The Vodka Project - in search of the spirit

Pięknie dziś wyglądaszPosted on 17th December, 2007.

I met her in the plaza outside the Centrum Metro station. I was standing by the mural of Beuys and Kantor, trying to keep out of the bitter wind. She came out of the underground, a little flustered I thought. She looked like death warmed up, but pretty nonetheless. I kept this thought to myself. I feel like death warmed up, she said. She needed coffee, immediately – she insisted on nothing more than 10 minutes away. We walked past a military vehicle parked on the corner of Marszałkowska and Jerozolimskie. Militia and soldiers stood around a coal brazier, in a re-enactment of the imposition of Martial Law in Poland, 26 years ago today. The phrase in Polish is more direct – stan wojenny - which translates as “the state of war”. They posed for photographs, looking quite unthreatening and cheerful, with a soundtrack of rock music and folk song against a video screen with footage from the time. I had seen them earlier in the day outside the Church of the Visitation, saying things like, Shall we put him in the back of the suka? This is the blue van, nicknamed ‘the bitch’ where suspects were stashed, to await beating, interrogation or worse. Some old guys were arguing vehemently with the young actors-renactors about the merits or not of General Jaruzelski and his decision. Did it save Poland from a Soviet military invasion? Did it hasten the demise of communist rule?

On the number 25 tram from Praga, I talked to a man who used to work for The Department of Monitoring National Statistics – or so it translated. He saw a bright future for Poland. You can’t imagine what it was like in those times, he said, now we are a part of the European Union and we have freedom of movement. You take this liberty for granted. Freedom of movement, who could imagine such a thing in those times… He believed in the young people of this country. He said some of his friends disagreed, but none of them had ever travelled beyond the confines of their communist borders. He said, Once even I have been to New York!

There was a different kind of re-enactment earlier, outside Arkadia shopping mall, with bearded serious old men carrying Imperial Polish standards, and pulling a pine coffin on a small cart with the Polish flag laid over it. No-one took their photograph but they marched up and down resolutely demanding some kind of sacrifice to the Nation. No-one could explain it to me. They shrugged their shoulders, suggesting these marching people were a little crazy perhaps. They wanted to go backwards to old times, why weren’t they shopping?

Making our way through the crowds of frenetic shoppers, we went to the top floor of Empik, where we could see the vista of central Warsaw laid out before us, the past and the present layered over each other. Leaden grey earlier in the day, the sky and ground the colour of concrete, the city came to life with the lurid colours of huge advertisements and billboards and festive bulbs. I recalled a friend saying, You know, in the Seventies it was always this grey colour of concrete, even in summer. Not unlike Birmingham, I thought. Now a sea of yellow-orange light – from the Christmas decorations strung up over the façade of the Palace of Culture – washes over the crowds coming and going and over the incessant traffic, making it look like a scene constructed in Photoshop. Now the city after dark is imbued with the bright avarice of commerce.

Looking down on the busy streets, we drank cappuccino and talked. She had flown in from Stockholm to walk in her beloved childhood woods in Swider, and I had travelled from Kaunas, an eight hour journey by train. There was a guy trying to pick up women in the busy coffee shop, pretending to speak French. Do you always attract such company? she asked. I am afraid so… She talked about the conjunction of the stars and the astrological significance of this particular week, of this particular day, and this particular time. I listened carefully, of course. (Me, Aries, Year of the Monkey, she Virgo, year of the Dragon.) She has told me that one day I will wake and realise this will be the perfect day, and this perfect day will end with us drinking vodka together. The stars say so. The auspices are good.

email exchanges…Posted on 16th December, 2007.

dear iwona,
Went to Carrefour to buy wine for Saturday party and not the wine store on Wierzbowa. It was crazy Xmas busy. I was browsing shelves and thinking, What is that wine? Looking close, it was not very good Romanian. And two women were doing the same and we all sort of collided and then one bottle fell, then a whole line, then the shelf collapsed and I was surrounded by a sea of red wine, like the scene in The Shining (blood then, not wine). Miraculously I was untouched.

This is God’s way of telling me to drink vodka. So i took vodka to party and was the last one standing – or maybe sitting. The birthday girl has some drinking stamina. Great food, and good vodka project research. Came home to sleep at 9am. The light was beautiful. Ah… see you soon,
bj

b,
Lucky you. Did they photograph you to put the photo among people for whom entrance is not permitted?

Stay with vodka, then. I was drinking wine. A lot, as a matter of fact and came home around noon – when good light has already disappeared…
Best,
i.

No photos, they just said, corva! or something like that. I ran off, blushing. We are obviously getting in good training for new year…! :)
bj

Year that will be longer – at least one vodka more.
i.

But not tonight, my dear, I really had too much. Nearly drunk under the table by a woman half my age.
bj

So you asked her? I mean – about age?
i.

Of course. One needs to be sensitive to age.

I will make the vodka project blog live at beginning of January. In preparation i have written 3 short posts to start the ball rolling. Attached. I would like to post the piece you originally wrote to me. I don’t have it except as a hard copy. you know the piece I mean? Please tender my apologies to Dorota and Robert.

Writing furiously, which is great!!! better write something for short guide eh!
bj

dear bj
Holidays, holidays, and we are after holidays – as they say in my favourite country at last at home – but with my sister and her toddler (listening to singing snail she got from Santa Claus); there is a chance I’ll survive. Party of Robert and Dorota was great – they had a good time, so guests didn’t have any other choice; still it lasted from 1 pm till 1 am, even longer than my sister’s wedding (let me know if you would like to get a DVD from the wedding ;-) Files you asked – please find attached. my best
i.

iwona,
Glad to hear the festivities are in order. With regard to document number 1. it wouldn’t open – said it was corrupted… (that’s a nice way to end the year!) If it contains images, maybe just send doc with text only and send images seperately please.

Please find attached suggested headers for vodka blog. Do you like any of them? they’re ok and we’ll change them as we go along I think. choose one for a starter please.

Thank you.
bj

I guess I like vodkabanner and/or Poland5. The best picture is here. Txt pls find attached – it seems that our computers don’t cooperate eagerly (pls, improve my English!)
best
i.

Here’s another two options. Any preference?
bj

No, too metaphorical – and the edited one too blurred, I think.
i.

Ok, we’re ready. Let’s start.
bj