Saturday, January 16, 2010


My head is about to explode. I'm suffering over 6 pages of a word salad that is miles away from the coherent text of some 20+ pages it has to become. Agony, agony, agony!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poznań: in Front of the Opera

... this is where M. and I met eight years ago. But it was in the middle of summer, so no snow and no sleigh rides.
I miss Poznań.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Wiktor Górka, Hunting in Poland, 1961

Silva rerum 1

2010 started in the worst way possible, with news of my grandmother's death. I suspended my internet activity and socializing, which helped me immensely get myself together.

Things were going well: I got away from informational smog, I taught myself to knit (again) and made two scarves (pictured below, somewhat fragmentarily).


I finally started reading the biography of Alice James and finished Olga Tokarczuk's Dom dzienny, dom nocny, from which I picked out these gems of quotes (sorry, no English version at hand):

[The roofs of Heidelberg]

... w Heidelbergu zrobił doktorat z życia i pism legendarnej śląskiej świętej o imieniu Kummernis. Wykładał także na uniwersytecie, a specjalizował się w sektach działających na Śląsku w okresie reformacji. Zwłaszcza w szwenkfeldystach i nożownikach. Pisał o tym artykuły. 

Dachy w Heidelbergu są typowo niemieckie - czerwone i stalowe. Strzeliste zwieńczenia kościołów mają antracytowy kolor, który uspokaja oczy. Po wykładach szedł spacerem na zamek i patrzył z góry na miasto szemrzące wieczorami od taniego studenckiego wina z jabłek i naukowych teorii. (195)

[Objects and plants]

Wiem, że rzeczy, obojętnie, żywe czy martwe, zapisują w sobie obrazy, więc i ten aloes miałby w sobie jeszcze tamte słońca i niewiarygodnie oślepiające nieba i krople ogromnego deszczu, który bezszelestnie rozmywa niskie nadbrzeżne horyzonty. I każda część rośliny szczyci się tą świetlistą obecnością w sobie i powiela obraz słonecznej kuli, boga roślin, i sławi go po cichu na parapetach mojego domu. (Olga Tokarczuk, Dom dzienny, dom nocny. Wydawnictwo "Ruta", Wałbrzych, 1998, str. 216)

I probably won't pick up the English edition if I don't have the good fortune of teaching it (whick is, sadly, highly unlikely). Google books has a strange snippet.

A great article about Margaret Drabble that I found in a pile of papers I was going to throw out: "Dame of the British Interior," by Daphne Merkin. Long, written in a slowly-unfolding style I miss very much.


a great deal of Czech, Czechoslovakian, and German films. I recommend Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei, if you have verpasst it when it was in the cinema or have never heard about it.


Eventually, I got back to the internet and via Feminoteka discovered Anna Zawadzka's blog, To łatwo - feminizm i światło! The blog is written very thoughtfully -- a pleasure to read. But then I discovered another left-wing blog that featured a pseudo-polemic with Zawadzka's latest post (about women in abusive relationships): and my stomach turned. It's not that it's news to me that having a uterus -- well, not even that, just being identified as someone in possession of a uterus -- costs you ca. 25% of what you actually should earn, what someone identified as a proprietor of testicles earns in the same position. But it still makes me want to smash my head against the wall sometimes.


to restrict or not to restrict access to this blog? I would like to thank those who sometimes popped by here in 2009 ask your advice. I feel that I'm becoming increasingly shy and introspective and that's not a good combination.

The Accidental Feminist

Joanna Chmielewska, originally uploaded by erizone.

Joanna Chmielewska at a book signing in Moscow (Photo by erizone via Flickr)

I'm a fan of Chmielewska's comic crime novels. I say it with significant difficulty because I've been trying to hide this since high school. Her novels are rather simple and once you've recognized her patterns, they come across as straightforwardly formulaic (even for the genre). And yet.

I really like her earliest novels, the ones she wrote in the 60s and the 70s, though these novels present the communist militia as effective crime-solving agents of justice, somewhat naively explore the comic potential of the travel restrictions, citizen control, and turn into laughs the dearth of products and produce in a country that produced so much.

(For those who haven't experiences it, the spirit of the era is captured in the words of the grandmother from Juliusz Machulski's comedy about time travel, Ile waży koń trojański?: "If the USSR owned the Sahara, they would run out of sand." Everything was exported to the USSR, nothing was ever gotten in exchange but words of "a lasting friendship between the countries.")

Unlike the director Stanisław Bareja and the authors whose books were either chopped up or banned by the censors, Chmielewska didn't ridicule the People's Republic -- she eulogized it.

Is that my problem with Chmielewska? Actually, no. It is no secret that some people miss the regime or that their lives were in many respects better before 1989. In some -- significant -- respects it benefited women. A difficult economic situation was legally and widely recognized as an appropriate reason for a woman to get an abortion, if she wished to get one; it was deemed logical that a woman would want to work, that there should be kindergartens and school lunches. But of course there was also sexism and pay inequality.

And yet -- the measures that existed mattered immensely. That became obvious once they disappeared. Chmielewska's quirky thirty-year-olds wouldn't have been able to solve any crimes in the 1990s.

So they turned sixty and plunged into nostalgic fantasies. And the author declared that she absolutely wasn't a feminist. Rejecting the label is one thing, but she went further, offering piles of nonsense about "women's nature," delicate femininity, and the family.

I stopped reading her for several years not only because her books became dreadfully boring but mostly because I couldn't stand her searing hypocrisy.

Here is what I enjoyed about her writing (and am enjoying again with the fabulous radio adaptations of her early novels):

Chmielewska's protagonists are single mothers or unmarried women in their 30s and 40s -- independent, going where they're not allowed to go in order to solve mysteries or gamble (horse races and casinos recur). Her most frequent protagonist and alter ego, Joanna, is divorced with two sons, she spends more time hanging out in cafes with friends and new love interests than cooking soup for her kids. From one of the novels we learn that she had left her sons in Poland for a year to work in Copenhagen as an architect, explore nightlife, and gamble. For the money won at horse races she buys a car and snakeskin stilettos.

The CD edition of the radio play about the novel I've just briefly described includes an article about Chmielewska's "accidental feminism."

The article was written by her secretary whom Chmielewska fired shortly afterwards. Coincidence?

Poland is a country where public figures are almost never made to own up to their words and deeds (yes, Polański, among others; yet more strikingly, a former Prime Minister who wanted to outlaw divorce and then abandoned his family for a twenty-something-year-old bank employee).

I've never been employed by Chmielewska so I risk nothing in saying that when I was a teenager her novels gave me hope that I could indeed become who I wanted and not just somebody's wife and mother. I can't make her own up to her hypocrisy but I can point it out.

Note: The second photograph is Krystyna Sienkiewicz as Janka in Lekarstwo na miłość, the film adaptation of Chmielewska's debut novel, Klin (1964).