Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Warsaw: Łazienki, Jewish Ghetto, Royal Castle and Market Square

We started the day with a drive around Warsaw — over to Łazienki park to see the sculpture of Chopin, Poland's beloved composer. It's incredibly romantic: he's sitting under a willow tree, bending with the leaves and the wind, eyes closed. It reminds me of something my Ghanaian drumming professor once told me: "Sit down. Listen... to the wind. There are two sounds you hear: one, there is a tree, two there is no tree." Leaving the park, I noticed a sculpture of Józef Piłsudski, a Polish revolutionary who helped restore the Polish state to unity 123 years after it was partitioned by Napoleon.

After the park, we drove through the former Jewish Ghetto, where the uprising took place in 1943 (one of the events described by The Pianist). Almost everything is completely restored, but you can still get a feeling for what happened if you walk around.

We stopped by a cathedral or two, and then headed towards the Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski). Our guide was this old, eccentric Polish man with wisps of white hair around his temples and a well trimmed beard, "from a poor peasant family in the mountains." The place is packed with tapestries, statues, busts, paintings, and covered in marble and gold leaf. Some of the tapestries were huge, maybe 40 feet long and 20 feet tall; it would take a year to produce just one square meter. One of the guest rooms was occupied by Napoleon as he came through Warsaw, and they keep his desk in there. All sorts of things have been donated to the castle — the desk was donated by the French, who, according to our guide, "give out a new desk of Napoleon's every year". That's not as bad as the American donations, which were busts of people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin — our guide kept sarcastically muttering "bloody American imperialists...", but with such a smile that made it hard to feel insulted.

From the castle we stopped by two cathedrals on our way over to the old market square. There's a little theater in one corner of the square, part of a small museum on the 1944 rising and World War II, they show a short film every hour or so, it was really crazy to see footage of the old town during the war, and then walk back outside to the restored city all around. I meandered around for a while after the movie, finding Kamienne Schodki and the statue of the youngest soldier in the Home Army.

After the Old Town visit, we took a short break and went to a Chopin recital by Robert Skiera at the Szuster Palace. He played all the well-known pieces, and threw in a few others as well. It's the first time I've heard "Revolution" sound like a war cry rather than a lament.

Australian slang of the day (from Danuta):

  • pucy (PYOO-see, adjective) — weak, no good
  • piker (PIE-kuh, noun) — chicken, coward

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