Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Truth

“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

You’ve heard that one, right?

My students often ask why in English we say the truth but a lie? I always explain that there is one truth but many possible lies. My students always disagree.

Their explanation – Yes, there is the truth, but there is also the gospel truth and let’s not forget the “shit” truth which is the Polish translation of bullshit.

prawda –the truth

święta prawda – the gospel truth

gówno prawda – bullshit

Speaking of the truth or something like that…

I have a fresh Duży Format all for me. And so begins my DF weekly ritual. First, I scan the front page headlines. Then I flip through the pages making a mental note of what I want to read first. I glance through the felietony (columns) and then take a peek at the last page zdarzyło się dzisiaj (it happened this day). If I have time to start reading, I do. If not, I hide the paper from Rosie who likes to cut (or cut–ać as she says) every newspaper, magazine, electric bill in sight, until I have more time to concentrate on what I am reading. Then I start with Kajet konesara, the column of Krzysztof Varga. This week’s column is entitled “Cała prawda o prawdzie” (The whole truth about the truth) and discusses how we desire truth and are sometimes so blinded by this desire that we believe everything, even quite obvious falsehoods. Varga gives the example of a “documentary” or shall we say “mockumentary” made by Joaquin Phoenix. The film “I’m Still Here” appeared to show the downfall of Phoenix mentally, physically and in his career, except it was fake. A commentary on television/filmmaking today? On our naiveté? On both? Perhaps.

Vargas says, “Phoenix i Affleck dokonali rzeczy zupełnie zwykłej, ale nie wiedzieć czemu coraz rzadziej podnoszonej – udowodnili, że za pomocą filmu i telewizji można oszukać dokładnie każdego, nawet robiąc tak masywnymi nićmi szyte oszustwo.” DF 22 Wreśnia 2001

Translation mine ;) "Phoenix and Affleck have pulled off something quite ordinary, but who knows why so seldom attempted – They have proven that through film and television it is possible to fool just about anyone, even weaving such deceit with the thickest thread."

Varga’s column made me think of another documentary I watched this week. “Game of Death”, a French documentary in which people participated in a fake pilot game show where they agreed to administer electric shocks to the other “contestant”. Luckily, the other contestant was only an actor and the “shocks” were not real. It was surprising to me and to the researchers conducting the experiment how many participants were willing to see the “show” through. The contestants believed that they were helping to fine tune a new game show and were aware that they would not actually win anything. So why did they go on? Obedience and authority?

posłuszeństwo – obedience

I am as obedient as the next guy. Ok, I live in Poland so maybe we should say I am more obedient than the next guy, but come on, at one point in the show the “contestant/actor” begged for mercy and the contestants kept going. 80% of the contestants kept going in fact.

Disobedience isn’t my middle name and I’m no Lisbeth Salander but how could the people continue and how could the audience sit without protesting? Obedience of authority plus the power of TV?

We’ve already started to teach our children to be obedient (well, obedient-ish), but at the same time to question authority. It means that I get a bit more back-talk than other moms, but so be it, at least it is smart back-talk. It all started when I was watching the news with Lizzie about 2 years ago after she had just started pre-school. They were showing footage captured from a camera inside a Polish pre-school. The footage showed the principal of the school walking down the hall holding 2 kids by the hand. One kid did not want to walk for some reason, but the principal continued on and dragged the child down the hall. Lizzie was in shock. I was less in shock having performed a similar act with Lizzie dragging her from couch to bathtub during her favorite bajka. This footage opened up a dialogue between us and we were able to discuss (at age 3 1/2) that it was wrong for the principal to do that, that she should have tried another way and that teachers, principals, moms, dads and adults aren’t always right and don’t always tell the truth.

It is good even for us adults to remind ourselves that authority, television, journalists, our doctor, our boss, our parents, other adults are not always right and do not always tell the truth. I recently read an article about FOX News watchers. A large percent of the audience of FOX News believe that President Obama is not a US citizen. These are the same people who believe President Bush found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That frightens me.

Last week there was a nice documentary about Władysław Bartoszewski on Planete. He talks about his life story but also about the paralyzing power of fear. He also discusses obedience and disobedience -at one point commenting that when everyone was saying ‘someone should do something’ he thought to himself ‘why not me?’ Exactly, why not me?

We try to follow the ‘why not me’ philosophy too, although we have never been challenged in the way Mr. Bartoszewski and his generation were challenged. I remember when we witnessed some guys breaking into a car. Misiu took off after them and I called the police. Nothing had been stolen yet, but the passenger-side window had been smashed. The police asked if it was my car to which I replied that it wasn’t. The police asked if I was hurt in any way to which I replied that I wasn’t. Then the police asked what I wanted them to do. I replied that I wanted them to come and secure the car and find the owners. I heard an exasperated sigh and an “ok, we’ll send somebody”. Once Misiu even tried to help a lady who was being accosted on the train, but it turned out that she didn’t want any help. The man accosting her was her husband. He was trying to give her money which she didn’t want to take so he was trying to slip the money into her bra. What a ruckus she was making!

I don’t have any pithy ending to my post about the truth, so I will leave you with a quote supporting my students’ assertion that there are many truths.

Say not, 'I have found the truth,' but rather, 'I have found a truth.'

Khalil Gibran


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Exposed Beams and other stuff

Here are some pictures for Olivia who is a fan of exposed beams. She and her family are also planning a move from Texas to Poland next year. Olivia, these beams are for you :)


Sorry about the crookedness. I was lounging on the coach just right and couldn’t be bothered to adjust ;)


We’ve kept the original doors so far, neither stripped nor re-painted. The pine beams are not stained. We only cleaned them and sprayed them with some anti-insect treatment.

09112011201 This picture is upstairs where I was thrilled to find recently that the beams have numbers etched into them from when the house was built. Misiu noticed those etchings about 5 years ago. I’m very observant.


Everything is painted white until we figure out what we want to do with this house.

09112011202 A little attic at the very top.

09112011204 Our still empty bedroom.

09112011203Current view from our still empty bedroom. Yeah, that’s our land. Respect!


No beams, just bathtub. Crazy-expensive bathtub. Crazy-expensive, heavy, heat-sucking bathtub that I insisted on.


A view to the barn. Did I mention that it is hard to find sober workers in the Village?

09112011214 Our glorious barn.

09242011229 We have a door in the fence between our house and our neighbor’s. Isn’t that quaint? We hardly ever use the door because the last time we did, the neighbor’s dog bit Misiu and now the kids are afraid to even go near the door.


It also might have something to do with the neighbor’s annual baby scarecrow hanging. Here is this year’s presentation.

09242011228 Here’s our house. Just stop at the local shop and ask where “Lucy” lives.

09242011226 A pit-stop on the way from Babcia’s to our place.


We’ve picked the last apples from the tree. Time to prepare an apple crisp. Autumn is here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

As Seen In Poland…a bit of my city


on my walk to work


08272011185Lizzie on a hot day


new stadium

on the new road

with the new bridge



Sky Tower is following me - the roof of Monopol… 0823201118108232011182

aka ‘relaks’ with the ladies from work

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the past

It’s such an odd sensation to see a building I walk past almost every day on the History Channel – a building on a street that for me has no other importance than not being able to find a parking place. It’s so strange to see that building on the History Channel without cars parked in every available spot and even parked in a few places that aren’t parking spots. It’s quite peculiar to see people walking in front of that building wearing clothes that are obviously their everyday wear but to me seem elegant and refined. How curious it feels to see the big red banners hanging at the entrance with the unmistakable swastika on them.

police headquarters sans banners

Not that I am dull and unaware of my city’s past. I have read plenty of books about my city and seen countless pictures of the city from the past - (most recently a fantastic exhibition of city photos from the 1960’s displayed in the Market Square). It was just unsettling to put the kids to bed, make a cup of tea,  switch on the television and the first view I saw was something like THAT.

ul. Podwale


the main station


Hotel Monopol

These pictures come from www.wroclaw.hydral.com.pl. I have been addicted to this site for about 2 years. Now you know one of my dirty, little secrets.

Monday, September 12, 2011


It’s 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack on the US.

10 years ago on September 11th, I was in the Village, at my in-laws’ to be more specific. It was a workday but Misiu and I were, at the time, apartment hunting and we needed some paperwork from “home” for the bank. I was eating in front of the TV when Tomasz Kammel came on to describe a scenario which sounded like a teaser for tonight’s movie of the week. Then he added the words –ladies and gentlemen, this is for real.

We watched in shock at the gaping, smoking hole in the side of the World Trade Center. It was early and we still had a sliver of hope that it was some kind of tragic pilot error. We went to the other room and turned on BBC. On BBC we learned that it was probably not an accident. Then we saw as the second plane hit and we knew it was not an accident.

My gut reaction was shock, of course, and I wanted to vomit. The reporters speculated about other planes and other attacks. I waited for them to announce tragedies in London, Paris, Berlin, perhaps. It couldn’t be an attack just on the US, could it? And by whom? The reporters continued to speculate.

Dinner was abandoned, needless to say, as we sat glued to the television. We learned of another plane at the Pentagon and another in Pennsylvania perhaps headed to the White House. I was worried that the plane was heading to the nuclear power plant (Three Mile Island) in PA, aware that the fallout would hit my hometown and my family. Not that I was happy that the plane crashed in a field killing all on board, but I was relieved that it didn’t reach its destination, White House or nuclear power plant or whatever it was.

My phone had been ringing and beeping for a while now, but I ignored it. We watched as the towers started to crumble. The ringing and beeping of my phone stopped. It started up again an hour or two later and continued into the next day. The missed calls, voicemail and text messages were from friends and students. One of the first text messages I opened read, “Kryśka, turn on the TV”.  Another read, “Finish your lesson and turn on the TV!” The messages later in the afternoon and the next day were all of sympathy and support for America and for me. Why for me? At my in-laws’, I was probably the safest American on the planet, but for many people I was the only American person that they knew. I really appreciated those messages and I still do today.

When there were no new attacks, the reporters continued their speculation. The international phone lines were not working so I couldn’t talk to my parents. It also meant that my (Polish) brother-in-law and his son who were in NYC couldn’t reach us either. Fortunately, they were alright and managed to find their way home. We drove home and wondered what the next day would bring.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Zygmunt Bauman today!

The European Culture Congress starts today. The live feed starts at 5:00 pm with Zygmunt Bauman’s inaugural lecture at 5:30 pm. For those who cannot catch it live, check out TVP Kultura at 9:00 pm tonight.