The constant swirl of a crane bleats everywhere in the sanctity of a pseudo-adorned drop-in Ikea. Poland is like a Scandinavian fun day out to a hall of mirrors. It’s capital is no different. Everywhere you go, it’s architecture screams, pounds and lambastes at your arrival into a city feigning to grasp at its true demographic; cloying bitter senility or mawkish neo-intellectualism. I love it.
Building is taking place everywhere and acts as the cities’ tentative alarm clock. Planning seems based around an inverted sort of Field of Dreams idea: “If there’s space, we will build”. Fresh batches of mortar sling from atop the scaffolding and it is anyone’s guess whether a claim could be made by an unfortunate passer-by. Ah, the ecstasy of right-wing envisioning lies both on endless unfinished rooftops and down on the upturned pathways.
At every corner, the sardonic hero within is nourished. The markets at Praga Poludnie, affectionately known as the ‘lungs’ of the city, reassure you that it is okay to openly despise your clientele; a lesson many passive Westerners could learn a great deal from. Warsaw communities know one thing if nothing else: that getting things done does not require time or affection, just the strong will to grasp at King Jagiello’s head (he occupies the 100 zloty note). Though almost within the same breadth, some endearing locals would rather you left them alone than crossed their palm with silver.
If all this sounds like digression, Warsaw warrants it. Nothing comes at a small price-except of course in the strictest sense of paying for goods. Go to set up a bank account and the clerk will tell you she needs authority from his/her superior in something resembling a Peter the Great Table of Ranks fable. Arrange tenancy in a modest apartment and a full inquest on par with Kafka’s Judgement ensues. Daily, customers are reminded how little their custom is valued, almost to the point were a deliberate attempt to sabotage the sale is made by the surly shop assistant. It is the equivalent of a bureaucrat’s Leopold Bloom stroll on a fine, languorous Sunday.
There may perhaps be cause for arguing that collectively, this is all a sign of a country desperately playing catch up to a free market Europe. There is, however, nothing left to add to that trite, exhausted argument. Interpret it any way you like, whatever way it is viewed from, Poland is outright different from it’s neighbouring countries and, for that matter, all others in sundry.
Those still discerned and well versed in European travel may perhaps feel that salvation then lies deeper in the hub of the city, away from the humdrum of Warsaw’s urban-rural collide; this writer’s idea of utopia. Perhaps, one may wonder, a friendlier atmosphere exists around the center of the city, where businesses are, if not willingly but for the sake of their own utility, forced to indulge the paltry tourists. No. There shall, and rightly so, be no quarter offered.
Submerge yourself in the metro station. Find the destination you require and follow the signs around in a circle until you kick yourself in the backside. At a push, pluck up the courage to ask a local in your strained Polish for directions and receive the contemptuous rebuttal with dignity. You are not at home now, you are in Poland, so take it or leave it.
For those who are settling here from the lingua franca regions of the globe, this articles’ Norman-styled title relating to the invasion of Ireland is all the more salient. It was once believed that our English occupiers from the 12th Century became ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’. It is a lesson given in earnest to potential settlers of Warsaw. Endorse the surroundings and comply with the old lady on the tram with her ten bags packed to the brim with kielbasa (sausage). Wonder also, is it really that far removed from the turmoil we all masochistically relish in back home?
Varsovians hang over you like a specter and soon they will encroach upon you, with all the salivated outcries they can muster. Embrace it, let it be known that you stand as one of them and who knows, you might even grow indifferent to your stay.