Exactly 1 year ago today, I left on an airplane with the rest of my drama class on a 15 day trip to Poland. We saw the country, and we saw the theatre.
I took photos and wrote notes the entire time.
Over the course of the year, I’ve sporadically been putting those notes and photos online. I find it appropriate, if not entirely coincidental, that my last entry should be published exactly one year from the day of our departure.
You’ll notice in my entries that I switch sporadically between past-tense and present-tense. This is because half of the time, I’m quoting directly from my journal, and the other half, I’m quoting from memory. I know that’s a writing faux pas, but I’m not planning on fixing it. Sorry.
So, without further ado, here is the index to My Poland Journal:
We’re already an hour into the flight. Somehow, this plane isn’t giving me too much confidence.
The safety video (on a single screen at the front of the plane) kept flickering in and out, and I think I missed a lot of important information.
There were several instances where music would start to play for a few seconds in the cabin, and then abruptly stop.
Ryan and Jiv just noticed that there’s water dripping on them from above the overhead compartment.
My headphones don’t seem to work unless I hold them in.
And there’s masking tape holding part of the wall together.
A Lapse in Writing Cohesion
At this point in my journal, my writing really started to deteriorate. The timestamps have less and less meaning as I travel across time zones. I think my pen was starting to run out of ink, I was exhausted, and the boredom of the flight was starting to drive me nuts. I’ll do my best to translate the scrawl that ended my journal.
8:50PM (Poland Time)
No idea where we are, so no real clue on what the actual time is. Still, it’s pretty bright out. Looks like mid-afternoon outside. This is going to be the longest day of my life.
The minutes are crawling by. 3 or 4 more hours. Pen is starting to fail me.
11:45PM (Poland Time)
Still bright out. Spooky. About to get our second meal! Surprise: it’s a sandwich. And the Nutcracker Suite just came on in my headphones again. That’s 6 times in total now.
12:55AM (Poland Time)
Just filled out declaration card for Canada Customs. There are lots of confused people who don’t speak English on the plane. Lots of passengers standing up, and gesturing to one another frantically. Wish I could help, but I don’t speak Polish.
1 hour remaining. Can’t wait. Flying over Québec.
Got off the plane. Buzzed through customs. Luggage was late getting onto the carousel, but it eventually showed up. Said lots of goodbyes to people. Jiv’s family offered to drive me home, and I gratefully accepted.
Noticed plenty of garbage on the streets on the drive in – though I had imagined more.
Eventually showed up at my apartment in Toronto. Said goodbye to Jiv and his family.
Went inside. Fingers barely worked. Made contact with Em, the guys, and my family to let them know I was alive.
And then collapsed into bed. It was good to be home.
Today is our last full day in Poland. We’re leaving for Toronto tomorrow.
To be honest, I’m kind of glad. I like Poland just fine, but I really just want to go home now.
I slept in this morning, and then had a big breakfast of crépes with Jiv, Ryan, Reid, Yev and Alexi.
With my stomach full, I set off for one last solo-tour of the Wroclaw square. I went into some shops I hadn’t seen yet. I revisited some ones I was already familiar with. My pen was starting to run out (my journal is almost full!), so I bought a new one and am using it right now.
I sat in the square and listened to people speaking different languages. I enjoyed the weather. It’s a nice day today.
I’m back at the hostel. This place is in really good condition, and nicely decorated. The beds and bathrooms are pretty nice, and a dream compared to what we dealt with in Poznan. The staff (a family, I believe) seem a bit rude and resentful – like they really don’t enjoy running a hostel. I’m almost afraid to ask for the key at the front desk, as it’s usually accompanied by a rolling of eyes and some attitude.
Pro tip: hostels are a good place to donate old computers to. As somebody who has now been in a few hostels, I can’t stress how important basic Internet connectivity is. Just a thought.
I think I’m starting to get over my cold a little. I seem to be over the worst of it, anyhow. Others in the group are starting to get sick though – it’ll be good to get everyone home and rested.
We were going to see a Pina Bausch talk-back session today, but it was canceled due to sudden health problems (Pina Bausch unfortunately passed away on June 30th, a day after this entry was written).
Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We’re waking up at 6AM. Then, a 7 hour bus ride to Warsaw. After that, an 8-9 hour flight to Toronto. Both Yev and Jiv have offered me a ride from Pearson Airport back to my apartment – I’m grateful, and at this point I’ll climb into the first car I see.
I’m not sure what the best course of action is jet-lag-wise, so I’ll probably just try to stay awake for the entire trip home and see if that works.
When I get back, I’ll take a few days to rest. I’ll hang out with Em and the guys. I’ll write a few blog posts. I’ll upload photos. Then, I’ll be back to work on MarkUs (I wonder how Nelle and Severin are coming along?).
After hanging around the hostel for a bit, Alex and I left and walked around downtown. We chatting about the trip, and what we were going to do when we get home.
Eventually, we headed to the theatre to see a film recording of a Krystian Lupa play. I tried my best to enjoy it, but I really couldn’t get into it. Like I mentioned earlier, video recordings of plays often don’t work well at all for me.
I think I napped through a good chunk of the film. Eventually, it ended, and I caught up with Alexi and Yev as they were leaving the theatre.
And it was absolutely pouring out. Buckets. Torrents. Huge rainfall. I was scared to take out my camera for a photo in case I damaged it, so I can only describe it: lots of rain.
We went back to the hostel to rejoin the rest of the group, and then purchased tram tickets for the next (and final) theatre piece of the trip: The Temptation of Quiet Veronica.
THE TEMPTATION OF QUIET VERONICA (or KUSZENIE CICHEJ WERONIKI) directed by Krystian Lupa
Maybe it was the exhaustion. Maybe it was the fact that my body was starting to rebel against this trip. Maybe I’d just seen to much theatre these past two weeks.
Whatever the reason, I just could not keep my mind on the show. The only remarkable thing I can think of happened just as the play was beginning.
I’m sitting in between Ryan and Alex. The stage is still dark, and the audience is buzzing. Ryan looks at us and says, very seriously, “I swear to god, if I see one more naked person, I think I’m going to flip out.”
The house lights started to dim. The stage lights lit up. And guess what was standing there, spread-eagle in the middle of the stage?
You guessed it.
For the rest of the show, all I could really focus on was Ryan’s hand, gripping, white-knuckled, on to my knee.
This trip marks the end of an era for me. I’ve known the people I’m traveling with pretty intimately for about 4 years. We’ve acted together, studied together, sweated, presented, and complained together. It’s a tight group, and when this trip is over, it will signal the end of my time studying at the UCDP.
I awoke all stuffed up, miserable, and sore this morning. Really didn’t sleep well. I know I’ve been complaining a lot lately about this cold, but I’m actually pretty lucky that it hit me at the end of the trip, as opposed to the beginning.
After breakfast, we got on the bus and drove for 2.5 hours back to Wroclaw. Tried to nap on the bus, but no luck.
It’s good to be back in Wroclaw, and around relatively familiar surroundings – it’s probably the closest thing I could call to home out here. Compared to Poznan, Wroclaw fits me like a pair of comfy running shoes.
After unloading our stuff at the hostel, we went to go have dinner. Guess what we ate? Pirogies! I have to admit, I was getting a little sick of eating pirogies day in and day out, but I figured it’d be a long time before I had authentic Polish pirogies again, so I ate up.
I’m at a theatre, watching a talk session with Tadashi Suzuki, the famed Japanese theatre director/philosopher, and founder of the Suzuki Method of Actor Training (not to be confused with the training technique for music). So, what’s the Suzuki Method of Actor Training? Hard for me to say – I’ve never taken it. But my movement instructor learned Suzuki during a sabbatical, and my girlfriend Em ended up learning it in her class. From what I’d heard, it’s a lot of leg-work, feet-work, stomping, etc. Here’s a description of a Suzuki course to give you an idea:
Suzuki is a powerful physical training technique drawing from ballet, martial arts, Kabuki and other disciplines. Focusing on breath, the center and the lower body, with stomping, slow movement and explosive gestures, Suzuki brings attention to the voice and its connection to the body.
Anyhow, I’m watching him during this talk-back session, and it’s a pretty interesting interview process.
You see, I don’t believe Suzuki speaks English or Polish. The interviewer speaks both Japanese and Polish, but only Japanese to Suzuki. Suzuki responds in Japanese, which goes through his personal translator, who speaks it in Polish. A fourth guy on the edge then translates the Polish into English to give us poor Canadian sods an idea of what’s going on.
I must admit, I welcome the opportunity to zone out a bit while I wait for the English.
Here’s a shot of the linguistic circus:
At the Suzuki talk28-Jun-2009 09:53, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 4.7, 17.4mm, 0.37 sec, ISO 100
The talk seems to be centered around modern technology, and how Suzuki believes it is damaging our collecting ability to remember our history. Interesting, but I think I’ve heard that one before.
After the talk, I got up, realized I was exhausted, and headed back to the hostel for a short nap.
I woke up at 5:52PM with a start. The hostel was empty. I’m groggy, and I have the faint suspicion that something is wrong. Unable to fathom what it is, I put on my clothes and stretch.
And that’s when I notice my ticket for the next show: it’s supposed to start at 6PM.
I have a lightning fast consultation with the hostel computer for directions to the theatre, and then a quick chat with the hostel desk girl for advice on shortcuts, and then I hit the street. I sprint to the theatre at top speed.
And somehow, magically, I make it. I was lucky – the theatre was pretty close to our hostel. I enter the building and eventually find my comrades who had had no idea that I’d been sleeping when they’d left.
I didn’t even know what show I was seeing, until I looked at my ticket again…
FRAGMENTS By Samuel Beckett, Directed By Peter Brook
Wow! Samuel Beckett and Peter Brook! Now those are two names I definitely recognize. I had studied Brook in both highschool and University, and Beckett in the latter.
I even saw Peter Brook that night – I walked past him in the lobby. He was in the middle of a conversation with someone else, so I didn’t interrupt (I don’t even know what I would have said if I had…”you do great work”…?).
He’s shorter than I thought he’d be.
Anyhow, the show was absolutely awesome. I loved it, back to front.
Fragments is a series of shorts originally written by Samuel Beckett. The set was very sparse, containing only what was necessary. The costumes were simple. The acting was fantastic.
What was it? Well, pretty black comedy is what I saw. Gallows humour.
A one legged beggar and a blind beggar try to strike up a mutually beneficial relationship.
A lady in a rocking chair speaks hypnotic circles while waiting (and yearning) for death to take her.
Two men wake up in burlap sacks. One goes through his day, “worldweary and bemused”, with every possible obstacle in life causing him to groan and sigh. The other man goes through his day (and the same obstacles) with unbelievable energy and optimism. Both end up in the same place at the end. Classic Beckett, and wonderful clowning by the two actors.
Those were the three shorts that stood out for me, anyhow. I really enjoyed them.
After the show, we all rushed out to the opera theatre…we had another show to see.
NEFÉS by Pina Bausch
Wow! Another name I recognize! From what I know about her (which, admittedly isn’t much) Bausch’s name is synonymous with incredible and original choreography in modern dance.
And that’s what we saw. Incredible dance. Incredibly choreographed, and incredibly executed.
I won’t lie – I’m a sucker for contemporary dance. I lapped this show right up.
This, despite a partially obstructed view (the old opera theatre was gold and gorgeously ornate, but had some unfortunately placed pillars).
I can’t even begin to describe the dancing. This clip is the best I can do:
Anyhow, thumbs up. Here’s a shot of the curtain call:
The Pina Bausch dancers!28-Jun-2009 17:44, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 3.98, 11.6mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
My journal for this day starts with an entry at 10AM, recapping what happened the night before. The next entry is at 1:55PM. I’d have to conclude from this that it was a slow morning – probably just eating breakfast, checking email, and chatting with the others.
Apparently, tickets for the Guerilla Walk (an event that both Tamara and Peter praised endlessly last night) are sold out. We’ve been put on the standby list though, so we’ll see if we can get lucky there.
I’m feeling pretty tired and incoherent. Again, the bunks in this hostel aren’t very comfortable. Not sure what I want to do today…
I’m in the Poznan square with Linn, Yev and Alexi. We’re feeding pigeons.
My throat is still really sore, but Tara and Tom gave me some Robatussin, Alexi gave me some Polish cold medication, and Yev gave me some vitamin C. And I’m constantly munching on Halls.
Hopefully it’s not a lethal combination.
I’m with Yev and Alexi, and we just watched a film called “Attempt of a Portrait of Jerzy Grotowski”. Pretty interesting. Next is another (rare) film on Grotowski, which demonstrates some of his rehearsal techniques.
I found a YouTube clip of the video:
The actor demonstrating it is ripped, and moves his body really violently…he’s snapping his neck around all over the place (see 4:00 onward). It looks uncomfortable, but I guess he knows what he’s doing.
We’re going to watch a bit of it, and then leave to try to do the Guerilla Walk thing.
After watching a bit of the second Grotowski film, Yev, Alexi and I made a break for it and headed to the meeting place for the Guerilla Walk.
I wasn’t entirely sure what this Guerilla Walk thing was…Peter and Tamara had been (intentionally?) vague about it – saying that we just had to do it.
When we got there, we found out that some folks who had reserved tickets couldn’t make it – so we, the standbys, got the tickets. Thank you drama gods!
We got into a lineup, and noticed that a bunch of other folks from the UCDP had also made it in. We got closer and closer to the end of the line, and when we got there, a person asked for our passports. Apparently, we would be getting a headphone set for listening to our tour guides (like at Auschwitz), and they wanted our passports as deposits.
Hm. As a cautious traveler, this set off warning bells. I had been instructed from the get-go to not let my passport get out of sight, and that Canadian passports are particularly valuable on the black market. But, I watched my comrades fork over their Canadian passports for their headsets, and I eventually did the same.
So, I got my wireless headphones, and waited in the designated area for the “walk” to begin.
This might have been my favourite part about our trip to Poland. I’ll do my best to describe it.
The tour group was about…I’d guess, 50 people. All of us had wireless headphones on.
There were two tour guides. One was decked out with an impressive portable DJ-ing rig and broadcasting system (large antenna out of his backpack). The other guide had headphones similar to ours, but with a microphone to speak to us. There was also some support guys walking around with spare batteries for our headphones in case we started to run low. There was a camera guy filming us.
The banter between the two tour guides was absolutely hilarious. It was something like morning-radio-show banter, mixed with highly-skilled freestyle rap.
Our guides then took us on adventures in the city. We walked through a town hall (?…seemed like some sort of administrative building…) that Hitler had once visited, and listened to Chaplin imitating him from The Great Dictator. We were then led out of the “bowels” of the building on to the street.
And already, we were putty in their hands. The guides were very skilled at making us all feel like a mob that was cooler than anyone else around us who wasn’t wearing headphones. A strange feeling of invincibility seemed to sweep through us as we marched along, invading various parts of the city.
We would periodically stop to watch our tour guides complete some kind of “mission”. For example, they would do some “Guerilla planting”, and plant a flower at a city park. Other times, they’d climb up a portable ladder to second-story apartments and say hello to the people inside. If they found a lady, they’d ask for a lock of her hair.
They would chat with interesting people they found on the street, and give them a microphone so we could hear what they were saying.
And the entire time, there was a cool hip-hop back-beat, and periodic freestyle rapping from the DJ. The entire tour group would dance sporadically. I’m sure we looked silly or strange to people without headphones walking around us…but we just didn’t care.
Eventually, our guides led us inside of a building. We walked up a flight of steps, and through some dark passageways. There was a lot of us, and it was getting cramped. Our destination was a darkroom, and it was pitch black. All of us, all of the tour group, was in pitch black. And then suddenly, beer was being passed around, our tour-guide lit up his neon suit, and we were having an impromptu “darkroom disco”. Most of the music was Michael Jackson. And it was awesome. We danced, blindly. We held hands with silent strangers that we couldn’t see. Whooping and hollering in the dark. Very cool experience.
We eventually left the darkroom disco. The beer had really loosened up the tour group, and we were all getting pretty silly and dancy. We waited for a streetcar, and danced until it finally showed up.
There were a few other missions after the darkroom disco…we put up some QR Codes around the city, saying things like “Something from nothing”, or “I love you”.
We gathered at a public, indoor swimming pool, stood around it, and sang a song about amoebas.
But why just tell you about it, when I can show you? They filmed the whole thing. I pop up a few times in the video, along with my comrades. This will give you a good idea of what we were doing.
After the tour, and after we’d calmed down a bit (the whole experience had really pumped us up), Jiv and I had an interesting conversation about the meaning of the piece.
While it could simply be viewed as a fun tour, Jiv noted certain patterns in its design and content. Patterns like the amoeba song, the Hitler speech, the blind darkroom dance. He said that it was an interesting study in mob mentality – and that it really only takes a charismatic, likable leader (our tour guides), and direct 1-way communication (the headsets) to create a mob. We had become a benign, dancing, adventuring mob. But violent, dangerous mobs could be created in the same way. I think Jiv is right.
After the Guerilla Walk, we grabbed some food (we were starving), and then went to go see Caligula.
Caligula was being performed outdoors. It was becoming a chilly night – I hoped the actors would be warm enough.
As an interesting aside: outside of the theatre space, there was a monument to the Polish men and women who had worked on cracking the Enigma cipher:
Monument for Enigma cypher codebreakers27-Jun-2009 16:46, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.81, 5.8mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
I studied that for a bit, and then we went inside to see the show.
CALIGULA by Tomaž Pandur
Here’s the description of the show from the Malta! Festival website (though it looks like they just pumped the Polish version through Google Translate):
Caligula is a spectacle based on the Albert Camus’ drama but that spectacle suggests a different look at a history of Rome third emperor. It’s the story about the clash great ideas with the narrow-mindedness of the world and about the price that has to be paid by those who strive for perfection. This is the story about little people distroying, with the stubborness, everything that made them aware of their triviality – Caligula was brutally murdered and – what’s worst – he was slandered for ages. Pandula teared the shroud of the lies weaved by the Swetonius, duplicated later by historians and writers, and tells his own version of life and tragical Caligula’s end – the great visioner.
With his theatrical manifesto Caligula proclaims: ” Exciting illusion of the truth, the most beautiful spectacle in the world, the perfect place for the acts of God in the Earth, wonderful and attraction uncompared with anything, the thunder and lightning, destiny in the triumphal march… it’s the art of drama… people make mistakes because they do not believe enought in theatre.” This way the Caligula life became a living theatre, the journey without limits to the galaxy of everything what is invisible and unaware. The crowned poet with the divine clairvoyance of a hermit.
Hm. Not the clearest description I’ve ever heard. I’ll do my best to tell you what I saw.
Remember how I hoped that the actors would be warm?
Well, guess what? The actors performed the entire time wearing next to nothing. In water. It wasn’t just a wet stage…it was…like, half a foot of water that the actors were standing and performing in. I was freezing just watching them.
So, this was another take on the story of Caligula, the third Roman emperor.
And it was visually stunning. I already told you about the flooded outdoor stage, but the rest of the set was this series of gray towers that looked like stone. The towers would silently rearrange themselves in order to change the scenery. The precision and expertise in the transitions was absolutely fantastic. A marvel. It was magic.
Once again, I think a lot of the story was lost in translation for me. Plus, it was outdoors, and the actors weren’t mic’d (mic’ing would have been a nightmare in all of that water). So hearing was a bit difficult.
There were certain points in the show that really caught my attention, visually. The reflection of the water was used liberally to create some neat rippling effects on the set pieces. Some additional “magic” was done with the set pieces – a stone tower would glide in front of an actor, and after it had passed, two more actors had joined the first. Neat things like that.
So, visually, this show was stunning. I also give full kudos to the actors for working in the freezing cold, naked, in water. I can’t say much for the story or plot. Still, an interesting show.
Here are some super blurry photos of the cast bowing:
Fuzzy shot of the CALIGULA cast27-Jun-2009 18:52, FUJIFILM FinePix A345, 2.8, 5.8mm, 0.5 sec, ISO 156
After the show, we all went back to the hostel. As usual, reactions to Caligula were mixed. Eventually, I landed on my lumpy mattress to try sleeping again. We’d be heading back to Wroclaw the next morning.