Theodosia (Teddy) Robertson

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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 ( 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 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

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.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And then there's this kind of shopping

Besides Krakow's new malls, there are small shops, especially along tourist streets like Florianska Street with its pricy boutiques. Maybe you wouldn't want to really buy there, but the windows are a delight. Everything is displayed with artistic care; fashion in Poland is serious, at least for women. Trends come and go. Polish ladies put together the current in look from many inexpensive sources and put their own style together. What's in this May? Scarves (imported from India and inexpensive), belted light weight jackets, ballet flats (scads of shoes are sold by open air vendors), full skirts. Two hours in an outdoor cafe on the Rynek or Market square will give you the full fashion scoop.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Today Cracovians get around on bikes and in cars (increasingly larger rather than smaller). But in the past in Poland there have been many means of transport. The elegant green carriage was manufactured in St. Petersburg around 1913. Since the revolution came in 1917, just 4 years later, doubtless this company either converted to automobiles, went out of business, or met a bloodier fate in the Civil War. Somehow this last relic of imperial life found its way to Poland.
In the countryside you'll see many kinds of transport too. This horse is being taken somewhere behind a tractor; his owner speaks to him to keep the animal calm. And then of course there's the Trabant, the single stroke, 2 cylinder east German manufactured automobile of legendary fame. A lawn mower with seats. Nearly all plastic; you need only a hammer and wire to repair it. Noisy and fuming, it was the symbol of socialist achievement until supplanted by the Polski Fiat in the 1970s. You can buy Trabants on eBay now; they are collectors' items.

Good bye Lenin

This is Nowa Huta, a planned socialist city to house the workers at the Lenin Steelworks, about 30 minutes by tram from Krakow. The young man is Kyril, our guide through this gigantic foundary and its workers' housing, deliberately situated near Krakow to offset the bourgeois conservative (and Catholic) traditions of the Austrian Galicia. Kyril's grandparents came to Nowa Huta. Alas, the foundry and its enormous apartment blocks were developed on some of the best agricultural land in southern Poland. More catastrophic was the pollution Nowa Huta generated, affecting generations of workers and harming all the buildings of Krakow. During PRL (Peoples' Poland or communist times) the apartments were large and food supplies plentiful (late 1950s to 1980s). The foundry still functions, but under foreign ownership and employs only a fraction of the workers. Young people and artists are starting to rent vacant apartments because housing in Krakow itself is so costly and hard to obtain. As an experiment in planned housing, Nowa Huta is fascinating; its layout is geometric, not unlike 18th-19th century experiments in urban design. Grocery stores, elementary schools, shops were planned for each section of the development, along with broad tree-lined boulevards through which police could easily be deployed. The enormous statue of Lenin once in the central square was bought by Sweden and now stands in Stockholm---where people have more of a sense of humor about the "workers' paradise."

Rafting down the Dunajec river

Today was an all day trip---one of several different excursions in the countryside around Krakow. We drove two hours in the direction of the ski resort Zakopane and the Tatra mountains, the high alpine type mountains in the background. We zigzagged toward lower hills, the Pienniny mountains, and the Dunajec river---in former centuries the border between Hungary and Poland, today between Slovakia and Poland. We took a raft on this quiet river which is at maximum 18 meters deep. For over a hundred years now, boatmen called "fliscacy" pole a barge made of 5 sections lashed together (for easy disassembly later). Twelve people travel together, eat sandwiches, snooze, get windburned, and breathe the fresh air. The current carries the raft down the river starting at a castle fortress at Niedzica. In Polish history, Niedzica dates from the 14th century when king Casimir the Great took control of this area. The raft ride ends 2 hours later at Szczawnica, a health resort in the mountains. The trip is quiet; no frothing rapids, no life vests. It passes through the Pienniny Mountains State Park, a strict wild preserve. Birds and ducks abound and the air is clear and bracing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rhythm and sound

This is the Old Town in Krakow, formerly surrounded by city walls, but in the 19th century the walls were torn down and the moat was filled in to make a green ring around the city that is called the "Planty". Trams run on the streets outside the Planty; their periodic rumble reaches our district. Late at night when except for trams the streets are quiet, you sometimes hear horses hooves from the carriages leaving town. The hourly trumpet call can be heard from St. Mary's Basilica on the Market Square. After just a few days back in Krakow the sounds are familiar again. True Cracovians, those who have lived here for generations, would never think of living anywhere else. Their city---filled with characters and history---is the only place to live, a world of its own.

Shop til you drop . . .

Well, there's all kinds of shopping in Krakow. Near the train station there is the Galeria, a slick and glitzy mall that puts our shopping malls to shame. The streets in the Old Town are lined with little boutiques. And here near our hotel is the Kleparz Market with its Monday through Saturday bounty, mini-pyramids of fruit and vegetables, cheese, breads, meats. It deserves a day of exploration to walk its aisles and learn which days certain produce and products are in. In addition to food, there is clothing and a great array of umbrellas, tote bags, and shoes. Two kitchen and housewares kiosks have more gizmos than Bed, Bath, and Beyond. As you can see above, among many other items, crocs have made it to Krakow.

Kl Auschwitz, Tuesday May 12

Today we traveled to Auschwitz, the German name for Oswiecim. It's an hour's ride from Krakow. I've been there twice before, but the visit is still shocking. Each time another facet of the camp comes into focus. Today I was struck by the routinization of genocide, the industrial-style organization of the death process that surpasses brutality and leaps into the bizarre. The modernity and efficiency of this extermination site is a distinctive feature of what the Nazis termed "the Final Solution," a dimension that sets the Holocaust apart in the sad roll call of mass murders. No wonder the starved, exhausted victims could not imagine the fate that awaited them. Such an industrialized form of killing was not yet a part of history. That traces of humanity survived at all among the victims seems miraculous.
I've noticed that in the last decade the historical background provided by the guides has improved. The young man who was our guide (and the guides are almost all under 40) was well trained and informed. Auschwitz is a research center where historical data is continually explored and updated. Conservators maintain the camps; funds for maintenance are provided by the Polish and German governments, the EU, and Unesco. It is very costly to keep the site preserved and part of what visitors see is reconstruction. The territory that comprised the entire Auschwitz complex is very large. To set up the camp, the Germans cleared the area of all Polish population, deported them, and used their buildings' material to build the camp. Slave labor was the fate of only those who were healthy enough to work---some 20-25% of those transported to Auschwitz. The vast majority transported (especially women with children, the elderly, the infirm) went directly to death.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Meeting Friends

Here are some Polish friends of long standing. I was going to say "old friends," but who wants to go there??? I met Marta (top photo) in Poland in the 1970s when she was a young student. I was one of her English teachers. Today she is an architect with her own company in Krakow. I met Olek (center photo) in the 1980s when I was a grad student at Indiana University and he was a visiting professor. His specialty is the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz. He teaches in Jagiellonian University's program on Central European Studies. The Central European Studies program has students from the US and Europe in it. Marek, in the bottom photo, was a journalist in Krakow for many years. He's also a writer and poet---retired now but still publishing. It's wonderful that we can get together after so many years! All of these people (and more) will help in various ways when I come to Krakow in 2010 with UM-Flint students.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday May 10 Mother's Day

Here's to Mother's Day! This little statue of Mary is nestled in between windows on Kanonicza St. (Street of the Canons) where church bishops and other high officials lived from medieval times to the present. In the 16th century the facades were remodeled in the Renaissance style (curved arches) and embellished with details around the windows. In many European countries Mother's Day is celebrated in May, the month of Mary. In Poland, "Dzien Matki" is observed May 26.

Sunday May 10 Quiet spots in Krakow

This is the Small Market Square, somehow missed by tourists. It also has shops mostly on one side, to your right, so the area is not as crowded as the Main Market. The buildings' plaster has recently been repainted, so the colors are bright. For many years, Krakow had a severe pollution problem due to the Nowa Huta steel works nearby. The air is better now, but the huge increase in auto traffic takes its toll. Walking the side streets away from the Main Market you can find quiet streets and cafes, wonderful spots to meet friends or sit and read. The pace is leisurely; waiters never bring you the bill unless you ask!

Saturday May 9 Down in the Salt Mines

One of the Cracow area's major attractions is the Wieliczka salt mine. In medieval times, salt was as valuable as oil is today. Every European state needed access to salt and having rich mines meant prosperity for the kingdom. Poland has at least 4 salt mines, but this one is the most famous. Miners, whether of salt or coal (as in Silesia to the west of Cracow), have their own distinctive culture and they form a powerful brotherhood typical of those who work in very dangerous professions. The salt miners were also devout; as self-taught sculptors, they carved many statues and chapels in the mines. The top photo portrays the legend of St. Kinga, a Hungarian princess who married a Polish king and is credited with founding the Wieliczka salt mine.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

More on Friday May 8

Krakow, the Old Town, is a walking city. Everybody walks everywhere. Many tourists are here, both Polish and foreign, and all ages. And it is a university town. Jagiellonian University dates from 1364, but there are other schools like the Academy of Mining and Metallurgy, the Academy of Fine Arts, and the University Medical School. May is the month of Juwenalia. This past week (ending Sunday May 10), students parade in the Old Town, dressed in costumes, singing and playing music, joking with passersby. Great entertainment for the audience sitting in the cafes that surround the square. A kind of academic Mardi gras. Take a look at the video clips below!

Friday, May 8, 2009

1st real day in Krakow

Today we had a 4 hour walking tour of Krakow. We followed the "Royal Way" ("trasa krolewska"), in other words, the traditional route that kings entering Krakow were obliged to follow on their way way to the Royal Castle on the Wawel hill or to their cornonation point at the Cathedral. The Royal Way begins at Kleparz, originally a town outside the walls of medieval Krakow, but now part of the city. Kleparz is also the district where our hotel is.
Our guide, pani Barbara, described the history of all points of interest. She has completed a year's course for city guides that is very extensive. She's young, in her early twenties, and clearly in a good business. Krakow is filled with tourists and it's still May! Many of the excursions are for school children who at the end of the year have a visit to Krakow. We see them happily traipsing after intrepid teachers.The other excitement in town is "Juwenalia" or the traditional university students' week when they enjoy themselves in costume and making music strolling about the Old Town of Krakow before they take their exams. Lots of fun and then come the grades; you may as well have fun now---who knows what your gpa will be at the end?
We walked the Old Town and Royal mound (the Wawel) til almost 2 pm (more on that later). Then we bought food in the Kleparz market (Rynek kleparski) a block from our hotel. You can see the market in the pictures above. Don't park your horse and wagon or tractor just anywhere! The market is many times the size of the Flint Farmers' Market and has everything: clothing, housewares, all kinds of food---meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, breads. And lots of plants and flowers:lilacs in bloom, lilies of the valley are especially fragrant.
Sandwiches in our room and collapse!

Sic transit . . .

We are here at last! After some typical travel "adventures" (missed our connection in Frankfurt to Cracow and once rerouted to Munich we had a long wait due to a medical emergency), we arrived at the Hotel Atrium on the periphery of the Old Town (Stare miasto) of Krakow. The help at the registration desk was wonderful. Miss Agnieszka (pani Agnieszka) arranged for us to have our complete stay at Atrium (we don't have to change hotels :) and we got settled. Still on a high from travel, we went out at walked around and then had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Quite good. We slept like logs, just happy to be off our feet and not sitting up!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day before departure

Here I am, mostly packed. Packing is fairly easy; with on my google search page, I check the Krakow weather every day, in order to pack appropriately. I have to remember that Poland is 6 hours ahead of Michigan, so that I'm not checking the weather in the middle of the night! For sure, one very small umbrella, one long-sleeved shirt, some silk long underwear just in case. Then today I experimented with my SIM card for my GMS world phone. I'm not sure it's going to work as easily or cheaply as the SIM card when I traveled to Italy a couple of years ago. Maybe just using Skype on my laptop to keep in touch with family and friends will be more economical. Should the students in 2010 each have a laptop? I think so; Skype is the best international bet.

The Cracow Post ( is an easy monthly guide geared to tourists and ex-pats living in Cracow. The real skinny is in the main Polish newspaper, Gazeta wyborcza and TVP---Telewizja polska (Polish tv with 3+ channels). Look at the left where I've posted some links for Polish news in English.