of attendance would have been worth it. I got the feeling it was a random collection of people talking about stuff that was important to them, but with only token shoehorned references to the location. Maybe I’m being distracted by the geographical tag. When I see TED, I know what to expect—sometimes fascinating and sometimes baffling presentations about ideas with no particular geographical focus. When I see TEDxWarsaw or TEDxKrakow, I expect it to be about Warsaw or Krakow, and I assume the organisers want to focus attention on their cities too. Maybe they should just call in TEDxPoland. It’s not that the subjects weren’t important, they just didn’t have anything to do with Krakow.

The highlight of my intermittent viewing experience was Ewa Sadowska’s segment about deprived migrants. She just seemed to really care about her subject, although I have to say I didn’t see everybody. By contrast, Sir Julian Rose’s comments about the desirability of diminishing desires over expanding supply felt generic and touched only very briefly on a Krakow context.

In the spirit of “ideas worth spreading” I suggest the following, possibly genuinely useful, thoughts for a future TED Poland:

Can the moustache survive?

Is a county smothered in advertising really free?

Do 4,500 people have to die on Poland’s roads every year?

Is Poland really a Catholic country?

Why does one half of the Polish workforce spend it’s time frustrating the day-to-day requirements of the other half?

How to take advantage of the fact that two million of your citizens live abroad.

Where did Polish nationalism come from, and does it make any sense?

Why is there no change?

Now that’s a conference I would go and see. I can’t help but feel TEDxKrakow missed a lot of opportunities.

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Polish minibus disaster surprises nobody

Eighteen people killed in a minibus—several million wondering if they will be next. Anyone who has been on one of these rattling deathtraps has been expecting this. There are tens of thousands of them on Poland’s roads, most of them operated by tiny companies and almost all of them alarmingly substandard.

The thousands of minibus operators fill a yawning gap in the nation’s public transport network. For millions of people living in rural areas they are often the only way of getting anywhere. The formerly state-run national bus company, Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacji Samochodowej (PKS), was in a woeful state when it was broken up and partly privatised in 1992. More recently its monopoly was broken when new laws allowed competition. The minibus companies that sprang up like autumn mushrooms to fill the market are a fine example of the benefits and pitfalls of the free market.

I’m sure there is a stack of perfectly adequate regulation governing this industry, but I’m equally sure that they are completely unenforceable—there are just too many operators. Companies appear and disappear overnight, but the buses and drivers remain the same. Go to any of the multitude of muddy abandoned lots in Polish towns and cities that serve as ersatz bus stations for these crowds of minibuses and you’ll see layer upon layer of ambitious timetables issued by Franek’s Bus Company, Janek’s Bus Company and Auntie Halina’s Bus Company pasted on top of each other.

I have no idea if yesterday’s tragedy was anybody’s fault, but it is clear that the bus was ridiculously overcrowded—and this is certainly the most common problem. If a private operator can cram 47 paying passengers onto a minibus with 20 seats, he will. If you’ve been standing by the side of the road in the freezing rain for half-an-hour, you’ll put the risk at the back of your mind and try and be the 48th. I avoid minibuses during peak travel hours as assiduously as I avoid volunteering as a Chilean miner, but sometimes they are the only option if you don’t have a car—an alternative that I do not regard as significantly safer on Poland’s roads. It’s hair-raising stuff. It is, for example, common practice for the driver to collect money and hand out tickets as he is pulling away from the stop. Four of five people stand clinging onto seats, a couple of feet from the windscreen, as the driver steers with one hand and fiddles with change and the ticket machine with the other. I’ve even seen a driver changing the paper roll in the ticket machine as he is pelting down the highway at 60. Certain catastrophe balancing on a coin edge.

What astonishes me is that these potential tragedies are obvious long before they happen. Two local examples: in Krakow last year there was a series of accidents in the crowded Old Town involving horse-drawn carriages. It was sheer luck that nobody was killed or severely injured. Nobody who has spent time in the Rynek in mid-Summer was even mildly surprised.

Double melex: what could possibly go wrong?

In the past couple of years the number of those electric buggies, sometimes called golf carts (or melex), whisking tourists around the sights have exploded. These things are usually driven by students and often stuffed with ‘excitable’ tourists on pub crawls urging extra speed and louder music.  Melex are not exactly fast, but, fully loaded, and careening down a narrow street they are quite capable of mashing a passerby to a pulp against a wall. It’s just a matter of time, but not until it happens will anything be done.

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Krakow's new bridge

I’ve been following the planning and building of Krakow’s new pedestrian bridge for what seems like most of my life but has in fact only been two years. Today was the culmination: in glorious Autumn sunshine I made my first crossing, the bridge itself having inconveniently been opened in the middle of last week.

My wife, who wasn’t even my wife when this started, has suffered through innumerable expeditions to the riverbank to watch me photograph bits of concrete and scaffolding without a murmur of protest—quite a lot of tutting, but no murmurs of protest. My wife is only really interested in things that happen on stages. If they had built the thing on Mam Talent with ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ playing in the background intercut it with slow motion black-and-white footage of workmen waving their hands in the air, she would have watched it 7,000 times on YouTube and cried. I’m as sorry to see it finished as she is glad. If they don’t start building something else dramatic in this town soon I’m going to have trouble filling my days.

It’s been quite a ride: thrills, spills, floods and long, long periods of absolutely nothing happening at all. The bridge plan first came to my attention back in April, 2009 when I wrote A new bridge for Kraków and it was finally opened on 30th September 2010.

The bridgeheads of the Emperor Francis Joseph I Bridge, which stood here from 1850 to 1925, were to be incorporated into the new bridge. Here is the bridgehead on the south bank in the very early stages of the project.

The bridgehead on the north bank receiving the attentions of a giant corkscrew machine (I’m not tremendously knowledgeable when it comes to bridge-building terminology). Whatever the giant corkscrew machine was trying to do, it didn’t seem to work because nothing else happened on the site for months.

Great excitement as the heavily renovated bridgeheads are fitted with big pipe-socket thingies (again, this may not be the technical term) to take the main span of the bridge.

The main span takes shape on the north bank. Already I’m wondering how they are going to get this vast piece of metal into position.

Rapid progress as the pedestrian and cycle platforms begin to take shape.

Doh! Imminent disaster as the river rises up and engulfs the structure in May of this year.

Soggy people struggle to prevent the half-finished bridge being washed away down the river.

Mystery solved: one end of the bridge is floated across the river on barges.

A tense couple of hours as the bridge is inched across the river. The architects were presumably locked away in a room with a bottle of whiskey at the time.

The Laetus Bernatek Bridge, finally, in place. This view rapidly becomes a favourite. It’s a good thing they thought about the design of the underside. The bridge was finished weeks before anybody could access it because the roads and paths leading to each end were not ready.

The completed bridge from the north bank—more or less the same point of view as the first photo above.

The cycle-side (west platform) of the bridge, the other side being for pedestrians. Contrary to some reports, cyclists and pedestrians can use the bridge in both directions, but use different sides. There is, by the way, no physical barrier that would prevent a car driving across the bridge. Somebody is bound to try this at some point. If that person is you, let me know so I can be there to take pictures of the ensuing disaster.

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