Poland, theater

No pictures

Long-suffering Milo, (can I call you “long-suffering”? I just did…)

You don’t know this, but I’ve never been very good at pictures. I take them and don’t put them up; I draw them, but don’t show them to anyone; I prefer, under almost every circumstance you can imagine, to use words instead. I should know better than to promise to share images. Sometimes I dutifully tote a camera around Warsaw, thinking of how happy it will make everyone to see some IMAGES instead of all this TEXT, but I always put off dealing with them as long as I can. So I won’t make any more promises I can’t keep, and I don’t feel like uploading the files right now–sorry–but I can tell you about Warsaw.

It’s taken me this long to write another post for one reason. Although I’ve been here since August 20, I’ve been staying in hostels the entire time–until yesterday. This was on the heels of months and months of uncertain living situations, and it finally caught up with me. I was unable to write while I didn’t have my own space.

But I do, now–I have a lovely room in a lovely apartment that I’m sharing with a lovely roommate (about which and whom more later) and I am finally in possession of brainspace with which to tell you how I got here.

So, to begin–after my visit to Teatr Cinema concluded (and I still need to write about that) I had about 48 hours to pack up, clean the sublet apartment, and get out of town. I did manage to have a couple of excellent Italian beers (Peroni? Why have I never heard of this before?) at Literatka na rynku, in the Stare Miasto, in the company of M. from the Grot Institute. We discussed future Wroclaw visits.

Even though my FB project is, from now on, going to be primarily rooted in Warsaw–I have moved to Warsaw, in case any one missed that–I will be coming back to Wro. frequently to collaborate with TPK and others.

My project in Warsaw now consists of interviewing theater directors and observing rehearsals. And writing articles. Many, many articles. It’ll be the same project when I travel elsewhere in Poland–Wroclaw, Lodz, etc.–but Warsaw is the base.

So. I took a plane from Wroclaw instead of a train–it cost the same, and I had far too much luggage. I felt like the Spaceballs princess at the terminal, but it was worth it.

When I arrived, it was a warm and bright afternoon. The place reminded me of Chicago, as I have already said to many people–in the wide streets and enormous open skies swept with enormous fast-moving clouds, in the strong winds, in the sense–part of the air–that a body of water is nearby, and most strongly in the packs of giggling young people hurrying down the street. I ate Turkish takeout food on ul. Marszalkowska, around the corner from my hostel, overlooking Plac Konstytucji, and was overjoyed to be in Warsaw. The only fly in an otherwise unobjectionable ointment was that my hostel, advertised as WiFi-enabled online, only had WiFi for PCs–not for Macs.

But I was not in a mood to be disappointed. It felt exhilarating to be in Warsaw. In my first days here, I went running around. I saw the Universal-backlotesque Old Town, reconstructed after the devastation of Hitler’s destroy-Warsaw campaign; the enormous Vistula, which I have already told my parents is as wide as the 405 (it is!); the statue of Zygmunt; the Chopin memorial in Lazienski park; the smaller Ujazdowski park with its statue of Paderewski. I rode the metro (the subway is just a line, not a loop) to see where it went. I even saw a play in my first 48 hours here–a Polish-language version of “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia,” by Albee, at och-teatr.

In the first few days here, I also had my first meetings with the staff at the FB Commission and with my institutional sponsor, mentor, and Virgil through this process: J/K of the A. Mickiewicz Institute. In order to have these meetings, I had to spend many hours in Internet cafes and coffeehouses compiling and preparing documents. I turned out not to need most of the documents, but no one is ever going to be able to say I wasn’t prepared for that first meeting.

The responsibility of this grant is…well…it’s a big responsibility. I think, often, about all the people back home who helped me to be here, and all the Polish graduate students I keep meeting, overqualified and brilliantly fluent in English, competing for Fulbright spots to the US. I think about every actor I’ve ever worked with, and some I haven’t met yet, and I wonder if I’m being attentive enough to these new methods I’m learning here. I have to be able to explain it to them when I get home. It’s not okay to have it anything less than “together.”

Self-guilt-tripping aside, with the logistics settled with the PFC and J/K, I was free to try to settle myself in this city. I began apartment-hunting.

While all this was going on, I got to go to a great party at J/K’s house, at which I met a variety of interesting people, including R., a social psychologist, D., a native Warsovian and graduate student in history, and R., a director from Israel currently collaborating with a Polish theater in Lodz. But, most importantly, I met M., a Warsaw-based director who was undertaking pick-up and put-in and pre-tour rehearsals at the Instytut Teatralny for her amazing amazing amazing group, chór kobiet. (It means “the chorus of women.”

Here’s a video of her chorus; almost 30 women of all ages and backgrounds. She conducts every performance they do.

So there. Fabulous. I’ve been able to watch four of their rehearsals so far, and am working on a more formal blog post/article about them. They’re currently touring, but will be back in Warsaw for more performances soon.

While all this was going on with chór kobiet I also found, through the M. in Wroclaw, a person offering a room here in Warsaw–a friend of hers, another M.

I went to visit the apartment and fell in love. M. (in Warsaw) has an artist’s eye for decorating–the apartment is full of antique wood furniture, and it’s in a very Polish neighborhood, Praga just across the river, less touristy, more residential. It’s great. My room is narrow and rectangular. It makes me feel like I’m on a boat.

I gave M. the rent in cash there and then and would have never left, if she’d let me; but she had just returned from a trip to Iran, was heading off for another trip to Wroclaw herself, and was in the middle of renovating the bathroom. When I saw the apartment, it had no door. She told me I could move in after the weekend.

In the intervening days, I obtained a transit pass (speaking only Polish, thank you very much), a library card from the Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie, and information about the POLONICUM language classes (also at Uniwersytet Warszawski). I attended more rehearsals for chor kobiet at the Instytut Teatralny. I wrote about them. I met with J/K again to plan our next steps, and she discussed the possibility of other places where I could observe rehearsals.

And then I moved in here Monday night, and didn’t realize how exhausted I was till I got here. Everyone’s been in a hostel, so I’ll spare the complaining, but you just don’t sleep the same way there that you do in a bed that is, in some sense, “yours.”

Poland, Poland, Poland.

So here’s what’s coming next. I have a few very badly needed days off–it’s been a whirlwind since arriving in Warsaw. I can do things like unpack and laundry and write a blog post. Next week I have some language class-related and administrative responsibilities to take care of, and then, around Sept. 15, I head to Wroclaw for the Fulbright orientation with the other Polish FB scholars. When I get back to Warsaw–near the end of September–I’ll be back to interviewing directors and observing directors whenever possible. My formal language classes will start in October. At the U of W.

I’m getting used to being here.

Things I can already tell I’m not going to want to give up:
The bread. The bakeries.
The preponderance of fruit and vegetable stores.
The excellent public transit.
The theater.
The audiences.

Things I already miss:
Parallel Octave, Parallel Octave, Parallel Octave. (Going stronger than ever without me! The open sessions and education sessions both continue, and 6 of the 8 Anthology I films are now on YouTube.)
Living across the street from the Charles Village Pub.
The practice rooms.
The Digital Media Center.
The entire staff and student body of the Writing Seminars.

Some things that it is not necessary to miss or give up, as long as I never again live somewhere without the Internet:
Jordan Davis‘s poetry criticism. (His poem was on the Poets.org mailing list today, and I was like, “He has the same name as my friend from junior high!” But it’s a different person.)
This Ron Riekki poem on this awesome new magazine, edited out of Hawaii.
This blog.

So, there you have it. The life cycle of the Koozebanians.

I will try to not lapse into so much radio silence again, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in Poland, it’s that the experience is utterly unpredictable. I do prefer more frequent posts to these summary ones, though. So I will try (famous last words) to post, you know, more often.

“Thank you for your patience.”


PS. Here’s a good story I didn’t tell in sequence cause too much has happened–I got to make American-style silver dollar pancakes for D. and her brother and his friend who were studying for their exams. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen, in Poland, looking out over a courtyard at the center of the apartment building, and thinking about all the times I’d made pancakes before, especially those when there wasn’t much else to eat. This was one of those times–we didn’t have the ingredients for anything else. But we made pancakes. And ate it, with jam her mother had canned herself. Yes, it’s good to be here.

PPS. I think the blog needs a new look again. Forewarned. In process.