Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dąbrowa Tarnowska

Saturday was a very exciting day for me since I was able to go a short trip away to Dąbrowa Tarnowska, which is the place where my Babcia grew up and started her family as a young adult.

*On skype* – Hey Babcia! Guess where I am! Dąbrowa Tarnowska.

Before leaving to Europe, many of my relatives became very excited of my close vicinity to Poland and literally gave me lists with addresses and phone numbers of people to visit and which family members lived where. Between Tarnów and Dąbrowa Tarnowska was where a large majority of my extended family lived, and for Saturday’s agenda, we almost had a back to back schedule of different houses to visit.

[ Family, boxes of photos and coffee to sit for long talks - the elements of a day meeting tons of family and learning about your relatives. ]

In total over the weekend I went to four different houses, each with a different connection back to my Babcia – different branches from Babcia’s older brothers or sisters. The visits were of course very nice – all of them with more coffee and plates of food – and full of everyone giving me big hugs and a lot of greetings and welcomes in Polish. Starting from Ciocia Maika on my first evening in Tarnów, I began to notice a trend with all of my extended family, and even people that vaguely knew my family in America.

Oh Krzysiu, you have your Babcia’s eyes.

After one look, I could tell this was Ania’s son.

And other observations with how much of a Partynski I was. [Babcia’s eyes? Ania later laughed with me that Polish people love to find similarities, or even think they find similarities, with family members]

Hell, to my relatives, I might have my Mom’s face and Babcia’s eyes, but no one said anything about my nose – they probably kept that to themselves – those Crachiola’s gave that to him.

I could follow along with the Polish conversation around me – and I might even venture to say that it was getting better constantly hearing the language. Every family I went to was happy to hear though that learning Polish has been in my curriculum and I have plans to hopefully studying it in Poland in the future.

In the evening, at the final house we visited everyone wanted to see pictures of my family in America, so I showed them what I had on my hard-drive and, since they had internet, went online to find some more. As soon as I had connected to the internet, my skype began signaling a call from my parents and I knew they were in for a surprise. And actually I was in for a surprise myself – my Wujek Andrzej was in town in Troy and wanted to get in touch with me to see how Germany and Poland was going.

He didn’t just get me however, since almost 10 members of the family at the house were crowded around my back looking at the computer screen waving hi to Wujek, Babcia, my cousins, brother and parents. I thought it was so cool – there were almost 20 people involved in the entire conversation ranging 3 generations – The whole situation was exciting – one, for the amazing fact that skype is even possible – and secondly just the great feeling that my family is so big, loud and happy to see each other.

Going to Dąbrowa Tarnowska was something I knew was going to introduce me to an entire new perspective on my family – my very big, extended family where everyone is still called your cousin your Ciocia and your Wujek. Even if my conversations ranged from a few clumsy Polish phrases, to some choppy English to achieve understanding from my relatives, the entire day, while overwhelming, introduced me to an entirely new part of my life and background that I have to appreciate and discover.

Ruiny zamku w Tarnowie

[ Ruins of Tarnów castle ]

Grabbing my scarf and an extra sweatshirt, we were heading out into the chilly night to our first stop of the evening. On the way to our first destination we were passing different houses and buildings, and different history and facts were being told to me – so and so was born here, this is where this event happened - which was great to hear, but with everything in the dark and gone from sight in a blink while driving by, it was a lot to take in. I knew this was how the entire weekend was going to feel – lots of information, and a challenge to keep it all in order.

Approaching a large hill, we drove part way up, and when things began to get steep, we parked and began to hike the rest up a pitch black road only hazily illuminated from the glow of cellphone light. At the top, our breath may have been fogging before our eyes, but the view down with the dotted, glowing streetlights of Tarów below, with the sparkling white stars above was truly a spectacle [ and while we were up there, fingers were still pointed and family history was being told about something in the given direction ]

The view was incredible, but being completely dark, it was a bit dangerous making sure not to trip over large rocks –

Wait, these aren’t just rocks

What?! We are on a castle ruins?

Then, revealed only by flashes of camera light were the rugged, crumbled remains of a castle along the top of the hill. It was definitely not the smartest idea – but with the light of cellphones, I followed my cousins over and under exploring the different “rooms”.

Going down to one arch that I found particularly interesting –ahh


*falls* … right on my dupa.

[darn it… why did I wear a white hoodie…]

From that point on, we were literally tip toeing through the rubble, but with the eerie glow of the night and the stones that you could only imagine were once rooms, the setting was exciting. In one area growing with tall grass and bordered by a rectangle of “walls,” Michał mentioned that it was a great place for a bonfire, and Kaśka added that it was something they had done before, sitting the night on the hill with a group of friends in a circle telling ghost stories. I thought the idea was great – next time it is something that I will have to do for sure!

Later on, back at the base of the hill, we moved along to the center of town to the Tarnów market square. Much smaller than the sprawling Mecca that is the Kraków market square, Tarnów’s was humble but still capturing my love for little European city squares clacking with pedestrians along the cobblestones enjoying the nightlife. Little cafés and lit up jazz clubs lined the perimeter, and in one corner stood a prominent church, which we would later attend packed to the exits for Sunday mass, looming over the rooftop views.

The evening was full of information and events, but it was only the beginning for me of a long weekend ahead with many other people to meet and places to see.


Over the weekend the plan was to drive to see the city of Tarnów, which was where Kaśka, Michał and Ania grew up, and visit their parents – Ciocia Maika [sister to Ciocia Zosia] and my Wujek.

It took us almost 2.5 hours to get to Tarnów, but I doubt that it was really that far of a trip – it is impossible to compare distances by time in relation to American standards [ it is actually a very common trait for us Americans to measure distances by time from what I have heard]. Kaśka would frequently complain about the frustrating “Polish roads” [whenever we hit a bump on the scooter, she would just yell into the wind whipping by - Polish Road!]. I would tell her that Michigan wasn’t that great either – but I realized during the drive to Tarnów she wasn’t just talking about the cement – the traffic was absolutely terrible. There was no “highway” which Kaśka would fondly reminisce from her trip to the states. There was simply a two or three lane road, and a huge line of bumper to bumper traffic just leaving the city of Kraków.

[ Polish Road! ]

We were laughing because on the news the day before, there was a pretty well publicized story of a man that used his farm property and made a pass-way through it and would charge 2 złoty to each car in traffic – if you have 200 cars pass a day, 400 złoty… about 125 bucks. The controversy was whether it was legal or not – Kaśka joked that the situation was “definitely Polish,” but it definitely was reasonable, since some off-roading could potentially save hours of time on the densly packed roads!

Kraków is not necessarily a big city – but in the spectrum of Poland, its great churches, castle, market square and scenic streets make it seem very grand. From this Polish answer to a big city to Tarnów, I saw the changes in atmosphere to a smaller Polish city. Arriving at Michał and Kaśka’s old home, I was greeted at the door with big hugs from Ciocia and Wujek – Witam Krzysiu! Welcome – it was as if this visit was 19 years overdue, but it is true, this was my first time visiting someone from the long list of family here in Poland!

[ Making Szarlotka - Apple Cake - mmm, comforts of home ! ]

Sitting around the table with a cup of coffee, my Ciocia and Wujek and I tried to talk and surprisingly held good conversation – speaking for the fact that I can’t string a sentence in Polish together anymore for the life of me, just throwing some words together ungrammatically, but I can generally understand what is spoken around me, and I think the same goes for my Aunt and Uncle.

Krzysiu, your face is just like your mother’s

[ complement? They were smiling, so I think yes ;] ]

The tiny narrow streets outside, glowing with lamplight and lined with the legendary, matchcar-like yugo beaters, the setting was definitely new and different, but sitting at the table, laughing, rapid polish around me, complete with some good polish food, everything was oddly familiar. It was a setting similar to what I have grown up with and made me feel even more at home and with family – even with faces I had only known for minutes.

After a quick kolacje [supper] we were going to go and check out the old market square and some other views of Tarnów. Before we went however, we had to call Babcia up and say hello –

Hey Babcia! Guess where I am! Tarnów.


Sometimes when living abroad, there are turns of events that are so surprising it is hard to not laugh out of amazement from the coincidences. The other day, as Michał and I were overlooking the beautiful Vistula river bank from the high walls of Wawel castle, I pointed from across the river to a very unique building that caught my eye. The building seemed very modern and artistic with glass, a wavy roof reminiscent of the rippling river beside it, and tones of the silver metal against the light wood planks. I asked what the building was and Michał matter-of-factly responded: it is the Japanese museum here in Poland.

The what?

Yeah, it is a museum with Japanese art and culture.

But… why? Are there a lot of Japanese people here in Kraków that I don’t know about? [imagine a pierogi shop right next door to an authentic little Tokyo block… heaven!]

Michał laughed at this. I guess the thought of a Japanese person in Kraków was just as surprising to me seeing a Japanese cultural museum right across from the most famous castle in Poland. [or maybe he was thinking what it would be like to hear a Japanese person speak polish… I would even like to hear how that would go!]

The other day, after our little excursion squealing away on the go-karts [ I smelled my sweater and actually fumed of burnt rubber! ] Michał was wondering what to do next – hey, Manggha is just across the street!

Now I was never anticipating to have any encounters with Japanese things in Poland, but I couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity. The architecture was modern, and walking into the front vestibule looking out the complete glass wall with the large patio looking out the beautiful Vistula river and Wawel castle I was truly amazed – really?! This prime location is a Japanese museum of all things. I was loving it, but the entire concept still baffled me.

Getting our exhibit tickets, I came to find out the roots of the museum. Alongside being the only building of its kind in Europe serving as a museum and cultural hub of Japanese culture, the exhibits contain the treasures and art pieces brought back as gifts by Felix “Manggha” Jasieński. He was one of the leaders of a movement in Poland – I had never heard of something like this – of artists traveling to Japan in the 19 and early 20th centuries to study Japanese artistic practices. Manggha, the nickname given to Felix Jasieński, was in relation to his passion for the artworks of “sketched art / whimsical art” or the Japanese word manga , ,[re-written with its French phonetics as Manggha], hence the name of the museum [ and yes, for those that know Japanese comics, Manga comics evolved from this type of artistic style]. Manggha is considered to be the main figure in this “Polish-Japonism” movement.

Just in my little introduction to find out why this museum even existed – seeing words in Polish, English, Japanese, French… - I felt a little mixed up, making me only imagine what these exploring artists felt like trying to create links between these cultures and artistic styles.

The museum itself was great – dark wood floors and exhibit cases, with spotlights on priceless Japanese calligraphy pieces, kimono, pottery and other woodblock prints. Everything was very Japanese oriented, but it was the little details in the museum that excited me about just how cool the museum was. Probably unnoticed to the average museum-goer, the simple fact of seeing the exhibits headed with Polish language and then in Japanese language was a little bit of nostalgia for me.

It was like freshman year at the University of Michigan having Polish class with Pani Ewa from 1-2pm on the 4th floor of Angel hall, and immediately rushing to the the 1st floor for my 2-3 recitation with Ujihara Sensei for Japanese [call me crazy – and yes, I did accidentally say Dzień dobry once … but with a Japanese accent… that is what happens when two parts of your brain are working at once…]

Another little surprise in the museum was a back corner with very pretty earthenware pottery – to which I told Michał that the area of Japan that I lived was very well known for this type of craftsmanship. True to be told, and leading me to practically smoosh my face against the glass in disbelief reading the little title cards on the art, was the fact that some of the pots not only came from South Japan… but from Nabeshima!? That was where I lived right in Saga with the Kai family – more surprises for the day.

My favorite part of the museum was the central isle of the exhibit since it successfully collaborated Polish art side by side with Japanese art. This was fascinating because, whereas the art has little similarities on the surface– Japanese woodprints side by side with very textured, thick brush-stroked Polish paintings – reading the inspirations and the philosophies behind the art brought the connections to life. In brief, Polish artists shared a deep fascination with the simplicity of Japanese art, to create an image that was not busy, and seemingly empty and unfinished in parts, to truly capture a more complete interpretation of the beauty and life of the nature and people of the society. The colors were inspired, as well as the angles, and even interpretation of lines and detail – really perspectives I had never thought about.

Emphasizing the importance of these artistic influences were quotes that were engraved into the walls around the art pieces. These observations of the importance of new perspective and inspiration in Polish art, I feel, says a lot about the mindset of the people, and the overall pride of Poland being a unique land and culture.

Pokazałem wam Japonię żeby was nauczyć myśleć o Polsce, na wzór artystów, którzy przez dwa tysiące lat po japońsku o Japonii myśleli…

I have shown you Japan to teach you about Poland, after the pattern of artists who thought about Japan in a Japanese way…

F. Jasieński “ Z deszczu pod rynnę”

The Manggha museum was a very cool experience for me – there were beautiful exhibits inside and it successfully held a lot of nostalgia for me personally [ I definitely wasn’t expecting to be comparing Poland and Japan while visiting Kraków, that is for sure! ]. Japanese art, Polish history, seeing both languages that I find so beautiful side by side – it was truly a surprise for me seeing this museum in Kraków, but sometimes I think that it is these connections that make traveling and exploring that much more exciting.

Muzeum Japoński w Krakowie – to najlepsza lekcja poglądowa dla polskich artystów i polskiego społeczeństwa: tak u siebie, dla siebie po swojemu tworzić tzreba tak szuki potrzebować, tak ją kochać, tak jej twórców czcić.

A Japanese museum in Kraków – this is the best lesson for Polish artists and Polish society; This is how we should create art in our own land, for ourselves; this is how we should need art, love it, venerate its creators.

[Feliks “Manggha” Jasieńki, 1906]