Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blogging from Poland

Two days visiting Warsaw prior to heading off to CentrumKongresowo-Szkoleniose Magellan in Wolborz, Poland the forest hotel venue where on Wednesday we (Pawel Olesiak, Pawel Bernas and I) lead the Samurai Game for Pierre Fabre Medicament(pharmaceutical) company.

Monday I decided to really walk the city - Warsaw - to rid the jet lag(which, by the way, this trip didn't work). Out the door at 10am and on and on and on for 4 and 1/2 hours into and throughout Centrum Warsaw.

Ninety-four percent of the city was totally flattened in Sept '44 by German forces while Stalin's armies stood across the Vistula River and watched 200,000 die in a 62 day assault on the city. Who was is that said war is an extension of politics? I don't remember, but I do remember that the great war in Europe which began in 1939 did so as Germany and the Soviets made a political pact to carve up Poland for their own mutual benefit. Here, in this city, five years later their war machines came face to face. One watched while the other wipe out the city. "Politics," Dr. Jeff McCausland (CBS Radio) reminds us, "is often a matter of kicking a can down the street for the next guy to deal with." Russian and Germany kicked the can down a street, and left nothing much for anyone else. Russia ultimately got the can ...well at least until seventeen years ago when the Polish people rose up and took it back ... which history shows is exactly what the Polish people have always done, i.e. taken their country (the can) back from all invaders. From an outsiders view, they've been doing very well since. Sure there are problems; what nation doesn't have problems. But here this country appears to be growing and very vibrant. Strikingly a head of Slovakia and Hungary.

There's literally nothing left of old (like 400 years ago) Warsaw.But, the rebuild is impressive, with a definite flair of Dutch influence mixed in. Why the Dutch, I thought? Don't know, but given what I've seen elsewhere in Poland, Holland's thumbprint is very much part of this country's lineage.

Inside Warsaw ... tucked away here and there ... you'll find half a brick building or half a wall. Testaments to a past of just 63 years ago reminding the youth that what once was done (rather undone) can happen again. But, are the young people listening? Do they care?

In June during my first visit to Warsaw a man in his early forties spoke to me about the problem facing his country today: the youth have no comprehension of what it was like even 17 years ago. His story(which he lived as a teenager): "Back then there were lines to get bread; buying chocolate was out of the question; having to wait months to purchase a refrigerator was common, and after the wait father and mother settled for whatever became available and were grateful. Kids today have no idea. They don't know. They've heard about it. But it's so un-real to what you see. It's as if it never happened. It certainly didn't happen to them. They don't believe it could happen again. But it can."

This week as I walked around I'd have to agree. I thought if such a story were to be suggested to an outsider walking with me the listener may reply, "Impossible ... here?" There is not much un-modern,un-appointed, un-fashionable, un-drivable, un-electrified, un-marketable or un-marketed, un-advertised, un-sexy, un-anything around. As I was leaving on this trip I told someone I was headed for Warsaw and their response was , "Well you'll see a lot of old Soviet style buildings."Hmmmmmm ... not really.

I walked the tunnels under the streets ... how you get across big streets in Warsaw ... and what did I see? Shops. Everywhere. What can you buy? What do you want ... that's what you can buy ... and it's pretty good quality, too.

On Tuesday my partners, Pawel Olesiak and Pawel Bernas, took me by car on a tour for "something special" before leaving for the countryside for the Pierre Fabre conference. The something special was WinalowPalace. Built in the mid 1600's it became the home to Poland monarch's. How it survived the onslaught of Warsaw I don't know but it did. Today's it's interior walls are covered with fine oil paintings,mostly portraits. Hundreds ... maybe thousands of paintings. The upper reaches of the palace are noticeably low ceilinged. The doors were made for short people. The floors are oak planks. It is aone-of-a-kind treasure. Too bad we only had an hour. To view for yourself go to then click on the British Flag in the upper right hand corner of that website (unless you want to wade through the Polish version). Quite detailed.

I have to say, though, that it was on the way off the palace grounds that I had one of my two most moving moments of this whole week. Therein midst the manicured gardens of Winalow, just having left the old palace. Looking down the path could see a woman standing. On a bench was a man sitting, hunched over. She singing. He playing an accordian. Two gypsies making music and ... making money. I was a ways off and didn't want to disturb them or somehow dishonor them, but wanted their picture. See attached.

My second most moving moment? Two hours later. Driving down the highway. Flat, green Polish countryside. Corn stalks. Forests. Blue sky. Hugh white clouds. Off in the distance black thunderheads and lightning. Two story brick and stone farm houses skattered across fields. A guy leading two cows by rope. A couple of young women pushing bikes up a path. And as we're zipping down the road ... there next to the road ... sitting on a wood bench ... her back flat,straight against the brick and stone side of what must be her home on her feet ... long dress to her ankles ... a sweater ... a scarf covering her head ... sits a woman, maybe in her 80's. And I wonder, "What has she seen?"

I couldn't get to my camera fast enough. But I'll never lose the picture.

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