Steamy Warsaw

Some shots close to the Marriott hotel when they were cleaning out the heating pipes one day:

PKiN loses a few carbuncles

The PKiN would not win any beauty contests but it does have a certain Stalinist charm and balance that was deeply upset by the addition of a collection of massive “Zepter” adverts encircling the lower roof above the entrance to the Sala Kongresowa.

These appeared about a year or more ago, seven big, ugly, unimaginative and very much in your face billboards staring down at Emilii Plater. Heaven only knows how permission was gained to do such a thing. Can only be friends in high places, large contribution to party funds or both but they went up and stayed up.

We should be grateful for Euro 2012 and the fan zone because a part of preparing Plac Defilad was to remove the Zepter ads and leave the billboards plain white. I was expecting them to be used for projections or ads from the sponsors but nothing more happened, they saw out the football championships in virgin white.

A couple of weeks ago a massive crane arrived and a few workers wielding big spanners dismantled everything and took it all away. It is now, with the exception of the equally obscene sign for the cinema, back to its former, almost original, glory. Hurrah!

20120730-094332.jpg

I think Warsaw needs to hurry up and come to terms with the PKiN and either fully embrace it or knock it down. This whole attitude of “Well it’s there but we don’t like it” is holding back development of the most significant part of the city’s architecture and town planning and leading to stupid decisions like Zepter ads. My vote is to keep it, love it, restore it, use it. Make it yours. If anything, this hesitation and indifference is just prolonging the the impact of communist times, exactly the opposite of what is intended.

The money for demolition can be better used elsewhere and anyway it would only be replaced by equally naff modern versions of the same thing when the right thing to do (if demolished) would be to restore the historical city centre layout and buildings – a monumentally massive and expensive task. It’s there, you’ve let the right time for demolition slip by (1989) so let’s make the PKiN our friend and an expression of modern day Poland not a pile of Stalinist bricks.

Łazienki park – Warsaw

Today, Zosia and I went to Łazienki park, or peacock park as we call it, you can just hear one at the end of the video. It was a beautiful day, getting up to 26C at one point and the park was in good shape. I took the panorama video on the iPhone, which is not as good quality as the Sony A55 but is more than good enough to expect from a mobile phone. As you can see there were plenty of people who decided a walk around the park would be a good idea. Quite a few foreigners there actually, meaning not Polish, mostly Hungarian from what I could decipher. We didn’t go near the entrance where the coaches are parked but I expect there were a few tour buses there full of people spending the weekend in Warsaw.

I snapped a few photos as well:

For any photo-heads out there, these are straight from the iPhone, imported to the Mac using ‘Image Capture’. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get photos from an Apple iPhone to an Apple Mac, as far as I know impossible via the obvious route of iTunes. I’ve then run them through photoshop to use Imagenomic to remove the noise as I find all iPhone photos are noisy when you view them out of the phone. I then did a ‘smart sharpen’ and shrunk the size before uploading to here. Et voila!

By the way – I’ve only just worked out how to view photos at the full size using this new theme I have! In case others are as confused as I am (because the old theme you just clicked the photo once or twice) you click the photo which takes you to another page displaying the photo but at the same size. On the left is the name of the photo, in the case of the top one here it is ‘Lazienki 1’, under that is the date and under the date it says 1000 x 747, which is the full size. You can click this and it will display the photo at the full uploaded size. Phew, glad I worked that one out.

Smolensk anniversary

On my way to get some breakfast after dropping Zosia at ballet I came across the early signs of public and media gathering outside the Presidential palace for the anniversary of the Smolensk tragedy. Actually there were far more police and barricades than anything else.

Outside the Palace, April 9

Embryonic media frenzy

Photos taken with iPhone 4. Click for larger version..

Given the extreme public interest in this tragic event, it can only be seen as a massive failure on the part of the Polish authorities that 12 months after the event 2/3 of Poles (that’s around 26 million people) still don’t think they have a proper explanation of what happened. What’s more, they don’t think they will ever get one.

Why is the truth being kept from us? Does it really take more than 12 months to come to some logical conclusions? Do they really not know what happened or do they just not want to tell anyone what it is?

Strangely enough, I watched a programme called “Aircrash Confidential” on Sky, Discovery Channel, the other evening that covered Smolensk and they came to a very clear conclusion – the pilots were put under pressure by at least two other voices in the cockpit to ignore the safety warnings (airport & instruments) and land the plane. They also concluded that the pilots, being military men, were far more likely to follow orders than to do the right thing.

Surely we should know who these people putting pressure on the pilots were, shouldn’t we? Given that they are at least partially responsible for over 90 deaths.

So, if you want answers don’t look to the Polish government, watch Discovery Channel!

Posting from iPhone using WP app with photo

The picture below is of the newly renovated Plac Grzybowski, a very ‘tactile’ design with water features, stone elements and wooden benches on rails that you can move around. Worth a visit if you’re in the area.

I’ve now given up completely with any ideas of using this for Polandian. It will post there, with pictures, but videos don’t work at all and those posts that do work will not create a ‘thumbnail’ picture anyway so no point trying any longer. For 20 east though it seems to work well enough, as well at least as the posting by email function. I eagerly await the next release because I’m getting tired of sending crash reports!!

Emilii Plater

Reconstruction of Emilii Plater, Warsaw

As you can see from the picture, work on the reconstruction of Emilii Plater got started today. Hallelujah!

It is spookily quiet in and around our office once you remove the usual hustle & bustle of traffic and associated people from both Emilii Plater and Złota, which is now a dead-end. That constant background noise is gone and replaced by the intermittent metal on cobble sounds as the JCB’s dig up the road and load it into trucks. I imagine the trucks then take the Emilii Plater cobbles off to a smaller city so they can upgrade from WWII tank tracks to used cobbles!

Wouldn’t it be nice, if you have a house, to repave your drive with Emilii Plater cobbles. Better than buying new ones, a little bit of Warsaw history in your own home.

Anyway, I hear the grand plans for a subterranean parking garage have been dropped and so we’ll have to wait and see exactly what this “remont” will involve. One thing for sure, it can’t be any worse than what was there before!

Warsaw -Institutional racism leads to violent death of Nigerian?

I confess, I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen and now, sadly, it has.

Last Sunday, the police carried out a “routine inspection” of what used to be the “Russian Bazaar” in the Praga district of Warsaw and ended up shooting dead a Nigerian called Maxwell Itoyi. Today there is a protest march in Warsaw in the name of “Solidarity against racism and police violence”. The Police say they did nothing wrong and have several of their kind injured as proof this was not a one-sided affair. Many others, including eye witnesses, disagree and see this as the unjustified shooting of an innocent man just because he was black.

The bazaar used to occupy the area that is now the construction site for the new National Stadium. The new stadium will be the jewel in the crown of Poland’s venues when it hosts the 2012 European Football Championships and will be visited by many thousands of visiting foreign fans. It is reasonable to assume that the government would not wish to have these visitors’ impression of Poland spoiled by an encounter with what has always been a slightly dodgy bazaar and so it is also reasonable to assume that there is an agenda to move, close or seriously upgrade this bazaar before the visitors arrive. I suspect the action last Sunday was at least partly connected with that agenda.

I’ve wandered around the Russian Bazaar a few times myself, in the old days when it was inside the old stadium. Despite being warned about it, nothing bad happened during my shopping for illegal software, beaver-skin hat and replica NKVD uniform but I did notice on latter trips the growing presence of Nigerians using their often slightly over-aggressive sales techniques. This is not unique to Warsaw of course, you can find the same people selling slightly different goods (although the African masks and carved giraffes are always part of it) anywhere in the world. Last year we encountered them in Pisa, Italy.

African bazaar Pisa

The year before that on the beach in Marbella, Spain. No, I don’t have a thing about photographing Nigerian salesmen, I just take too many photos so I usually have at least one of what I’m looking for!

Marbella Nigerians

So, we have a few of the ingredients for trouble already in place – a lot of black people being slightly pushy in a dodgy part of town that the city would like to clean up. What was missing, until last Sunday, was an over zealous and armed police force with little experience of all the issues that hang around the term “racism” and make the lives of anyone in the position of having to manage such situations pretty much impossible. Given that the few Nigerians in the Russian Bazaar probably account for a significant percentage of all blacks in Poland, it might be perfectly reasonable to assume that the Nigerians are far more widely travelled and experienced in the unwritten rules of racism than are the Polish police force. This might have worked to Maxwell’s disadvantage. I mean, in the UK after so many years of accusations of racism and accidental shootings a British policeman would have to be pushed almost to the point of his own death before he’d dream of shooting a black man, or indeed a person of any colour that’s not milky white. The Polish police force has absolutely no experience of these things and is therefore just starting to understand the additional consequences involved shooting a black person as opposed to shooting anyone else, which might be summarised as “guilty of a racist attack until proven innocent”.

At times like this it is hard to know exactly what to believe. The people on Maxwell’s side claim he was a wonderful guy who would never dream of causing any trouble. The police say otherwise and claim there have been increasing incidents of violence against the Police (presumably perpetrated by Nigerians in the bazaar). Experience suggests to me that both may well be right and that Maxwell was just a very unfortunate victim of circumstance. There probably are some dodgy Nigerians in the bazaar who might push things either because that’s just the way they are or because they don’t like the police interrupting their legal/illegal trading or because they know the race/minority thing is on their side. Equally, there probably are policemen who are racist and who are tired of having to accept violent and provocative behaviour from the Nigerian ‘gangs’ and who would welcome the opportunity to open fire. It is therefore entirely understandable that an incident such as last Sunday could and would take place and also that the frequency of such incidents is bound to increase.

For the moment, the attitude of the citizens not directly involved appears to be one of coming down firmly on the side of Maxwell and his friends. This might be because of a general mistrust of the police, a knowledge that Maxwell was innocent or a general wish to side with a downtrodden minority who have such wonderful reggae music and like to smoke ganja. Who knows? What will be interesting to see is how public attitude might change as and when the impact of immigration and the number of black faces on the streets starts to have a much more significant impact on everyday life outside of the Russian Bazaar than it does right now.

I don’t know about you but I DO want an effective police force in Poland, one that can deal with nasty people who might otherwise make my life difficult or dangerous whether they be black, white or yellow, Nigerian, British or Vietnamese. I’m also fair minded enough to recognise the impossible situation they find themselves in when it comes to using firearms. The only occasions on which a shooting is immediately justified is when they hit either Osama Bin Laden or a nutter offloading a semi-automatic in the school playground, anything less that that and they’re in trouble. However, if having an effective police force means they carry out routine inspections of bazaars armed to the teeth then they had better make damned sure the police officers are better trained with the use of weapons and/or better psychologically selected for the job than they are now because I wouldn’t want anyone I know to be the next innocent (and dead) victim of bad policing.

As Poland is now at the beginning of this particular journey I think we also have the chance to get the balance on racial issues such as this correct before it goes too far. I’m not alone in thinking the pendulum in the UK has swung too far in the direction of favouring racial minorities against all common sense and to the point where there is strong positive discrimination for them and against the main body of white Christians in the population. People, the police especially, have to work with one hand tied behind their backs when dealing with minorities for fear of the “race card” being played and them getting into a lot of unnecessary trouble. The case of Ali Dizaei of the UK’s Metropolitan Police Force is a good one for Poles to read and try to avoid the nurturing of institutional anti-racism.

Maxwell might have been the first, but he certainly won’t be the last.