Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ghetto Cabaret

Last Sunday we visited Kadimah - Jewish Cultural Centre in Melbourne - CLICK.

The reason is shown on a poster above. It was also some extension of emotions experienced at the movie The Zookeeper's Wife - see the previous entry. To see this world from the other side.

First impression confirmed out expectations.

Yellow Stars of David, general commotion, expressive mimic and gesticulation.

The performance hasn't started yet, but the climate around the stage was an integral part of it. Stage manager was full of worries:
- Bronia did not come yet.What happened to her? - she looks helplessly at the actors and we realize, that terrible thing could happen to people in this place, at this time.
- The show must go on! - nobody has doubts about it.
Yankele, a clown - character based on Yankele Hershkowitz from Łódź Ghetto - is cruising between rows of chairs
- Give me ein Grosch, I will tell you a secret.
Not everyone knows what ein Grosch means.

Finally the show starts. It surprised me. I expected to hear some songs from suburban Warsaw, from Eastern parts of pre-war Poland. Like Małe miasteczko Bełz (Majn sztetele Bełz) - CLICK. But no, the show was based on tradition of Jewish cabarets in Berlin and Amsterdam.
MC of the show played a bit in the style of unforgettable Lisa Minelli (movie Cabaret).
All songs were sang in Yiddish which reminded me a book by Isaac Bashevis Singer - Love and Exile - memories from writer's life in Warsaw. Only then I realized, that Jewish diaspora in pre-war Poland led completely self sufficient life, without any need for contact with social and cultural life of Poles.

The show ended, actors mixed with the crowd and I felt a bit like in Warsaw, and in Melbourne.

I asked musicians and somebody from the crowd if they know Yiddish - only few words - was the answer. Same as me.

Webpage of the show HERE.

Polish version HERE.

The Zookeeper's Wife

When I was about 10 years old at least once a year I visited Warsaw. I stayed in my uncle's home, usually for one week, and every time it was an opportunity to visit Warsaw ZOO.

I did not enjoy these excursions. On the first time of course there was strong curiosity, but there was a disappointment from the first glance. These were not animals, which I remembered from adventure books. Behind bars, lethargic, in prison.

These memories returned few weeks ago while watching movie The Zookeeper's Wife. The movie is based on a book written by Diane Ackerman, which in turn is based on memories of Mrs Antonina Żabińska, wife of pre-Second World War director of Warsaw ZOO, dr Jan Żabiński.
Movie trailer here - CLICK.

The movie tells the story of Warsaw ZOO during the 2nd World War.
First ruined during barbaric bombing of Warsaw by Germans. Then all valuable animals were robbed by dr Lutz Heck, director of Berlin ZOO, personal friend of Goering, member of SS.
After the war he continued his work as Berlin ZOO director.

Director of Warsaw ZOO, dr J. Żabiński put a proposal to convert ruined Warsaw ZOO into a pig farm. The food for the pigs were to be scraps from Warsaw Ghetto. Practical Germans bought the idea. In this way dr Żabiński got access to the Ghetto and under the scraps of food smuggled out Jews, who were later hidden in the ZOO, in tunnels for animals, in the cellar of Żabińskis home. They stayed there until false ids were produced for them and when Polish families were found, who would keep them in hiding to the end of the war.

It might be worthwhile to mention, that Poland was the only country in German occupied Europe where for hiding a Jew a whole family of the host was sentenced to death.
Dr Hans Frank, a governor of German occupied Poland, stated: "In Prague, big red posters were put up on which one could read that seven Czechs had been shot today. I said to myself, 'If I had to put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests of Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper." Source Wikiquote - CLICK.

In this way Żabiński family smuggled 300 people. After the war they were awarded a title Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel - CLICK.

The movie concentrates on directors wife - Mrs Antonina Żabińska - which highlights a sharp contrast between the cruel world and charm of animals and gentleness of director's wife.

Great movie. It brought back memories from my childhood. Relations of the people around me, who witnessed the war. Sad relations, but so valuable.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brain gymnastics

Lately we have more contact with our oldest grandson - Felix - 13 years.
He attends an artistic school, which combines high school program with ballet training.

As a principle students do not have any homework, they should complete all tasks in normal school hours. No wonder, he returns from school at 5, very tired and hungry. He is in bed by 8 pm. Morning alarm at 6.

Old habits do not die easily. I ask him regularly what was at school, what homework he has.
Answer is always the same: nothing Dziadzia (Grandpa). Doesn't matter.

Still few days ago he was searching for a Maths homework.
- What was it about, Felix?
- Something about angles. Does't matter Dziadzia.

But I already put my foot in the gap in his defense.
- Do you know how many degrees is a sum of all angles of a triangle?
- 180 degrees Dziadzia.
- And of quadrangle?
- 360 degrees. We learned all this Dziadzia.
- And of pentagon?
- Also 360 degrees. Cannot be more as full circle has 360 degrees.
- Well, angles of a polygon is something different, look here:

- You see? 3 triangles. How many degrees?
- 3 times 180.
- Right, 540 degrees. And hexagon?
We both focused on drawing. My drawing looked like this:

Felix smiled and showed his sketch;

- What is this Felix?
- Simple. I stretched your hexagon into two straight lines. In fact they are not parallel like in this drawing, they overlap into one line. On both ends (A, D) there are angles of ZERO degrees. And remaining 4 are straight angles - 180 degrees. 4 of them Dziadzia.
The only thing I could do was to multiply (720 degrees). This I learned well in a primary school. But to stretch polygons into straight lines?
For this you need a ballet dancer flexibility. Of the brain.

Polish version here - CLICK.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Seven years itch

If it was a first Sunday of June, and it was, then I participated in MS Walk.
For a seventh year  - thus the title.
This time the weather was the best possible.

As for walk there is not much to say - just easy stroll in beautiful surrounding.
Instead of words I will use photos...

As usual large colourful crowd...

Approaching start

Eastward view of Albert Lake

Friendly volunteers.

Westward view of Albert Lake

Some characters.

My companion from a ski club

End of fun.

To be continued next year.

PS. The only negative was a failure of my fundraising efforts. I set my target extremely low, just $450 and reached barely 70% of it. I understand that people are worn out by constant appeals for help from various sources. Apparently I am less and less attractive source.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Passed by a finish line

Last Sunday a finish line was chasing me (see previous post), not for long.

The weather was not bad, very, very light drizzle, temperature 10C.

I came to the starting area some half an hour before start time, very few people there. First thing to have a photo taken...

Then I heard the final call to the real start area. It was on the Monash Freeway. Almost 3,000 runners were already there. Soon there was a start signal and after few minutes I reached the start line.

Few steps further on and all the runners were far away.

There were very few people around me. And quite a noise of cars driving on the opposite side of the freeway - unpleasant.
After some time I reached a 3 km mark and I realized, that the end is coming. Here it is...

Oooops, it looks like I missed my target by quite a lot.

After few minutes I was offered a comfortable place in the bus.

Here are all people, who were caught before me. Not many.

Official results - HERE.

My results - not very impressive. My official target was 7 km, realistic target - 5 km, result 3.24 km. It means 65%.
Financial result: target $100, result $55. I do not have to calculate a percentage.

But if you dig, you will always find something. I found, that I got a first place in my age group.
Well, I was the only participant in this age group, so statement that I got the last place is also right.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Finish line on Wings

On some street crossings in Melbourne one can notice following announcements:

Finish line catches competitors?
Beautiful, I am in it. Catch me if you can!

Well, the devil is in the details.

Wings for Life is a fundraising run, an initiative of Red Bull company. All proceeds are used for funding spinal cord injury treatment research.

The first beauty of the run is that it starts at the same astronomical time in 25 locations around the world. In Santa Clarita,California at 4 am, in Sunrise, Florida at 7 am, in Cambridge, UK at noon, in most of European locations including Poznan in Poland at 1 pm, in Izmir, Turkey at 2 pm, in Dubai at 3 pm, in Tinan, Taiwan at 7 pm, and last, but still at he same astronomical time - Melbourne at 9 pm.

Date of the event - 7 May - next Sunday.
9 pm, in the middle of Autumn. It will be cold and dark. To fight the second element each participant will be given a head torch. Wow! It will be an amazing view!

The second beauty is, what the photo shows - The Finish Line comes to participants. Not exactly a line, a Catcher Truck - it sounds threatening.
Actually, each participant will carry a chip and the Catcher Car, when passing the runner, will recognize the starting number - the runner is out.

What chance the people have against the car?
A fair chance. The car starts half an hour after participants and initially drives with speed 15km/h. Most of marathon runners run a bit faster than that, so they should be able lto ast for a significant time. To prevent someone to run around the world, the catcher can accelarates after some time intervals and finally reaches speed 40 km/h. Even best sprinters cannot match such a speed.
Still, last year, the best result for a runner was some 87 km. Incredible!

And what about me? What about ME?
Well, in first place, due to heart condition, I cannot run at all. So I will walk.
How fast, how far?
Registering the the run I declared my target as 7 km. Today I had a test. Well, I was not able to walk faster than 1km in 10 minutes. It means I will be caught after 50 minutes walk, at the distance of 5 km. Booooo :(

The final point - fundraising. Well, with such limited abilities I do not expect much, still anyone interested can support this good cause donating here - CLICK.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Our man in Vietnam - 6 - the heart of the darkness

My last day in Vietnam. In the morning our guide, Hoc, introduces us to Urban Adventures, a branch of Intrepid. Our new guide is Tan.

The aim of today's tour is Cu Chi, a network of underground tunnels used by Viet-Cong (Communist army) to fight Americans.
Tan knows something about this subject. His father joined the army at the age of 16 and spent 10 years in the tunnels. Tan declared himself as a communist so I tried to verify my knowledge about functioning of Communist Party in Vietnam.
- On 18th birthday everyone receives a Communist Party membership declaration, but very few fill it. This a guarantee of a career in the army or public administration. I did not join, I preferred a job of my choice - says Tan.
This is quite different from what Hoc told us, but the essence is the same. There is some ruling Party elite, which has 2 armies - the real, military one and the army of obedient bureaucrats.
- I avoided the army service as well - continues Tan - we have mandatory conscription, but I got a medical certificate. In Vietnam there is no age pension, so I have to work to support my parents.
Hoc told us identical story.

Our first stop is in the village. Idyllic, rural atmosphere. Female host is occupied with production of rice paper. Thick rice pulp boils in a cauldron. A woman pours a bowl of thick liquid on frying pan and after few seconds lifts with a stick a thin sheet of rice paper,

She lays it on a wicker stand. In a day she will produce a thousand of such sheets, which she will sell for US$40. At the same time she looks after other farm activities. Most obvious are very friendly pigs.

Tan watches us with a slightly ironic smile.
- Beautiful, isn't it?
We wholeheartedly agree.
- So why Americans came here, over 12,000 km away from their country, to destroy it all with bombs and napalm?
In silence we board the bus and depart towards Ben Duoc, a location of Cu Chi tunnels.
- Do you know, that initially, at the end of II World War, CIA supported Ho Chi Minh? - asks Tan.
We did not know. Back at home I checked. Apparently he meant support given to Ho Chi Minh in 1945 by the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of CIA. Probably they did not mean to support communists, rather to keep French in check. Just another strategic game.

Cu Chi, a network of some 120 km of tunnels used by Communist army and sometimes sheltering the local population. Most of tunnels were dug 3 m under the ground. When Americans started regular bombing some extra tunnels were dug 6 m underground.When they introduced B52 bombers, tunnels were dug 9 m underground.
Tunnels were 1.3 m high and 40 cm wide. It practically eliminated American soldiers from penetrating the tunnels. Bombs and gases were the usual weapon.

People living in the tunnels could leave them only at night. Hot meals could be prepared only at early morning when earth was covered by thick fog. The most common food were tapioca and green tea. Tunnels inhabitants were plagued by malaria and parasites. Very often they were attacked by poisonous snakes as their nests reached the tunnels.
Serious issue was ventilation. Outlets of ventilating channels had to be well hidden. Pepper was sprinkled around to confuse American dogs.
We were listening to this story standing next to the tree. The ground covered by a thick layer of leaves.

Suddenly the leaves move and a Viet-Cong soldier appears.

Shouts of surprise, photos.
- Anybody wants to try?
Of course.

I walk down on two very uneven steps and I feel very uneasy, I do not know where to put my foot.
- Straighten up your arms or you will get stuck - shouts the guide.
I straighten them and cannot make a step. Too low, too narrow, too tight.

I crawled somehow underground, placed the lid over the hole and even did not think how I will get out. Hard not to think as after few seconds I choke with the lack of fresh air.
Fact that I write this story means that I got out somehow, but honestly, I do not know how.

So what, the guide tempts: you can walk along these tunnels, it is only 40 m, and for tourists the tunnels were widened to 70 cm.
Well, if they are widened I will try.
After 4 metres I regret my decision. The back aches from the deeply bent position, but the worst is a terrible lack of fresh air.

The silhouette on the photo is someone ahead of me.
- And now you can visit a birthing room, it is 6 m underground.
No, no, no!

Close to tunnels is a shooting range. Tourists can try various types of guns. Most popular is AK47, still in use. There are many people willing. Not me, I tried it in Polish (communist) army, 57 years ago.

I agree, an excellent gun.

At the end of the tour a typical tunnel meal: tapioca and green tea.

To survive on such a diet - a day, a week, months?
Apparently quite a number of people, who spent years in the tunnels, after the war could not accommodate to normal life. To much fresh air and clean water. Their ruined organisms could not cope with it.
Detailed information about Cu Chi tunnels HERE.

Our group returns to Ho Chi Minh City, but for me it is the end of the tour. I leave the bus when it is not too far from the airport.
My farewell lunch is a wonton soup.

 Last steps in the airport and, similarly as at the beginning,,,

At the end was a book.
I noticed a small book stand. Graham Green - The Quiet American - of course. But also...

A Prison Diary - a collection of poems written by Ho Chi Minh (in Chinese).
Ho Chi Minh was arrested in China in 1942 by nationalist (Kuomintang) government and spent over a year in various prisons. One of results were poems. Here are two of them.

Covered in red and blue as though dressed in brocate
Scratching all day long, we seem to be playing the guitar.
Honoured guests, of our rich garbs we make a parade.
Strange virtuosos, sharing an itch for music we surely are!

Evening scenery
A rose blossoms, and then fades.
It blooms and withers-listless.
But its scent the cell invades.
And arouses the prisoners' bitterness.


English translation by Dang The Binh.

And now everything moves quickly. Again I am on the board of Malaysian Airlines, under Allah's care. Several hours later the screen reads - Distance to Mecca: 12,718 km .
That means I am in Melbourne.