The Other Side of the Ocean

Friday, December 31, 2004

Should auld acquaintance be forgot… 

Yes! I have an acquaintance that everyone would agree should be forgot. But why is this song so sad? It played at home minutes ago and one could only think: funeral time!

Looking forward with zip and enthusiasm to 2005, shouldn’t we pick something more up-tempo for a NYEve ballad? Hey Ya! – someone here just suggested it as a replacement. I’m in agreement. Bring out the strobe lights and the champagne! I wanna see y’all on y’all baddest behavior! [In other words, to translate for the older set: Hell with New Year’s Resolutions, they suck!]

Okay, just a thought.
posted by nina, 12/31/2004 07:12:59 PM | link | (0) comments

I guess the fat lady hasn’t sung yet… 

…because the topic of resolutions appears to be not quite ready for the refuse pile.

First, I’m getting email “lack of progress” reports from certain writers over at
Professor Barnhardt’s Journal. That’s what I call getting punched in the noggin: I struggle to articulate something reasonable, something possible, something worthwhile to set as a 2005 target, and I get a little reminder that my goals are likely to go the way of the toilet paper – flushed in the weeks immediately following January 1st. Resolutions are made to be broken.

And leave it to academics to point out yet another problem with this whole resolution mess. Over at U of Minnesota, a psych prof notes:
But research shows that six weeks after people make their New Year's resolutions, 80 percent have either broken them or couldn't remember what they were.
Write down your resolution at the top of a sheet of paper--in big, bold letters!
Oh my God, this is written directly to me, isn’t it? You deliberately forget every small and large task that lies before you: write it down already!

Others tell me that’s not enough. Forget writing things down. The reason we break our resolutions is that we do not recondition our brains to think in new ways! An optimum performance expert says this:
“People don’t understand how their brain functions and therefore renege on their resolutions 99% of the time within very short order. Using will power is absolutely the worst way to achieve your new goals because it is controlled by your conscious mind, which is only responsible for one sixth of your abilities.
You mean I don’t need will power?? So what is it that I have to do (remember – I just want to write more; I don’t want to lose weight, drink less, make new friends, I just want to write!)?? Our performance guru has this advice:

It takes about 30 days of everyday mental training to re-train the brain if you want long lasting and permanent weight loss or if you want to earn more money. By doing a few simple visualization exercises seeing yourself at your perfect weight or career, you start to recondition your internal image and you begin to erase the old image. The more you do this the faster you’ll see results...

Another simple technique you can use is a written positive affirmation declaring,“I now weigh xxxx. My body fat is xxxxx. I feel and look great and I am at my ideal and perfect weight now."

I’m into trying new things. Let me give it a whirl. Beginning tomorrow, I will post pictures of me writing with declarative sentences to this effect “I am now writing excessively. I am at my ideal writing performance level now. At this very minute, I have more pages of text than I can possibly deal with. My works are flooding the shelves of every literate person on both sides of the ocean...”

But let me not get ahead of myself. That is tomorrow’s post.Today I am just a slovenly, still-in-my-pajamas law prof with a stack of unread exams, spending too much time at the computer, producing worthless dribble.

posted by nina, 12/31/2004 09:27:54 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 30, 2004

P.S. on resolutions: not amusing enough for you?  

If my resolution (see post below) left you disappointed, let me tell you, there are many more out there on the Net that you can peruse and reflect about. I’ll leave you with a few choice samples from, where a number of commenters have resolved the following:

From jilliec:
- Devote more time to playing my fucking guitar.

- Smoke more pot.

From spunkychick:
- replace the 'blech' items in wardrobe with new funky fun items

From rebookie:
- Have sex again

From dusty:
- stop slacking with housecleaning, work, paying bills, hair care answering emails and basically anything in my life that involves responsibility.

From mandolyn:
- cut down on the alcohol and drug-consumption.

From isotopia:
- stop picking at my skin

From tyger:
- stop pulling the hair out of my knees and knuckles as stress relief

From nanuk:
- Finish grad school applications

From pinkpoodle:
- Moisturize more

From Venetia:

- Publish three things in refereed journals.
- Go to Italy (or else Poland, but probably Italy)

[I was with her until the last one. Definitely she should go with Poland. Italy is everyone’s choice. Poland is for the lovers, the intellectuals, the truly forward-looking.]
posted by nina, 12/30/2004 11:59:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Resolutions for the New Year: the final post on this topic 

The house is quiet. Everyone is out doing things that for one reason or another I do not want to join in on. It is VERY quiet. Eerie almost. Very very quiet. In the still of this silence, I can write down the resolution that will have to do for this blog, for the coming year:

I resolve to write more, rather than less, in 2005.

That’s it. Nothing more.

posted by nina, 12/30/2004 10:50:36 PM | link | (0) comments

A post on my longstanding attachments to letter writing 

Forget about blogs, emails and the entire technological revolution. I love letters. I want to go back to letters. I admire them and the people who write them well. Some of my favorite books are compilations of letters. I refuse to throw out the recent New Yorker because it has the letter exchange between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. I love it. Completely totally.

On the strength of that, I went to Borders today and looked again at their (meager) collections of correspondence. People are private about their letters -- not much is made available for publication. But in my search through the anthologies I came across something almost as enticing: A Chance Meeting – Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854 – 1967. W.E.B. Du Bois and Charlie Chaplin. Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell. Gertrude Stein and William James. Etc. Private history (a term coined by Mark Twain). You can’t ever conclude anything on the basis of the scant information that we are presented with, but still, it can give you pause: a chance meeting and we have a changed person. That it then has an impact on her (his) art or writing goes without saying. The Mystery is absolute though, because the reader can never fully understand how different things may have been without that little pod of influence.

Just a fragment from “A Chance Meeting:”
In years later, Gertrude Stein used to tell the story that one beautiful spring day, after she had been to the opera every night for a week and was tired, she had to take an exam in Professor James’s class, and she found that she “just could not.” Writing in the third person, she described herself sitting there: “Dear Professor James, she wrote at the top of her paper. I am so sorry but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy today, and left.” He wrote her a card saying that he perfectly well understood and, according to her, gave her the highest mark in the class. That she actually passed with a B seems to have been solidly obscured in her mind by her preference for her own version of the events – one that illustrated the deep sympathy between Gertrude Stein and William James.

posted by nina, 12/30/2004 08:36:57 PM | link | (0) comments

Ann says yes to cell phones on planes, I say take them to the bathroom and stay there 

On second thought, why should you have the privilege of the limited washroom facilities? Ann claims that the plane is a noisy public place and that if you are in need of quiet, buy and iPod!

No no no, do not force me to dangle white strings from my ears, I do not want an iPod. But I also do not want to listen to Gidget discuss her shopping trip with Aurelia for two hours right as we are flying over Buffalo.

People who use cells in public do so loudly and without attention to the other. It has become such a nuisance that trains on the East Coast, in Europe and in Japan (and the world over for all I know) have created quiet cars. Seats there fill faster than in the “regular” cars. I wonder why.

We are generally a noisy people. It is said that Americans stand out abroad and I can see that: we boom and bang our way through most chatter. But if the rest of the world is to be trapped with us in tight spaces, can’t it at least request of us that we shut the little hell-toy up for a few hours? Let’s get email on the planes up and running. Yes, yes, I’m all for that. But please, keep that little cell jingle on silence mode while in the air.
posted by nina, 12/30/2004 11:33:37 AM | link | (0) comments

Resolutions for the New Year: surfing for ideas, continued 

Still not satisfied with yesterday’s web-based suggestions, I am digging deeper into other people’s failed lives and unaccomplished goals from years past. Maybe in these heaps of botched effort I’ll find inspiration – or at least nuggets of wisdom on what to avoid for 2005.

When I need to find the weird, the obscure, the original weblog, I go to the cool, the wonderful, the prolific After all, they were the source of the link to Shizzy’s Page, where a guy recounts how he developed an email correspondence with a lowly employee of Starbucks while pretending that he, the blogger, was the CEO. [A handful of Ocean readers thought the prank was mean beyond mean and they threatened to boycott Ocean if I posted a link to it, so I restrained myself. I agree that it’s mean beyond mean, juvenile, impish, vile even. To agree along with us, check it out for yourself, here.]

Boingboing did not disappoint. They offer a link to where a geek (Merlin Mann) recounts his implementation of principles articulated in the popular “Getting Things Done.” Yeah!

Reading just the last few entries floods me with the realization that things are slated for failure unless you keep your projects small and you get rid of ambitious and complicated to do lists. I am staring at my ambitious and complicated “to do” list as I type this. Dare I tear it up for the New Year? Wee hoo! Merlin writes [emphases are my own]:

I try to ensure that any action I identify as a next action can be finished, front to back, in less than 20 minutes time—preferably in fewer than 10 minutes. So, forexample, while “Write an article on GTD” is practically useless (that’s a project!).


In a previous life as a producer and project manager for some good-sized web projects, I once approached my work with a completely baseless optimism and sense of possibility that I had absolutely no business feeling—let alone foisting off on others as way to guide big projects... Yikes. Simpler times.

The reality is that projects change, and projects break; that’s what they do. It’s their job. The smaller your project is, and the shorter the distance there is between “here” and “there,” the less likely you are to have to chuck it and start over for reasons you couldn’t possibly have foreseen when you were knitting up them fancy GANTT charts for Q3/2007.

Okay, resolve to resolve small things, and get rid of grand plans and unwarranted optimism. I'm getting warmer now to the day when I can actually resolve something! Stay tuned.
posted by nina, 12/30/2004 08:10:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Resolutions for the New Year, continued  

Sometime at the beginning of April, I wrote this teeny little post-it to myself: “I will think kind thoughts and not write slanderous emails” (or something to that effect). I dated it, signed it, and put it up in the corner of my computer screen in my office. It was an impulsive gesture, probably a step toward some desire for self-improvement, or, more likely, written after I had sent some impulsive email (SO me) that I knew would cost me my life, except that this penetrating piece of wisdom did not strike me until after I had already clicked “send.” It happens. Of course, the little post-it became part of the fabric of the place: I came to take it for granted. In fact, I sort of forgot all about it. It was like a fly on the wall that had left a permanent, yet quickly forgotten splotch. Others may have noticed it – I ceased to pay any attention to it.

This December, in my absence, the computer in the office was upgraded (I posted about this earlier). The techies actually took the little post-it and transferred it to the new computer. HOW AWFUL!! Now they know I am capable of thinking evil thoughts and writing horrid emails.

So, if resolutions in the middle of the year just lead you to make a fool of yourself, what good are resolutions set for January 1st?

posted by nina, 12/29/2004 09:53:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Readers state their preferences 

Thanks for the emails about *things that you like* in the blog. That polenta photo generated a number of kind comments. But the thing is, I cannot keep posting photos of What I Am Up To. They would be like this – me taking a self-portrait, sitting at the computer looking off-the-wall bizarre. Want proof? Here's one, taken in a self-indulgent moment ten seconds ago:
posted by nina, 12/29/2004 09:31:11 PM | link | (0) comments

...that blue glow in the eye looks ominous...what *is* she posting?? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/29/2004 09:30:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Volunteerism, carried to new *heights* 

Do you mean I could make a difference in helping people get from one place to another during this busy holiday travel period? Should I volunteer my services? Would I do a better job than experienced employees? The NYT reports that US Airways has faith in us, the off-the-street ready-to-jump-in volunteers! I’m ready. I’ll do my bit.

This post is in response to the NYT online news brief. Here it is, in full bloom:
US Airways Is Predicting a Smoother Weekend: US Airways said that with the help of volunteer employees, it expected a smooth weekend at its Philadelphia hub after a Christmas weekend of mishandled bags.

posted by nina, 12/29/2004 08:45:50 PM | link | (0) comments

Resolutions for the New Year: Introduction 

In the last three days of the year, there is nothing left to groan about except the unopened property tax bill, the healthy living program that was to go into effect on December 26th and faltered on the 27th, and the forthcoming January 1st deadline for getting my resolutions in order.

This year, I decided to do what in previous years I could not have done (due to blog-ignorance, laziness and sloth): check out eminent bloggers and read what they had to say on the subject of resolutions.

One of my favorite lists of resolves comes from Professor Barnhardt’s Journal (it’s a webzine, with a handful of writers posting each Tuesday on topics selected by the editor, Bob Sassone, who himself is also a contributor at McSweeney’s, Salon, Esquire, etc). And so, to warm up to the topic, I decided to share some interesting possibilities, ripped from their January 2004 posting. Later, I will craft my own, but for now, if you’re thinking to resolve things, mull over these options:

(From Tod Goldberg):
…Don’t resolve to fundamentally change a part of my personality. I’m an asshole, I recognize that, and thus it would be silly for me to decide come January 1st to become the Mother Teresa of Gen-X novelists... [And on a more practical note:] Learn to wipe sitting down. Now this is a weird thing. All my life, I’ve stood to wipe. My wife learned of this a few years ago and informed me that I was “weird” and that what I was doing was “wrong” and that I should learn the “right way”… 2004 is the Year of Sitting Down, folks.

(From Joe Lavin): … If this year I come up with a resolution in December, I will act on it immediately, instead of waiting until next January just so that I can make it an official New Year's resolution…. [Also] I resolve to be more mysterious, even if people just think I'm being an idiot. … [And on a more practical note:] I think I'll have some cheesecake.

(From Brian Lewandowski *): … [Remember, this was written in 01-04. Sigh…] I resolve never again to vote for any Presidential candidates with 6 or less letters in their last names. They have been nothing but problems… think about it. All the good ones have more letters than that in their monikers. So I am sorry Mr. Dean and Mr. Clark, it looks like I am gonna be riding the Kucinich - Sharpton ticket all the way to DC! [And in a less practical vein:] I resolve to also never ponder if it’s a NASCAR or a NASCAR car.

(From Bob Sassone): More drinking, more smoking, more sex.

* Because he shares my last name (in its "maiden"--oh, what a curious word that is! -- version), and because his recent blog post speaks to my own holiday gluttony, I thought I'd cite here a few sentences from his entry yesterday:

Breaching the 200 lb mark for the first time in my life, I am feeling a little plump. Traditionally, like any good Lewandowski, I am carrying that weight in my belly. No where else, just the big belly on my little chicken legs. I look like a freaking Weeble balanced on toothpicks.

So in order to lose the weight I put on sweats today. That's the ticket, right? I see tons of really fat people wearing sweats at the mall and I see athletes wearing sweats. The sweats must make all those mall fats turn into athletes...
posted by nina, 12/29/2004 09:45:58 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Update: email nightmare resolved and it was not my fault! Surprised? 

In installing a new computer in my office (I think it was to be a surprise), the tech dude (inadvertently?) set it so that the new email program (another surprise) would download email from the server every ten minutes. If I retrieved something at home (or elsewhere) before it got downloaded – mine! If I did not, it was wiped off the server. Some three fourths of email got slashed in this way, though I ultimately retrieved it in my office today.

I can only respond to it from the Law School because it is there and not here, and unfortunately I am here and not there. I will get to it all, I will. In the meantime, here’s a small chunk of attenuated responses:

Thanks, sorry you feel that way, no I cannot do that, of course you should study that for the exam, yes please do send it to me, gym would be fantastic, I liked your Christmas pictures as well, thanks for that story, no I am not insulted, of course I read your blog, I would love to eat dinner and I’m glad you’re not holding grudges over that unfortunate incident back in November.

posted by nina, 12/28/2004 08:36:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Why is there a bright orange shirt set up as if it had a person in it? 

No, it's not a shirt ripped off the back of a Ukrainian. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/28/2004 02:33:23 PM | link | (0) comments
I think Poles are predisposed toward artistry. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Even at a time when art was blandly subservient to a political agenda, Polish artists developed a reputation for spectacular poster art (remember “Cyrk” posters from the sixties and seventies?). Poles had a knack for the stuff.

But fashion – it suffered in postwar Poland. The styles were conservative, the colors were uniformly washed-out. Burgundy looked like last year’s plum preserves. They said it had something to do with the quality of the dyes. Maybe. I think it had to do with a national disinterest in developing a great fashion industry. In fashion taste, Poles were being compared with their neighbors – to the west (Germany) and to the south (Austria), except it was said (I’m just reporting here, not commenting on the veracity of the claims) that the Germans and Austrians at least made shoes to last, even if you didn’t especially want to wear them.

So don’t you think that it is reasonable to compensate for the years of dyspeptic colors in this new Polish market economy by flooding the stores with strong statements about color?

I bought the orange shirt in Poland at “Reserved,” which like “Tatum,” is a leading Polish clothes retailer, sort of our meager analogue to J.Crew. Reaction here to my proudly displayed shirt:
-> it looks like it should be worn by a traffic person
-> nice and bright, isn’t it?
-> next time bring me one…around the end of October
-> really bright…

See, I knew it: suddenly it’s on everyone’s wish list. How nice to see that Polish clothes are making a statement again!

posted by nina, 12/28/2004 02:27:06 PM | link | (0) comments

What to do when your connectedness waffles and wanes 

Lately, things have been slow on the email front. Vacations! Holidays! – I told myself. But today, a colleague sent me an email basically asking why I haven’t responded to her emails no. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Why? Because I never got no. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. But I got no.6. Oh oh. Further investigation reveals that other emails also have not reached me. Yet some have. Moreover, this has been happening for several weeks now.

Panic. I am certain that I have missed the crucial, all-important deadline. And, I have appeared rude to students, colleagues and friends. (And truthfully, some have appeared rude to me.)

Clicking onto the web-based Wiscmail reveals a completely empty Inbox. What???? I have been erased from the web planet! I am no more. Except sometimes, I am as before.

I will unravel this, I will get to the bottom of this hellish email ride. In the meantime, if you have written and received no answer, it is not my fault! The cyber gods and I appear to be having issues over who is really in control and at this point, they are ahead in the battle. Hang in there, nlcamic at wisc dot edu has got the wise and wonderful tech support staff on her side. They’re scratching their heads as we speak.
posted by nina, 12/28/2004 10:10:59 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, December 27, 2004

Sorry for being distracted – I am reading Admissions files 

Would you like me to be blogging away, chipper and carefree, without great concentration or commitment to the stack of folders in front of me? No you would not. You would appreciate the fact that applicants spent a good deal of effort in putting together law school applications. They should get a careful reading. Goodnight Ocean, hello personal essays and explanations of youthful arrest records.
posted by nina, 12/27/2004 08:24:41 PM | link | (0) comments

Other Side of the Ocean joins in effort to get you to click on behalf of those across the ocean 

Feeling like it’s impossible to even imagine the enormity of the disaster in Southeast Asia?

Click here (select International Response Fund) or here. It will make a difference.
posted by nina, 12/27/2004 05:35:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Survival of the less fit 

The threatening email accusing me of hording the 365 Organic Angel Fluffies (see my post here) has got to stop. You pick your own addictive chips! May I suggest Organic cheddar popcorn? Yummy! But the Fluffies – they are mine mine mine. The holidays are over, my generosity of spirit is packed away until December 2005.

I’m off to stock up. I don’t trust my readership at all.

posted by nina, 12/27/2004 10:31:47 AM | link | (0) comments

The new face of Poland? 

I am so glad market capitalism has flooded shelves in Poland’s stores with delicious foods and beautiful artifacts. I am glad that people aspire to better work, that countries in the EU are accepting Polish workers, that elections aren’t riddled with corruption and fraud.

I am less happy to read about certain social transformations that have accompanied the Great Change (here, though in Polish). Recent studies reveal that Poles now think of themselves as alienated, indifferent toward their neighbor, angry and downright mean-spirited. Those in the rural areas still regard the village community as supportive and kindly disposed toward one another. Elsewhere? Forget it. I'm dismayed to read the words that now describe daily life: “wyscig szczurow” (race of the rats), “wzajemna agresja” (mutual aggression). In some regions, only 7% of the population think that that people these days are well-meaning or kind. Lovely: a generous nation turned brutish and sour. Best visit now before you’re greeted with daggers and swords at the airport.
posted by nina, 12/27/2004 08:38:26 AM | link | (0) comments

Confessions of a law prof 

I knew it halfway through the Fall semester: I’d grown weary of the text I’d been using in Family Law.

I’ll admit that I find it hard to stay with a text more than two years and not be somewhat revulsed by its shortcomings (I teach Family Law I both Fall and Spring semesters). When I have to make an effort to enjoy delivering a lecture based on assigned readings, I know it’s time to think about a change.

And so last night I stood up and formally announced (to myself and anyone who was listening): I will make the switch now. Effective immediately. No looking back.

It’s not that the students would have noticed had I stayed rooted to the old dog – they appear to enjoy whatever compellation of readings I pass on. And not an insignificant handful like using the notes of Family Law alums. Sorry guys, the notes are worthless. I’m starting afresh. I’m bored with the old stuff. I dislike the ordering of topics, I find the chapter notes silly and the problems ho hum.

And so comes the paradox of paradoxes – in order to make my semester more enjoyable, I have to pile vast amounts of additional work onto my days. Changing a text is almost like teaching a brand new course. New lectures have to be written. New questions need to be addressed. Halfway through the semester I’ll kick myself I’m sure, but for now I’ll be oh so happy to kick the offensive fat book further under the table, along with the other well-used and now abused texts from years gone by. Welcome, newly anointed chosen one (it’s amazing how many there are to pick from)! I hope you and I enjoy each other’s company. For at least a year or two.

posted by nina, 12/27/2004 07:41:33 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Quiz on social correctness: 

Is this right, is this wrong?

1. Cellphone rings in restaurant. You answer it.
2. You’re talking to your pal and the cellphone rings. You pause in your talk and check to see who is calling.
3. You’re at home, the phone rings, you wait to see who it is and if you feel like talking to him/her.

If you read the NYTMagazine article on the evolution of connectedness, maybe you’ll have given a fleeting thought to your own standards of what is passable behavior. The author considers the following trends in the ways we attempt to connect to others:

In fact, it’s now considered rude not to have some sort of machine to take messages for you. And not only have we become used to machines that take messages, we also sometimes prefer them to live communications…

Between cellphones, email and instant messaging, it’s now considered exotic to be truly unreachable at all.
The article suggests that in making decisions about answering, checking the caller’s ID, etc, you are making a series of instant status judgments. You flip open your cellphone for some, not for others.

It says something about me that I am constantly being preempted by a cell call. It could be that I am boring. It could be that people even get coconspirators to dial their number, just so they could have a respite from our exchange. At less paranoid times, I have concluded that I appear so completely benign and informal that the world out there has determined that I cannot easily be offended by such behaviors. Or at least that I wont kill the perpetrator.

Okay, I’ll confess: I wont kill, but I do hate the whole imposition of pseudo-connectedness on human interaction. You’re hanging at home – pick up the darn phone. You’re out and about, hanging with someone, trash or silence your cell, or at the very least, ignore the precious Ode to Joy when it sounds in your pocket. Bach would have wanted it that way.

posted by nina, 12/26/2004 04:09:33 PM | link | (0) comments

Classic post-holiday behavior 

And how did you commemorate the day after? My day thus far had the following scintillating components:

A visit to a store to exchange a game. We’re into games around here but, predictably, everyone has strong preferences as to what talent is to be tapped. I, for instance, hate trivia games, but love “make up creative lies” type games. Others feel differently about this. I have been accused of being extremely competitive, to the point that I will use every devious strategy to sink a competitor and come out victorious. Of course, this is the opposite of how I really am. Honestly!! Anyway, I exchanged my first choice for someone else’s first choice. It’s Christmas, I can be magnanimous.

A visit to the gym. This goes without saying. Anyone who stands and cooks all day long and then devours all that comes off the stove, sometimes even before it is fully off the stove, needs to go to the gym after the holidays. I was not the only one there.

Reading the newspaper. I have not done this for a while. I’d been gone, I’d been busy, I’ve had every excuse to avoid picking up hard, dirty print. Today I am back at it. Things that caught my fancy: Maureeen Dowd’s tribute to Mary McGrory. Part of me would very much like to be like Mary McGrory: brilliant with words, always on the job, inquisitive, plucky, biting sharp, pushy. I think I can appropriate two from that list: plucky and inquisitive. The rest – merely aspirational. At the end of the article, Dowd cites McGrory’s advice to her nephew, given to him at a stuffy D.C. party: “Always approach the shrimp bowl like you own it.” Absolutely right. There’s no need to pander to stuffiness in this world.
posted by nina, 12/26/2004 01:50:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas Day, part 3 

The transmogrification of food traditions

The palate changes over time. Over the years, we adjust for it. The buche de Noel shrinks (who can eat that much…), the chocolate ‘bark’ grows darker, more bittersweet, because that’s how preferences fall these days. The Cornish hens get zestier, spicier, the warm mushrooms in the salad get funkier, more exotic.

But the basic ingredients stay the same. Unless you forget to buy some of them. Then you adjust. Happy are those who can adjust, because let me tell you – all grocery stores are closed on this day, and the local PDQs do not carry such fancy items as heavy cream (for example). Adherence to rituals and traditions is satisfying. But shifting things around a bit is what makes the day especially interesting.

posted by nina, 12/25/2004 11:52:02 PM | link | (0) comments

The final item to come out of the kitchen: a buche that recognizes current tastes and makes do with available ingredients. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/25/2004 11:52:01 PM | link | (0) comments

Christmas Day, part 2 

Further proof that my proper place is in the kitchen:

The puff pastries come out of the oven in time for Christmas breakfast. The spice cake was made last night.

posted by nina, 12/25/2004 03:14:08 PM | link | (0) comments

Starting the day with a nice carb high Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/25/2004 03:12:34 PM | link | (0) comments
Gifts: am I for them or against them? Oh, for them. Especially when the gift giver really wants to make you happy with that little wrapped package. Someone thoughtfully purchased for me Baltic Voices 2 (Estonian choir, singing “choral riches of the Baltic Sea countries”). Being sort of an out-of-it type, I’d never heard of them before. Wonderful music, written by contemporary musicians. Makes me ashamed that I ever doubted Estonia’s greatness and influential position in the world. Yay Estonia! Glad you’re in the EU after all.

And, fan that I am of the Daily Show (I pay for cable just to occasionally catch Stewart – you might say that I am that deprived of opportunities to laugh), I somehow completely neglected “A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.” Today it appeared under the tree. It’s a good book to flip through. I just picked up this piece of legal trivia that I am certain will help me sound impressive in social gatherings: Until 1943, Supreme Court nominees were wrapped in litmus paper and dipped in acid to determine their worthiness for the Court. later Courts were less literal-minded.

Gifts are good. They put a shirt on my back and a pear in my stocking.

posted by nina, 12/25/2004 03:03:47 PM | link | (0) comments

Christmas Day, part 1 

Merry Christmas to all who wish to be merry, and to all a good morning!

Does anyone else wake up at 5:30 and cannot return to sleep because of a nagging thought that they forgot something?

By 6 a.m. I finally recall that I did not wrap a pair of mittens from the Polish highlands. Nice sheep’s wool, warm and still smelling of fur and firs – I am certain that I did not wrap them. By 6:30 I give up on the idea of sleep and start searching for them. In the suitcase pocket: eureka!

posted by nina, 12/25/2004 07:32:18 AM | link | (0) comments

For some, night visions of sugarplums, for others -- Polish mittens Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/25/2004 07:31:09 AM | link | (0) comments
Being older means you still toss and turn on Christmas morning and think about the day ahead, it's just that your issues change somewhat.

For instance, here’s issue number two: I wonder if anyone will notice that I forgot to buy apple cider to steep the dried apples in for the morning apple puff pastries… And btw, I'm still fretting about the misplaced camera case.

An update on this promising-to-be-interesting day will follow.

posted by nina, 12/25/2004 07:28:32 AM | link | (0) comments

And outside, just at dawn, the fir trees receive their dusting of snow. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/25/2004 07:05:05 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve, part 3 

What is the leading story in the Polish online newspaper right now? Predictably, an article accompanying this photo:

The Pope (he is Polish, remember?), resting before Midnight Mass.
posted by nina, 12/24/2004 04:48:24 PM | link | (0) comments

Christmas Eve, part 2 

Alright. The accusations have begun. I am asked if I have abandoned my love of the kitchen stove given that I am nowhere near it and evening is almost upon us. May I remind you, all you emphatic critics, of the fantastic Sicilian meal I put in front of your noses last night? You even took a picture of me, la vostra mamma, smiling away at the pot of parmesan polenta and the pollo siciliana (okay, I made the name up). Remember??
posted by nina, 12/24/2004 04:31:38 PM | link | (0) comments

See how happy I look? (That's because I am near the end of the 45-minute stirring that polenta demands.) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/24/2004 04:30:08 PM | link | (0) comments
More photos of this type will dot the blog throughout the holiday period demonstrating my utter commitment to cooking. Is Ocean to become a ballyhoo on the author’s kitchen antics? It’s more that during these weeks, I have a photographer in the house who is quick to snap, especially in the kitchen, so evidence of my tornado-like cooking habits abounds.
posted by nina, 12/24/2004 04:27:56 PM | link | (0) comments

Christmas Eve, part 1 

Christmas Eve Day has always been a favorite for members of this household (amazing, considering the secular leanings of most, though not all of the persons herein). The day is full of good things, many of them edible, all of them jovial. So what was my contribution to this spirited day?
- A search for my camera case. I cannot find it. Where the devil is it? I am obsessed with looking for it. My co-hunters have given up on me and on the camera case. I, however, am determined.
- I’m on the Net right now. How pathetic is that…
- Filling the cart at Whole Foods. The Whole idiot that I am, I allowed little elves to sneak in their favorite: Angel Fluffies. As a result, our cabinet at home looks like this (posting the picture reminded me of the lost camera case; the hunt must continue!):

posted by nina, 12/24/2004 01:23:00 PM | link | (0) comments

I would call this a serious addiction Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/24/2004 01:22:17 PM | link | (0) comments
- going to the post office to mail a package and cards. The teller looked at the stack and told me that especially the international cards would, for sure, not get there in time for the holidays. I think she is not expansive enough in her thinking. The holidays can take a while to resolve themselves.
- I have four separate baked goods to put in the oven. I am not starting in on any of them. Instead, I am about to return to the mall. I have this unwieldy curiosity about what the mall is like minutes before it closes for the holiday.

A note of caution: Ocean will not opine about much of anything important between now and the close of 2004. Look not for studious commentary and stay away if you crave reflective insight. [In other words, Ocean will proceed as it always does, in a whimsied, designless manner, without any clear idea of where it’s heading or why it is going there.]

posted by nina, 12/24/2004 01:16:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Dropped best friend in favor of speedy resolution to car problem 

In an earlier post I described a growing dependence on a person who has become a fixture in my life: the AAA rescue guy who came to fix stalled, flattened, dead cars. Two had lost their air, their power, their pizzazz. That was then. Today, we are up to three deflated, depleted, debunked cars (not all mine! We have here two ancient drivers, two young drivers, three ancient cars).

My trusty rusty truck (alright, ye of high accuracy standards – I mean van) let out air in all four tires, but especially in one. That was the final straw. Not a single machine stuck by me during this cold spell. Thanks, guys.

I abandoned my man of slight mechanical aptitude but great friendship potential and called the local heroes at the Mobil station. I am in full support of friendship, but when my days are being trampled upon, it’s time to think selfishly about taking care of myself. And my van.

posted by nina, 12/23/2004 09:57:29 PM | link | (0) comments

I finally made it to that dreaded place: the mall 

Overheard, at Williams Sonoma and then again at another (secret) store across the mall:
Store clerk(s): Tomorrow, everything changes. The crowds diminish. It will be mostly men with a last-minute enlightenment about what their loved ones really want.

Items purchased: few. But I felt the season would be imperfect if I had not even once made it to the mall.

Mood meter: shoppers appeared benign, like they really did not mind being there. Odd!

Prospects of returning anytime soon: when the weather changes and I need a new bathing suit, if then.

posted by nina, 12/23/2004 09:13:47 PM | link | (0) comments

It looks just as exquisite in the daylight 

posted by nina, 12/23/2004 02:51:00 PM | link | (0) comments

isn't she a charmer... as the sheep looks on Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/23/2004 02:50:00 PM | link | (0) comments

the branch is sagging and so the little guy gets to go skating on the floor Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/23/2004 02:48:59 PM | link | (0) comments

so many colors... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/23/2004 02:48:03 PM | link | (0) comments

In celebration of lateness 

Oh to be late, to be late for everything! How wonderful.

Late in buying holiday cards? On sale, 40% off. Late in mailing present to parent in Berkeley? No lines at the post office anymore. Late in putting up yard lights outside? Let it go – no need to do it now, maybe next year. Late in getting dinner started? Oh, don’t bother, we can just eat out (I’m hoping for this one).

Poor suckers who get things done ahead of schedule – you don’t know what you’re missing!
posted by nina, 12/23/2004 02:20:37 PM | link | (1) comments

I’ll be (anywhere but) home for Christmas 

According to a recent study conducted by, one-third of adults in the United States would rather head to the beach or the ski slopes, or go out on the town for a night, than visit the home of a friend or relative during the holiday season.

The IHT article reporting this (from Paris) gives anecdotal evidence of a restless populace, tired of visits to picturesque villages along the Normandy coast where the old relatives still reside, anxious, instead, to get out and see the world during the holiday season (the article reminds us that in Europe, the holidays generate a greater number of time-off-from-work days than in the States).

Does anyone think that travel during the holidays is fun? La Guardia early in the week was a nightmare and this was without winter weather interference. Prices at traditional vacation havens are inflated, local eating establishments are often closed. What is the joy in this?

Maybe this is more of a comment on the nature of our encounters with family and friends. We are so unused to seeing each other that forced holiday get-togethers can be a bit of an encumbrance. During the everyday, we surround ourselves with people exactly like us, we do not relish accommodating the inclinations of others. How boring, then, to deal with the aging parent, the cloistered setting of the family home that we’ve outgrown. Oh, we’ll do it, we’ll pack the bags and the gifts and head out (the study also notes that in reality, only 12% actually do abandon family in favor of holiday escapes), dreading it, waiting for the return to our own piece of heaven at home. Of course, someday we will be at the receiving end as our friends and relatives eventually lump us into the category of the boring and seek ways to escape. Maybe the solution is to find the boring less boring, if only during this brief holiday period.

posted by nina, 12/23/2004 10:38:56 AM | link | (0) comments

Eat, drink, be merry! 

Ann* suggests that the word “Merry” before Christmas is misplaced. The word connotes a revelry that perhaps is less appropriately matched to a holy birth. Wouldn’t a greeting of “joy” be more fitting, in that it tracks both the sacred meaning of the holiday, at the same time that it gives breathing room to those who wish to preserve the more secular traditions of the winter holiday?

Maybe. And the French would agree with her, since they use the word she favors: “joyeux.”

But the Poles would not. We tell each other “Wesolych Swiat,” which literally translates to “Merry Holi-days.” If we have enough air in our lungs, we say “Have a Merry Holi-day of the birth of God.” The word “holiday” preserves sacredness, in that it keeps the emphasis on the “holy” (whereas in English, we have come to think of “holiday” as something that entitles us to time off from work).

As for the merrymaking – it is entirely right that one would wish the very jolliest, richest (calorie-wise) of celebrations. A Polish Christmas is all about family, friends and food. The tree goes up, the crèche is artfully arranged and then you feast. And feast. And feast. I can think of no words that more aptly capture the spirit of these days than “Merry Christmas.” Unless it’s “bon appetit,” but that’s a little too French.

* Yes, I do read other blogs. But Althouse offers abundance, both in quantity and quality. Moreover, it has no “comments” feature. For all these reasons it inspires a greater number of links than the average blog.
posted by nina, 12/23/2004 09:00:25 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A new best friend 

A reader may be thinking – gosh the posts are getting skimpy and superficial. Must be because she is so full of holiday preparations… Wish she’d post some photos of the fresh pastries baking in the oven or stories of pre-holiday excitement.

I’m doing none of that: no baking, no holiday anything for that matter. I am, instead, cultivating a long and enduring friendship.

I met him by chance, but we have become great friends. We tell each other things, we speculate about the future, we turn to each other in stressful moments, we enjoy a good laugh together.

The only thing is, I can’t quite remember his name.

He first showed up at my doorstep yesterday to fix car number one. Then, of his own accord, he tackled car number two. And today he is back, tackling the freshly stalled car number one. He hasn’t much faith in it, I can tell. Nor did he have an easy time towing it away. He followed me up and down the Beltline, finally dropping off the problem child at the dealer’s service entrance. But friendships don’t die easily. He’ll be back soon, I’m certain of it.

posted by nina, 12/22/2004 04:24:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Being boring 

Do men and women who stay home and care for infants and use their free time to watch TV and play video games become boring? Ann suggests that this may be the case. But wait, if you are satisfied to spend your free time thus, are you not inherently a boring person anyway? Would you be in any way more interesting if you were out and about in the workplace? Don’t we know oh so many people who enter their work world and have absolutely nothing interesting to say about it while they are there, nor at the end of the day, when they retire from it?
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 11:13:39 AM | link | (0) comments

A tree inside the house 

Anyone will tell you that getting a tree up and fixing it to your satisfaction is a huge effort. My parents gave up on the project when I was thirteen. Their attitude was – you want a tree, you get it. And so I did. They did tolerate it though, whether our Christmas break was spent in the village with my grandparents, or in Warsaw, or even in New York – I’d find the tree, and up she would go. So you could say I’ve been putting up trees in the house for nearly forty years.

Last night’s tree enterprise was trouble-free. Over the years the stand has grown so that there now is a monster of monster stands, sturdy enough to hold a tree meant for Rockefeller Center. So the tree is up, it is not tilting, and it is adorable in its adorned state. It is a tree of stories because every single ornament was purchased in a special place at a special moment. Each year a handful is added and somehow or other there is always room for those new additions.

Everyone knows that my favorite is the simple cut out of two little faces at the window. But I am a fan of so many more – the winners and losers, they all were carefully selected and placed with great ceremony and, in the Polish way, with lots of accompanying food to move the task along.
Just a few photos for blog readers who like trees, like the holidays, like the idea that you can let your imagination create something so colorful and lovely right inside your home.

posted by nina, 12/22/2004 07:04:51 AM | link | (0) comments

My favorite: two little girls smiling at the world. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 07:02:58 AM | link | (0) comments

Yes, Polish glass-blown ones as well. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 07:01:13 AM | link | (0) comments

From different corners of the world, side by side now Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 06:58:43 AM | link | (0) comments

The polar bear got a name this year and he got a pal, from the tights store in Paris. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 06:56:34 AM | link | (0) comments

And on the top? A simple ribbon and a dried flower. There's a story in that as well. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/22/2004 06:54:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

So where’s my partridge? 

I’ve got three people here for the holidays, two cars with flat tires, one car with a dead battery, and zero patience for the entire mess, which, for reasons that are circumstantial but real nonetheless, is entirely in my lap.

Perhaps due to the inordinate pressure this has put on the day for me, I backed out the one drivable truck right into the Christmas tree in the garage. That’s okay, I think the dent in it will be rather charming, Charlie Brownish almost. Perfect trees are not real. This one will look real.

If I can’t have a partridge, I at least want an organic pear tree. Or for the AAA truck to come NOW, so that I can leave the house and buy some fruit already. Grrrrr!

And don't any of you, friends and blog readers, even think you're getting a holiday card from me this year. I hereby send greetings to all. There, are you happy now?

UPDATE: That sounded cheerless. Greetings may come, but maybe a little, um, late-ish and perhaps via email. I'm full of remorse, okay?
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 02:28:13 PM | link | (0) comments

The spoils and riches of travel 

I am unpacking suitcases that have been crammed in the past weeks as I passed through Krakow, the Tatra mountains, and finally Warsaw. Add to it that I have generous types making sure I take some of Poland back home to Madison, plus the fact that we have the holidays before us, and we’re looking at one (or two) bulging little valise at my feet.

Anything to show off for the blog?
Okay, here’s one: chocolate covered plums: you should be ogling a dinner invitation from me in the next weeks just to be served these for dessert (with a brandy if you’re into that sort of thing). Succulent and aromatic and totally yummy.
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 09:01:47 AM | link | (0) comments

after-dinner treats Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:59:52 AM | link | (0) comments
Plums in chocolate. Okay. Cool. What else?
How about this: artisanal vintage numbered plum preserves.
Artisanal, vintage, numbered. Why?
Well, because plums, like grapes, have their good year and bad year. These preserves are stirred in large kettles, then packed by hand: only a couple of hundred jars are made each year. I have jar no. 184.
Could you tell the difference if it was from the year 2002 rather than 2001?
Jam should be eaten with as much care as anything else. I bet if I paused and savored it and rolled it around on my tongue…
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:58:16 AM | link | (0) comments

one small kitchen (outside of Warsaw) makes these in limited quantities  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:57:06 AM | link | (0) comments
What else?
Honey from pine forest undergrowth.
Say what?
I can’t translate it. You need to taste it to understand how the essence of the forest can make its way into a great honey. This jar is somewhat depleted not because I had a honey craving and dug in halfway through the trip, but because some of the honey exited from the jar mid-flight.
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:52:27 AM | link | (0) comments

"eco" means that it meets organic production standards Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:50:55 AM | link | (0) comments
How about these artisanal cholcolates, individually crafted? I think Belgium is going to have to share the stage pretty soon: Polish chocolate is catching up to its EU neighbor!
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:45:42 AM | link | (0) comments

delicate, refined, unusual. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:45:23 AM | link | (0) comments
Anything non-foody?
Too many holiday secrets in my suitcase. But I can show off this rooster that I now put in the kitchen: he is made of Polish hay and let me tell you, it brings the barn smell right into your home.
Is that a good thing?
Yes: I am referring to the fresh, sweet smell of hay. Okay, maybe it’s not that pungent, but if I bend down and sniff and close my eyes, I can see the haystacks before me…
That would not be a winter image now would it?
No matter: the rooster traveled straight from the holiday market in Krakow and as he sits perched on my kitchen countertop, he is my tiny reminder of who I am and where it all comes from. I am transformed again. Friends wont recognize me.
(Oh oh, are we going to see more of that Eastern European angst? The eat, drink and be merry cataclysmic personality that plunges and plunders and then writes dark brooding stories about the meaninglessness of life? )
(People have such weird ideas on what it means to be Polish.)
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:42:02 AM | link | (0) comments

hej, gory, nasze gory... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 08:40:44 AM | link | (0) comments

Celebrate the countdown toward summer! 

It is always a relief to survive December 21st. Understanding that henceforth the days will again grow longer feels extraordinarily wonderful. Ocean is all about celebrations: cheers to the coming of summer!
posted by nina, 12/21/2004 07:10:21 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, December 20, 2004

Hardy peasant stock? Maybe not. 

Yesterday, when temps hovered in the upper thirties, New York dogs wore sweaters and Burberry coats. This morning the weather turned vicious. The streets had a dusting of snow (and a two inch layer of salt, it seemed). Temperatures imitated Wisconsin. Dogs were being carried by owners across the street. The wind kicked up, reminding me what winter was really like back home. Thanks a lot, New York. I would have appreciated one last morning of something gentler and tamer. This stuff is for the Olafs and the Ingas and husky Vladimirs of this world. Me, I’m the one that is genetically linked to the Ludmilas who stayed home by the kitchen hearth and stirred the porridge. Or, better yet, my ancestors were probably of Mediterranean stock, those that got mixed up during the European battles that merged our troops with theirs. Bottom line: this winter stuff isn’t for me.
posted by nina, 12/20/2004 08:28:25 AM | link | (0) comments

A slick early morning walk Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/20/2004 08:26:45 AM | link | (0) comments

where are the pink tones and gentler temps? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/20/2004 08:24:22 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, December 19, 2004

"Voices leaking from a sad cafe... On Bleecker Street." 

Being away means keeping to a schedule that bears no resemblance to the one at home. It means not reading the Sunday Times, not tracking anything beyond the top half of the front page (displayed on newsstands). And not cleaning, organizing for the week. And it means writing inconsequential posts.

There is something innocuously pleasant about going to the Village and walking down Bleecker Street, stopping at the (crowded!) Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes and looking at the cute and quirky holiday decorations on brownstones and in store windows. That’s it. Nothing could be simpler, less taxing. And short-lived.

Tomorrow, a return to the moment when I nearly missed the bus for O’Hare. Sigh. Poland didn’t quite leave my system the way it was supposed to.

posted by nina, 12/19/2004 10:15:30 PM | link | (0) comments

No room inside for a tree, or for the family bikes. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 10:14:58 PM | link | (0) comments

From Magnolia Bakery: two down, seven to go Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 10:12:28 PM | link | (0) comments

holiday pink, inside and out Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 10:09:11 PM | link | (0) comments

Holidays? What holidays? Oh, those holidays! Yes, sure, right, I remember. 

Hey, jingle bells, jingle bells!
Huh? You mean we’re in the Christmas season?

Where have you been? We are moments away from the big day itself!
This year I just cannot wrap my mind around Christmas. I have been in places that have holiday spirit up the wazoo, yet being away from home makes me think that the holiday season is remote.

Get with it! You are out of step with the calendar! Quit flipping the channels to different cities around the globe and start baking!
Monday. I am going home tomorrow. But why bake when there are holiday cakes for sale around the corner of every place I go to? This begs for a photo run. Just three examples from the past week:
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 08:06:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Warsaw cakes, just down the block from my father's apartment Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 08:05:14 AM | link | (0) comments

the more elaborate Parisian holiday cakes Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 08:02:37 AM | link | (0) comments

around the corner from the NY apartment Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:59:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Haven't you had any cool Christmas moments in your travels?
Oh sure. Clearly the most pristine “holiday” moment has to be handed to Rynias. I mean, don’t they make Christmas cards that try hard to replicate these kinds of scenes?
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:56:20 AM | link | (0) comments

A simple hay-stacking device used by highlanders Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:55:20 AM | link | (0) comments

winter sun, tall pines -- the mood is perfect Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:48:14 AM | link | (0) comments
And I have to give a thumbs up to Krakow for its holiday craft market. Insofar as people associate glass ornaments with Poland, you had them aplenty there. No, I did not bring one home. Bad enough that my sister gave me several hand-painted eggs (blown-out, of course) and they broke, I did not need to travel with broken glass as well. Things are pretty tight in my suitcase(s).
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:44:44 AM | link | (0) comments

glass ornaments from Krakow: every tree should have some Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:43:14 AM | link | (0) comments
And in spite of the fact that New York department stores offer the most elaborate Christmas displays, I am drawn to the little ones in Paris. They are singularly different, each one attesting to the mood and predilection of the store owner.
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:39:03 AM | link | (0) comments

a food shop with a traditional take on things (the little sheep move their heads) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:38:14 AM | link | (0) comments

one of my favorites: a window in a small designer-clothes store Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:35:53 AM | link | (0) comments
In New York, what I find most evocative and holiday-ish are the trees propped against lampposts and parking meters. Nothing speaks so perfectly to the idea of a city Christmas.
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:33:52 AM | link | (0) comments

Are New Yorkers rather 'last minute' about their tree buying?  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:31:36 AM | link | (0) comments
Ah well. Tomorrow marks the end of living out of a suitcase for a little while. I would say it’s full steam ahead in terms of holiday cheer except that I just got an email from a friend who is complaining about the traffic on streets leading to malls, and another email from someone who says it’s damn cold in Madison, and of course, my students have been “enjoying” themselves filling out bluebooks all week-end long – blue books that I’ll have to read with alacrity, so I can’t say that returning home will be one happy holiday indulgence. I’m thinking a snowstorm might be nicely evocative. Just hold the flakes until I’m done traveling, please.
posted by nina, 12/19/2004 07:27:09 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, December 18, 2004

City walks 

The interesting thing about walking from one end of Central Park to the other is that it allows you to face prominent and not so prominent vistas. On the southern end (at 59th street) there is the Plaza Hotel. On the northern end (at 110th street) there is a little plot of land set aside for home gardens. Behind it are apartment buildings of the sort that, one hopes, would not be built anymore. But just inside the Park, on the northern end, there is a reservoir and at dusk it is stunning.
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 08:23:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Suddenly, after 96th street, the nature of the neighborhood changes. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 08:21:52 PM | link | (0) comments

The Plaza at one end, this at the other. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 08:10:33 PM | link | (0) comments

It is, nonetheless, worth investigating the northern corner of Central Park Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 08:07:25 PM | link | (0) comments

Week-end in New York: from the noble and refined, to holiday crass commercialism  

Yesterday was all about seeing good people and beautiful museums. Here, I even took a photo of the building that I lived in and the museum where I hung out for the better part of the afternoon.
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 02:02:34 PM | link | (0) comments

Yesterday's run in with the past at 1010 Fifth Ave, and with culture at the Metropolitan. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 02:02:06 PM | link | (0) comments
Today was entirely different. I spent the morning filling Big Brown Bags (aka shopped at Bloomingdale’s). Why did I do it? I am, after all, known for my hatred of malls. But I’m staying a mere four blocks away from the department store and it seems right to be holiday shopping a week before the holidays.

Oh, and guess whom I ran into there? Answer: no one known to me, but everyone else was making a fuss. So I went up, always eager to make a fool of myself with my camera and as a result, I was filmed chatting to this guy. I am certain that there will be the following commentary: Robert Verdi (that appears to be his name) meets a shopper in Bloomingdales while filming for his E! Fashion Police show and wonders, after looking her up and down, why people go out in public looking so… casual. I was very sorry I did not wear my new French rose-beige corduroys.

So take a look. Am I the only one who had no idea who this dude was? Btw, that’s me, the one with the gloppy cords, but cool enough jacket and scarf, standing next to him.

posted by nina, 12/18/2004 01:57:28 PM | link | (0) comments

Hey, his scarf matches my shirt.  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 01:56:11 PM | link | (0) comments

Bloomingdale's shoppers with Big Brown Bags, reflected in the windows of the store Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/18/2004 01:53:40 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, December 17, 2004

So long as I am across the street from the Metropolitan, I may as well go in and see what’s new 

I just have to say this: when I lived and worked across the street from the Museum (in the seventies), I would want to dash in for a moment on a fairly regular basis. It did not take me long then to figure out that you don’t *have* to ever pay the admission price. It is always only “recommended.” There were days when I would shamelessly go in for a nickel.

Today I upped that contribution considerably, to be more in line with the amount of time I intended to spend there. I was anxious to check out the special exhibit: “Wild: Fashion Untamed” (displaying fashion developments in the past fifty years). I can’t say that it was phenomenal, or even really worth the visit if you’re not otherwise Metropolitan-bound. Consider this photo (this was before the guard told me to hide the camera, in spite of signs saying “no” only to commercial and flash photography) and then run upstairs and indulge your senses in the wonderful art there. I can forgo the Egyptian mummies. It’s the European masters that dazzle.
posted by nina, 12/17/2004 05:15:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Versace: think bold. Think boring. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/17/2004 05:14:14 PM | link | (0) comments

I'm thinking my blogging colleague has a reproduction of this in her office.. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/17/2004 05:12:11 PM | link | (0) comments

A happy older face is worth ten sour younger ones 

Many things (including all this nanny talk) conspired to make me pick up the phone and call an old friend today (he’s both old and I’ve known him for a long time). I suppose “friend” is not really the appropriate term. Technically he was my employer: he wrote the check that went into my pocket for my nanny work. And it was because he hired me that I traveled back to the States in the seventies, pretending that I knew how to care for his little girl. They had had several bad runs with American college kids acting as nannies in the summers (we’re talking the peak of pot-smoking years on campuses) and so they were stretching, thinking that perhaps Poland would offer up some talent in this area, or at least some sober not whacked-out alternatives.

This going back to people from the past can be so good for the soul! There I was today, in the same old Fifth Avenue apartment (obviously a person who hires nannies is going to have a nifty NY home), looking at the same old face of a man I knew when he was… my age. He has Parkinson’s disease now and it affects his speech. But not his mind and heart. So this would be good, I tell myself: to be as generous and warm thirty years from now, and to think crisply about matters of the world. Nor does he regard his age as an impediment to much of anything. Tomorrow he is heading out with his “brood” of kids and grandkids to Mexico. His sister, he tells me, has just finished writing her first novel. She’s eighty. He goes into the office each day, even though his son has completely taken over the family business. I can see going in just to open mail and respond to email. It takes me half the day to do that now.

I visited him because he asked me to come over, but surely I got more out of it than he did. I’m just the same old wild card. All I can do is amuse (if I’m having a good run of it). What he can do is act as a role model of how to age without putting the brakes on, even if you’re being pushed to do so by forces beyond your control. (It helps, I suppose, to have enough cash to fly to exotic places with your grown kids and their families during cold winter days.)

posted by nina, 12/17/2004 04:32:42 PM | link | (0) comments

Everything you didn’t want to know about me and then some 

Thank you, Norm, for featuring me today at normblog. Typically, I reveal few, if any of the personal details bloggers like to post in their profiles. But when Norm asked if I’d be willing to answer 30 questions about myself earlier this month, I caved (he’s persuasive and his blog features some mighty players in the blogging community).

It is so ironic that my profile appears on a European blog the first day that I am on this (American) side of the ocean. In fact, my most recent trip to Poland (described with posts and photos this past week) convinces me that I am both privileged and burdened by my absolute commitment to thinking and worrying (and therefore blogging) about both continents. Ocean remains true to its title, selected somewhat impulsively almost exactly a year ago.
posted by nina, 12/17/2004 06:59:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 16, 2004

And the “Most Friendly” awards go to… a Parisian and a New Yorker. 

In an earlier post today, I mentioned the wonderful help bestowed upon me in the Paris metro system by an elderly Parisian. When I landed in JFK this afternoon I had a similar problem: two suitcases, a computer and the determination to avoid the steep cab fare. There is a new train link to Manhattan, but it’s not an obvious connection. As I leave the customs area, I encounter a scruffy guy with a sack and a backpack. We are clearly headed in the same direction. Within seconds, he is wheeling one of my suitcases, leading the way, explaining where you get on and off to catch the Long Island train, eventually helping me up Penn Station steps.

He is a writer – splitting his time between eating peanut butter sandwiches in Paris and living in a basement room in the East Village. He is working on his first novel (read his book when it comes out in a year or so -- the title is “Rode” and St. Martin’s Press is interested). But let me say this: he saved my skin at JFK and he told many a good story too. It was a nice transition from Europe to New York.

posted by nina, 12/16/2004 09:43:06 PM | link | (0) comments

Return to the States: my time off from reading English language newspapers is up 

Am I bound by my earlier promise of light posting today? That was made before I knew I would be sitting with a weather delay at CDG, and before my lengthy, complicated trip back to NY. So I'm posting again, with a quick look and a laugh at the International Herald Tribune (all stories from today’s edition):

Nannyish Britain indeed: if a key member of Blair’s cabinet resigned after acknowledging that his department sped up a visa application for his former lover’s nanny, does it mean that he is in trouble for the fact that it was a visa fast-track, or that he had a lover, or that his lover was in need of a nanny – perhaps maybe to care for his child?

Of course, in Italy, Berlusconi should be wishing that his friends only helped their lovers’ nannies. Berlusconi’s good pal and political ally has just been convicted to nine years in jail for colluding with the Mafia. It’s all politics, says Berlusconi: what else would motivate the 400 plus investigations launched against him since he first took office?

Oh, but wait: did I read this right? Do I take it Kerik’s withdrawal from the nominated position of homeland security secretary ostensibly also had nannyish overtones? You mean he hired an illegal immigrant for a nanny? And paid no taxes on her? Lovely. I’m thinking back to my college days in NY: I moved here from Poland as a nanny. I had no idea then that I occupied a position that would cause cabinet secretaries, judges and friends of prime ministers to fall.

One more: this is in the IHT via the NYTimes and so perhaps others will have blogged about it already, but I am reading here that men would rather marry their secretaries than their bosses (compared to women, who are willing to date men professionally above or below them). I should imagine nannies would be satisfactory candidates as well. Though perhaps nannies of one’s lovers would stretch the political imagination.

BTW, here’s a way to travel: a woman rushes to catch my Paris – NY flight. She is with a little toddler. I empathize. Oh, she is in business class! With a nanny to look after the child. Nanny gets an upgrade. How nice. I wonder if it’s okay to drink champagne if you’re nannying your way across the Atlantic.

As a post scriptum, I am amused to read (also in the IHT) that men may produce inferior sperm if they rest their computers too much on their laps. Sperm function well in a temperature setting that is lower than the rest of the body. I am wondering if this is another instance of studying men before we get around to contemplating women -- you know, the ones who are serving as secretaries and nannies (and therefore wives!). Are their eggs better off under the heat? In the sunny-side-up fashion, you’d think so. Best to get the studies going though. I’m past caring about such matters, but I want to ensure that society reproduces itself. A shortfall of a sperm or two wont change the composition of the next generation, but eggs are a more precious commodity.

posted by nina, 12/16/2004 09:21:34 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination: France (Thursday morning)  

Light posting today (meaning: this is it!) as I am traveling back across the ocean -- to New York for the week-end.

A few pommes et oranges:

- I’ve not read a single page of an American newspaper since I left the States. It is interesting how easy it is to become engrossed in the news of your immediate surroundings, even though absolutely nothing prevents you from reaching into more distant sources. Thus I track with more than my usual curiosity stories about Blair and Berlusconi and Paris mayor Delanoe, and give only a passing glance to the cabinet musical chairs and various other DC shenanigans. This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is worth thinking about what encourages parochialism in our canvassing of the presses.

- The challenge ahead: to manipulate two suitcases and a computer through the Paris metro system during morning rush hour, knowing as well that the metro stop I need to get through has stairs rather than an escalator (but very courteous and helpful French men) and those lovely turnstiles that jam even one hefty suitcase let alone two. What would travel be without challenges!

UPDATE from the airport: Chance enounters... Struggling at the metro station, I am aided by an older gentleman (older than me, so that tells you something). He not only helps lift my bags onto the train, but rides the distance, clinging to them so they don't fall. Who is he, this savior of mine? A professor of mathematics at the Paris University, it turns out. He tells me stories of his brother the writer, of Christmases at the family home in Brittany, of the beautiful cemetery right there by the village church, of his father who remarried when his wife was proclaimed dead during World War II, only she wasn't dead, she was hiding... my 29 minutes fly. And the travel story only gets better as the ticket agent looks at my chipper (hopeful?) smile and tells me, with the most pleasing French accent: "I ev deecided to geeve you an upgrade. Bon voyage en business!" (It's not really about me; judging by the crowds, I'm sure the flight is oversold.) Surely I'll pay the price: suitcases will get lost, we'll not get there today, but let me not forget this moment, when travel is rewarding and people are kind.

- One tends to forget that northern Europe has a late sunrise in the winter. I mean really late. I’m ending my European blogging with a few shots from a brisk walk. Don’t let it mislead you. It’s not a night walk, it took place this morning, between 7 and 8 a.m. No hint of sunrise at that time. Empty chairs and empty benches. And a final croissant and café crème.

posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:22:12 AM | link | (0) comments

It's morning already, but who can tell... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:21:08 AM | link | (0) comments

The dark morning forces a slow shutter speed, giving an Impressionistic feel to the river view. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:18:01 AM | link | (0) comments

Empty, inside and out Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:15:18 AM | link | (0) comments

The b&w camera setting makes it appear lighter than it was. Bookstalls shut tight, Notre Dame barely visible, sidewalks wet from a morning spray. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:14:12 AM | link | (0) comments

One last pause at a round table. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/16/2004 02:09:16 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Destination: France (Wednesday evening) 

Very late eating again…I must have walked for no fewer than ten hours without stopping today. It is always like that here.

When I was a senior in my Polish high school, the slow dance to savor was Adamo’s “Quand les roses” (“When the roses..”). Oh that memory!…my high school crush and I, moving to the “rose” song. Life didn’t get any better!

I saw my high school crush this Sunday. Every person who has ever fought the devilish battle in their younger years against a dwindling relationship, should have the pleasure of meeting their crush 30 years later, just to recognize how small, in the scheme of things, the impact of it is on the rest of your life.

At the table next to mine right now they are singing happy birthday in French. The waiter brings a cake and a small gift from the restaurant. He pauses a long time to talk with the group. His stories are clever and long and they cause great hilarity. Indeed, every last person at the table appears terribly jovial. I’ve never seen a group so completely engaged in a moment of pure fun.

Florists sell bunches of roses in Paris year-round. Even in the coldest months I see these displays outside flower shops (we’re talking Paris, not Wisconsin).
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 05:46:13 PM | link | (0) comments

color, fragrance, joy. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 05:44:50 PM | link | (0) comments
La vie on rose – to see everything in the best possible light, with sweetness and hilarity and a fragrance that is pure rose. A much needed skill, one that oftentimes I lack. Hey, that is why I am in Paris, because it is easier to see things through those tinted glasses here than practically anywhere else on earth.
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 05:41:21 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination: France (Wednesday) 

Paris has been photographed and described in words by every aspiring author/writer, every person who has ever set foot here. What more could I possibly add? I am merely passing through. I have read no papers today, thus I know nothing of world news. I thought I’d stay in this post with the pick-me-ups that I indulged in today to give a kick to my morose state of mind. Here are some things that always work for me, even in December:

- Having a same old croissant and a same old café crème at the same old bar, pretending thus that I actually have a neighborhood in Paris. Since I have never lived here, that’s a bit of a laugh, but the image itself jumpstarts the morning for me.
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 02:09:44 PM | link | (0) comments

I caught her reflection in this mirror behind a table: Madame is having a morning café with her friends. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 02:08:32 PM | link | (0) comments
- A trek to the Orangerie to check on the renovation. Like MoMA, it has been undergoing a complete facelift and so its paintings (which actually do resemble the collection at MoMA) are buried somewhere where no tourist can see them. Unlike MoMA, it is nowhere near completion. Today it looked worse than ever. Whereas last time I predicted it would reopen at the end of 2004, now I am giving it 2007. Maybe.

- A walk through a park is a high for me always. I’m right there, by the Orangerie and so the Tuileries is the obvious choice. It is empty.
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 02:03:02 PM | link | (0) comments

Empty chairs, dripping wet from the fountain, uninviting at this time of the year.  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:56:10 PM | link | (0) comments
No, wait, there are women doing the Chinese movements in slow-mo. And the statues are imitating them.
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:53:06 PM | link | (0) comments

Mesdames of the Tuileries Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:52:06 PM | link | (0) comments

The poses were nearly identical. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:51:34 PM | link | (0) comments
- The small Marmottan Museum is perfect for a day like this. When in the dumps, revel in a circular room full of canvases of Monet’s waterlilies -- more than a dozen of them. Shockingly beautiful.
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:48:46 PM | link | (0) comments

A personal favorite, but there are so many to choose from (forgive the washed-out tones of the photo). Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:47:26 PM | link | (0) comments
- And, as an added bonus, a special exhibition (only through January so GO!) of Jean Puy, the Fauvist, is currently in place. It alone is worth the trip. This is stated in the exhibition catalogue: “Pour Jean Puy –ses toiles en attestent – la femme est indissociable de la joie de vivre.” [For Jean Puy – his works attest to this – the woman cannot be separated from joie de vivre.]
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:45:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Puy's paintings of nudes are so sensual that they are said to be never vulgar. This one dates back to 1910. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:43:45 PM | link | (0) comments

"La Terrasse." Jean Puy, 1920 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:41:28 PM | link | (0) comments
- Finally, let me list a favorite little distraction: put away my camera and notebook and go shop. What the hell, it’s Christmas and I need to buy things. I mean, can anyone resist a pair of the beautiful French beige rose corduroys? I’m all about corduroys. Or, the cropped green pair? Yeah!

On my list of shops to visit is the tights store where Monsieur asked me a year ago what I thought of the war in Iraq. He had said then that he was willing to fight at the first sign that there were any WMDs. He didn’t remember our conversation when I went there today, but I nudged him to it. Afterwards, he sneaked a little toy doggie into the bag. What’s that? – I asked. Un petit cadeau. Hmm. Either a sign of “I don’t hold grudges toward Americans for the french fry thing,” or a sign of how much business I do in a Parisian tights store.

What was the last thing that I bought? Minutes ago, before all stores closed, I did what I seem to always have to do (fifth time this has happened): go out and buy another suitcase. It’s not the Paris shopping actually that puts me over the top, it’s the Polish gifts I take home. When family and friends load you with honey, candies, cakes, creams, jams, etc etc and when I want to take home the quintessential highland treasures because I think life is incomplete without them, well, it gets kind of crowded in my little Samsonite.

posted by nina, 12/15/2004 01:36:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Destination: France (Tuesday evening) 

It’s all about the right place and the right waiters.

Well now, here’s a surprise. Since my last visit here in spring, this has popped up on the Boulevard St Germain:
posted by nina, 12/14/2004 05:28:02 PM | link | (0) comments

Say, what is this, and in the epicenter of left bank Paris no less? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/14/2004 05:27:18 PM | link | (0) comments
Is it really the case that anyone would prefer the Seattle mega-chain to this?

posted by nina, 12/14/2004 05:24:48 PM | link | (0) comments

A favorite spot with book shelves and café tables. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/14/2004 05:23:48 PM | link | (0) comments
I have no profound objection to Starbucks. I’d say that I split my latte business evenly between the various providers in Madison. But here?? Starbucks was born out of one person’s travels to Italy and his inspired insight that the Italian coffee culture could burgeon in the US, but the coffee chain never did set up shop in Italy. [Nor in Poland for that matter, but there, I think the rejection came from Starbucks rather than from the imitate-all-things-American nouveau-riche of Poland.] To find Starbucks in Paris, though, is a shocker. And it doesn't help that my search on the Net revealed three other Starbucks coffee shops in the French capital. Can we just let it stop right there, please?

As midnight approaches

I’m eating dinner late, at my same old place. I like it here. Why? It’s all about the waiters. No no, don’t get me wrong, they’re not hot or anything, they’re just so fast and professional. They make the entire dining experience a tour de force indeed. I choose the smoking section which has 100% French customers, as opposed to the ugly upstairs non-smoking rooms which are filled with 100% foreigners. The waiters (therefore) assume I am French. Everyone else does as well.

Madame et monsieur are at the table next to mine (oh so close – you know how it is: one big comfy couch for the ladies, then chairs opposite small tables for the men). Madame is eyeing my dessert. She throws one glance, then another, then another. Finally she can’t stand it and asks what I am eating. You know what she really can’t stand? Monsieur’s monologue about the reasons behind the falling dollar. We talk about the loveliness of serving warm winter fruits with a delicate sorbet. Monsieur does not like this. He has lost Madame’s attention. He coaxes her to try a more intricate chocolate dessert. She hesitates. The waiter comes. She gives a wisp of a smile and says: I will have what madame is having at the table next to mine. I leave before Monsieur shoots me or slashes my throat with a bread knife. But damn, I feel French! Stripped of Polishness & Americanisms for a brief minute, I am stateless, nationless, I am nothing. I may as well be French.

posted by nina, 12/14/2004 05:16:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination: Poland, France (Tuesday) 


I’m riding with my sister to the airport in Warsaw and we get stuck in traffic. The road is partly under construction, but that doesn’t explain the complete impasse. It’s the trucks, she tells me. There is no highway that circumvents the city center and so every piece of machinery heading north or south ends up passing through the city itself. The cars no longer pollute in the way that they did ten or twenty years ago, nevertheless there certainly are a lot of them.

We pass the dzialki, little plots of land once given over to city residents who wanted to cultivate gardens. My sister reflects, sadly, that it’s hard to maintain them now. Vandalism and theft make it difficult to leave anything behind. Things disappear.

In Paris, I take the RER train to downtown Paris. I have always liked the ads they have posted at the airport: bus to Paris: delayed; taxi to Paris: delayed; car to Paris: delayed; RER to Paris: 29 minutes. I always arrive here from Warsaw at the same time: during rush hour traffic. It is unthinkable to take the bus then – it takes too long. Rush hour on the metro with a suitcase and a computer poses interesting challenges nonetheless.

I pass suburban stations and I note the graffiti on the platform walls. Vandalism: a theft of clean public spaces. As I look at it, I am remembering the worst graffiti I’ve seen in a long time: my sister and I had been walking through Warsaw’s Old Town and we saw it there, on a wall of one of the pretty, blue buildings. I thought then –how could some jerk with spray-paint deface something that was built out of the rubble, by the bare hands of those who had the vision of a new “Old Town?”

Paris always serves as the connecting city, the city that transitions me to the US and so I make a point of stopping here for a couple of nights. Because I know that once I step off the plane on the other side of the ocean, it will be as if I never had my week in Poland. That’s the way it always is: my Polishness remains nearly invisible to everyone but myself, even as my Americanisms are so obvious to all my Polish friends and family. One country (Poland) is a scanner and a sponge for all that comes from the other (the US). And that other? Oblivious, unaware. It’s just the way it is.

Okay, one last look at Warsaw: decking out a restaurant for the holiday season, then a quick switch to Paris: decking out a restaurant for the holiday season.

posted by nina, 12/14/2004 01:19:01 PM | link | (0) comments

On the Old Town Square in Warsaw Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/14/2004 12:18:02 PM | link | (0) comments

"Les Editeurs," around the corner from my tiny left bank hotel. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/14/2004 12:15:07 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, December 13, 2004

Destination Poland: Monday  

I don’t want anyone laughing at how ugly I am

I bought garlic from a street peddler today. Better that she have the cash than the large grocery chain. Her braids of garlic where quite pretty and I asked if I could also take a photo (having almost been arrested for improper photographing earlier in the day, I thought I better be careful). She said -- go ahead and take a picture, but without her in it. Then she said what I made to be the title of this post subsection.

I try not to do that – to photograph something ridiculously ugly. But she was not even a tiny bit ugly. She was just plain and ordinary. Yet, I knew what she was talking about: to me, something is normal and ordinary. To another (a blog reader?), some of the posts and photos of the ordinary may be something to smirk at. Should I avoid posting them?

Today I am not avoiding them. I am not giving a tour of Warsaw now, I am on my last day in Poland, and I want to give a run through the ordinary, the everyday.

I’ll avoid too many words because it would take too many words to say anything right.

I walked around my childhood neighborhood today – right in the city center. I moved here (from the village) when I was three. It’s amazing how little has changed. The room that I shared with my sister looked out on the tram stop. The only other room in our apartment looked out back, directly into an older woman’s rooms. We waved to her all the time.

At the side, there was a courtyard for kids to play in. Most apartment houses in Poland had those back then. The playground equipment was as sophisticated then as it is now. The apartment house, the entrance to it, the courtyard:
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:52:48 PM | link | (0) comments

The tramcar rings a bell every time it stops and starts. I can tell you *exactly* how that sounds. Our window is marked by the red circle. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:52:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Entryway to "Nowowiejska 4;" I refuse to show you the stairwell... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:50:03 PM | link | (0) comments

A playground of sorts Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:47:49 PM | link | (0) comments
In all my years in Warsaw, as a kid and later as a teen, I lived within two blocks of this square. Ugly? Not to us. Kind of grand-looking once upon a time. It was built immediately after the war, to provide a much-needed planned apartment community. Now the lamp posts are regarded as kind of retro-nice.
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:45:45 PM | link | (0) comments

MDM Square: we watched it go up and replace rubble. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:44:38 PM | link | (0) comments
I went to this elementary school, left my coat and shoes each day (kids in Poland wear slippers in school – how else do you keep the wood floors so clean?) in these cloak rooms (all schools have them), and went to first grade in this classroom (back then, each desk had two seats, same as now):
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:42:52 PM | link | (0) comments

Regional elementary school Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:42:08 PM | link | (0) comments

Always a downstairs cloakroom for shoes and coats. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:40:22 PM | link | (0) comments

A classsroom that looks remarkably similar 45 years later (note clean harwood floors). Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:37:47 PM | link | (0) comments
During my university years, my orbit grew. Every day I walked past this “Square of Three Crosses,” then past this building (then – Communist Party headquarters, now – bank), finally heading up this “New Town” street, stopping at Blikle to have this doughnut (regarded by most as the perfect Polish doughnut, with rose jam inside and glaze and orange peel on the outside):
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:33:03 PM | link | (0) comments

The "Square of the three Crosses;" there really are three corsses. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:31:48 PM | link | (0) comments

From Communist Party headquarters, to Polish Stock Exchange, to bank: one building, many uses. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:21:48 PM | link | (0) comments

"New World" Street, lined now with Christmas trees Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:17:44 PM | link | (0) comments

A Blikle moment Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:14:40 PM | link | (0) comments
So ends the week in Poland. I take the subway to my sister’s (note an earlier post on Poles being bookish: so many people read on the subway – look, even in the second car). My nephew lets me take a photo of him with his saxophone. I want to learn to play it too, just for the kick of playing alongside him.

Tomorrow I am in Paris.

posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:10:10 PM | link | (0) comments

a bookish nation Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:09:47 PM | link | (0) comments

Chris, inspired. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/13/2004 01:08:33 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Destination Poland: Sunday (evening) 

You know you’re writing like an old person when genealogy and roots-tracing blogs start linking to you.

For the record, I don’t do roots. I can tell you for sure that no one in my family ever traveled on the Mayflower. Indeed, no one in my extended family even knew what the Mayflower was until about a generation (or so) ago. I know this much: my ancestors appeared to be scattered all over Poland. How’s that for precision?

Am I wedded to my past? Well naturally, on these trips to Poland I am a bit overwhelmed with memories. I walk to Lazienki and see this:

posted by nina, 12/12/2004 07:25:14 PM | link | (0) comments

The Chopin monument in Lazienki today. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 07:23:11 PM | link | (0) comments
…and I remember this:
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 07:21:20 PM | link | (0) comments

My sister and I at the unveiling of the Chopin monument back in the mid-fifties. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 07:20:42 PM | link | (0) comments
Now, you could accuse me of being rather stuck on Chopin (absurd! I hardly ever listen to his music… maybe once every other week…sometimes more… okay, sometimes lots more). But isn’t everyone? Nah… I was driving home tonight with one of my university-days friends and he was telling me that his daughter refuses to ever listen to classical music. You know what she likes instead? he asks. Kurt Cobain.
Kurt Cobain? Can I admit to not knowing who that is?

I don’t want any expressions of shock and disbelief. I really did not know (I’ve since sent my research team at my sister’s home to work and I’ve got some answers). I’m stuck on Chopin alright. Or, I’m just plain stuck. Maybe sometime during my crossing of the ocean in one direction or another my internal calendar-clock lost its battery and quit functioning, so that I am perpetually set on the hour five, or the age five and cannot move beyond that.

Things I did not know about myself

1. Speaking weirdly

I tell one of my high-school friends tonight: you know, I think I am beginning to speak Polish with a slight American accent. My “sz” sounds are too soft, they’re beginning to sound like “sh” (this is an unthinkable enunciation atrocity for a Pole). He looks at me and hesitates before saying anything. What? You agree, don’t you? I am beginning to sound American? Um, even in high school you spoke…not exactly like the rest of us, he tells me. Endearing. But different.

Great, I sounded like an outsider at the age of fifteen. And in Wisconsin I am always told I speak with a slight (kind people add this adjective) accent. Basically I can conclude from this that I do not know how to speak any language well. I can just imagine the French laughing as I mess around with their vocabulary.

2. Overcome with emotion

I asked my sister today: do your (grown) sons ever cry? No, not really, she said. But then neither do I. I mean, if there was a tragedy or something, but otherwise no... I answer - oh. She looks at me and comments – you know that you always were the emotional one in the family. I mean, you were always laughing or crying…

Good thing we have these reunions so that I can get a sense of who I was.

posted by nina, 12/12/2004 07:07:04 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Sunday (afternoon) 

It's Sunday. Any ideas on how to fill a Sunday in Warsaw?

A gray day. A cold day. The kind of day I think chills me more than any other: damp, freezing, windy.

(Dreadfully bleak, isn’t it? Isn’t it?)

When I was very little and then again, as a teen, I’d head for the park on Sundays. First with my sister and father, later with my boyfriends or girlfriends. That is what one did.

(Sounds miserable in a month such as December.)

The thing is, it was always wonderful. I have said this to anyone who’ll listen: Warsaw has the most beautiful park in the entire world: a park with wide alleys and curving paths, a summer palace (rebuilt, naturally – remember, we are in the capital of war rubble) and a lake, an orangerie with peacocks wandering freely, a rose garden surrounding Chopin’s statue…

(Lovely. Did you smell the roses?)

No roses in December.
And people. The park is always full of people. Strolling people, older younger, people feeding birds, squirrels, ducks, swans, peacocks (it’s the primary activity for little kids). And it has an open terrace where you can sip coffee and eat sweets.

(You sat in an open terrace? How exciting. How cold.)

Naturally the terrace is closed for the winter, but the café still sells rurki z kremem (a rolled wafer stuffed with fresh whipped cream) to strollers.

Lazineki park is where you exhale before Monday places demands on you all over again. You take it slowly, it’s meant to be savored. It is, for me, Warsaw’s greatest treasure. It doesn’t carry any history with it, you make up your own personal one and in a city like Warsaw, that is so refreshing, it hurts.
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 09:55:24 AM | link | (0) comments

A rolled wafer with whipped cream, even in December. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 09:54:38 AM | link | (0) comments

A peacock in search of his mate Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 09:52:32 AM | link | (0) comments

Brothers, scaling fences, feeding birds and swans. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 09:50:39 AM | link | (0) comments

The Lazienki Palace. Does Warsaw have a "soul?" If it does, it's here, in the park. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 09:48:38 AM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Sunday (morning) 

Instead of the NYTimes, I have been reading the local paper and listening to Polish radio. That, interspersed with conversations I have had here, lead me to note the following:

To accuse the Polish Catholic Church of shielding perpetrators of violence (against women and children) by its constant reinforcement of the notion that the family is sacred and untouchable, will get you into a lot of trouble.

Attitude about the war in Iraq was marked by indifference and mild support – until the first Polish soldiers were killed in the conflict. Now public opinion has shifted, arguably for the wrong reasons.

I am hereby stating that “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” just does not work when translated into Polish.

For the common person, the greatest problem with the last decade under communism was the absence of favorite foods in grocery stores. You could say that rationing kielbasa was the last straw, the trigger behind the silent revolution. My sister, who has been a vegetarian for the past twenty years or so, was less affected by the long lines forming during that time to buy meat.

Poland has more women in leading government positions than even countries such as the US. Nonetheless, discrimination based on gender and age (including asking pre-hire questions about pregnancy plans) is common in the workplace.

Stories about people dying from eating poisonous mushrooms are greatly exaggerated.

If the Americans do not change their policies on granting visitor visas to Poles, they may experience the first waning of enthusiasm toward their government, Bush or no Bush.

A Polish university student commented that he was glad to learn (from listening to the American presidential debates) that his knowledge of the English language surpassed that of the leader of the free world.

It’s interesting to immerse myself in stories and news originating solely from this side of the ocean. Nonetheless, I remain extremely grateful to those of you in the States who have written and commented on Ocean posts. By far, the post that has generated the warmest, nicest emails ever is the one on Rynias. I hereby admit that it, too, is my favorite and it may remain so for the rest of Ocean’s time on the Net.
posted by nina, 12/12/2004 04:23:07 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Destination Poland: Saturday (evening) 

In the evening, two visits.

The first one, with this fellow (but the photo was taken in Warsaw, in 1926) – a very close relative of mine (okay, my father):
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:10:32 PM | link | (0) comments

He sort of looks the same... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:09:23 PM | link | (0) comments
And the other with this family (she was my closest girlfriend at the U of Warsaw, between 1969 and 1972):
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:05:29 PM | link | (0) comments

Four people with four fascinating perspectives on life in Poland; some of them even overlapped, occasionally. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:04:28 PM | link | (0) comments
How fast do you have to talk to catch up when you see someone only a few times in the course of decades? Answer: It is 3 a.m. and my mind is set on Polish, which is no way to approach the Ocean blog, but let’s just say that I am hoarse and so are they.

What topics were contentious? Here’s one: what to do with the old communist guard – throw them in jail or let them be? Answer: opinions vary. Oh, and another speculative issue: how many Poles are worse off now then, say, 20 years ago? Answer: maybe 70%. One more: so how church-inclined are people anyway? Answer: in the city – less than you’d think, but not many dare admit it. And one comment made directly to me: “you are so forthright in your questions!” My answer: I have to be. I have so little time here to learn what people are thinking and feeling.
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:55:47 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Saturday 

“Let the world be at war, only leave the Polish village in peace and quiet.” – S. Wyspianski (1901)

Why have I looked forward for so to blogging from Poland? Ocean is not, after all, a journal. Not at all. NOT AT ALL! What I most wanted to do was write about the Poland that I grew up with, through my now Americanized eyes. The pictures are ones that I have had, in a sense, in my mind long before they were taken. I truly carry them with me always, even though I rarely talk about it.

Okay, this week of Poland posts cannot be complete without a trek to my grandparents’ village, where I lived the first three years of my life and visited just about yearly until I left for the States as an adult.

Village life for me is, was, all about meadows and forests and farmsteads, dead pigs wheeled from the market, narrow strips of fields (Polish farmland remained mostly privatized after the war), farm men and women, chapels on dirt roads, children watching as you go by, watching, waiting, waiting for the next big event in their lives. [See photos of all these images below.] Village life in Poland has almost nothing in common with life on a Midwestern farm, of that I am certain. Crops are grown, animals are raised, there ends the similarity. I wonder if even from this handful of photos a reader can understand this profound cultural divide.

At the bottom of the photo-roll I’ve posted a picture of the house that my grandfather built, one room at a time. Eventually it grew, then shriveled and crumbled in disrepair. My sister has only recently managed to lay claim to it again and is now trying, along with my nephew, to bring it back to life, one floorboard at a time. Fifty years ago it was surrounded by cherry and apple trees and an organic garden (my grandparents were the original naturalists!). Little of that remains. But the pond outside has frogs and fish again and the river is getting so that you can see the sandy bottom once more. Progress in this case means going back to the way I remember it from almost half a century ago.

posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:03:04 AM | link | (0) comments

In Poland, village life spills onto the highways. He has a dead pig in the wagon. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 08:02:16 AM | link | (0) comments

One of our neighbors -- she is our age, she stayed on the farm... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:59:23 AM | link | (0) comments

The fields and forests, in December mists Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:56:42 AM | link | (0) comments

This "chapel" was built in 1916 (note date on the bottom) when there was no Poland on the map. It stands half a kilometer from my grandparents' house, at the intersection of two dirt roads. To this day, there is no paved road within miles of the village. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:52:03 AM | link | (0) comments

A farmer's courtyard, across the field from my grandparents' home Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:49:02 AM | link | (0) comments

watching, waiting Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:46:03 AM | link | (0) comments

the house that my Dziadek built  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/11/2004 07:44:03 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, December 10, 2004

Destination Poland: Friday (evening) 

Marketing in a market economy

I walked over to the grocery store tonight with my sister. They sell large quantities and vast selections of everything there. For instance, they sell the game “Scrabble” – a special promotion tonight! – but with Polish letters inside the box. It is an odd thing to buy with your dumplings and pickles.
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:44:08 PM | link | (0) comments

Trying out Scrabble, in Polish... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:44:06 PM | link | (0) comments

... and load up on the pickles Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:42:22 PM | link | (0) comments
The store, Leclerc, is part of a French chain. It is not surprising that they opened in Warsaw. The government gives the foreign companies a substantial tax break for doing business here. True, it drives the small local stores completely out of business, but in return we have Abundance. Great heaps of expensive Abundance. Across the street live the people who are trying to afford Abundance. They aren’t shopping enough though. The salespeople (eg the one with the fried dumplings) have to amuse themselves by weighing their hands on the empty scales.
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:40:33 PM | link | (0) comments

The store has shoppers from neighborhood apartment complexes Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:38:23 PM | link | (0) comments

Look alive, the manager's watching. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 03:34:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Friday 

If you outgrow referencing Warsaw’s recent history at every step, will there be anything left to admire?

For a Varsovian, yes. But ask what that may be – and we hesitate.

Consider these four major sights: the old wall that once surrounded the city, the buildings in the Old Town, the monument in front of the courthouse, and the Palace of Culture (all pictured below). Tell me, which one would you take a visitor to and speak only in the present, without mentioning the last sixty years? Not bring up the rubble? Or Stalinist architecture? Or the defense of Warsaw? None, of course. Is Warsaw beautiful, therefore, only if you carry her past in your pocket?

posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:27:03 AM | link | (0) comments

On the Old Town Square. "Old" should be in italics, no? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:26:51 AM | link | (0) comments

It should look older than that... it should BE older than that... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:25:34 AM | link | (0) comments

The gift from Stalin, looking twinkly and cheerful in the evening Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:23:43 AM | link | (0) comments

A monument to the Warsaw Uprising in front of the courthouse Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:21:15 AM | link | (0) comments
Food talk

I have been engaged in too many discussions about Polish sausage lately and I want to put the topic to rest. Each nation defends its sausage. The Germans stand by their bratwurst, the Italians love their pepperoni, the Poles cling to their kielbasa. I posted a photo of the grilled stuff in Krakow, but for the everyday you head to the local butcher and admire this:
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:17:25 AM | link | (0) comments

pick your (poison or) gold Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:17:18 AM | link | (0) comments
You’re a fan or you’re not a fan. I’m not a fan anymore for the same reason that I’m not heavily a hotdog fan: what goes into the mystery meat is too much of a mystery. But kielbasa is a staple and no Pole will admit to preferring something from across the border, any border.

And let’s lay down the rule about poppyseeds: densely packed in between cake layers. None of this “sprinkling” into the batter. Keep it rich and keep it sweet. Here’s an example from Blikle, the premier bakery in Warsaw (ah yes, afternoon snack time for me).

posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:14:49 AM | link | (0) comments

poppyseeds in the middle, candied orange peel on top Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:13:58 AM | link | (0) comments
The small details of being Polish (generalizations, I know, but to me they are as real as apple pie):

- Polish men like to talk and tell stories. I mean, you can’t get a word in sometimes, they get so wrapped up in a story. They’re good at it too. Yesterday, on the train back from the mountains I listened to a highlander tell the story of last week’s earthquake – he shook his body to demonstrate, he expounded, elaborated, making it into a one-man show. Then his buddy chimed in. The three hour ride was filled with their booming voices. No one minded. Other passengers chimed in. It was fascinating to watch and listen to. I threw in a comment or two as well, but I was shot down, having had no experience with the earthquake here, loathing to admit that I was then in the States, thus too far to have felt anything.

- Women talk so fast that you, the listener, cannot drift off for even a second or an entire chapter of a life may have been offered and you will have missed it.

- If they don’t shut off the background music everywhere, I will seriously injure someone. Frank Sinatra, loudly, for breakfast. Light pop in the judge’s chambers during my meeting with her. Some odd instrumental twangy twang in the psychologist’s office when I discussed abuse and neglect issues with her. It doesn’t stop the conversation, no, not at all, but why is it there in the first place?

- We need to introduce the slob factor into the dress code in Poland. Coming from Wisconsin, I do not have the habit of dressing up for, say, a train ride. Here I am right now, in a train compartment (speeding back to Warsaw) with three women, all dressed and made up as if they were going to a fine dining place. Me, I am in my trusty comfy cords. At least I don’t have my jogging shoes on. No one here, male or female, wears jogging shoes ever.

- Poles have the endearing habit (shared by those in other countries in Europe) of greeting each other often. You enter a store, it is absolutely obligatory to say “good day” to the sales staff, and then “thank you” and “good bye” as you are leaving. It is rude rude rude not to exchange such greetings. In the States, if the salesperson is obsequious, she or he will say “can I help you find something?” setting up a negative exchange as you are most often forced to say “no thanks, just looking.” If they aren’t helping you find things, you are nothing to them nor they to you.

- Poles are physically initmate with each other in public. Maybe it’s because there’s not much privacy at home, what with all these generations living together, but still – men kiss and embrace the women in public, clap each other on the back, hold hands with their sons, women walk arm in arm together, people greet each other with kisses, they touch! It’s nice.

posted by nina, 12/10/2004 11:05:29 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Destination Poland: Thursday (evening) 

FAQs about my brief stay in Krakow:

Did you cover in the blog all that you wanted to about your brief Krakow visit?
Of course not. For example, I did not even mention the place that most Poles would regard as the symbol of this old city: St. Mary’s Basilica. No, it’s not my lopsided photography. One tower is indeed shorter than the other. Legend has it that two brothers set out to build it (construction began in the 13th century) and one did a better job than the other. The altarpiece alone is worth a trip to Poland, even if you’re not particularly church-inclined in your ramblings. But what every Pole knows by heart is the trumpet melody played every hour on the hour from the taller of the towers. It is sharply cut off in mid-note. The origins of the ritual? In 1241, a trumpeter played this piece from the tower, warning Krakovians of the Tartar invasion. His throat was pierced by an arrow and the music stopped. We hear the melody daily at noon on the radio and hourly in Krakow (played by local firemen). Oh no, Poland isn’t tradition-bound, not at all, what makes you think that it is?
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:46:37 PM | link | (0) comments

On the Main Square. So familiar. But it's the inside the leaves you speechless. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:44:40 PM | link | (0) comments
What was your favorite meal in Krakow?
Last night’s trout that I ate very late, in a local place where hordes of students appeared to hang out (“Cherubino”) stands out. I am a great fan of Wisconsin’s Artesian Farms trout, but this one was every bit as good. I always hesitate before ordering trout in Poland because oftentimes you have to play with deboning it yourself. This one was wonderfully filleted. The baked apple was an added yummy bonus. [The meal that most westerners would like to pass over in Poland, on the other hand, is the traditional breakfast in any hotel. Who needs all those meats and salads in the morning? But I have to put in a general plug for my hotel – the Amadeus. It is a delightful little place, one of my all-around favorites.]
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:41:42 PM | link | (0) comments

No fuss, no pretension, just fresh and honest cooking.  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:40:40 PM | link | (0) comments
What was the last thing that you did in Krakow?
The “last thing” hasn’t happened yet. I’m meeting a friend and colleague for coffee on the Main Square before I catch the morning train to Warsaw. But last night I took a walk up and down the Old Town and even at midnight it took my breath away. Oh, and they finally decided that the Square is ready to put on a Christmas twinkle. The lights were turned on, adding a special magic to the place.
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:37:34 PM | link | (0) comments

A midnight walk through Krakow Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 11:37:16 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Thursday 

Ode to Rynias – Hej, gory, moje gory!

I can do this in a day, yes I can: an early bus takes me from Krakow to the Tatra mountains; I find someone to drive me to the village of Brzegi, right at the border with Slovakia. From there, I hike the hour or so to Rynias. They said the weather may be miserable: cloudy, windy, cold. So what! I want to get grounded again. I need a day in Rynias.

posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:50:28 PM | link | (0) comments

Looking out from the valley, you see the Tatry peaks... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:48:20 PM | link | (0) comments

That is Rynias, in its entirety. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:45:55 PM | link | (0) comments
Rynias. How do I describe it… It is the opposite of New York! How crowded is it? There are only three households. After that, the nearest neighbor is a one-hour hike away. There are no roads to it – only a rough dirt one, traversable in the summer, not in the winter.
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:44:24 PM | link | (0) comments

The way things are moved from one place to another Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:43:12 PM | link | (0) comments

The path I follow Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:41:41 PM | link | (0) comments

The gate to my destination Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:40:49 PM | link | (0) comments
I could have spent the night there. Pani Anna and Pan Stas live there and they’ll always put me up. But I am getting too old and spoiled to enjoy winter nights without indoor plumbing.

I met them first exactly 35 years ago. I was a student in Warsaw. But I moved to the States a few years later and I didn’t go back to Rynias for many decades. Pani Anna and Pan Stas went from being in their 40s to passing 80. They lost their one son to a motorcycle accident. Pan Stas, as of today, has only one tooth left. He will not smile at the camera, but he’ll smile and smile for me.

posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:39:43 PM | link | (0) comments

Pan Stas Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:38:22 PM | link | (0) comments
They live off the land and tend cows and sheep. Pan Stas no longer leaves Rynias at all: he can’t make the hike to the village. I love the feel of his scratchy, unshaven chin as he kisses my hand, my cheek in gratitude. For what? The Fanny May chocolates with the bill stuck inside? Hasn’t opened them yet… It’s because I came back. He says repeatedly: “you promised last time [almost five years ago] you’d come back soon. You promised.”

posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:37:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Who are you and why are you looking at us? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:36:08 PM | link | (0) comments

A tiny hut where they cook and eat. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:35:04 PM | link | (0) comments
He makes me tea on their wood-burning stove and wobbles over to make more when I am done with the first glass. “Don’t go yet. Wait for Anna. She will be so sad to have missed you.” Anna went to town to shop for food. The two of them will do for Christmas what they do day in and day out: eat together, just the two of them. But they’ll cut down a tree and bring it inside.

I have to go: my ride is waiting in the next village. I love that he walks out with me, my highlander, my grandfatherly friend. He stands in the snow and watches me trudge down the path until we cannot see each other anymore.
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:33:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Mountains frame the quiet Alpine valley Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:26:53 PM | link | (0) comments

The walk to Rynias is through a splendid pine forest... Balsam firs, dusted with snow, are everywhere... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:25:42 PM | link | (0) comments

In Brzegi, the village next door, an old highlander takes a late afternoon walk. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:22:59 PM | link | (0) comments
(Did anyone notice that the mountains were delicately laced with mist, but the sky turned into a wintry blue after all?)

posted by nina, 12/09/2004 02:16:24 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Destination Poland: Wednesday (evening) 

Everything you wanted to know about my evening in Krakow but were afraid to ask:

Q: How do people move around in the city at night?
A: Walking is a must in places like Krakow. Many of the central streets are narrow, cobble-stoned, one-way, and have restricted access for non-taxis. Outside the Old Town area, trams are popular (as they are in Warsaw).
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:47:23 PM | link | (0) comments

too fast for my camera... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:46:48 PM | link | (0) comments
Q: Who did you have dinner with?
A: Not with these guys:

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:45:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Outside, digging into the grilled sausages. Note his moustache. Classic old-world Polish. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:45:13 PM | link | (0) comments
Actually the hotel package that I have includes one dinner at the restaurant here and so I stayed at the hotel. I listened to the conversation at the table next to me. The guests were British and I would say the most excited they got during the evening was in recalling a visit to a local museum. Someone exclaimed “Oh! Lovely.” That was the high point. I felt like I should do something outrageous, just to liven things up, but I let it go.

The menu was set and it included broiled eggplant, the ubiquitous raw carrot salad, roast pork in a mushroom sauce and potatoes. The dessert was a lovely chocolate thing. Poles are especially good with desserts.

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:42:07 PM | link | (0) comments

chocolate something or other. yum. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:42:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Q: Why do all beds have this little pillow on top? Is it to play with? To toss around? What?
A: We call them “jasiek,” literally “johnny pillows.” They’re cool, they let you wrap your arms around them, sort of like a teddy bear. Most homes have them too.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:40:50 PM | link | (0) comments

a little pillow to snuggle with and of course, puffy down quilts Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:39:40 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Wednesday (evening) 

You know those free guides to cities you find lying around hotel rooms? The one on Krakow has the usual listings of hotels and restaurants and important sights. There is also a little box insert that says the following:

Be warned: Polish beer and vodka are rocket fuel. If you’re determined to make a prat [sic] of yourself then make sure it’s not in front of the law. A trip to Krakow’s premier drunk tank (ul Rozrywkowa 1 – which literally translates as Entertainment Street) will set you back 250 zl [equivalent to about $85] for a 15 hour stay. In return for your cash expect a strip search, a set of blue pajamas and the company of a dozen mumbling vagrants. Those resisting arrest will find themselves strapped down to a bed, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-style. Refreshment comes in the form of limitless coffee, though the mug it comes in will smell of urine for a reason. Credit cards not accepted.
Makes you wonder how the writer knew of all those small details…
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 11:03:36 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Wednesday (afternoon - evening) 

Playing hot and cold

Why all this constant talk of cold? The temps are in the upper twenties. What’s the big deal?

In truth, the prickly cold air is not constantly on my mind. I get easily distracted. For instance, this morning, I peeked into the Collegium Maius. There, the date 1492 is most significant, not because Columbus sailed the ocean blue (not this Ocean!) but because Copernicus began his studies at Krakow's Jagiellonian University in this year.

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 03:02:36 PM | link | (0) comments

The Jagiellonian University's Collegium Maius: think old; think Copernicus. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 03:01:44 PM | link | (0) comments
Each time I am in Krakow, I pop into the St. Francis’ Basilica. Wyspianski, the Polish playwright-artist, made the beautiful stained glass windows here. They’re considered Art Nouveau. I like the lilies and irises. I also like the fact that every time I stop to admire the windows, I somehow position myself right next to the confessional (you have to be there to understand how this happens). Last year, I heard a teen girl let loose about her anxieties on her way home from school. I would have said – go! You’ve done nothing bad! But I am not schooled in the ways of the confessional. This year, an older man mumbled his way through such a grand text that I think it must indicate that he is one lonely dude. At the same time, in a side nook, some 40 older people were listening to a sermon. Forty, on a Wednesday morning. Only in Poland.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:57:37 PM | link | (0) comments

I cannot do it justice here. Go to Krakow and check it out. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:56:45 PM | link | (0) comments
And I think of warm apple pie. I told blog readers in the past: this is not an American dish, it’s Polish! Here’s my afternoon moment, with a cappuccino to add oomph to the afternoon.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:55:29 PM | link | (0) comments

This cafe went all out with the whipped cream and the added sauce. But the taste of the "szarlotka" (apple pie) is the same: fantastic! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:53:36 PM | link | (0) comments
Okay, fine. But I do also think of the people who must be so much colder than I am. Take the pretzel people. They ask for small change for their product. How can it even pay for a day’s worth of cold-weather work? Pretzles, sold all day long, no matter how much I am shivering in my five layers.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:50:05 PM | link | (0) comments

who will buy... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:50:02 PM | link | (0) comments
And families eating the grilled meats and stewed cabbage. The little one can’t be drinking hot spiced wine to warm her insides! She must be cold.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:48:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Benches and wooden tables to sit at while you're filling up on the kielbasas, etc... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:48:00 PM | link | (0) comments
And the accordion player, here every year, running through Christmas music on the same street corner. The music has peasant roots and it sounds quite different than the English stuff we’re used to in the States.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:45:14 PM | link | (0) comments

I recognize the melodies... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:44:14 PM | link | (0) comments
I wonder if it is obvious to readers of this blog: I’ve blended. I speak nothing but Polish (with rare exceptions). I am Polish now. What keeps me connected to my life back home (and truthfully, home is Madison now) are the emails. Thank you all for writing. It means so very much to me, you’ve no idea.

P.S. I’m not in Krakow tomorrow during the day. Be patient. I have this zany idea and I am banking on things falling into place.
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 02:41:06 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Wednesday (afternoon) 

How old would you say she is?

What does age matter? If she’s competent, then does it matter if she’s wrinkled or barely able to order a drink in a bar?

How old, come on…
I find ageism to be repugnant. For instance, this morning I was eavesdropping in the hotel breakfast room and I heard an American woman describe her experiences conducting workshops that had something to do with the Internet. She looked to be in her upper sixties. Yeah!

You are so avoiding my question. You had a meeting with a judge who handles abuse and neglect cases. In fact, it appears that she has huge discretion to basically decide the fate of children and families in crisis, more so than the judges in the States and I’ve heard you complain that the American judges have too much discretion. So, this judge whom you met with all afternoon, how old was she anyway?
Maybe approaching 30?

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 10:42:07 AM | link | (0) comments

The circuit court in Krakow. Kind of looks like ours on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, doesn't it? Please do not comment on the decrepit bench out front! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 10:41:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Wednesday (afternoon) 

December 8th already? Time to get the holiday stuff out of storage

Christmas is a Big Deal in Poland. Still, to the outsider, things look tame. Yes, there is the holiday market. But the decorations elsewhere are only now going up. And Krakow appears to be conflicted about how much of the American Christmas should make its way here. The traditional Polish Christmas has a tree, but there is no Santa. Did I say no Santa?

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 06:37:19 AM | link | (0) comments

Main Square trimmings  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 06:34:45 AM | link | (0) comments

Let's start thinking about putting up those garlands over city streets... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 06:31:35 AM | link | (0) comments

And what is that above the old restaurant sign? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 06:30:05 AM | link | (0) comments

Destination Poland: Wednesday (morning) 

Overheard, a phone conversation (in Polish) between a hotel desk clerk and her friend:

No! And then what happened? …Well it’s a good thing you parted with him. Of course! And what did Henio say about all this?
(English speaking, presumably uncomprehending customer waiting at desk): Ummm…

I think that you’ll go by yourself then, don’t you think? You know I did buy it in the end. It’s normal to do that. No no, I wont be here then, I am about to go on vacation…
(English speaking, presumably uncomprehending customer waiting at desk): Ummm…

You know he’ll do that each time. Seriously. But I have to go soon. There’s a lady at the desk right now… Yes of course you should have. Did he hang up then? I don’t think it matters a bit. I would tell her all about it and see what she says…
(English speaking, presumably uncomprehending customer waiting at desk): Ummm…

I really do not think it matters. Listen, I will drop it off later and then you can take a look at it. Oh, I hug you tightly then. A big kiss for you and Asia. Oh, really? He said that when? Oh then definitely you did the right thing. It doesn’t matter, tomorrow you can go to the store and pick it up.
(English speaking, presumably uncomprehending customer makes like she is about to leave)

Well of course I will call. Yes yes yes yes yes. I really should go. The lady at the desk looks like she is leaving. Yes a big big hug, tight tight tight, for you then. Bye! (In English, to customer): Is there something I can do for you?

Some things are in our blood. Friends and family come first, the hell with market capitalism.

Sights to die for, or at least to see before you fade into the sunset

I mentioned that Krakow boasts two sights that are on the "must see" list for this planet. I am posting two quickly taken photos, done by a person whose fingers were frozen even inside a brand new spiffy pair of gloves (that would be me). But they give you an idea of what is worth looking at. I’d add a few things myself, but the Internet at the hotel is being fussy and so let’s try for the main two for the moment:

posted by nina, 12/08/2004 03:57:42 AM | link | (0) comments

The Main Square is perhaps the largest medieval square in Europe. Even in December, the flower stalls stay open under their yellow umbrellas.  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 03:42:55 AM | link | (0) comments

Wawel Castle and Cathedral: each king added his own thing and so you have Medieval, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque styles, all rolled into one fantastic complex at the top of a hill overlooking Krakow Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/08/2004 03:39:23 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Destination: Poland (Tuesday night) 

Fine already, show your stuff, Krakow!

There is a travel book on the bestseller list in the States. It lists all the top sights in the world – the ones you should definitely see before you die. Three of them are in Poland -- two in Krakow alone (the castle and the main square). Okay, so the cynic will ask – what’s wrong with the rest of Poland? Wrong question obviously.

I am tired (and wired! My hotel room has a hook up!). But I go out to take a look at the holiday market on the main square (see photos below). I hear someone say in English “damn, that’s good!” They mean the hot red wine with spices that you can pick up at one of the stands. You can sip it while eating, what else – roasted meats, sausages and cooked cabbage stew. Now come on, stay open minded. Imagine: it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s late and you come across the smoky stand where someone is turning sausages. Better than brats, I’m sure.

But I pass on it. I’m aiming tonight for the Peasants' Kitchen, where they serve good old pierogi, stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms. What's this though? The old Peasant Kitchen isn’t full of Poles anymore. I hear German, or English with a German accent. Okay, okay, the Polish hosts were not ALL pandering to their western neighbors with disparaging comments about women , Warsaw and who knows what else. But I do hear one Pole tell his German guest: “Warsaw? There are lots of nice things about Warsaw, I just can’t think of what they might be.” Politeness forces me to keep quiet and concentrate on my peirogi.

posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:20:25 PM | link | (0) comments

Polish sausage: it's the real thing. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:18:43 PM | link | (0) comments

Hey, do NOT neglect the cabbage and mushroom stew... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:17:45 PM | link | (0) comments

Glass-blown ornaments from Poland. We're known for these. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:16:22 PM | link | (0) comments

sheep's wool everything: slippers, sweaters, coats, toys Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:14:40 PM | link | (0) comments

smoked highland sheep's milk cheeses Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:12:53 PM | link | (0) comments

what else? ... pierogi. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:11:28 PM | link | (0) comments

The Main Square at night Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 04:10:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination: Poland (Tuesday evening) 

So do I introduce myself or stay quiet?

On the train to Krakow I sit compartment style. Everyone is shaking hands: they know each other. Enter me, the outlier, the one in the pink shirt and black pants amidst a sea of tweed. They are academics it seems, profs from the Academy of Agriculture. Slightly older than me. In Poland, everyone is lightly older or younger than me. What happened to my generation?

Everyone is reading, I’m writing. I’m “Polish” on this run, I already spoke it to them in Polish and so there’s no going back, I’m committed. But please don’t ask me about my work. I have been traveling all day, I am too tired to think lucidly about the law in Polish.

posted by nina, 12/07/2004 01:07:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Central Station in Warsaw. All those people are waiting for the Krakow train. Popular run at a popular hour. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 12:07:39 PM | link | (0) comments

My compartment-mates. Staid. Dignified. Bookish. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 12:05:37 PM | link | (0) comments

Destination: Poland (Tuesday) 

In flight from Paris to Warsaw: you can always spot a Pole…

It’s a skill, but we can do it. If I had to split the plane in two parts, one for the Poles and one for the French, I bet I could guess who would belong in which group with an error of no more than 1 or 2. My father, proud of his worldliness, used to say that he’d be indistinguishable, that is --within the error group. I humored him and answered-- yeah, sure.

posted by nina, 12/07/2004 07:08:36 AM | link | (0) comments

It's in the mannerisms, the hairstyle, the movement... Poles. For sure. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/07/2004 07:04:47 AM | link | (0) comments
Ahhhh Warszawa!

I have to say this at the outset. I love Warsaw and I am fiercely protective of her. Krakow, the beauty queen, did not suffer in the way Warsaw did in the twentieth century. Warsaw has scars like the kid who once had a bad case of acne. Scars that are difficult for others to understand. Scars of destruction followed by poverty. Warsaw has grit and determination to make something of herself and I just love her to death for it.

Once when colleagues traveled here and later showed me photos they took – I remember vividly one of a decrepit park bench – I cried. Is this the way you see her? --I asked.

Loving her as much as I do allows me to look critically as well. Driving in from the airport is revealing. These are the streets I remember: blocks of apartments that westerners regard as quaintly decrepit in their ugliness. I think—oh how happy are the inhabitants! They have their own apartment in Warsaw and they have their neighborhood and I bet they feel at home there.

It is the new that appears to me more garish, more unsightly. Unregulated advertising. Big signs. Big towers of modern church spires. BIG, it has to be BIG. Aggh! Get me out of here! Thankfully, the city center is spared. It remains as I remember it.

Arrival in Warsaw, but then straight to Krakow

These days I do not initially stop in the capital for more than a few hours (I am in Warsaw now, unloading suitcases and presents). I head straight for Krakow (3 hours by train). My work connections are at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and it’s best to get work done first, before I forget that there is work to be done.

My sister acts as chauffeur. But for our childhood six years in NY and then a brief stint at an American grad school, she has always lived in Warsaw and she is street-smart, keeping up with the new ways that you have to pay attention to. I’m stuck in the old ways of safe streets and low crime rates. She is my protector. Don’t flash cash! Don’t drink tap water! Keep your purse to the front of you! Do not use unmarked cabs. Mafia!


Would you buy yourself some easy love and worship by speaking English in stores/restaurants/hotels even though you were fluent in Polish? I’m always torn on this and I cut it 50 – 50, depending on what I am after and how important it is that I get it.

[I do it for them too! If you are a Pole and the door opens to your store and the person says “dzien dobry” – ho hum, just another customer. But you hear a foreign sounding “hello” and you perk up. God, Americans have currency here. The dollar can plummet to negative numbers and it’ll still buy you a hero’s welcome.]

Off to the train station now.

posted by nina, 12/07/2004 06:53:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, December 06, 2004

Destination: Poland 

If you’re attempting to make multiple connections in the course of a journey, the most crucial one is, of course, the first. Miss that and you miss the boat entirely. So why is it that I am found running up Park Street at 11:29 a.m. with a heavy suitcase (it’s the gifts) when the bus for O’Hare leaves promptly at 11:30?

It’s because of the Christmas treats. I had to mail a box of goodies to daughters who are far away and (I am thinking) in desperate need of chocolate-covered gingerbread. But oh, the line at the post office! When it became clear that waiting it out would cost me my bus and therefore flights and therefore Poland and all my meetings, I considered two alternatives: toss the box into the car and forget about it, or give it to someone in line with a $10 bill and the following plea: “mail it for me please; I am desperately late. If it’s more, forget it, throw it away, eat it, pocket the money, whatever. But I don’t think it’s more; I will appreciate it so much. And so will the little ones at the other end.”

So which would you have done? *

That I made the bus is nothing short of a miracle. Now, at the airport, I am finding innovative ways to blog. Of course. A day cannot pass…

* We live in troubled times. I took one look at the people in line, all over the age of 80, it seemed (who else has time to stand at the post office at 11:20 a.m.), and I thought – they’re going to have me arrested. Sigh. The goodies got tossed to the back seat.

posted by nina, 12/06/2004 03:30:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Thanks for an inspired Sunday full of comfort and joy 

We’re trying to keep the spirits high here, despite the bleak, wintry weather and the dark days, despite the crowded stores and the excessive shopping syndrome that characterizes this month, despite listening to stories about preparations for the inaugural ceremonies (it could have been so different), despite it all, we click on the Net and look to blogs to cheer us up and we come across yours and whammo! Right in our face. Pictures of atrocities that the imagination cannot even begin to comprehend. And then no posting all day. Nothing to pick us up. Thanks a lot!
I can’t help the news that I hear about every waking hour. Ocean is only as happy as the world around it.

So you could not find anything to balance the morning post? No one, including you, is doing anything happy-happy?

I ran around in the bleak wintry weather and dark days to crowded stores where people were excessively shopping. I am in a mad dash to Get It All Done before tomorrow’s departure.

Departure? So where are you going and why?
In this one month I am privileged to be spending time in four cities and two villages that have easily been the most important places in my life. I have work to do, yes, but I also have time to spend with my Polish family and pals, and then with my residing-on-the-East Coast family.

So you wont be blogging much?

Who are you kidding? I have already told my sister (who lives in Warsaw) that I will basically not leave her apartment because I have too much blogging to do and so she may as well not coax me into any other activities.
Seriously, ever since I started blogging in January, I have wanted to post from Poland. I am traveling with my computer and my camera and my tested trusty world Internet access (dial-up, but oh well), so I should be fine. Ocean is crossing the ocean and she and I can’t wait to plunge right into my homeland with vignettes of life as I know it, remember it, miss it. The next 24 hours may be thin on writing as I am on a bus, then in the air, then in the air again, then on a train. But after that, if you are curious about life Over There, tune in.

posted by nina, 12/05/2004 06:28:08 PM | link | (0) comments

A blog that is not for the faint-at-heart depicting a war that is also not for the faint-at-heart 

Departing for a moment from the light-and-airy posts, I want to signal a WashPost article from today discussing the emergent prominence of one part-time blogger. He lives in New York, apparently works for an Internet company and in his spare time, he posts photos of the human cost of war, photos that are deliberately left out of the presentations put forth by official government and news sources. [He has issued a statement saying that he is not intending to make an antiwar statement. He asserts that the American soldiers are also victims. He does feel anger at the American people for supporting the war without a hard look at the costs involved.]

His blog has generated enough attention to be of concern to the US government. In response to the disconcerting images, the US military has taken the time to put together a website with its own slide show, intended to generate support for the military intervention in Iraq.

Still, the authors of the news article interviewed a number of military experts who claimed that the blogger’s site is the more compelling of the two.

"As far as the blog site, this is information operations at its finest," said one Marine officer who has served in Iraq. … An Army soldier who fought in the Sunni Triangle last year and maintains a blog himself agreed. "The winner has to be the blog," he said. "There's something all too visceral about seeing the pictures of the dead and wounded, on both sides, which overwhelms static displays of weaponry" in the military presentation.

Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraqi affairs … came to a similar but broader conclusion: "What the two presentations show us is that the U.S. military is full of brave and skilled warriors who can defeat their foes, but is still no good at counterinsurgency operations, and is wretched at winning hearts and minds."
I’ll list the two sites, with a note that the blogger’s site is indeed very graphic. Here’s what the WashPost says about it:

In the version of the Web site that was up last week, the first image on the site showed a malnourished Iraqi baby, wide-eyed and screaming in pain, under the sarcastic headline, "another grateful Iraqi civilian."

Many of the photographs are far more graphic than are usually carried in newspapers, showing headless bodies, bloodied troops, wounded women, and bandaged babies missing limbs. One added recently shows a U.S. soldier with part of his face blown away by a bomb.
The “Soldiers for the Truth” site, supported by the US military can be reached here:

The private blogger’s site can be viewed at:

posted by nina, 12/05/2004 09:14:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Accusations unwarranted 

Some East Coast readers are suggesting that I am not attending to my holiday duties. Since I am going to be away from Madison for the next several weeks, they say that my attentions are elsewhere. How wrong, how wrong. And yes, I think for fewer than a handful of people, ten bags of chocolate-covered gingerbread stars moons and hearts, plus ten chocolate-covered gingerbread men and trees are enough. When Tommy Thompson said today that he worries nightly about the safety of American food supply (as well he might, for any number of reasons), he did not mean that I should buy out Clasen’s entire supply of Christmas cookies just in case.

posted by nina, 12/04/2004 05:14:06 PM | link | (0) comments

This year it did not roll off onto the Beltline (as it did several years back); big enough for you? The thing weighs a ton. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/04/2004 05:12:41 PM | link | (0) comments

as of tonight: pine, balsam fir and juniper berries Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/04/2004 05:10:44 PM | link | (0) comments

stockpiling? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/04/2004 05:09:24 PM | link | (0) comments

A sign of emotional fragility, or a sign that I am Poland-bound soon? 

Three-thirty. Say good-bye to my man Jason (best hair person in town, hands down). Look at my list of errands. Sigh (I hate errands). Turn on “truck.” Turn on WERN public radio. Oh! It’s Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto in D (download it if you haven’t listened to it. NOW!). Stop car. Eyes get moist. Listen. Dusk sets in. Winter sky has wisps of grey cloud and a touch of peach. Eyes get moister. Wait ‘til it’s over. Drive home, toss list of errands aside. Turn on Wieniawski violin concerto (no.2), followed by Bruch's (no.1). Write emails to Poland.

posted by nina, 12/04/2004 04:37:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Is there any one book that helped you understand women (or yourself, if you are a woman)? 

Again a poll, again from Britain. Again on the BBC website.

The top ten chosen titles will be announced in four days. In the meantime, there is a short list of thirty. Looking at it, I had this idea that some of the titles could indeed have been nominated by men, and some only by women. Here’s my guess as to who is responsible for the leap to the short list (question marks mean I don’t know the book, F/M means it’s a toss up; there are more Fs because I am sure many more women than men voted):

Angelique by Sergeanne Golon (?)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (F/M)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (F, with maybe a couple of guys who had to read it in school or something)
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (F)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (F)
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (bizarre choice for this list so I’ll have to say M!!)
Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (sadly F)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (F)
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (F)
Game Of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (F/M)
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (F)
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (unfortunately F)
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (F/M)
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (?)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (F/M from school days)
The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks (?)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (a cruel hoax I hope, even if you like the book, wrong list!)
Middlemarch by George Eliot (F)
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (?)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (F/M)
Precious Bane by Mary Webb (?)
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen (F)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (what woman would identify with Rebecca?? But then, what man would read Rebecca?)
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (?)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (F, with despair)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I don’t get how this says anything about women so I’ll say M)
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (F)
Unless by Carol Shields (F)
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (?)
The Women's Room by Marilyn French (F)

posted by nina, 12/04/2004 11:30:27 AM | link | (0) comments

If you’re not part of the first year Torts small section 10 (Camic), skip this post: it’s too mushy for the innocent bystander. 

An open letter to those who were indeed part of Torts Sec. 10:

Thanks guys. For the flowers and the card (I was not *that funny* but thanks for telling me I was). For the dinner and the numerous drinks tonight. For the reunion plans and the shared stories and the toasts. But mostly, thanks for this semester. I have vivid memories of each and every one of you and only my shyness (you’re laughing now, I can tell) held me back in telling you how much I respect and like you. You are unique. I loved every hour of class time together. I’m sure you could tell. Take that spirit of camaraderie and good will and make a difference in the legal profession. I am counting on each of you to do that. And then come back and tell me about it.
posted by nina, 12/04/2004 01:01:03 AM | link | (0) comments

Thank you. So beautiful!  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/04/2004 12:01:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, December 03, 2004

She still loves him even though he is a 1L and forgot to get her a birthday present (because of Law School demands, so he says!) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:59:52 PM | link | (0) comments

Lots of humor in the bunch. Lots. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:57:59 PM | link | (0) comments

I worked without flash. She doesn't need flash anyway. She organized this evening, she shines! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:56:30 PM | link | (0) comments

They sat in the front row and they kept me on my toes. Every day. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:54:06 PM | link | (0) comments

Quiet? No. Not at all. And her family should be so proud. Oh, they are? well, deservedly so. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:51:54 PM | link | (0) comments

They're friends. Really. Even though he sat on the left of the classroom and she sat on the right. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:49:59 PM | link | (0) comments

Texas dudes - each so talanted it hurts; and the one in pink? She can deliver a line with a straight face and leave you convulsed with laughter. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 11:47:45 PM | link | (0) comments

Does anyone else think that the British have a superior sense of humor – so much so that sometimes it’s hard for other mere mortals to laugh along? 

There was a time when I looked forward to humorous British flicks. They were so…puzzling. Remember the one about the pig that made its way into the household? It was impossibly funny. I guess.

Today marks the day of the return of the Little Britain – a comedy series aired on the BBC. How funny is it? Consider this description and photo of one of the characters:

Repulsively obese Bubbles spends all her time at a health spa, being preened and pampered at the expense of her mysteriously-absent businessman husband. Whenever the manager tries to establish when her husband will be settling the balance, she fobs him off before offering him 'alternative' methods of payment...
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 03:53:22 PM | link | (0) comments
To celebrate and promote the return of the show, BBC sponsored a contest for people to write in untrue facts about Britain. Here are some favorites. Unique, aren’t they?

In Britain, roundabouts were installed in 1904 at cliffs to stop people driving into the sea.

Scotland was supposed to be called Wales, but it was found that the name had already been taken.

In Britain, something funny happens every 13 years.

Cornwall was added onto Britain in 1923 to make it a more attractive shape.

Britain is actually pronounced 'Britain', which not many people know.

In Britain 86% of people are right handed, 13% use their left hand. The other 1% don't bother.

For health reasons, doughnuts contain no nuts.

City gents in Britain wear bowler hats as a tribute to Laurel and Hardy.

Britain's museums contain the largest number of bronze age pots in the world. Please feel free to take one.

The only qualification you need to work for the Royal family is, bizzarely, the abilty to spin plates.
posted by nina, 12/03/2004 03:51:17 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Blogging notes 

Thank you so very much to those* who spoke up [some quite passionately!:)] in defense of the freedom to engage in honest, inquisitive, earnest blogging conversations, in response to the Polish Immigrant’s accusations against my posts at Ocean (cited by me here). You guys rock! More importantly, you understand the importance of a thoughtful and deliberate exchanges of ideas. On a personal level – I was so completely touched, both by the comments and the handful of emails. There are some pretty decent people reading blogs these days. It gives one hope, really it does.

* I would have responded to you personally had I your email addresses.
posted by nina, 12/02/2004 09:01:10 PM | link | (0) comments

The place to go for a shake and a rattle 

Free associate!

Obsessively blogged about lately on Ocean.


Freezing in Europe...

Poland in December...
Snow, icicles, sleet, chilled, shivering…

Okay okay. Earthquake...
San Francisco!

Negative, zero…

No, I mean San Francisco is wrong.
How can it be wrong? This is free association! No right, no wrong. Just free!

But it’s an educational free association and “San Francisco earthquake” is wrong. The most recent one, just today, was in the Krakow – Zakopane area of Poland.
Earthquakes?? In Poland?? But that’s where you’re heading, right? First Hokkaido last spring (earthquake recorded a few days ago), now Krakow – Zakopane, aren’t you scared?

Believe me, if I see anything rattling down there it will be, most likely, the highlanders’ dentures.
posted by nina, 12/02/2004 06:46:35 PM | link | (0) comments

It's all fun and games while you're in Law School 

My first year law students are enjoying themselves in these last days of classes. Someone posted a Civ Pro Quiz (Which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure are you? -- found here; I hope it's PG - 13, I did not check the results) and several are posting their answers on the small section email list.

I wish I were a student again. I'm home grading papers. Their papers. Bummer being a professor rather than a 1L, engaged in merriment now, in the last days prior to exams.
posted by nina, 12/02/2004 06:30:21 PM | link | (0) comments

Ask a Pole 

If you click onto (and if you speak Polish so that you can actually understand what comes up) you’ll find a link to an Internet Polish news source, with several CNN-style questionnaires soliciting opinions on any number of issues. I’m going to translate just two, one that I think speaks to the deeply-rooted national complex I wrote of in an earlier post, and the other highlighting what I indeed know about Poles: they are avid readers.

(This poll follows an article about how Poles are breaking with stereotypes as they travel to England to find work under the new EU open-door policy)
Which of these stereotypes about Poles do you think is most widespread?
(3025 Poles responded when last I checked)

That s/he is a drunkard: 30%
That s/he is lazy: 1%
That s/he is knowledgeable: 7%
That s/he is hardworking: 3%
That s/he steals: 22%
That s/he is a manipulator: 37%

How many books did you read in the last 6 months?
(1021 Poles responded when last I checked)

1: 6%
2: 6%
3: 9%
4– 6: 21%
7 – 10: 12%
more than 10: 31%
none 15%

[If you are thinking that Net users are perhaps more likely to be bookish, I’d say an argument for the opposite can be made: avid Net users tend to read less than those without access to a computer. In any event, the results don’t surprise me. Poles really do read a lot – not only books, but also journals with social and political commentary.]

posted by nina, 12/02/2004 06:15:39 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thanks for the memories… 

It’s odd to be hearing these words repeatedly on one day, in two different contexts.

I woke up to news of the closing of
JFW – the weblog that inspired Ocean. Thanks, Jeremy, for introducing yourself through your blog.

… And I turned on the news tonight to listen to Brokaw’s parting words on NBC Nightly News:
It’s not the Qs that get us in trouble [he tells us], it’s the answers and no one person has all the answers.

At the same time, Ocean got a link moments ago from a blog titledThe Polish Immigrant (it is not the first time). A sympathetic fellow blogger? Couldn’t be less so. He writes in his post:

(Knee) jerk [that would be me]
I've been ignoring this blogger [link to Ocean] for a while now but all good things come to an end. She is a somewhat influential [!?] Pole teaching in my graduate school. And she is wrong on all important issues.

The blog has a comments function where I responded thus:

I guess I find it somewhat reassuring that someone out there has all the correct answers and can definitively say that I am wrong on all [issues]. I myself do not think I am "right" or "wrong," I simply give one perspective -- my own.

I guess Brokaw and I agree.

As for Jeremy, let me say this: get going on your next writing adventure, a.s.a.p.

posted by nina, 12/01/2004 06:21:03 PM | link | (0) comments

‘Tis the season to talk more about food 

Think you can’t find pierniczki w czekoladzie in Madison for the holidays? Think you have to travel to Poland to stock up? Oh, then you don’t know about Clasen’s Bakery and their yearly baking rituals. The dark chocolate-covered gingerbread cookies are only available during the first weeks in December. I dragged myself “oh so reluctantly” there and bought a pack. Or two. Okay, many more than that.
posted by nina, 12/01/2004 05:56:24 PM | link | (0) comments

Bags and bags of "pierniczki w czekoladzie." Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/01/2004 05:54:10 PM | link | (0) comments

The gingerbread is soft, yummy, the chocolate is dark... the perfect winter companion to coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 12/01/2004 05:53:21 PM | link | (0) comments

How to love a (Polish) Pope even if you basically disagree with much of what he says 

The Italians have found a way. In the IHT today:

Italians routinely ignore the conservative Pope John Paul II in matters of private morality, like contraception, divorce or marriage (far fewer Italians are marrying, in the church or out), but admire him deeply for his stands on issues like caring for the poor or his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

The article points out that Italians are much less adversarial in their approach to secularism and Christianity. There may be a crucifix in every classroom, but few give it more than a passing glance, feeling neither devout about it nor repelled by it. Though I have read this about Italy before, I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a geographical divide there as well, with the South being less tolerant of secularism and the North, less preoccupied with Church matters in general, feeling perhaps culturally more aligned with its north-western neighbors than with its southern provinces.

Still, it’s ‘good’ to read that the Pope has some fans outside of Poland.
posted by nina, 12/01/2004 10:29:59 AM | link | (0) comments

I'm Nina Camic. I teach law, but also write (here and elsewhere) on a number of non-legal topics. I often cross the ocean, in the stories I tell and the photos I take. My native Poland is a frequent destination.

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