A Retrospective Take on Poland

In June 2010, I got the lay of a new land, a tiny town in Poland with lots of consonants. I was having dinner with six Italians a few weeks before (now that was a silent meal)(not really) and they asked where I was off to next. I said, “Some little town in Poland whose name I can’t remember but I think it’s famous for having a Black Madonna.” And in unison they all chimed, “Częstochowa!” How on earth? “We’re Catholic, of course we know where the Black Madonna is!” True story.

So off to Częstochowa (chest-o-ko-vah) I went. And saw. And marvelled. And played a really nice concert. Strangely, it’s not so easy to fly direct from London (Katowice airport, in case you’re ready to book) so we arrived at the hotel at 1 AM. Luckily for me, I was chatting in the bus with the one Pole in the group and he invited me along with a small group the next day to go to the monastery to see Ms. B. Madonna herself.

The Lady

It was raining and cold but that didn’t seem to stop the seventy billion priests of Poland from making their pilgrimage.

Or the Masses (hee) of pilgrims waiting to pay homage to Poland’s most valued national treasure.

The crowds

There were also nuns, taking a coffee break.

The sanctuary itself was really stunning, a beautiful example of cohesive Baroque style.

Outside, more priests were preparing for the public Mass to celebrate Poland’s Liberation day on 3 May. Separation of Church and State? Why do you ask?

The concert was a great success, although it was held in a bathtubby modern church which was part of a seminary. (The Seminar Church.) This had the small disadvantage of being the home of Seminarians — the church balcony was filled with whispering, pointing, giggling 19-yr old men. The only difference between them and a rowdy crowd of football supporters was the cassocks.

It was an early concert so afterwards we went out to a traditional Polish restaurant. Unfortunately, the wires got a bit crossed and 14 of us sat down to a meal prepared for 27. 27 giants, apparently, for the spread was incredible. We all did our best, but didn’t really make a dent. We took some of the leftovers back to the partypoopers at the hotel and hoped that the rest of the leftovers made their way home with the waitstaff.

And lest anyone think that a musician’s life is glamorous, let me just mention in passing the rest of the schedule. My alarm went off at 3.30 AM for a 4 AM bus departure, 6.20 AM flight, 9.40 AM train. I arrived home at 3 PM, 11 hours after I left the hotel. And went straight to bed. Fun it is. Glamorous it is not.


IDFA 2014 #6: The Queen of Silence. 9/10

Boy, was this a toughy. A beautiful portrayal of a deaf-mute Roma girl living with her family in the shantytowns of Wrocława. Despite her deafness, she can hear music and dances along with Bollywood films on TV. She is beautiful and challenging, very determined and stubborn but also full of wonder. Beautiful scene when she gets fitted with a hearing aid and first hears wind, dogs barking and her friends calling. No interviews, also fly on the wall, but she dances willingly for the camera. Some beautifully filmed huge Bollywood dance scenes with Roma and Poles together. Family decides that the stupid one is too difficult and take her back to Romania, leaving behind her hearing aid, to leave her with family. Unbearably sad and heartbreaking. How can we help this girl?
Beautiful film and director was proud and teary about what she had created. She also hopes the film will help Denisa Gabor.

Prague 2010, Trip Report 1

In 2010, my partner M spent a month working in Prague and I went to join him for a long weekend in November. Prague is a truly beautiful city and we were lucky enough to have blue skies and white snow, which made it a complete fairyland.

We started our day off by going to Manes (?), a paradise of bells and whistles and lights and things with moving parts. It was heaven for both kids and the young at heart. We spent about 2 hours there, exploring all the diverse exhibitions.

We crossed the Vltava over into Mala Strana and got into the queue for the tram up Petrin Hill. We waited so long and the journey was so unimpressive that we were quite sorry we hadn’t just walked up. But we got our exercise, as we climbed the imitation Eiffel Tower at the top and got the world’s most fabulous view of the gorgeous city around us. Upon descent, we got mulled wine and then slid down the mountain towards the castle and the Charles Bridge.

We were aiming to reach the Old Town square for the 5.30 lighting of the Christmas tree but so was everyone else and his/her brother/sister. It was a madhouse but we did manage to find a spot not too far from the tree which was fine until proud papas hoisted their toddlers on their shoulders, blocking our view. But we still enjoyed the light display when it finally appeared. By that point we were COLD so we went to a beer hall to warm up and then went to find dinner, a very typical meat/potato affair. It was a lovely day.

Juniorhotel Krakonos, Marianske Lazne

In 1997, after 2 years of living in The Netherlands, my parents came for a summer trip to Europe. We met up in Vienna and spent two weeks driving through the Czech Republic and Hungary. Although the Berlin Wall had fallen 8 years earlier, the remnants of Communism were still rampant and it wasn’t a particularly easy vacation.

After seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel, I started thinking of some of the formerly grand hotels we had seen while on our trip. One in particular, the Juniorhotel Krakonoš in Mariánské Láznê, stuck in my mind. It was at one time quite a spectacle, with grand staircases, immense chandeliers and wood panelling, but by the time we got there, it had fallen on very sad times. It was run-down, dark and extremely depressing; now more of a youth hostel than a hotel, it had tried to pep up its appeal by adding a minigolf course to the front terrace, an act that accomplished the exact opposite effect. Sad, sad.

I started googling this morning to see what’s happened to the old pile. I found reviews and booking options for Hotel Krakonoš (no ‘Junior’), but all the photos were of a glassy modern pyramid. One aerial photo showed the former grand hotel forlorn and forgotten next to its replacement. I found some photos on Flickr from 2007 (Thank you, dmytrok!) that showed it completely bordered up and abandoned. I wonder if anything else will happen with it? Will it just collapse on itself in the next 30 years? Or will someone take on a labor of love and try to restore it for some useful end?