Voice Poznań a Problem

My voice hasn’t had a day of rest in… nearly a month. Add to this the complication of bad nutrition and bad water and my voice is essentially screwed. This leaves me in quite the recursive dilemma: ruin my voice or eat? Yes, finances in Poland have been that miserable.

Perhaps I’m a fool in that I almost refuse to dip into my bank account safety net. It’s a point of pride for me that despite the economic climate and the racism and everything that I’m still breaking even. With the purchase of a new Capo, however, that’s no longer the case. Yes, a $20 capo is enough to unsettle my accounts: I am counting every cent and just scraping by largely on the kindness of others (Gosia providing food for me, etc.). I suffered a further setback on the train to Poznań. I’d purchased a student ticket and the first conductor to pass through looked at my Yale ID and didn’t make a fuss. The second, however, just an hour outside of the station very firmly demanded the difference. No, firmly isn’t the word. He was a total asshole about it.

When I passed him my ID and ticket he looked at it and spat, sarcastically, “Co to est?” After tending to the rest of those in my cabin he motioned me out to the hallway and we proceeded to have a protracted fifteen minute argument. He was the cruel type, with a personality that oozed superiority and a love of power. To my entreaties that I was, indeed, a student, he shot back “W America. Ne Dobrze.” And continued with some hot abuse of American and it’s students. Me being me this incited me to not go easily, and though the difference was “just” 18,87 I drew out the argument for quite a while. When another conductor I spoke to cowed to my assailor’s vehemence, however, I finally gave in.

The plus to all this is that my Polish is apparently sufficient to carry on an argument. Like in France a couple years back, arguments arising from being a cheap-ass seem to be good markers for my language proficiency; In Paris I haggled with a cashier at the Louvre until she directed us to the card office and again at the Musée Picasso, though unsuccessfully.

The downside was how this interaction underscored just how alone I am, traveling like this. Should I run into the wrong authority (or thug) in the wrong mood I could be rather helpless. I’m extremely tired of traveling and I long for America. I’ve learnt more about America than any of the countries I’ve visited – some disgusting (the propagated entertainment and stereotypes). While the problems in race/ethnicity relations everyone bemoans so loudly at Yale certainly exist, I beg these torch bearers travel elsewhere and they’ll see just what a multicultural haven the States are. At least the average passersby will assume I’m American and engage me in English, won’t gawk or point or laugh, will assume I’ve seen the same TV shows. This loneliness probably contributes to the length of my posts.

There’s not much to say about my pitches in Poznań except that they sucked. I arrived and negated a rest-day-to-be by singing a bit for my host, Paweł while he cooked up a marvelous (and beautifully plated) Polish inspired meal. We spent the following day puttering about the beautiful town. Paweł was amused by my constant labeling of the sculptures and landmarks as either penises or dildoes, so I kept it up. I played up the crazy art major thing throughout the day. This may have contributed to the vibe, but I did enjoy many things visually today. The most magnificent was an old Brewery converted into a Mall that I went all architecturally gaga over, but failed to capture a photo. Inside the Mall we stumbled into an exhibit which Paweł despised and I liked probably for this reason – which later made me feel a bit unclean, like art elite I myself despise (They seem to place more value on art if the general public hates it).

The gorgeously painted buildings of Rynek.

An example of the infuriating-to-Paweł aesthetically beautiful moments.

Monument inscribed with important years of anti-Socialist uprisings.

Much of the day was spent purchasing things: my new Capo, a set of earrings as a present for his friend’s birthday party, groceries for our meal that night. The chicken marabella I made wasn’t properly marinated (30 minutes rather than 2 hours) and his risotto was a bit off (uncle ben’s rice was all that was available) but it was a great meal nonetheless. I spent the rest of the night learning songs and blogging.

The rain the next day (8.26.10) pushed me to try a pitch beneath Rondo Kaponiera, one of the main crossings of town – trams stop overhead and people use underground passage to access them or cross the street. Paweł and I encountered another guitar player there and it was arranged that we’d play together – something I was admittedly not at all keen on, as the current denizen wasn’t particularly skilled and quite unkempt. Happily (or not so happily) he knew this and after a few songs told Paweł that if he knew I was coming he would have practiced years more and that I’m too good for this crossing and ought to go to the Rynek… dratted rain. The rest of the pitch went unremarkably.

The same “Look it’s an asian!” stares, more distrustful glares than normal and only a few pitches – from women. One old lady stared me down as she inched past as if my presence offended her. There were a couple of girls handing out flyers, one of which called her friend to come listen. Aside from this silent appreciation and a group of young guys’ thumbs up my only company besides Paweł was an obnoxious roller blader using the rondo as his own skating rink.

Paweł took me to Rynek where I had two hours to wait to meet my next host, Jacek. In the interim I practiced a bit, quietly, in a niche of the town hall under the clock balcony and tried unsuccessfully to write. A few others had taken cover with me and after a while two of them took interest in my playing. Just as I started to play for them, however, we were moved from the place as it closed and they led me to a sheltered passage close by. I set up a pitch there for the few passersby, most of whom looked at me like I was insane to be playing there. The police kindly turned a blind eye (despite having told Paweł and I earlier I was not to busk here). Two money-dressed girls tipped me well and delighted in the comments of my compatriots.

One of my two companions was a friendly drunk man who helped me out very warmly, helping me move my things when a shopkeeper wanted us to move a few meters down (I felt a bit nervous then that he’d take them). After a few songs he decided he wanted to sing random Polish lyrics to my chords and did so before I could begin the real ones. He sang surprisingly well, with decent melodies and fluid lyrics – probably the alchohol – but his drunkenness was apparent and what I divined of the lyrics mostly involved solicitations to the passersby and curse words. My other companion had just returned from busking as a statue in Berlin (rubbish now, he told me) and after departing a moment came back with note written painstakingly in English about having a free spot in a van to busk in Wrocław if I wanted to go. If Schengen approved I would have gone…

Jacek greeted me moments later with a smiling, “Don’t you know you need a permit to play here?” The drunk then asked if I could buy him a beer and I declined, though afterwards I felt perhaps I ought have as he’d been quite kind to me. After consuming a fine porkchop/potato meal at Jacek’s he and I returned to Rynek to try and catch the wallet-fancies of bar-goers during half time and in the aftermath of a local football match. The ambience was wonderful with soft night lighting and quiet passersby but the money stank. I’d just recieved my first decent sized pitch (after Ue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin, of course, racism experiment proving true again) when I was effectively moved on by a duo of gypsies invading my soundspace. Their style of “busking” really disgusted me: they’d set up right outside a cafe and play a two minute oompah song, haggle for tips, move three meters down and repeat. That is begging.

They killed the only halfway decent pitch in the square (I’m of the opposite mind in regards to imposition in busking and stayed out of earshot of those bars showing the game on their televisions) and relegated me to a spot by the Ratusz and a couple of empty bars. The waiters and waitresses of these establishments, with nothing to do, became my de facto audience. Those few who passed in pairs or threes did so appreciatively. Often the female half of the couples smiled sheepishly at me before turning guiltily to the male half. A set of lovers chose a bench across from me and made out rather annoying the entire pitch, leaving once I finished without a backwards glance.

Radiohead songs went particularly well this pitch, for whatever reason. One girl hung around while I finished Falling Slowly, came up afterwards and tipped with an excited “From Once!” When I finished I asked the waitress who gazed the longest at me if she had and miod (honey) but unfortunately she didn’t. My throat felt horrible, causing me to wrap up before the football goers left the cafes. The waitress did compliment my singing (first in Polish and then in English as I didn’t comprehend) which did make things a little better.

How French

Earnings: 34 PLN, 2.3 hours
Song of the Day(s): Falling Slowly – Soundtrack of Once

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