Sunday, November 18, 2007

Poland Update: Krakow & Warsaw

It's Sunday afternoon in Warsaw and I'm finally back in reach of a wifi signal, and more importantly, I have a few minutes to write some things down. It's been a phenomenal couple of days and I'm not sure where to begin, so let's just start at the beginning, grabbing a train to Krakow on Friday afternoon.
Left: Scene from a Polish train

The Poland leg of this little tour has basically been put together by DJ/MC/promoter/musician Duze Pe, who along with cohort DJ Spox have a whole variety of musical projects, and they both accompanied me on all the dates; I'd corresponded with them via e-mail before the trip but hadn't met them until my arrival here and thankfully both of them are awesome and hilarious and speak pretty fluent English. Anyway, we piddled around on Friday and went to a Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) restaurant and just about missed the Krakow train, a 3-hour express from Warsaw's central station. About halfway there I looked out the window into the dark Polish landscape only to realize that the ground was in fact covered with a thick blanket of snow.

Below: Krakow at night with reflected chandelier

Our arrival in Krakow was overwhelming. Warsaw, with all its luxury hotel updates, still feels like a rough, modern city, hampered by Soviet-era infrastructure. The train station in Krakow was similar, bare and concrete, but then we emerged into the connected mall and another world: a brand-spaking-new luxury shopping establishment, filled with fancy brand-name stores, under a glittering skylight, putting San Francisco's new megamalls to shame, and packed with Saturday night shoppers. Leaving the mall under its glowing colored glass exterior, I got my first glimpse of Krakow, and it was jaw-dropping, covered in about a foot of snow, a fairy tale of ancient buildings and glittering lights, cobblestone walkways filled with people. The walk to the nightclub was like an assault of beauty, something amazing around every turn: the snowy park ringing the city center, an ancient city wall, the central square. But there's no time to linger, we have to get to the club and start to get set up.

Below: Party Ben banner outside Prozak in Krakow


The city is a real tourist destination for Europeans, especially Brits apparently, who take advantage of the favorable exchange rates to get rip-roaring drunk and roam the streets hollering like Amy Winehouse at the MTV Europe awards. As the night wore on, and the club started to fill up, there was clearly a high tourist contingent, and probably mostly regulars at the venue who didn't really know who I was or anything, but that didn't mean they weren't totally up for it. The venue itself, a winding two-story labyrinth built into the basement of an old building, was stunning, and our cavernous dancefloor was totally packed. I pulled out the Obi Wan getup which people seemed to enjoy, and had a really fun set where I tried a bunch of new stuff, as well as the good old standards that had the crowd singing along. After my set I went upstairs only to realize they had been piping the music to an upstairs dancefloor almost as big as the first, jammed with people. The night lasted until about 4:30 am, at which point we were put up in the club's own apartment on the 4th floor of the building, accessible through two winding staircases and a tiny elevator, and outside the double-paned windows the city sparkled and the first trams of the morning rumbled by.

Let's not get romantic about it though because after about 5 hours of sleep it was time to get up and head back to the train station to return to Warsaw. Sorry, Krakow, but I'll be back, I'm sure.

Back in Warsaw, I'm told an interesting bit of news: Poland's national soccer team is playing Belgium that night in a qualifying match for the Euro 2008 championships, an event whose importance is second only to the World Cup and which Poland has apparently never qualified for. The game would be shown out at our club immediately preceding our event, and we were all a little nervous: if they lost, would people even feel like having fun? Well, we needn't have worried. Poland dominated the Belgians and cinched a spot in the finals with a 2-0 victory, and the place erupted. I later found out people had poured onto the streets all over the city, chanting "Polska, Polska."

(Below: Moment of Polish victory)
Out at our club (Balsam, part of a rehabilitated complex of old army barracks in which the writing of German soldiers can still be seen on the walls), things started to pick up around 11, and by the time I went on at 12:30, the place was packed, the giant disco ball swinging wildly. I had a bit of a rough set – a drunk guy came up and started bugging me and threw me off, and I made some technical flubs, but managed to recover. I'd been given a soccer scarf to wear during the set, which I sported proudly, and as my set built up to a frenzied finale, Duze Pe thanked me and described for the crowd the mashup I'd made of the classic Polish band Kult, which I proceeded to play as my last track. Let me just say: if you're a DJ, and there's any way you can plan your set to immediately follow a massive soccer victory, and then play a track you've made whose lyrics repeat the country's name over and over, and you have a scarf you can hold over your head with the name of that country on it to incite the entire crowd to sing along, and then you grab a bottle of that country's local vodka to take a big swig of it to the crowd's clear approval… that wouldn’t be a bad way to end your DJ set. It was mayhem. My only regret is that my camera, set next to the cold window, fogged up too much for the pictures to be anything but a white blur, but other people had cameras so hopefully there's video somewhere. I left the stage and was immediately set upon by people wanting autographs and pictures, some of whom had just caught the CDs I'd thrown out to the audience, and some of whom actually knew who I was and gave me embarrassing compliments. Anyway, a real highlight of my life as a DJ, and while it was clearly just riding on a wave of soccer victory euphoria, hell, I'll take it.

Below: Party Ben poster at the club in Warsaw behind serious condensation -- it was hot in there!

In a bit of a daze I stumbled to the front of the club for some air and called a friend back in San Francisco to shout (incoherently, I'm sure) about Poland winning and I had the scarf and Polska Polska! The night ended around 5 and I collapsed into bed, turning on the TV to see what looked like a Polish Sally Jesse Raphael hosting talk show on which the topic seemed to be, well, gay people, although a subtopic might have been involved which I didn’t understand, since the descriptions of each of the guests said "gej" and then a bunch of other stuff. It might have been "gays with terrible fashion sense" because they were all wearing giant goofy sunglasses and had weird hairdos, perhaps in an attempt to remain anonymous?

Today I have to go buy gloves since I left mine in the taxi last night, and we'll all go have a celebratory meal; tomorrow morning: Prague, and converting Zloty to Koruny!

24 comments:

Dennis Cass is . . . said...

Great post, Ben. You are a magical creature.

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