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Poland - Shadow and Dust
by Newropeans-Magazine
2010-05-08 08:33:39
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Polayne is returning to normality or as the Yanks would say, normalcy. It's been quite a time and before I get back to whimsy, I'd like to tell you about it.

Newropeans-MagazineThe dates seemed to merge into each other but it was last Saturday and I was heading to Pilsudski Square to get to the comemorations . I was late and crossing the area around the Palace of Culture , a huge place but almost empty . The sirens started to wail and for a couple of minutes it seemed like I was in the Omega Man.I just followed the crowds to the Saxon Gardens and it seemed that the whole of Varsovia City and Polayne was congregating there.. It was a beautiful , crisp and sunny day. The crowds filed into the Gardens or stood around the big screens that had been erected around the square. The names of the dead were being read out. Indefatigable scouts and guides were dispensing water and smiles. These teenagers and sub-teenagers are always on hand to perform all sorts of public duties and as the only disciplined force around should really be running the entire country. Dignified and stoic collective silence is still alive here. Most Polaynes I saw stand for the national anthem , even gum-chewing yoof. One granny was giving her little scamp of a grandson a good telling -off for not showing the proper respect. We stood, knelt and sang according to the rhythms of the ceremony and mass. It was extremely moving seeing people holding flags and banners and wearing black ( not fashionable black) We were awed as the honour guard snapped- to and delivered the volleys. Even the politicians sounded heartfelt ; this time they were.

After three hours I trundled home and missed the commitment of the presidential pair from palace to St. John's cathedral , which I saw on telly. Now that was really something: creamy evening sun, all the bells of the Royal Way pealing ( I didn't ask for whom they tolled as I already knew), the cadence of the funereal marches, the mounted escort. All the elegance of organised grandeur has a point and we lose these rites and practices at our peril. Not only are they beautiful in themselves in a choreographic sense and of course cathartic, but they do lift us from the everyday towards the Inevitable and the Awful . My only aesthetic quibble was that I wouldn't have used Hummvees to tow the gun carriages; I would have used an open top vehicle of some kind. The best way , of course is with a company of sailors in the British way. In Britayne, they ewoiuld have upped the ante since there is the scale for a big show of this sort in Londoon. There would be the entire Guards' Brigade, the Blues and Royals etc,. massed pipes and bands, full dress and reversed arms etc,. Polayne is more delicate and less imperious (maybe because Varsovia has never been an imperial capital) , but the ceremony doesn't suffer the more for this. I didn't want to stay in the flat so I went back to be where the crowds were packed. What else was there to do anyway? I milled around the old town aimlessly ,watching people and taking in the encroaching cold evening. I made my way back accompanied by the Chopin wafting from the special bicentenary benches they have dotted around the Krakowskie Przedmiescie. A state funeral and musical benches!

(Memo to self: state funeral: I want one)
My flat is a couple of minutes from the airport road and the week before, a sombre rhythm had developed as the bodies were being repatriated:like Wooton Basset. You could watch the arrival and reception on telly then time is as to go out to stand at the crossroads of Raclawicka and Zwirki and Wigury (visitors to Varsovia will travel this way to the city centre). Small knots of assorted humanity ; grannies and mums avec offspring, the disabled,a pretty girl on roller blades, smart-arse student types, dog walkers, C2s and Ds. With about twenty to go, the police shut the traffic lights and started to direct the traffic ,old -school style. You could make out the whuppa whuppa sound of the TV news helicopter approaching. The last remnants of oncoming traffic were despatched, and the road was clear. People started to place flowers neatly in the centre line of the carriageway. Then , just over the horizon , the blue police lights and we all craned our necks to see. First came a police car to part the waves then a couple of motorcycle outriders followed by an arrowhead formation of biker cops ( big, cop- Yamahas) . Then the hearses. On the Tuesday it was Maria Kaczynska. Later on came, ex-president Ryszard Kaczorowski and thirty four coffins. Then another thirty and Friday eight. Tonight , a week on, twenty. They were modern hearses, stretched Mercs or Beemers ( though I saw one of those new Bentleys, the ones they love on Top Gear ) . Just the flag draped coffin within and a small bouquet. The compartment was subtly lit from within with spotlights. It was all so non-Victorian , unlike Britayne. Very modern and sleek. Understatement and restraint again from the onlookers. I had gone to watch out of a mixture of natural inquisitiveness, respect for the dead ( I'm not that blasé to be unaffected) and a desire to make up the numbers . Furthermore, you just don't see the likes of this often. The cortege passed and we dispersed top whatever we were doing before. The cops switched on the traffic lights again.

The epicentre of grief that week was the stretch between the palace and the Old Town square. Every bollard had a votive candle, znicze ,on it and the pavements were carpeted in these things. They gave off quite a bit of heat as well as gold and red light. Quite a sight at night time with the place all lit up. It's about five hundred metres between the above points, and the queues to see the presidential lying in state ranked five deep, so that was 2.5 km of people from all over the place. Again, the ubiquitous scouts and guides were giving out free tea and organising the floral and candle offerings in front of the palace. There was a party of girls singing hymns and another queuing in sailors' uniforms ( why sailors'?) . Above the mortal multitudes were platforms for the foreign news organisations and you could see the reporters checking their make- up and preening themselves. They were at sub-olympian height. Not immortal per se but definitely not quite mortal either. It was a good time to wander around and be where the crowds were. On the Sunday of the state funeral in Krakoe, I came there again to watch it all on the big screen. I couldn't help but feel an anticlimax, that Varsovia not Krakoe should have ths onours after so much emotion. Ah ,well! The neighbours came though,from Brandenburg, the Baltics , the Ukraine, and Muscovy. Neither Prince Chaz, Sarko nor the Blessed Obama (couldn't he walk on water at some point?) bothered to come, nor a host of other westerners, blaming the Icelandic volcano, which was the major headline news in Europa. Hello , do we not have trains on this great continent of ours? Buses? Motorbikes? I am sure Chaz could have come on his eco- friendly penny farthing. Not very impressive anyway, but a sure sign of Polayne's place in the ranking.

Musically the whole week was pretty awesome; Mozart, plainsong , and I am still humming the funeral marches ( I am a Morissey fan after all) and on the lookout of the cd. I even have them in my head as I jog round the park ( which gives an indication of my speed) The candles and the posters were taken down sharpish as soon as the period of mourning ended. A major problem was the spilt candle wax on the road. I had business in the town centre on Monday and I saw a big Merc do a power slide in front of the palace! Tonight , we saw the final twenty coffins come home . More funerals, but life does get back to normalcy fairly quickly. Successors have been appointed and elections are due . The Punch and Judy buffoonery that is politics in a democracy will start again and quite right too. I like all that stuff, anyway and although there might be an tone of appropriate gravitas at first , it can't last for very long . I felt sorry for Donald Tusk the PM though, who must have been to enough funerals to last a few lifetimes. You could see it getting to him as he gave the orations; the necessary eulogies . Next post will no doubt be lighter in tone, but you don't witness these events often to say the least, so there is something in just being there and watching it happen. It was all emotional but not emotionally incontinent. It wasn't like Princess Di's , despite the obvious allusions. But I saw what I saw and felt what I felt , and that I suppose, is that.

Talking about Punch and Judy politics; the election in Britayne and the nightmare scenario for every grammar- school boy d'un certain age; whether his vote will go to an Etonian or a Wyckhamist!



Ah, Brave New World! Jan Darasz
Warsaw, Poland



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