Wyatt in Krakow 2009

Theodosia (Teddy) Robertson

My photo

Raised in California, graduated from Dominican College, Phd in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Indiana University. Teaching at UM-Flint since 1986 in the History Department. Retired 2012, but continues to love teaching (online), writing, and research.
Favorite Music: piano jazz, classical, bossa nova, salsa, blues

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Italian Connection

16th century Poland had extensive connections with Italy; students from Poland studied at universities in Italy (Copernicus was only one of many). At home a Polish king had married Bona Sforza of Milan. She imported architects and artisans of all kinds. You can see this Italian influence in the Renaissance-style renovations of the Royal Palace on the Wawel and the Cloth Hall in the Market Square. Today, some 5 centuries later, the Italian connection is alive again. Major types of restaurants this year in Cracow are Italian, Italo-Polish, Polish-Italian (followed by Japanese and street kebob---a real food bargain).
My friend Marek recommended Corleone (elegant Italian) and Trzy Papriczki (pizza) in Poselska St. and with open air courtyards, cozy even in light rain. Miod Malina dominates the corner of Grodzka and Poselska. Finally, another Italian discovery: Del Papa, on the last night in Cracow. It's obscured this year because nearby Plac Szczepanski is currently torn up. Formerly a car park, in preparation of soccer in 2012, the plac is being renovated. The plac is bounded by galleries (with a show of Witkacy photographs), the Old Theatre, and Cracow's seccesionist-style art museum. Walking back to the hotel at almost midnight through the Planty on damp spring night---here's to the Italians!

Saturday May 16 Students and Politics

Welcome to political freedom! 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of post communist, free Polandand the press has much discussion about the achievements of the last 2 decades (an interview with Tadeusz Mazowiecki was on the front page of Gazeta wyborcza). These last two decades invite comparisons with the 2 interwar decades that followed 1918 when Poland achieved a great deal.

So now we have "manifestaje" or demonstrations on the Rynek---black clad right-wingers, all are very young, their faces bland compared to their message. The word "Falanga" is written on some signs, as well as anti-gay slogans (Krakowpost.com notes that May 15-17 the Cracow branch of Warsaw's Campaign against Homophobia hosted a March for Tolerance).
They are met from opposite side of the Rynek by "All-Poland Youth." No confrontation or physical attack occurs, but city police in full riot gear are standing at the ready.

Wawel Cathedral Sunday May 17

The history of Poland in one place---it's the Cathedral on the Wawel Hill in Cracow, the royal mound---seat of the bishop and adjacent to the royal castle and palace. "Wawel" (a term derived from a word meaning "ravine") is unique in Polish; it always refers only to this Cracow site and all the buildings on it. Every architectural era is represented on the Wawel, from romanesque crypt to baroque cupola. And inside, at the lowest level, there's the crypt with sarcofagi of Polish kings and statesmen; outside, on the long walk up the hill Kosciuszko waves in a dramatic, equestrian statue that captures the idealism and elan of this international hero.

Sunday, May 17 Jazz in Krakow---u Muniaka

Sundays are always days to relax. Church attendance in Poland has fallen along with the fall of communism, but still Poland is one of the most "practicing Catholic" countries in Europe. It's still a day of rest, a day to relax and decompress. Cracovians stroll in the afternoon, as a rule dressed for Sunday or visiting friends (fashion is much in evidence). This May weather has been warm and entices everyone outside. Like the Italian "passagiata" but earlier in the afternoon and evening, Poles stroll the streets in groups chatting, talking on their cell phones, or congregate in restaurants. I had a late afternoon wine and cheese at Vino Bottega in Slawkowska St. and then dinner around 9 pm at "Cherubino" (Italian/Polish cuisine) in St. Tomasz St.---a current hot spot for Poles and foreigners too. Afterwards, to avoid the loud pub scene, we went to hear live jazz at "u Muniaka" (at Muniak's place) a cave at Florianska 3.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kazimierz District in Krakow

Monday May 11 and our second walk in the city, this time to the Kazimierz district, part of the Old Town, but on the outside the Planty which trace the medieval city walls. Originally the district was an island separated from Krakow by an old branch of the Vistula river; the name, Stara Wisla, survives in the street name, Starawislna, that links to the city. Although founded by the last of the Piast king, Casimir the Great, he did not initially designate the area for Jews. Jews were gradually pushed out of the center of Krakow, first from the area where the Gothic Collegium Maius stands (St. Anne's St.), then from Plac Szczepanski, until Jews finally found refuge---banished to Kazimierz in the 15th century. In medieval logic, Jews were confined to Kazimierz, but Christians lived there too. One of Cracow's (and Poland's) major churches called "Na Skalce" [on the rock] is in Kazimierz.

In 2000, Szeroka St., the center of run down Kazimierz , was just coming to life as a result of the filming of Schindler's List. Today, capitalism has infused Kazimierz (like the rest of Old Town Cracow) with a botox of cafes, restaurants, and hotels. Synagogues have been renovated, the Remuh cemetery restored, and the mikvah turned into a hotel---a vibrant tourist draw. I miss the less trendy Kazimierz of a decade ago in the early years of the Festival of Jewish Culture (began in 1988). For a quick history of the Kazimierz district (and photos of all the synagogues and churches), check wikipedia's entry at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimierz One of the wiki sources is historian Majer Balaban. Then go to the site of the Museum of Galician Jews (located not far from Oskar Schindler's factory) at http://www.galiciajewishmuseum.org/

Czestochowa Friday, May 15

Czestochowa is Poland's major pilgrimage site, and since the pontificate of John Paul II, linked to Rome and routes of Catholic pilgrims from all over Europe and north America. It is a monastery located on "Bright Mountain" (Claramontana or Jasna Gora), home to Paulite monks and a chapel that houses an icon of the Virgin Mary, popularly called in English, the "Black Madonna." Fires, candlelight, and age darken icons, hence her soubriquet. Done in the Byzantine style of the Mediterranean, the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa is an eastern or orthodox form of pictorial art rather than western or Roman Catholic; it somehow migrated to Poland. The icon is associated with the miraculous raising of the seige of the Swedish army in Poland in the 17th century (the Polish king at the time vowed that Mary would be queen of Poland if the Swedish army were defeated). Whatever the reasons, the overextended Swedes retreated; the monks of the monastery defended their hill successfully, and a pilgrimage site was born. The faithful visit here year round---young, old, groups of artists, and all kinds of pilgrims pray for themselves and their families at Czestochowa. Catholicism eventually overwhelmed an older tradition of religious and linguistic pluralism, an earlier heritage of trade, eastward expansion, and gentry aversion to fanaticism.

Visiting Marek and Zosia (with Ramzes)

Marek and Zosia are friends from over 30 years ago. Now retired and struggling with health issues, they are still wonderful, hospitable, dear friends. Their cat, Ramzes, fits in cozily. I taught English to their daughter Marysia, now a successful biologist with 2 grown children. It is wonderful to meet again after so many years. Marek and Zosia have survived World War II, the Warsaw uprising, communism and various forms of surveillance and persecution. We meet again in a small apartment full of memories that include John Paul II and Czeslaw Milosz. Most of all, we can be together again, remember when we were all younger and stronger, and cherish the affection that gives life meaning.