Posts Tagged With: Silesia

The Back-breaking, Ball-busting World Of Silesia

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The problems I’ve got. I got the bank manager coming after me with a fishhook and the coffee machine I invested in from Italy went kaput the first moment it came into contact with actual caffeine. But you know what? All these problems, I deserve them.”

overheard in a cafe in Silesia.

Silesians eh? Those inhabitants of western Poland. Living among you, having friends who are Silesian, while also being related to this most atavistic of people, is to be exposed to the most bruising of traits: schizophrenia.

Silesians think they’re better, while simultaneously believing they don’t deserve better. Oh yes, yes. They work hard and do the jobs no-one else wants to do, gaining in the process a degree of superiority. Yet bizarrely and concurrently, they cultivate the impression the rest of Poland can’t stand them as they think that Silesians are German. But they’re not, and they kind of know this so they’re convinced the Germans are looking at them like they’re some sort of hairybacked, anal-retentive refugees. The effect of this is to destroy their confidence, which is why they do the jobs no-one likes…and such is the existential hamster-wheel all Silesians are running on.

All of this is quite debilitating. Many Silesians walk around, congealed in a space/time continuum of pain. If they licked yourselves, they’d taste bitter. The sense of life-traducing angst floats around the heads of Silesians like clouds of airborne pollution. And despite being as miserable as a witch giving birth to a cactus, most of them refuse to confide. To share. No. All their problems are squeezed up inside until they grow into a tumour or a yeast infection.

On the plus-side though, they love cleaning.

The other day I heard a close family relative of my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE, describe the toilet she cleaned as, ‘beautiful’ and then she advised another close family member to go and view it.

Beautiful? Beautiful? Do you know what’s beautiful? A river in autumn. A wolf pounding through the snow. A newborn suckling her mother. Even if Vishnu with her ten hands and a chariot of angels descended to clean any toilet, it would be no more beautiful than a frog choking on a beetle.

But Silesians are at one with the truthful simplicity of cleaning. It is the pounding, beating essence of their being. Floors, windows, toilets – this is what Silesians can trust. These objects won’t betray them or let you down. More than that, they are messengers, trumpeting to all how pure and hardworking they are. Those cossacks in Warsaw can have their blogs and their instagrams, and their smoking-room witticisms, because here in Silesia we have clean tiles. On the floor. On the wall. Clean. And we’ll keep cleaning them, so our homes doesn’t resemble that Starbucks where’t they’d need a bulldozer to remove the amount of filth. Or so I’m told. I’m not criticizing, just reporting what Marta Grucki told me on her deathbed.

Then there’s all that practicality. You give me a Silesian woman a choice between having the boiler fixed or a weekend away and she’s boiler-lady all the time. This is so totally at odds with my Irishness. I am sociable, hedonistic, lazy. And I love it. The Irish are always looking for someone to talk to. Our heads are up and we’re scanning the environment for some sort of contact. Silesians don’t do that. They keep their heads down, scanning the cracks in the pavement for portends of doom.

And yet Silesia is not such a bad place. It just takes time to realise that it’s not such a bad place. We’ve a lot in common – revolutions, uprisings, impermanent borders and a coercion of language. We Irish always feel we got the short end of the stick. I suppose we did, with the English breathing down our necks. But no matter how much we moan, we keep surviving. That’s the Irish. And it’s the Silesians too. We take the hits but we still keep getting up. Sometimes we have to move to a different country just so we can keep getting up, but speaking from experience, that’s half the adventure.

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Teach Your Children Well

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Who am I? Have you ever asked this question? The way I figure it, it’s another way of asking, ‘what do I believe in?’

I was having a beer (okay, a few beers) with a surgeon friend of mine and I asked him the same question and he said to me, ‘we’ve got to stick together Peadar.’ He was referring to our respective older daughters, aged six, who will start school in September. Both girls will be in the same class and both come from families who have issues regarding the primacy of Catholicism in Poland’s primary school education.

I’m a spiritual person who believes that every human being is entitled to make peace with the Universe in a manner that suits them. We’re all different, emotionally, physically, intellectually, so why not spiritually? I have problems with the word ‘religion’ which comes from the same root word as ‘ligature’ and ‘ligament’ and it means to be bound together in one belief.

The very concept of this is incredibly creepy and ultimately dangerous when you have Catholic Fundamentalists who have very little in common with the actual teachings of Christianity, subverting science and influencing political decisions affecting us all. I would hope our daughters’ school won’t discriminate or isolate anyone, whether they believe in a man from Bethlehem who fed a lot of people with a loaf of bread or the Sheela-na-Gig Irish fertility goddess flashing her vulva to ward off evil.

When I’m clearing a spiritual path for my girls, I like to aim towards actions rather than words. So when we recently came across a pigeon near our house who couldn’t fly, my daughters and I protected it from interested dogs, packed it in a box and took it to the animal sanctuary. All of this of course, was coordinated by my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE. It took us three hours and during that time I questioned my sanity, basically helping a flying rat who didn’t look like it was going to survive the morning.

But you can’t give up. Especially on those who need help. My girls will hopefully inherit this belief from their mother regardless. But from me, I hope they learn to believe in themselves. I remind them everyday how amazing they are by the simple expedient of spending time with them. We draw, we cycle, we learn poems, we create crazy stories as we wander through our park. You do it too and take it from me, the minute you pull out a boardgame to play with your children, you are saying to them, ‘hey, I love you spending time with you because you are so cool.’

But you know what else I believe in? I believe in localism. My girls have traveled and boy do they know there is a world out there for them to explore. But more important is their neighbourhood. Their environment is not defined by graffiti and neglect and dirty buildings. It is defined by the people; the elderly woman who used to be a doctor and a cured people for free, the old man who walks his dogs and spent six years a Siberian labour camp. It is our park designed by a German architect. It is the Soviet Cemetary. It is the ancient oak trees we talk to. Our neighbourhood is epic and we are heroes moving through momentous history, no more so than when they had to go to the local shop on their own for the first time to buy Kefir. Now there’s a practical lesson – no parents to watch them! Holding money in their hands! Having to address the shop-lady themselves! We teach our children by showing them they are masters of their own destiny and not victims of negligent overlords their mouths full of bibles.

The life I have chosen (living in Poland, writing) means I have very little money even by Polish standards. But I have daughters to teach and this makes me rich.

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Why Do Things Take So Long In Poland?

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I’m writing this on my phone waiting to get a train ticket in Katowice. When I first got into the queue there were five people ahead of me. Now there are ten. My heart is pumping pure steaming anger out my sweat glands. How is the queue multiplying? Cell division? Or is it that the queuing system is such a fall-of-Hanoi, fucking free-for-all, that every unscrupulous cowboy queue-jumper can take advantage? I don’t believe in the death penalty, except for queue-jumpers. And for ticket sellers who force me to sweat popcorn pellets of anger out the crack of my ass because they take so long to punch a ticket and hand it out.

At least you can’t blame their charisma for slowing them down. Their people-skills are so creepy that I usually go to the automated ticket-machine. But the one in Katowice train station has gone all HAL 9000 on me – DAISY, DAISY GIVE ME YOUR ANSWER DOOOOOOO – and there’s a sign on it that they plan to fix it when the repairman comes back from Jupiter.

Nothing goes fast in Poland. Forget fast. At this stage I’ll settle for average speed. My standards have been lowered. I’ll even take below-average. After crawling around the multi-level hell that is your legal system, I know there is no ”fast” in this country. We won a court case here that lasted six-years. Six time-sucking years. What was our case about? Convoluted Family Law? A murder? A Constitutional challenge? No. A chimney. I took the legal action because it was such an open-and-shut case, I couldn’t see it going beyond six months. But no. Living in Poland automatically locks you into a Gravitational Time Dilation where everything takes 12 times longer.

It could be worse. Relations of ours in Warsaw spent 12 years going through a Restitution of Property rights case. 12 years a slave to Poland. They should make a film about it. Or what about the dismantling of the tramlines in Gliwice? For some obscure reason all tram services were stopped 7 years ago, but the local government hasn’t got around to removing the tracks and wiring. Kind of like a dentist taking out your tooth but leaving in the bit that hurts. Bravo, oh glorious General Secretary of Gliwice. No trams but we have roads that look like Keith Richards’ face.

But even cars and pollution, two of the General Secretary’s favourite things, have to wait years too. Decades actually. The idea for the construction of a motorway running across the centre of Gliwice originated in the 1960’s. Then Polish Gravitational Time Dilation kicked in, meaning construction didn’t start until 1979 and was finally completed in 2016. 37 years to bring much needed pollution into the centre of the city and give us the magnificent above-ground structure we have today, essentially a carpark with weeds growing out of it. 37 years. I heard of a man who went to work on that road, fell asleep for lunch and when he woke up all his friends were old or dead and his wife had long since run away with a pigeon-tamer. Poor bastard tried to commit suicide when he realised – nothing to do with his wife – he hated her and she always she stunk of pigeon. No, it was because he realized he was living in a city which still used 50 year old ideas. Luckily his chosen method of suicide was to sit on the tramline with his eyes closed.

Poland has a mental block when it comes to transport and construction. Didn’t the government decide to build an Underground system in Warsaw in 1950? They started. Then they stopped. And started again in 1983. Lunch breaks were longer back in Communist times. The first line was 23 kms long. They finished it in 2008. There’s a word for that; momentum. Then there’s the plane crash, sorry, THE PLANE CRASH and Kaczynski mourning his brother since 2010. When is that going to end? He’s dead. Get over it. People have real problems. Like getting a ticket so they can go home. Only I can’t. Because my train has gone. I phone my PRACTIAL SILESIAN WIFE asking if she’ll pick me up. Of course. But I need to wait a few hours. She’s busy.

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A Tale Of Two Cafés

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I was in the new shopping mall in Katowice last week. Went to Starbucks and decided to try their produce for the sole reason of being able to compare it with the locally-owned, hipster places I normally frequent.

The American mega-corporation has loads of flavours and sizes to chose from – ginormous-bucket latte, vanilla-fudge decaf and all at big gorilla-sized prices. Ten zloty, twelve zloty, sixteen zloty – that’s four euro to guys like me, or a weeks wages for a skilled Polish worker.

I went for their ‘classic’ option. Now there’s a description that’s pushing the boundaries. Classic? Oh, it was classic all right. The first sip landed in my gut like a poison harpoon and I made that face people make when they see a fat German tourist sunbathing.

The place was packed though, so what do I know. Starbucks patrons don’t seem to mind that there isn’t even a toilet on the premises. No toilet. Can you believe it? They sell you putrid coffee, but there’s no way they’re taking it back in any form. I predict great profits for Starbucks in Katowice. The Poles are a conservative nation. They love big foreign companies. They don’t like their own.

A few days later, I was in a small café and the female owner was telling me her business wasn’t going to survive the winter. Inner-city renovation and road works have been dragging on now for two years, killing her passing trade. The city authorities don’t have any time to be sympathetic to her plight. They’re too busy. It’s taken them over six-hundred days to fix the footpaths. That’s a hundred times longer than it took the Japanese to rebuild the Great Kanto highway after the earthquake in 2011.

Rather than give up, the café proprietress decided to fight. She planned to start producing food on-site. Sandwiches, cakes, something to tweak the profit margins and keep the dream alive. Poland loves a never-say-die-spirit, right? Wrong. Health and Sanitation, that beacon of entrepreneurial assistance, told her that making food on the premises was impossible, it couldn’t be done…and in accordance with the Food Preparation Act 1852, paragraph seventy-two, sub-section K, clause eighty five, it states that ‘any irregularity or minor deviance is an opportunity to be seized upon to stop a Pole achieving success…’

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

Two days ago her café was robbed. An old trick – a girl was working there on her own and a customer alerted her to a mess in the toilet that she absolutely, positively had to clean up straight away because someone could hurt themselves if she didn’t…

The girl took the hook and when she came back from cleaning up the mess, the register was three hundred zloty lighter. Bad as this was, the thief was the lesser of the three evils besetting the café – unlike Local government and Health and Sanitation, thieves don’t purport to facilitate local business. They steal. There is an honesty to their intentions.

But isn’t it awful? Here you have this locally-owned café who, in accordance with Health and Sanitation requirements, are providing adequate provision of toilets on their premises only to have it used against them in a robbery. Lucky Starbucks eh? No danger of anyone pulling the toilet trick there. Their coffee is three times as expensive, and when you’re finished drinking it, hold on to the cup – you’ll need it.

This is Poland. They don’t like their own.

This is just one of the many stories unfolding in Silesia at the moment. There are other local businesses feeling the pinch. Some will close and no doubt their location will be taken over by a bank, or a mobile phone shop, you know, one of those institutions that really looks out for people.

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Man Rapes Dog

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Driving around Silesia with Malina and in keeping with my default setting in Poland, I was lost. It’s only when you’re overcome with self-loathing because you can’t follow simple directions, that your three-year old daughter decides she absolutely, positively has to do a pee-pee and a poo. The pee-pee bit is okay, as I can hold her ass out the window. God knows I’ve done it many times, to the point where I don’t even need to stop the car. Might even chance tuning in the radio if the wind is blowing in the right direction.

But the poo-poo bit is a problem. I don’t like stopping on the side of the road waiting for one of her triumphant brown bastards to emerge. ‘Waiting’ is the key word, as Malina, doesn’t like going au naturel. Whatever her problem is – the bitter Polish wind snapping at her bum-cheeks or me shouting, “push, for mercy’s sake, push!” – she won’t let go in the open. She needs the reassuring feel of a plastic toilet seat before she’ll drop a load. So I made a stop at this village, bleak as bejesus, with about twenty houses laid out before me. I’ll ask at someone’s house, I thought. No-one is going to refuse a child who needs the toilet are they?

I got out and walked around the twenty houses and I swear to you, each and every one had a beware of the dog sign- Uwaga; Pies. Some don’t have it written, instead they have a picture of Doberman with a string of lower intestines falling from its mouth.

I suppose it would be easy to dismiss the Poles as paranoid, but as a policeman once told my PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE, “I never investigated a burglary where the house had a guard dog.”  I go back to Malina in the car and already she’s got her pants around her ankles, in typical pre-detonation pose –

‘Dad-eeee! I need to do a poooooo!’

‘C’mon Mal…let’s go behind a tree… Whaddaya say?’

‘Noooo…’

I’ve been down this road before – wrestling Malina out of the car when she’s primed to go Krakatoa – it’s not worth the hassle. I pick a house and open the gate. Straight away I hear a bark – ah shit…

The noise gets louder, coming around the side of the house… But I was in luck. It wasn’t a proper dog, but a little midget of a thing. A Corgi I think, or whatever breed the Queen uses to warm her hands. And such an annoying bark, it sounded like ‘fuck-fuck’. This is what I’m hearing every time it opened its tiny gob – ‘fuck-fuck’. I turn to Malina and say,

‘It’s okay darling, it’s only a small fella-‘ But doesn’t the the little prick start in on my ankles, biting and pinching me like this four-legged Richard Nixon. My instant reaction was to get down and grab its neck, trying to pull it away. He’s wriggling and I’m wriggling, and by the time I got on my knees to grab its collar, I’m realising how weird this must look to anyone passing by: like I’m trying to rape the dog. Or strangle it. Neither is good. Christ, here I am lost in southern Poland, sweating like a degenerate and half-way to molesting a different species. They don’t tell you that when you first arrive – Welcome to Poland! Land of coal, beautiful women and raping little dogs! Enjoy your stay!

And of course, the owner of the house comes out. A woman in her late sixties was my guess. The look on her face said it all; the Soviets are back, only this time they’re so sexually depraved they’re not even waiting for women. She verbalises all of this in one question:

‘Sort oh robish?’ I’ve written it phone-et-ically for the delicate sensibilities of the non-Polish readers. Roughly translated it means, ‘what in the name of Christ are you up to Mr Potato?’

The extent of my Polish meant that all I could say was,

‘Eh…shoo-shoo…kupa…?’ – this being Polish for ‘pee-pee and ‘poo’.

The woman starts screaming and runs inside for her husband. He comes out, waving something that’s either a crutch or an aluminium, single-barrelled shotgun. I let go of the dog and start backing away, but Mr fuck-fuck Corgi resumes attacking my ankles. I grab Malina out of the car and hold her up to the people. I’m hoping her inherent cuteness will persuade the frightened pensioners to shoot their dog instead of me.

‘Shoo-shoo! Kupa!’ I repeat, all the while shaking Malina as the dog is singing its fuck-fuck song underneath her. The combination of all this has an effect; Malina erupts, bends a beauty right on top of the Corgi. The elderly couple start walking into their house backwards, blessing themselves.

I put Mal in the back seat and drive off thinking, I need to get a sign for my car, something along the lines of Beware of the Irish.

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