Gdańsk-ing with myself, Day 1

Gdańsk lies rather further than I expected from Kraków. I’d decided to skip Warszawa in the interest of time and on the assurances of my various hosts that I wouldn’t be missing much. On the long ride over I seated myself by a nice old man and we managed to communicate quite well and happily despite my poor Polish. Now just before arriving in Gdańsk we passed through and near lovely trussed frames as the tracks began to split. The sun fell slowly through the clouds and the light mixed perfectly with the reflected flourescents through the window. My camera can’t capture sufficient light without an unacceptable shutter speed, but I did manage a shot or two before the glorious frames.

Małgosia, my host, met me at the station and took me to her lovely village home near the airport. What a beautiful family! They bid me sing them some songs – her cousin knew Apologize and Relax, Take it Easy, which I found amusing – and I ate till I was truly full for the first time in many days. Her father was a touch drunk and very friendly because of it. The language barrier was completely nullified by Gosia – he was very curious about my hair, wondering if it was naturally so black and straight. He had me write some Chinese for him (I realized later I butchered the word for eat), asked about chopsticks, whether we have tomatoes in the United States, searched for alchohol to share with me. A very jolly time.

The countryside where I stayed.

I wanted to go to the local village church with Goscia’s family but we all awoke a bit tardy so I headed into town instead. This day (8.22.10) marked the end of an arts festival in Gdańsk so as I toured the center I found it packed. A cello/violin duo under an arch at the east end of the long street, Ulice Długa (it means long street), helpfully told me when they’d finish but when I returned the German Culture celebration nearby had begun their musical set – large and horrible (school children) highly amplified brass and wind ensembles. A nearby waitress resignedly told me they’d be there till six.

Zebra on Zielony Most.

On my way to an illegal pitch further west on Długa I passed a busking act I certainly hadn’t missed – panflutes and caricaturing costumes (feathers and leather and stomp-dancing) setting up with large amplification near the fountain. I want to throw in a quick note on standardization here. I noticed all over the fair most of the kiosks sported goods also on display a few stands down. T-shirts, frog toys, barking dogs… Even the art was generally uninspired, with landscapes mostly indistinguishable from one artist to the next artist 20 meters down. I try to avoid standardization, catering to “safe” successful songs in my own performance – and seeing the busking and shop styles made me quite proud of this. The statues… usually statues aren’t so inspired. One pretty girl simply dressed well in 18th century style clothing and a parasol and got tips after taking photos with others – basically for being pretty I guess. I’m sure she made much more than me. The Andean act played a standard repertoire featuring El Condor Pasa and standard movements and dress… Eh, I know what I want to say but it’s not coming out right. Just standardization really kills the whole idea of street art and fairs…

The view from Ratusz.

I set up coincidentally facing an Asian restuarant of some kind and my pitch started off wonderfully. I got multiple tips for my first song, and so by the general rule of “if the first 15′ are good, the rest of the pitch will be” I was set to do well. After a few songs, however I got an audience: three girls soon to be seniors in high school from Gdynia and Gdansk who were visiting the fair. They gathered around me and requested songs (they went all giddy at Hey There Delilah, at how sweet it is). Now sometimes having an audience behooves me but in this case it somehow threw me off. I’m not sure what exactly – maybe that they were standing directly in front of my case and thus blocked off access by other passersby. Maybe that they were so enthusiastically giving requests I didn’t know when they’d stop. Whatever it was by the time they left my good vibe had departed and the rest of the pitch went pretty badly.

About halfway through the pitch a young man asked very amiably how long I’d stay for. He needed to set up a stand for selling shirts and had a small megaphone for it. Extremely polite of him and I assured him not much longer since the tips were rather poor. We fell to discussing the reasons for this (it’s been bad for him, too) – the fact that it’s a Sunday and the evident racism he readily admitted, especially prevalent in this older crowd. As always I tried my racism experiment and voila, tips. Aside from Hallelujah, which I can always count on but saps my voice, these were essentially my only earnings. My new friend was both amused and disgusted.

He requested Hey Ya and then we talked a bit more. Apparently he knew french and by some marvelous coincidence liked the song Liberta. He told me the younger generation is more like that song but the older one is very suspicious and very much in the thrall of post-Socialism. To underscore what we’d talked about, after Liberta a man came to my case, stared with a goofy smile at me like I was some monkey and slavishly said “Konichiwa” with no tip. I responded with a thank you, and though he looked confused a second he persisted with another “Konichiwa.” I tried to explain I know one Japanese song but I’m American (in a mixture of English and Polish) but I needed my new friend to help explain. He didn’t get it (well dressed businessman, educated looking type) and when he left he kept looking back at me, confused and smiling idiotically.

After bidding my new friend farewell and leaving him to his salesmanship, I passed a tiny gypsy girl of maybe 7 sawing at a violin with a little purse in front of her: she was killing it in money. This is why I’m getting to despise busking. It’s what you look like and not what you sound like. Ugh. I decided to hit up the exhibit on Solidarność Gosia recommended. I spent the better part of two and a half hours there – one of the best overviews of Socialism I could imagine. Simple, concise and effective it showcases both how terrible we can be and how we can hope. As only the second museum type thing I’ve been to thus far on this journey it was well worth the five PLN. One thing it reminded me of was how much I’d forgotten from all my East European history classes – I kept recognizing names and places and dates but not remembering the context or the event in great detail. I pride myself on my memory and this was quite disappointing for me.

Monument for the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. It’s poignancy is incredible when one knows the entire story not just of it’s commemorating event but how it came to be.

When I entered the exhibit the sun shone intensely and hot but when I arrived the sky was so completely and thickly overcast it felt like nightfall. I ran to the Fountain of Neptune to rendezvous with Gosia and we met just in time to duck into a jewelry store to hide from an absolute deluge: rain on a level of honesty I haven’t seen since being in Florida – thunder and all. As luck would have it I met a wonderful woman in the shop who hailed from Inverness and West Hartford (how close can you get to my most recent homes, eh?), an artist who wished me the best of luck and confirmed me in my thoughts on art therapy and early childhood education. A blessed encounter for sure.

Gosia and I seized a short letup to dash to the tram station. Our bus didn’t leave Wrzeszcz (yes, that’s seven consonants and one vowel) for another hour so I set up a pitch in the underpass. I felt uneasy doing so with some raucous young football fans (of the local Lechia) nearby but with Gosia there I felt I was safe. It turns out I was right to wary of them. As soon as I started they moved in a pack from the bottom of the stairs to the liquour store across the way and as they passed they jeered with “Ching Chongs” and pulled at the corners of their eyes. It was a long line for them, however and their moods changed.

Im guessing the initial outburst was a display of macho-ness and dominance and not their true personages, because after another song two of them left the line to tip me, with apologies etched in their eyes. They spent most of the rest of the time in line faced towards me and my crowning achievement was at the end, when one of the original jeerers, the second to last to acquire his alchohol, took his precious 3,17 PLN purchase and set it carefully in my case. Now that’s a huge tip in terms of emotional value. Gosia later translated his exchange with his buddy: “Why’d you give him the beer?” “He sings really well!”

Police passed me during this short pitch and stopped at my peripheral to listen till I finished. Many couples and other passersby stayed too. Unfortunately none of them tipped. The tunnel was also frequented by many homeless and gypsies, which surely didn’t help my image – one of these begged a sandwich off Gosia but wanted money, eventually tossing the sandwich in the trash after walking away. The amount of “monkey out of his cage” stares I got here was staggering – I wouldn’t have perservered without Gosia. And the beer? Well, I gave it to Gosia’s dad, happily, with a “Prosze.”

Zebra drinking a rainbow for less racist days.

Earnings: 35,38 PLN + (can) beer, 1.5 hours
Song of the Day: Libertà – Pep’s

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