A few months ago I had a heated discussion via instant messenger with a friend about Johannesburg. One thing he said that really annoyed me was something along the lines of Joburg not being old enough to be historically worthy. Unfortunately I had one of those moments when my really clever response came hours after the conversation.
History and historical worthiness is not about time or size, it is about significance – and that significance depends on who you talk to. Luckily in today’s technologically abundant world it is easier for people to document their history – they don’t have to wait for a historian or politician to decide it is worthy.
While I was in Poland my aunt and uncle really wanted me to go and photograph some of the old buildings and traditional wooden houses that are still standing (but barely) in their city Pabianice. Most of them are being demolished, or in the final stages of decay – in spite of the fact that many people still live in them.
I had never really thought about Pabianice in historical terms – of course every city has a history in a linear passing-of-time kind of way, but when a country has cities like Krakow or Gdansk, it becomes easy to overlook the histories of smaller, less beautiful, less poetic cities.
It reminded me of an important lesson for photographers – and even writers – not to accept the face value and not to make assumptions about what it is significant or important.
Another day, another airport. My three days in Poland have gone very quickly and I have had a great time here. My cousins are grown up now so it is a lot more fun to hang out than a few years ago. This morning our plans to travel to Warsaw by car were thrown out of the window as it had started snowing during the night so we had a rather hairaising trip to the train station and we caught the train to Warsaw with only 3 minutes to spare. I was actually quite happy about this change because I love traveling by train and staring out the window for hours.
As a little goodbye note I wanted to share a collection of landscape photos I took this week. A lot has changed about Poland since we left, but some things have stayed the same and the scenes of my childhood remain.
I love how spooky the landscapes look in winter, with the bare trees, empty fields, and old ramshackle buildings. All these photos have been edited using Pixlromatic on my iPad since I have not taken my slow and heavy laptop on the trip (the iPad is the only way to travel).
This morning I got sent to the shops in -10 degrees to buy a few things for my grandmother, who hasn’t been feeling well. When I got back to her house (digits barely intact) she asked if I wanted to look at the her old photos. Of course I said yes, so she sent me to fetch the old chocolate box and white handbag where she keeps all of her old photos.
I’ve looked at these before but I never noticed the little love note photos before, that my gran and grandpa had sent each other before they were married. I love the digital photography age but tragically things like this have been lost along the way – the fact that photos were so expensive and there was no SMS, email or Facebook made notes like these extra special.
I also really enjoyed seeing some of my grans’s more stylish outfits. In some of the photos, if you look close enough, you can see her with the white handbag that the photos are now kept in.
This morning I woke up to a wonderful surprise – my favorite pancakes for breakfast. The best thing about these is that I can’t have them in South Africa because the cheese we use for the filling is not available in South Africa. It is similar in consistency to Ricotta but it is much more sour. A similar effect can be achieved if you squeeze lots and lots of lemon juice into it but this is a labour intensive process.
Aside from the cheese the recipe is simple:
2 cups of flour
2 cups of milk
1 tablespoon of oil
1 tablespoon of sugar
Polish cheese (twaróg) or Ricotta with lots of lemon juice
A bit of cream
One egg yolk
You mix all the pancake ingredients and fry them as you normally would. You also mix the filling and when the plain pancakes are ready you spread the filling on them, fold them or roll them and then put them back on the pan for a few minutes to warm up the filling. Then enjoy.
Then – if you are not burning calories trying to stay alive in the cold – go for a run..
I have been in Europe (Switzerland) for less than 24 hours and I really don’t know how people live in this cold. I realized within ten minutes of being outside that I would have to cast off any last shred of vanity I had in order to survive. Sorry, no more trying to do winter chic, I like having digits too much. I am on my way to Poland in an hours time and there I will be stocking up on proper socks and better the gloves – the adorable leather ones I found at the market the other day simply weren’t made for below zero degree temperatures.
I hope the weather gods will smile on me and the temperatures will creep up a little. Those who know me must be laughing in between pitying me because they know how much I struggle in Joburg winters. I am glad we left Poland before I reached an age when you actually start to notice how cold it is because you have to be outside for reasons other than playing.
On the plus side, Zug, where I am staying in Switzerland, is really beautiful and you can see from some of these photos. I am looking forward to photographing it some more when I am back (and suitably attired) on Thursday and Friday.
I don’t have any old photos of me with the ice cream so the newspaper will have to do.
In less than a week’s time I will be visiting Poland for the first time since December 2004. I have been thinking a lot about my childhood there and the relationship I have with Poland and I thought I’d share an old piece that I wrote a few years ago during one of my less successful blog attempts…
“The other day I was watching television and something made me think back on the ice cream we used to buy in Poland as kids. It was called Calypso and it had the face of a young African boy – similar to those offensive 1930s/40s colonial cartoons – printed on the silver wrapper. The ice cream resembled a block of butter – a single rectangular block of ice cream wrapped in foil. No stick. No cup.
I think there were three or four flavours – chocolate, vanilla, vanilla-choc and vanilla-with-strange-jelly-bits. I remember an occasion where by sheer bad luck I ended up with one of those – I stood outside the local store where I had bought my ice cream and to my horror I discovered bright bits of green, yellow and red blemishing the vanilla. For a six or seven year old true disappointments in life are for the most part limited to exactly such disasters; however even as an adult you still feels that same dismay when you realize that you picked up the wrong flavour of chocolate or chips ten minutes after you’ve left the shop.
A quick google search has revealed Calypsos are still around, but from what I have heard they are nothing but poorly executed imitations which offer only a false hope of being able to tap into one’s childhood. The wrapper has been updated and they have a whole lot of new flavours – the jelly monster is amazingly still available.
Childhood memories are precious, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera writes the following: “Not long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I was touched by some of his portraits: they reminded me of my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of my family perished in Hitler’s concentration camps; but what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost period in my life, a period that would never return?”
A part of me really wishes I could have one more opportunity to taste an old-school Calypso with its smooth and rich creaminess, but another part of me realises that my memory has created a taste which cannot be reproduced in life, and would probably disappoint. I remember the first time I watched Scooby Doo after a gap of about 6 years – I could not believe that this rubbish had been one of my favourite shows to watch. This of course is not true for everything but there are some memories I think I should leave high up in the cabinet, behind protective glass, rather than risk taking them down to see all the dust and cracks.”
I’m sure my mom will want to kill me for putting this up – 80s hair and sunglasses – check!
The photos are all from old slides that my mom converted to digital a few years ago. I used to love looking at slides on the slide machine. It always felt so special and exciting.