In Warsaw Everything Old is New, Er, Old Again
September 15, 2011 § Leave a comment
I never expected to fall in love with Warsaw, but at the very least I have developed a crush on this city. I wonder if it is my Polish (Jewish) blood, which after all makes up 3/4 of my family ancestry? Despite barely being able to speak a word of Polish, I feel strangely comfortable and at home here. I feel the urge to stay, to study the language, to get to know the culture, to see more of the country.
For one thing, Warsaw truly epitomizes the tension of reconstruction that I wrote a bit about a few posts ago. Virtually the entire city was rebuilt after World War II. It was rubble, just miles and piles of rubble. So faced with the question of what reconstruction meant, return to the old or on to the new, Warsaw appears to have mostly chosen the former, except for in cases where Sovietesque architecture won out in later buildings.
For example, Stare Miasto, the historic center, the old city, was rebuilt. But in some cases, even while rebuilding things as they had been, certain historic details were removed, including some that had survived the war!, because of stylistic preferences of the time. So were they returning to the old or not? Like most, they were picking and choosing. I find that tension between old and new absolutely prevails in the city. I stay away from the old town because it is too new, fresh bright paint, full of tourists, it feels contrived, inauthentic. But that is a harsh judgement. Wouldn’t it be very sad if that center had been to be allowed entirely lost forever? I don’t think there is a right answer but I enjoy being in a place where I am constantly challenged by the question. Being here to research my dissertation, it seems only fitting that I am repeatedly being forced to think about what reconstruction meant and what it means, what it can do for a society, a culture, a people, a history, a location, and what it cannot do.
Other things I am really enjoying and appreciating about Warsaw:
The city is very clean. Paris is constantly being cleaned but is still pretty dirty. Warsaw is just clean. Partly perhaps because few people seem to have dogs. Also because people very much use garbage cans. On the other hand, no sign of a recycling program which is quite distressing and surprising.
Cars stop for pedestrians.
Public transportation is excellent.
Street signs are amazing! The best I have seen anywhere, ever. Clear, bright, large font, never missing, a tourist’s dream come true.
WiFi. On lots of streets and public places.
I’m only a few days in, but so far so good-academically and touristically.