Around the City on a Holiday

Today is the Catholic holiday of the Assumption, and being in a country where church and state are not so different, I imagined it to be more of a somber affair, but I think my expectations were different than what I saw. We later found out it’s also a holiday in Warsaw to commemorate a defense of the city during WWII, which made things fall much more into place.

The day started with us going to meet Karen and friends on Chmielna. A gorgeous day, probably the prettiest I had seen since coming here: a deep blue sky, bright rays of sunlight, the colors rich and vibrant. We thought we’d ride the bus down but just a couple stops after we got on we were stuck waiting on the bus for first a parade to go by, then a procession of assorted tanks and armored vehicles. A very strange sight to see.

We eventually made it to Chmielna and had a nice lunch at Muza, then Karen, Lisa, and I made our own way afterwards towards the Palace of Fine Arts to see about a science exhibit. We arrived there but it seemed that the ticket cost also covered going to to the top, and since I didn’t have my camera with me, we opted to come back another day for those. (They also had the 48th European Team Bridge Championships there and as much as I had hoped to see Omar Shariff it wasn’t to happen. =) )

On our way out we saw that there was a free exhibit in a tent entitled “Tajne Fotografie Luftwaffe – Maj – Czerwiec 1944” (Secret Photography of the Luftwaffe – May-June 1944). We went in and saw many photos from ’44 as well as a narrated movie showing the state of Warsaw at that time: gutted buildings with the rooves destroyed, buildings missing altogether. The photos of the Ghetto were particularly disturbing as blocks and blocks of building were completely destroyed, in their place what seemed to be like dust.

It was erie and haunting to see such photos of the city as it seemed so familiar and yet altogether different. As we saw each photo we discussed all of the differences between what we were looking at and what we knew of the city today from our own experiences, noticing what buildings were no longer there, what new roads weren’t in the pictures, and so on.

Looking at the photos reminded me very much of some of the photos of Lebanon I had seen recently online comparing city photos from before and after the Israeli bombings. I thought to myself that like Warsaw it will be rebuilt, but cities are alive like human bodies and that although they heal, they’re never quite the same. I am sure that there must be similar images of destruction on the Israeli side and equally as sad to see.

We left the exhibition and decided to make our way to a coffee shop, but on the way we stopped by Prozna street which Karen told us is the last street from Jewish Ghetto still intact(Karen explained that it was in the small ghetto whose occupants were evacuated to the large ghetto which was later completely destroyed). The first building we saw there was quite beat up in terms of brickwork but all of the windows were new and seemed to have people living there. The next building was in quite worse shape, the windows old and missing glass, the building evacuated. We saw very old bullet holes in the walls outside…

A small walk across the street and we found the only Warsaw Synogogue to survive the war. It was closed but from the outside it seemed a rather beautiful building. The front exterior looked newly painted a nice yellow color that looked like it would be continued all around. Perhaps one day we’ll have a chance to look inside, but it always seemed like a strange thing to go into houses of worship like churches or synagogues to look around, so if not, I think that’d be alright.

We left the area and moved on to the park and returned to a more holiday setting. There in the park was a sort of small marching band standing in an arc and playing music with a color guard in front throwing batons. Seeing a tuba player and a sousaphone player there rekindled some urges to play the tuba. (I’m looking forward to December at my parent’s home to get to play my tuba…)

The rest of the park was setup with a sort of fair for children, though very different than any I was familiar with in my own experiences. People set up stands for people to play fooseball, pool, and even putt golf balls on those mini putting greens which I imagine executives purchasing for their offices. It seemed strange to me but at the same time the kids looked like they were enjoying themselves a good deal and I was happy to see that.

After the fair we finally made it to Antrakt, a very lovely coffee shop not too far away from where we live. A very neat space, I imagine that when it is colder that it would be a great place to read and work at.

We stayed a while and enjoyed good conversation then left and parted our own ways. It was a long, full day.


  1. How is the Polish church and state “not so different”? I, being the biased atheist I am, consider US to not have much separation. What is your measure of the difference between US & Poland on that separation?

  2. Well, it’s hard for me to quanitfy… I think the country is over 90% Catholic for one thing. The fact that many Catholic holidays are also state-mandated holidays is another. The other day at the Warsaw Uprising commemoration, one of the day’s celebrations was a Mass where some important government figures came.

    Now, in the US, while political figures will tout their religious faith, they tred a fine line to be very inclusive in their discussion of all faiths. Since here it is mostly Catholic, with protestants coming in second, the rhetoric is different (if subtle).

    It’s hard to think of more concrete examples as it more a general overall perception I have, but maybe its just that, and it’s not all that different. You should come and visit and find out for yourself what you think! ^_^

  3. You are actually quite right – it is something us USers take for granted.

    The US’s lack of separation of church and state is simply a ploy by those running for office to get elected.

    I do recognize the use of religious texts for the basis of laws (I know they follow “though shall not kill” fairly well – I can’t wait for the anti-adultery laws to come out (gotta defend that marraige)). I even accept the use of religious ceremonies as government holidays (Christmas is the celebration of Raymond Chandler’s birth – it’s original spelling was Chandmas). But these uses of religion are more a societal use than religious in nature.

    And I also feel as if I have felt the subtleties of a majority religion (US being one christian denomination or another). (Quit praying over the meal and think for one second about what type of fats/preservatives/artifial crap you are injesting and how they are destroying something made in god’s image)

    However, I think that that is a far cry from a government actually sponsoring terrorism – I mean religion (where’s the backspace when you need it).

    Okay – with that – i stop. Later Stevie – start feeding me return-to-the-states dates and I’ll look to see if Suzanne and/or I can travel to you – seriously. (Suzanne and I are going to Italy next summer – so it will be tight, but maybe a possibility – never hurts to look).

  4. Looking forward to our annual tuba duet sight-reading fest. It’s always good to keep the ego in check. 🙂

  5. The duets are always great fun! I’m sure after a few more months here I’ll be looking very forward to the holidays and getting together!

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