Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Great Pumpkin Arrived this Afternoon

2:44 PM -- we are driving away from our house to go to lunch and realize
that the Great Pumpkin delivery is in progress!
A recent year's great pumpkin was over 1000 pounds.
Delivered to a house on Granger... where the people give out around 1000 full-sized candy bars.
If I see the carved version, I'll follow up with a photo.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dragons and Angels and Other Fanciful Creatures

Warsaw dragon
Downspout, Krakow castle.
 Long ago in Krakow, a dragon menaced the town, requiring the people to bring him sheep to eat. The people didn't like this, obviously. Knights couldn't defeat the dragon, but a shoemaker sewed up a sheep with a surprise inside: some type of pitch that exploded inside the dragon. And so the town was saved, and they put dragons on all kinds of things for decoration, and also sell cuddly stuffed toys that look sort of like Barney. In Warsaw, I also saw many downspouts in dragon form and shop signs with dragons.

Downspout, Wilanow Palace, Warsaw.
Old Warsaw shop sign
Krakow Castle
Closeup of previous dragons on Krakow castle.
Chinoiserie was evidently popular in Poland in the 18th
century, as it was in other parts of Europe.
So one also sees Chinese dragons.
Protector of Warsaw: an armed mermaid.
The Warsaw mermaid is another popular figure, with this statue in the Old City as the model for many other representations of mermaids. She originally lived in the Vistula river, bothering the fishermen, but was convinced to become the city's defender. Given how often Poland has lost wars, I wonder if they should have looked for a more effective fighter?

The official mermaid taxi logo in Warsaw tells you the cab is licensed.
Old City shop sign
Here's a sphinx from the garden at Wilanow Palace.
A change from dragons and mermaids.
Beautiful, fanciful angels decorate Maria's Church in Krakow. 
Maria's Church, Krakow
Wall decoration, Wilanow Palace
And at the farmers market: a different fanciful animal.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Warsaw's New Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Sunday our Warsaw hosts accompanied us to the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened earlier this year. It's an expressive and very beautiful building on an open and park-like space. Under the grass, if you dig down, you would find the bricks and rubble from the Warsaw Ghetto that stood there until the Ghetto Uprising and the final destruction of all the buildings there.

The new museum, on the site of the destroyed ghetto.

Monument to the Ghetto fighters of 1943.
Len and I with two of our hosts, in front of the Ghetto Monument.
Facing the entrance to the museum is the Monument to the Ghetto fighters of 1943. It was built just after the war, and dedicated in 1948. Stones in the monument foundation were quarried in Norway during the occupation of Poland, on order from Nazi leader Albert Speer, to be used in a monument to Hitler. The Hitler monument was never built, but the Jewish survivors managed to obtain the materials for this monument.

Inside, the museum walls are very swooping and asymmetrical. Our guide explained that they represent several historic ideas. One is the parting of the Red Sea and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

Our hosts walking through the entrance to the Museum.
Through windows inscribed with Hebrew letters, you can see the Ghetto Monument.

The permanent exhibit in the museum, to open some time next year, will document 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews. I was very impressed by a video describing the planned content of this exhibit, and by our guide's description of how it would be organized, and how every effort would be made to present this history from a Jewish point of view. The emphasis is very positive, covering accomplishments, lifestyle, and the role of Jews throughout Poland, including territories that are not part of modern Poland -- as well as the destruction of the community during the war. This includes my own ancestors and their villages in present-day Belarus, which I've read quite a bit about.

An exhibit in construction: replica of an 18th century Polish synagogue.
We were unable to see the painted decorations inside this reconstruction:
colorful floral and zodiac designs that are characteristic of the famous synagogue style.
A mezuzah at the entrance is made from one of the bricks from the destroyed ghetto.
On the other side of the monument from the memorial to the fighters, is a memorial to all those who perished.
Last April when the museum opened, the New York Times published an article about it, explaining its sponsorship:
"Although it chronicles centuries of Jewish history in Poland, the museum was not an exclusively Jewish undertaking. The Polish government, Jewish groups and private donors worked together to raise roughly $100 million. The city provided the land free of charge and, along with the federal government, covered the construction costs. The Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland raised money for the permanent exhibition, which was not ready for this week’s soft opening but will be ready next year."


Krakow Castle
Krakow viewed from a window of the castle.
Wilanow Palace, Warsaw.
Wilanow Palace: a view across the courtyard.
From the window of Wilanow Palace
One of many towers of Wilanow Palace, Warsaw
Royal Palace, Warsaw, totally destroyed in World War II,
rebuilt around 1980.
Palace in the park at night: where we heard a Mozart concert.
The Palace of Culture -- a gift from Stalin to the people of Warsaw in the 1950s.
What they really wanted was a subway. What Stalin really wanted was something visible.
Modern skyscrapers in the background: today's palaces?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Folk Art and Other Tourist Goods

As in most places where tourists go, Poland offers lots of souvenirs: woodcarvings and other folk art; jewelry, especially made from Baltic Amber; dolls of various kinds, and special ceramics with multi-floral designs and geometric designs. On my trip last week, I bought little, but found the shop windows very enjoyable.

Nesting wood dolls are made in Poland as well as in Russia

The folk-art market in Krakow, shown here in the evening, offers dozens of stalls with a wide selection of souvenirs.

Inside the Krakow market
A flower market, with both fresh and dry flowers, was in the square outside the Krakow market
when we walked by on Saturday morning just after arriving by train.
Carvings of caricatures of old-style rabbis, Jewish musicians, and Jewish workmen are also very common in both Krakow and Warsaw. None are depicted here because I find them insensitive and offensive, considering what happened to the people who inspired them. Figures of Polish peasants and other subjects seem less objectionable.

Wood carvings also frequently decorate shops and restaurants in the Old City.
I like these modern figures.