Monday, 26 December 2011

Inca Babies: Conkers, Chopin and military hardware

While a night out in Warsaw is full of romantic adventure, fuelled perhaps a little with neat vodka, there’s plenty of raw material to keep three culture-hungry musicians going.

The morning after our carousing with promoter Tomek, we made our way into the centre by tram from the flat we had been very kindly loaned by his friend.  

Dropping our gear at the venue we strolled down Warsaw's poshest street, (Krakowskie Przedmiescie and Nowy Swiat) where the Hotel Bristol is, then took a cut through to the Chopin Museum. 

Outside we found a bench under a horse chestnut tree that was dropping the biggest conkers literally like rain. They were huge – there’d be a sudden ripping, rending sound and a cluster of conkers would hit the ground and bounce dangerously towards us.. like coconuts falling from a tree. 

We sat there for half an hour, flabbergasted. Conkers falling in October, when it’s dry and sunny, rather than pouring with rain and the ground sodden?

At right angles to the Chopin Museum and directly in front of our conker-endangered bench was a strip of offices divided into study rooms for the student musicians at the Chopin Institute. As we sat waiting for conkers to fall we listened to trainee pianists straining to reproduce the works of a man who is reputedly one of the most technically difficult composers to master.. phrases clashing and competing with one another into a cacophony of piano on a Saturday morning, a little hung over. 

Having drained my bottle of hangover cure water as the conkers fell, I was glad we were outside, and able to walk away.

Inside the museum there’s a beautifully detailed homage to the composer’s life and loves – mostly experienced outside Warsaw, it has to be said – but I’ve always been impressed by seeing the actual instruments these giants of music played, and there’s a Chopin piano in the museum, and many samples and examples of his music. 

It does tend to be presented a little like a Van Gogh museum.. you can buy merchandise in every format: books, CDs, pencils, cooking aprons etc.  I bought a life history in Russian with a CD for my mother-in-law, whose ambition for her sixtieth year is to go where I was standing.

Outside the museum there’s a garish mural that places Chopin at the centre of the tensions acting upon his art: this mistress, that mistress. He had a busy and twisted life, that’s for sure.

Then around the corner and across the road for the Museum of Warsaw’s Violent Past which was extensive but very well presented. From the modern Migs and Soviet helicopters the casual visitor moves back in time to the Kubus armoured car used in the Warsaw Uprising – one of only two armoured vehicles in the Rising – which appeared welded together in a backstreet workshop but performed a distinguished role in action.

Kubus armoured car from the Uprising
The Museum of the Violent Recent Past then blends into the Museum of the Violent Past of the Past Thousand Years. Actually the museum closed before we got round all of Poland’s violent past: Poland has been a turbulent place since the 8th Century and while English history is bloody from the Anglo Saxons onwards, it’s nothing like what Poland has been through. Phew. Relentless.
Unbelievable hospitality

So out into the sunshine of a Warsaw Saturday afternoon. Take a right at the palm tree junction by the Ricoh Building, then we’re on the right. Imagine a gig where there’s a plate of sandwiches waiting for you after your soundcheck, including plenty of vegetarian? Well.. that’s Warsaw people for you.

The gig was great and the support bands were – as always – excellent musicians and good company. 

We bade farewell to our excellent friend Tomek as we waited for a midnight cab on the main road and the journey back to our borrowed flat with a pint or two of Polish beer waiting for us. 

Tomek would stay up drinking for several hours then go straight to the airport for a week in Crete – while we had a kip, flew home to Luton, picked up the car and went straight to a greasy spoon for a fry-up before the long drive home.

As we tucked into the English fry-up at a cafe across from the Luton airport long term car park we knew the weekend had been a success.

Our second gig in Warsaw was over. We’d launched our album on vinyl, had a great night on the hammer, done a gig in the city centre to a hundred well-disposed fans and seen a lot more of the city’s culture and history than on our first trip. Bring on Warsaw 3.  Respect is due.

Warsaw: we love this town

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