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December 21, 2006

Bagatelles (Year-End Cheapo Visual Version)

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here it is -- Late December -- and I figure a third-rate amateur writer such as this Blowhard can do no better than to imitate the practices of real professionals in the magazine trade at this time of year.

That is, goof off and slap together a quickie with lotsa pix and negligible verbiage to keep the insatiable editorial "hole" filled with content.

So here goes...

Gallery: Cityscape

Warsaw - 1.jpg
Morning in the city. Skyscrapers... Boulevards...

Warsaw - 2.jpg
Grass... Funny sign with hand -- tee hee...

Warsaw - 3.jpg
Hmm. The building to the right sorta leans, doesn't it? ...

Warsaw - 4.jpg
Skyscrapers again, as seen from exterior elevator. (Yawn)...

Yikes!!! What's this?

Warsaw - 5.jpg
Its ... its ... a Stalin-era wedding-cake skyscraper!

Where are we?

Why in Warsaw, of course. Didn't you notice that the words next to the Coca-Cola sign in the second picture were in Polish?



posted by Donald at December 21, 2006


Warsaw is an interesting city and Poles have an ambivalent relationship with it. Non-Varsovians tend to resent it, similar to middle America's attitude toward Washngton DC. That attitude is in part a commie-era holdover (that's where the Government was), and in part the love-hate relationship anyone has with a city where all the jobs are, that's expensive to live in, etc.

I happen to be very fond of Warsaw. Maybe it's the fact that it was almost entirely razed by the Germans after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Most of its historic buildings were rebuilt using 19th century paintings and pre-war photography (keep in mind that various official archives were destroyed during the War). Original materials pulled from the rubble were uses as much as possible.

A friend of mine lives in one of the few buildings that survived the war more or less intact. In the middle of his kitchen is a patched hole in the concrete floor, which he intentionally doesn't tile over. The hole was made by a bomb dropped on the building, that fell through every floor all the way to the basement but failed to detonate. His parents were in that kitchen when the bomb fell through.

Yes, Warsaw does have its share of ridiculous "skyscraper" architecture. But come on, don't you kinda like the Rotunda area (round bank opposite the "wedding cake tower"), the loud streetcars, the promenade with illuminated upscale shopping centers, with students and other young Poles bustling about?

And did you walk up Nowy Swiat, toward the Royal Palace and Old Town? It does have the standard feel of Prague or any other historic European city, though it's not as grand or picturesque... but to me there is so much more poignancy in Warsaw's old town, given the history.

Interesting you should point out the "wedding cake" Palace of Culture and Science, a 50's givt from Uncle Joe. After 1989, many wanted to raze the eyesore, but (wisely, I think) the buildign was left alone, now just another layer of Warsaw's history.

Posted by: PA on December 22, 2006 8:35 AM

That Stalinesque skyscraper is typical of a lot of hedge-your-bets architectural design of the '30s and '40s, trying to be contemporary and with-it but Scotch taping plenty of ornament onto the geometric forms to please the traditionalists, who still had some clout in those days. Most American cities have at least one example like it.

I'm rather fonder of those things than their meager esthetic merits should allow, now that they're surrounded by the look-alike steel, aluminum, and glass high rises that are making every city — even Warsaw, apparently — into Dallas.

Posted by: Rick Darby on December 22, 2006 11:03 AM

PA -- I took photos of those streetcars, but didn't post them because of the concept I had in mind for this particular post -- such a picture would have blown the punch-line photo's impact.

And yes I walked around as much as I could, given the constraint that I was with a tour group. We did the old town area with the tour, and in the afternoon I walked from the Westin (where we and 400 gazillion John Deere salesmen were staying) and zig-zagged over to the National Museum to check out the gallery with Polish paintings. I was definitely surprised by the number of tall buildings in town.

FYI, our route was to Warsaw from Berlin via Poznan (lunch stop), after Warsaw to Krakow and then on to Slovakia & Budapest. So we got a fairly good picture of the topography, considering the short stay in the country. As best I can tell, the main large feature we missed was the Masurian (sp?) marshes to the northeast. We were on major highways, and the country looked good economicallly (considering the past) aside from the first 100 miles or so coming in from Berlin. The German side of the border thereabouts wasn't so hot either, economically.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 22, 2006 11:37 AM

Yes, this winter is unusually warm in Warsaw.

Posted by: Tat on December 22, 2006 11:50 AM

Having tried my hand at photography and (mostly) failed miserably, I can honestly say that you, Mr. P, take good pictures.

Posted by: ricpic on December 22, 2006 2:51 PM

If some of the signs were hung upside-down, that'd be a dead giveaway that the city was Warsaw :)

Posted by: Peter on December 22, 2006 8:40 PM

Also, one of those skyscrapers is clearly made out of communist potatoes.

Posted by: Alice Bachini on December 23, 2006 1:06 AM

Donald, all skyscrapers lean on pictures; the higher structure - the sharper the angle. Look at your own examples - they all look like Tower of Pisa - except they are not falling; it's a known optical illusion, for ages used in architectural rendering where grade-level point of view in perspective is chosen.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 23, 2006 8:03 AM

Tat -- No, the building to the right actually does lean; apparently it was designed that way. It leaned when I saw in person. And compare the angle of its left edge in the photo to the nearby right edge of the taller building. Given the angle of the camera and the fact that a wide-angle lens setting was used, those two edges ought to be nearly (but not quite) parallel. Instead, they diverge more that would be expected.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 23, 2006 11:41 AM

Isn't Warsaw built on a sandy plain? Maybe some of the buildings are sinking, at an angle, into the sand.

Also, it's depressing as hell that Warsaw looks like freakin' Toledo, Ohio. Isn't the whole point of travel to get away from Ohio?

Well, in any case, Merry Xmas everybody.

Posted by: ricpic on December 23, 2006 5:32 PM

On that photo if you look at the left edge of the taller building and the left edge of the building in question - they are almost parallel, if you allow for distance between them.
But OK:
you were there, unlike me, so I'll believe you.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 23, 2006 6:53 PM

If Warsaw were sinking into the sand, I'd have heard about it, as would have the geotech engineers during the construction boom of the 90s.

Warsaw looks nothing like Toledo, Ohio. For one, Toledo OH: pop. 300,000; Warsaw, PL: pop. 1.7 million.

Posted by: PA on December 24, 2006 5:51 AM

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