Monthly Archives: June 2009

Traces of Poland in New York

I had a bit of a break and enjoyed a week in New York. But even while there you can’t escape all things Polish.

Every five minutes I saw ads for Sobieski, the Polish vodka, which seems to be getting a big marketing push in New York (and I’m guessing elsewhere in America too):

sobieskinyc1

The posters and even video ads were very visible, but unlike their UK equivalent from last year they were in English.

Belvedere, another, more exclusive Polish vodka, also had a lot of exposure there. But before you accuse me of spreading alcoholism, let me switch to other traces of Poland in New York I noticed.

Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a nice, trendy enclave a couple of Subway stops from Manhattan. With funky bars, chilled out cafes, a few book stores and a few galleries. But it’s also a few minutes from Greenpoint, traditionally a Polish district in New York, a place where generations of working class Poles settled in their search for a better life across the Atlantic.

Whether they’ve found it, I don’t know, but they did turn that part of Brooklyn into Little Poland. And even though I never visited Greenpoint itself, Williamsburg was full of Polish faces, Polish language and a couple of Polish places like this one:

williamsburg

But the biggest surprise was this fantastic exhibition of Polish posters at the Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan:

Polish posters

The best examples of the Polish Poster School are on display there and even though it’s not a massive display, you can see some of the best posters created in Poland between 1945 and 1989 by such great artists as Franciszek Starowieyski, Henryk Tomaszewski or Jan Sawka.

Polish posters

If you happen to be in the area, do visit the Museum, it’s worth it.

Seen any other Polish traces? Wanna share them on this blog? Drop me an email: email me


Travel tip – Mazury

MazuryMy second Polish travel tip for the summer is aimed at those of you who love water – and big lakes in particular:

1. What is it?

Mazury is famous for its wild, largely unspoilt nature and numerous lakes. It’s very popular in the summer, many Poles go there for their summer holidays.

2. Where is it?

Mazury is a region in north-eastern Poland; easy to reach from Warsaw or Gdańsk.

3. Why bother?

Whether you love spending time on a boat, do a bit of bird-watching or just relaxing in the middle of nowhere, the Mazury lake district is big enough to cater for all those needs.

4. And you don’t want to miss…

… Śniardwy, the largest lake in Poland, and the neighbouring town of Mikołajki.

5. Want to know more?

Visit this site (in Polish, but with a nice Google map with photos). ALternatively read all about Mazury on Wikipedia.

More travel tips

Image © ekieraM via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Poland today (at midday)

Today’s anniversary (read more about it here and leave your comments too!) prompted one of the largest Polish portals, Gazeta.pl to launch a couple of unique services.

picture-8

The first one is called ‘A postcard from Poland’ and is a massive collection of photographs depicting what Poles were doing today at midday, twenty day after the collapse of Communism. Gazeta wants to create a gigantic archive which it wants to share online, but also with museums and archives across Poland.

As a photographer I love this idea. Images can be much more powerful than words and no doubt today will bring a few fantastic, emotional, funny or simply stunning shots. I’m looking forward to browsing the archive – and I guess if you’ve never been in Poland, the ‘postcard’ might be a good place to start exploring the country and its people.

Gazetopedia

The other project launched by Gazeta.pl is Gazetopedia.pl – which is a cross between and online archive spanning twenty years and a social networking or user-generated site (by the way, the word ‘gazeta’ itself means ‘newspaper'; Gazeta Wyborcza, nowadays often perceived as a left-leaning, liberal paper, was the first independent daily paper in Poland launched roughly a month before the June elections). Users can browse every single front page of Gazeta Wyborcza (the precursor of Gazeta.pl), have a look at a timeline of Polish and world events from the past two decades and modify the pages to give them a unique look and feel.

Browsing though the front pages I came across one article from 20th June 1989, which describes how Poland was left without sugar and flour as factories didn’t manage (allegedly) to produce enough of them to satisfy the demand… Those were the times.

June 1989 – the anniversary remembered

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first post-Communist Prime Minister

Can’t believe it’s already been twenty years since Communism in Poland collapsed. I was still at school, had just a year or so to go till my matura (final secondary school exams) and couldn’t quite believe it when my literature teacher asked us to start reading  The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. You what?! Solzhenitsyn? Until a few months earlier his books – like thousands of other books, plays etc – were banned in Poland and I suspect all other neighbouring Communist countries too.

But that was 1989, the year when Communism in Central and Eastern Europe collapsed for good (with a few exceptions), largely thanks to Solidarity’s victory in what is referred to as the first free parliamentary elections in modern Polish history. (For those of you who are not familiar with Solidarity, it was the first official union formed  in 1980 and led by Lech Wałęsa; Solidarity was the first non-Communist trade union in a Communist country – the fact it was formed is widely perceived as the beginning of the end of the Communism in Europe).

Tadeusz Mazowiecki (above) becomes the first non-Communist Prime Minister in Poland after the war. And the rest is history.

Today Poland celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the 1989 parliamentary elections. It’s been a couple of very eventful decades: numerous governments have formed and collapsed, Poles slowly (and not without problems) got used to the newly-regained freedom and the fact they were also able to travel freely, Poland’s economy had to learn how to cope with the notion of the free market, there have been some dramatic changes in the cultural, moral and spiritual fabric of the society.

But now, twenty years later, Poland – a member of NATO and the European Union (both as abstract and unimaginably unattainable in 1989 as a walk on the Moon) – remembers the events and can largely be proud of its achievements of the past two decades. Yes, there will be those who will always complain, question and see the bad sides. But without what happened in June 1989 I doubt I’d be able to write this blog.

Were you in Poland in 1989? Do you remember the events? I’d love to know what your memories are – post a few words in the comment box below.

Image © ewewlo via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence