Saturday 15 August 2020

Sweet Peas, Scarlet Emperors and National Pride

Hail, Scarlet Emperors!
Hello, Sweet Peas!
Benedict Ambrose and I returned from a week in Poland to find the Scarlet Emperors flourishingly mightily and some Sweet Peas finally making their way up the wooden fence. The apples falling  to the astroturf on our concrete patio are ripe. This is all very happy news.

It is also in great contrast to social media. I was on social media only two or three times this week to say we were well, but after coming home I did a thorough survey of Twitter and Facebook and came to the conclusion that everyone hates everybody. How terribly depressing.

Therefore, I will do my bit for internet-reading humanity by posting pretty pictures and telling amusing stories about our Polish holiday--although not all at once. We had many adventures--if such gentle activities can be called adventures--so it will take me some time to tell stories about them all.

My favourite story involves an open-air museum called a "Skansen" in a small rural village in Southwestern Poland. This Skansen celebrates traditional country life and so has a paddock of ponies and goats and a large wooden building, a bit like a log cabin, with a red pitched roof, decorated on the outside with wagon wheels and on the inside with a number of antiques, like old phones and communist era television sets. The TVs surmount the door to the inner, biggest room and are surmounted in their turn by a big painting of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. In the centre of this "chata" (cottage) is a four-sided fireplace and chimney, and there is a kitchen on the far end, and long low windows around the sides, through which you can see fields, ponies or goats.

We were there because my Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law had a folk group choir practice, and I know what you're thinking, but Southwestern Poland is not as anxious about coronavirus as where you live.   (I had a minor panic attack at church on Sunday for that particular congregation clearly didn't believe in social distancing, let alone pieces of tape on the floor or roped-off pews. Everyone was all squished in singing Latin together, germs everywhere, and I fled. It was too much normalcy all at once.)

Anyway, the ladies and girls of the folk choir were seated at a big wooden table near the kitchen, and the men of the band were seated near them. The leader of the group, who was, I seem to recall PPDIL saying, called Mr. Czesław, came to greet Polish Pretend Son, his pal The Economist, my Goddaughter (age 7.5 months), B.A. and me. Mr. Czesław explained in rapid Polish that the group was going to rehearse Christmas songs as they were going to produce an album in time for Christmas. Then he handed those of vodka-drinking age shots of vodka and glasses of coca-cola to drink after them. B.A. very much liked this.

There followed rollicking singing from the choir and band. I understood almost none of the lyrics, but it was great fun and PPS bounced the baby and occasionally danced with her around the cottage. Then there was a break, with more shots of vodka (and Coca-cola for B.A. who doesn't drink vodka neat*), and a fat, red-faced saxophone player told me that PPDIL was going to make her debut with the band. And I felt very proud to see beautiful PPDIL take her fiddle and sit beside the elderly fiddle player for the next set of songs. Listening to the old songs and music while looking at the fields through the chata windows was almost as good as having travelled through time.

When it was time for our party to go, the band decided to play a contemporary wedding tune without which no Polish wedding is complete, i.e. "Ale, ale, Aleksandra." So central to Polish life is "Ale, ale, Aleksandra" that even B.A. knows the refrain. Time for a link. So we the guests all bopped around to the verses and loudly sang the refrain, which in English amounts to "Oh, Aleksandra. Oh, so pretty. So modest. Such a sex-bomb."

Disco Polo is not known for its intellectual content.

After a good deal of smiling and hugging and hand-kissing from band members delighted that even foreigners know the refrain to "AAA", I toddled off outside after PPDIL and The Economist. But where, we wondered, was BA? Where was PPS? Where, in fact, was the baby?

It turns out that they were in the kitchen drinking shots of vodka. Eventually my husband came tottering out with Mr Czesław, each with an arm around the other's shoulders. They looked positively radiant and like long-lost brothers who had found each other again.

"United Europe," cried Mr Czesław.

"Narodowa duma!" cried B.A.


Narodowa duma means "National pride" and it is the sort of thing young Polish men yell through red and white smoke when they get together in groups of forty thousand and march through Warsaw setting off firecrackers. It is also the only Polish B.A. knows after "Yes", "Hello," "Please"  "Thank you" and the refrain to "Ale Ale Aleksandra" for complicated reasons involving me listening to a recording of a Polish Independence Day speech over and over again to understand it. While hardly a fringe sentiment in Poland,  it expresses a concept particularly dear to the hearts of Polish folk groups.

"Narodowa duma!" Mr Czesław repeated with glee.

"Duma!" shouted B.A. "Narodowa duma!"

PPS, standing beside them with the baby, roared with laughter, as did PPDIL, The Economist and I.  Benedict Ambrose, usually a cheerful man, was positively triumphant in his joy.

"I ate a pickle," the vinegar-phobe informed me as he stumbled to The Economist's car. "It was a salt pickle. It was good."

In short, B.A. had fallen into the hands of Polish men, who love to make foreign men drink lots of vodka, either to see how they measure up to Polish standards of manhood or out of sheer international goodwill (or both). Clearly these ones had also fed B.A. a pickled cucumber, a traditional vodka-drinking snack, for B.A. would never have eaten one voluntarily.

Out of all the happy moments of our holiday, I think the one I really liked best was B.A. coming out of the living rural museum, positively beaming, with Mr. Czesław.

*B.A. contests this claim. He says he does drink vodka neat, and he just likes to drink a cola chaser right afterwards.

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