Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Warsaw: Second Impressions

Last night, after a few welcome hours of afternoon shut-eye, I decided to venture out into the Warsaw wilds in search of an ATM, some form of snack, and perhaps a phrase book, since the only Polish thing in the whole gigantic language section at Borders in SF was an ancient-looking dictionary. I stepped out of the brightly-lit hotel into a bit of another world: trams barreled down the center of wide, Soviet-style boulevards and a bit of drizzle was intermittently falling out of the dark sky. Directly adjacent to the hotel, the street crosses a train line that's only partially underground, and the glimpses of the rickety train and poorly-lit platform below were oddly nightmarish. Flashing back to my days in post-communist Russia circa 92-94, I start to get those where-am-I-going-to-find-food-today jitters, but right across the street a line of restaurants and shops fills the first floor of a series of apartment blocks, and there's a bank right over there too, whose ATM dispenses 100 zloty to me without any problem. Hmm, 2.5 zloty to the dollar, that's kind of tough; you divide by two and then, uh, add some? Or subtract? Alls I know is: it's not Euros, and that can only be good.

Left: not my picture, i didn't take my camera with me last night since it was, you know, dark.

My walk towards the center of town takes me past the Palac Kultury i Nauki, the Soviet building that was a "gift" to Warsaw after World War II; it's in the same style as the gargantuan Stalinist gothic fantasy buildings that dominate Moscow in a foreboding "Batman" kind of way, but here, possibly because of the neon decoration and a sign for what appears to be a movie theater, this one seems far less threatening. Walking along the street, I come to an intersection that doesn't appear to have any crosswalks, and then I notice that what I thought was a subway entrance is actually for the good old, well "perekhod," another Soviet indulgence that I kind of like: elaborate tunnels under the streets filled with small businesses and restaurants. I note the kebab and sandwich stalls for future reference.

Emerging on Marszalkowska street, there's an inviting line of stores, like your H&M and Benneton and stuff; I wander along to find Empik, a kind of Polish Virgin Megastore with albums and books and a 3rd floor café facing the Palac. It's after 9pm and not much is open but Empik is, and after some searching I find a tolerable phrase book, and go grab a hot chocolate in the café. Super-stylish young women are giggling over a laptop at the table next to me, and KT Tunstall is on the house stereo. But old habits die hard, and at about 9:40pm, a deafening basso voice rumbles out of the speakers, informing patrons that, from what I can gather, the store is closing at 10, please make your purchases. It's so loud it's hard to concentrate, and after it runs for about 3 minutes, I realize it's on a loop, repeating over and over, to drive us stragglers out of the store. I do not think this would be tolerated in America, but maybe I'm wrong.

I go to buy the phrasebook as the store shakes with admonitions to approach the cashier. I'd already noticed the little "put your money here, don't hand it to me" tray when I bought my hot chocolate, another thing I remember from Russia, but the Voice is distracting me so much that I just hold my 20-zloty note out to the guy, who gives me a quick but pity-filled look and points at the tray.

I emerge from the store, my head still rattling with admonishments to "cobirat' do kassu" or something, and the world is transformed: snow is falling in giant, wet, fluffy flakes. I feel like maybe taking the tram back to the hotel but I don't know which number to take, and besides, the guidebook says that while you can buy tickets on the tram, there's no guarantee the driver will actually have them and if not you can still be fined, which seems like an invitation to an international incident, so I walk back to the hotel through the falling snow, collecting on my jacket, and every once in a while landing right in my eye with a wet splortch.

Back at the hotel, I finish work on the Polish-themed mashup I'm making for the mix on Bis as well as a new mix of a secret thing I'd just completed for an upcoming multi-producer Chemical Brothers bootleg album project being arranged by Electrosound (stay tuned). Finally I start to get excited about the mix; funny how it is, and no wonder I make these mashup things, since I get so bored after playing songs once or twice that I just can't help but mess around with them, and then my nervousness and dread I get before almost any live set turns into can't-wait anticipation. I wanna play this Polish thing and see if Poland freaks out!!! We'll see: could we be on the eve of another international incident?

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