Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back home with a Gypsy Dance to share

Gypsy Dance performers, some of them pictured above with their accompanying musicians, really caught my attention last weekend in Budapest. Their exuberant dress was an indicator of what was to come in their performance. Such amazing energy and flair...I really loved watching them dance. Please check out the video of another troupe performing in a similar way at the end of this will not be disappointed!

I am home, back in Massachusetts. Settling in, getting used to the shift in time zones and cultures. It's hard in some ways as I try to adjust to pre-quest, normal activities and yet I feel like a new part of me has opened up. How do I bring and incorporate this newness into my everyday life here? Perhaps this is one of  the challenges of change?  Upon my return two exciting things have taken place... being involved with a musical variety show for my friends' party and now Hurricane Irene. Playing music with friends definitely helped me get over some jet lag symptoms these first two days back. We're holding tight in the Hurricane, with all the water, and I hope all of you, on the east coast, are hanging in there too. Life goes on...

However, I am so full of experiences and inspiration and I still have so many things that I'd like to share about my trip and the cultures of Hungary and Poland. I think I will keep posting on these things from time to time. Being home is very good yet I feel changed in subtle and big ways. I have this desire to keep sharing the beauty and creativity I saw and felt while abroad the past two months.

Here's a video for you. The exuberance of this troupe along with the leg slapping and foot stomping is something to behold. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on "Folk Art" in the 21st Century

While in Krakow, I had the opportunity to have coffee a couple of times with a woman named Ewelina who works in the EthnoDesign department which is a part of The Ethnographic Museum.  The EthnoDesign Festival in Krakow is building bridges and making connections between the old peasant, ethnographic images, traditions especially from the Malopolska region (lower Poland) and current designs made by artists and designers who are working now, in the 21st century. The festival encourages dialogue and thoughts that provoke us to look at the past, to look at our interconnections, to look at the transference of images, story, traditions, does the past become the present? How are past design elements being threaded into our culture today? Truly this has been happening and is happening all of the time in all cultures. And, as you can imagine this is very exciting to me as I have begun to thread these inspirations into my new work. I think the festival that this department organizes and what this department is doing is brilliant. Unfortunately the festival did not happen this year because of changes in the it's funding situation. I hope this is just a hiccup and the festival can move ahead and celebrate creative traditions and connections for years to come.

Now, I'd like to talk about the tern "Folk Art" and how this term is used today, because there is a big difference between the mass produced and the authentic.Thoughts which have been on my mind regarding this term are making me feel edgy, like I need to express something. I'm not sure I have all the words yet but it's time to try to express these thoughts. Fortunately Ewelina and I had the time to talk about some of these things together and it was confirmation to me that people in the field are wrestling with the same questions.

Although it is not my intention, I feel like I've been in danger of idealizing the folk art, peasant art, ethnographic art that I've been seeing, experiencing and talking about on this blog. It seems that Folk Art isn't really even the appropriate term to use when addressing these aesthetics and traditions. A woman named Magdalena Zych had this to say in promotional materials for Krakow's EthnoDesign Festival in 2010.

Mythicising Folklore

"...there is no single Malopolska object nor is there a Maloposka pattern, similarly what is colloquially called "folk culture" is only a certain model, involving the general phenomena that make up the culture of the the 19th century countryside, captured at the point of impact with the industrialization of the last century. It is also a creation whose emanations you can see today at all kinds of folk events or in marketing. The popular vision of folk culture is based on its mythicised image referring to the idyllic "once upon a time."

Folk culture does not exist and probably never has, we can only talk about folk-type culture. It was the culture of the peasants, the rural population. As distinct from the culture of the nobility, the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie, it aroused interest. What were it's features? First of all, a coherent vision of the world, extremely independent, precisely defining the place of mankind with permanent identity, where change, the inherent part of the social order, was closely governed by rites. Tradition was associated with oral transmission. Individual practices were poorly evaluated. The relation between the familiar and the strange formed an important axis of social organization, this was possible due to a precise definition of what it constituted. This model is also based on the belief that human life takes place simultaneously in two dimensions, which are closely bound together: the temporal dimension, and the timeless sacred world." 

During my trip to Poland and to Hungary I have begun what will need to be ongoing conversations. I've seen directly how  the term "Folk Art" can conjure up ideas of idealization and commercialization. This is especially true in heavy tourist locales where national identity and images that reflect this are mass produced by someone who may have no real knowledge of the crafts and the traditions. Perhaps the creators of these items may not even live in the country that the objects are trying to reflect.

"Folk Art" and traditions were shared, transferred and used to promote a sense of  identity in positive and not so positive ways especially in times around war or loss of national independence due to lands and people being under the rule of other countries or ideologies. The peasant art, it's transference and the traditions helped keep a peoples identity alive. Yet in some aspects the "folk art" was used to show and glorify an ideal that may not be entirely true.

I've heard that folk art was propagandized and idealized, used to show happy people performing folkloric traditions and  making their crafts in countries under communist rule like in Poland and Hungary from after WWII until the late 1980's. This was a form of propaganda with hopes to show the people of a nation and the world that there was a sense of individual national identity and an active alive culture. In reality, in everyday life, one's sense of individuality and people's expressions of their ideas and individualism were suppressed and constantly in danger being squashed

I see idealization and mass marketing happening now with the tourist markets, souvenir shops, and programs aimed to package an aesthetic, an ideal and sell it to a mass audience. With this kind of commercialization something is lost, the traditions become a show rather than something truly grounded and authentic. A great example of this phenomenon happened during my visit to Zakopane. After seeing such fabulous wood carving and architecture, which is the true passing on of  some of the the folk traditions in that region, I walked to the market street where I was bombarded with stands selling mass produced items mimicking or trying to capture the feel of the true thing. Ick. Who is making these millions of cloth beads and wooden carved boxes? I'm looking for the real thing. I'm looking for authenticity.

In Budapest I had the opportunity to spend two days at an annual Folk Festival which felt to be very authentic. Men and women who studied and learned the traditional methods and who carry on the traditions of the arts and crafts like embroidery, lace making, bone carving, pottery, woodcarving, blacksmithing, weaving, painting, clothing making, etc. had booths and were making their wares before your eyes. A young man invited me to sit at his carving bench where he taught me to carve a flower from a piece of soft, pulpy wood. A Latvian woman cut one of her paper cut designs as I stood and watched. We couldn't speak each others language but I still learned from her and we connected with each other. I bought her book, she gave me a paper cut and I learned about paper cut design. Her technique answered some questions I had about symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. I met the daughter of a master embroiderer who told me of a two year school in Hungary where one can go to study, and master a craft.

I'm heartened that in this contemporary world of mass consumption, one can still learn a "slow" trade and share their authentic wares and traditions with the public. One may have to do a little more searching, step further off the beaten tourist path and pay more money for these hand made objects. It is so worth it!

We now live in a fast paced world which is full of technologies that can both help and distract us with the ability to interconnect. My hopes are to promote the practice, study and creation of authentic traditions.  My intention is to slow down and build bridges, in my own personal and authentic way, using symbols, ideas, traditions found in the folk-type art. I want to bring inspirations from the past and combine them with who I am and where I am now, in the 21st century.

One of the things I've learned on this quest is that there are many connections with who I am and my roots here in Poland and Hungary. There have been so many meetings, ah-ha moments, when I've said to myself..."That explains why..." Places, the traditions, the lifestyle, the aesthetic which up until now were more or less unconsciously known to me are met with awareness, the beginning of understanding and a true connection. I plan to express these relationships in my own art work and to pursue these ideas in my studies. There is a lot to experiment with and a lot to learn and I am looking forward to the journey ahead.

I love this part of the quote from above:
"This model is also based on the belief that human life takes place simultaneously in two dimensions, which are closely bound together: the temporal dimension, and the timeless sacred world."  

I believe with my whole heart that this is life. We live in the temporal dimension and in the timeless sacred world in all our time. The awareness of and the bridging of these two places makes my heart beat fast. The peasants creating the beautiful work that I love so much were acknowledging this in both their everyday objects and their ritual objects...everything was infused with meaning. This idea makes me think of the concept, of the place and the moment where and when earth and sky meet and when the invisible becomes visible.

Images and the quote used in this post were taken at Krakow's Ethnographic museum and from materials generated by the museum.(copyright: The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Krakow.)

I am struck with their designs which on one hand seem so fresh and contemporary. Geometrical straw wall hangings, hanging sculptural pieces made from wafer, paper flower hangings, are colorful symbols of ritual and tradition made around holidays and to express meaning, relationships to the seasons, to beliefs and festivity.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Six Senses Friday VII: Budapest

Castle Hill District Folk Art Festival

- row after row of artisan stands on Castle Hill where continuing and reinterpreted folk art traditions are shown and sold  by artisans at the Folk Art Festival
- bustling city streets
- green Buda hills studded with houses, castles and museums from across the Danube
- a Latvian woman make an intricate paper cut in front of my eyes
- a dramatic sunset outside my room last night from the balcony where I am staying in Budapest

- my housemate in Budapest rehearsing on his trumpet every morning and evening...instead of finding it intrusive or distracting I really enjoy the sounds
- airplanes flying low, taking off and landing over the neighborhood where I am staying
- an expressive and strong old woman folk singer's song
- Liszt's Piano concertos,  inspired to listen to his music after seeing an exhibit on him at Budapest's Ethnographic Museum

- my friend's homegrown, homemade plum preserves
- juicy watermelon and peaches as I enjoy eating fresh fruits of the summer season
- gulping down fresh squeezed lemon, lime, orange aid with mint...refreshing while spending the day out under the hot sun
- marzipan torte

Szechenyi Thermal Bath

- sulfur coming from the water of the thermal baths I visited this week
- funky city smells as I walk through metro stations and over street grates
- suntan lotion
- plum cake and fresh bread baking in my friend's oven

- antique embroidered table clothes and linens
- peeling blanched tomatoes as I make a tomato soup for my friend from the many tomatoes coming in from her garden
- hands in the dirt, weeding a garden

Danube and the Buda side of Budapest

- the sun beating down on my head mid-day as I walk around Budapest
- annoyance that I can't find the bus stop that would bring me really close to the house where I'm staying. Instead I take the tram which makes for a longer walk...but hey, a little more exercise won't kill me!
- speeding through tunnels underground on the Metro
- inspired by my young, trumpet playing housemate... he wakes up and practices for an hour and practices for an hour before going to sleep then plays a couple more hours at school. Makes me want to get back to my piano playing and regular vocal warm-ups.
- about ready to come home and get back to the drawing board...literally.

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Dahony Street Synagogue

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where I was. Where I am now. Where am I going? Part 1

"A horizon is something toward which we journey, but it is also something that journey's a long with us."
                                                        - Hans Georg Gadamer

"If you are striving to be equal to your destiny and worthy of the possibilities that sleep in the clay of your heart, then you should regularly be reaching new horizons."
                                                         - John O'Donohue

Above is a road curving towards a horizon. I like to use this as a metaphor in my paintings and photographs. We all travel the road of our life which is both created by us, our choices and desires, and created by the mystery that is beyond our human understanding or control. If I were to walk to the hills in the far distance of this photograph, I'd walk to the top of one of the hills and see that there is another horizon to reach in the distance. This is life.

I'm thinking about this experience I created for myself this summer. I'm reflecting on all I've learned and been inspired by... Where the inspiration to do this came from?  How I was able to do this? And now, what will come from this experience?  Some of my questions have been answered and more have come to the surface. I have gotten some perspective on a lot of things. I feel so full and inspired by all the sensory experiences and all of  the human exchanges.

At the same time, I see another horizon looming in the distance where I have the opportunity to create and learn from this quest and the lingering questions I have. I am sitting on a tip of an iceberg. Art, history, culture, stories, music and experiences lie beneath the surface to be revealed, studied, processed. These interests of mine...questions of authenticity, of identity and of culture can be a focus of a lifetime and I still will not understand it all. Where will these interests, this path, the questions lead?

About my journey...

Where I was.
The impetus... This winter I was deeply inspired by the folk art of Hungary and Poland to better understand my cultural identity and history. I saw and still see this as a doorway to inspire my own creative focus and also as a platform from which to launch into further study and a deeper understanding of the world and myself in the world. I'm going to be honest with you too, I believe that my ancestors have guided me here, to go on this quest, to be on the land where they lived, to connect with my living family and visit places where the dead rest. So many meaningful signs have appeared on my journey. In some ways, depending on how you look at it, it's been quite surreal. 

When I first had the realization that I may create an adventure for myself  last February/March I remember laying awake late one night thinking of being far across the ocean, far from home and all things familiar.  I thought about sleeping alone in a strange bed. These thoughts were both scary and alluring. Lucky for me, the alluring part of this imagining was far more captivating.

I am learning that fear is just fear. I should look at my fears, think about them and then make the best choices for myself with the intention of creating meaningful experience and beauty.

After facing my fear, I had to give myself permission to go on my quest. I had to figure out how I wanted to create the experience and how I was going to pay for the expenses of travel and education. Because of my supportive family (many thanks to Josh and my parents) I was able to see I can do this.  So, I bought my plane ticket, sent in my application to the summer school program in Krakow, got in touch with my family overseas while trusting that it would all work out and everything that needed to come together would come together. There is something freeing in letting go and trusting.

I also had to ask for help which was the reason I created the Indie GoGo campaign. This was very, very hard and very scary for me to do. Not only was I putting myself and my vision out in the world but I was asking for funding at a time when money is increasingly tight for many people as the economy continues to struggle. I was afraid to ask for help.

I had to ask myself, "Am I worth this?" The answer was yes. I have to be honest though, one of the hardest things about this trip was acknowledging this: I am worth it, I need help. ...and then asking for it.

Thanks to so many of you... your support with donations, kind words and wishes I was able to fit this experience into my budget and I was blessed with so much positive energy! Facing my fears, reaching out  and reaching my goal with fundraising at this stage of my quest was a huge boost and made me realize that I can do something bold and follow my heart. I am blessed to have so many positive relationships with family and friends. I hope you are starting to receive the postcards I've been sending out and I look forward to sending card sets, having a party, telling you stories, cooking eastern European foods and giving back to you all after I return home.

 We are not "islands" in this world. Although I've believed this for a long time I don't think I have experienced the intensity of this statement until now.  Positive relationships are one of the most important things in life. Often I have felt fiercely independent. Thoughts like, "I can do this myself. I don't want to bother anybody. I can be all alone. I don't need to or don't want to depend on anyone." have been a regular part of my internal dialog. I have spent a lot of time alone out of circumstances and choice. I even enjoy being alone ...sometimes. I need to be alone...sometimes. Maybe this comes from being an only child and being introverted? I've spent a considerable amount of time alone on this trip and have pretty much enjoyed it although there are definitely moments I am missing my family, friends, cats and even regular activities like singing at the lop of my lungs in the car.

I have also spent a lot time with family and new friends. I see that the magic of my experience here would not have happened if it weren't for my positive connections with others. Others like you who donated $10 or more to my quest,  who said "This is a great opportunity. You should go. What are you waiting for?",  who picked me up at the airport and the bus stations, who hosted me and cooked for me in your homes, who shared wine with me in city squares, who taught me about the art, the history, the architecture, who shared their culture, answered my questions, allowed me to study in the museum, met me and shared meaningful time and stories with me. I could have seen the sights and stayed in the cities and towns that interested me on my own but much of the magic was breathed into this experience because of meaningful connections with others.

For these connections I will be forever grateful. I also hope to continue this connectivity, to encourage others, to help others, host others and continue building the momentum of positive, meaningful connection.

How interesting is it...? The duality that we are all alone in this world. When we are born, the umbilical cord is cut and we are alone. We die alone. Yet we are all so connected. If you believe in the spiritual nature of life, are we ever truly alone? I don't think so.  There is endless space out there but with every step we take we are constantly held and supported by something and someone. For me this way of looking at things is very comforting and very special.

I got on the plane back in Boston on July 3rd alone with none of my friends or family. From that moment on I've stepped through hundreds of doorways: new experiences, people, places.  I am constantly met. Met by my own companionship, met by my family, met by a new acquaintance or friend, met by the sound of the world waking up in the morning and quieting down at night. Intentions coming to life. Doing and seeing what I was planning from far across the ocean this past spring.

So for all of you planning your own adventures and dreaming dreams remember that no matter where you are you are constantly and consistently being held. Everyday is an opportunity to try something new, hug a loved one, sing a song, rest, smile at a stranger, eat alone in a nice restaurant, contact long lost family and friends, make a new friend... Look at your fears, give them space in your company but don't let them stop you!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Hungarian Song: Mindig az a perc a legszebb

My friend Laci has been teaching me this Hungarian song, Mindig az a perc a legszebb. It's a beautiful and melancholy melody about longing. Longing for the kiss and the beauty that escapes, that eludes, that one dreams of...

Fortunately the melody comes easily ...the lyrics not so easy. The Hungarian language is so difficult for me to just pronounce and even mimic with fourteen different vowel sounds and strange letter combinations like "gy" making a sound that doesn't seem at all familiar to my English speaking ear or to my mouth. Polish is a hard language but Hungarian makes Polish seem like it will be easier to learn in comparison. With Laci and with my cousin's husband, also Laci, I am learning a handful of songs I can practice and I can try to learn to pronounce the words.  All songs are in minor keys and heart wrenching... my favorite kind of song.

The singer here is Katalin Karady, a famous and very beautiful Hungarian actress and singer who appeared in 20 movies prior to WWII. Both tragic experiences and examples of human goodness are a part of her life during the war years. She was in prison for 3 months where she was beaten and tortured. She was rescued and was in bad shape for awhile. However she did remain strong and went on to rescue numerous families who were waiting to be shot by the Arrow Cross guards on the bank of the Danube. After WWII she became more and more disregarded as a star and moved abroad to various countries spending most of her later life in Brazil then later to New York where she died in 1990.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Six Senses Friday: Hungary VI

- The land of my ancestors. My Repas cousins and I walked through the small village of Harskut where our Great, Great Grandmother and Great, Great, Great Grandmother are buried. I know that other relations...Hutwagner's and Rausch's must be resting there beneath the ground as well.
- Rolling green hills, fields and forests of the Hungarian countryside surrounding Harskut, Vesprem and Vanyarc, the towns and villages where may family and friends live
- Rows and rows of grapevines with fruit maturing and ripening...Hungary has a rich wine culture.
- Tears of happiness shared between my cousins and me
- Connections and differences between these two countries, Poland and Hungary 
- Hungarian embroidery, costumes, pottery, jewelry, and other historical and cultural objects at the museum in Vesprem and the small museum in Harskut.

- Thunder crashing, dark sky, flashing lightening as the bus drives through a storm in mountainous Slovakia. It felt fitting to be in a storm like this in Slovakia...a dark, romantic, Gothic experience... if only I was on a stage coach.
- Dogs barking, the sound echoing between the hills and through the valley of my friend's village. It seems that everyone has a dog here. The sound of companionship.
- My cousin's husband playing the accordion for the family under his grape arbor in the evening in the countryside, the moon peaking out between clouds. He taught me some songs and we all sang together.
- My friend's partner sharing even more music with me this week...the songs are making an impression as I wake up humming some of them.

Vesprem, Hungary: a view from the medieval tower of the old town rooftops and streets

- Many Hungarian wines... White wine made from the grapes at my cousin's husbands vineyard. Wines from my other cousin's father's wine cellar. He sent me off with three bottles of good Hungarian wines to try!
- so many amazing home cooked foods in Vesprem made by my cousin's thing she made was Beigli a rolled sweet bread with poppy seeds and nuts...I grew up with another version my grandmother made called Kalach or what she called Lachen.
- fresh handmade noodles or dumplings...the best!
- A homemade meal prepared by a woman who lives in Osku near my cousins village who has an outdoor oven which was built by her husband. This couple runs a rustic bed and breakfast and cooks fabulous meals for quests.
- As seen in the picture bellow... a supper at my cousin's home. Home smoked ham and bacon served and eaten with a knife on wooden plates. Fresh bread, whole tomatoes, peppers and fruit and homemade white wine accompanied this treat.

- thyme growing in a garden
- duck roasting in the oven as I write this post
- different bouquets of Hungarian wines
- smoke in the valley in the village where I am staying
- red roses blooming outside the house in Budapest where I will be staying this week

Hungarian Folk dancers in costume during a performance I saw on Thursday night

- A sense of true friendship and connection with my Hungarian relatives after spending two and a half days with them earlier this week.
- Thankful for the beautiful hospitality of my relatives and friends.
- A sense of wonder that my time in Poland this summer is in the past yet I can still evoke the feeling of the place, the people and my experience there.
- Interested that Hungary has a whole different feeling which is just as meaningful as Poland's feel, just different.
- Love that I can remember a place by it's feeling, the whole of a place, it's soul perhaps?... this way of connecting with a place... an indescribable feeling that each place has it's own soul which is palpable.
- excited to see a live performance of authentic Hungarian folk dances performed by skilled dancers wearing beautiful costumes and bringing such exuberance to the stage with live musicians playing fiddles, accordions, and a hammered dulcimer like instrument, with such beautiful and discordant harmonies.

"Kevin" the kitten ...the new family member

- My cousins and I found a stray kitten crying out loudly for help in the bushes of Vesprem as we took a night walk. I picked it up and began petting it and kissing it's soft, furry head. As I carried it home to my cousin's flat it is warm and vibrating with purring. My cousin will give it a home as we all fell in love him quickly.
- warm, clean sheets and blankets covering me as I fall asleep very tired every night after long, full days
- the ground and gravestone of my great, great grandmothers in the village where my grandfather's family is from

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Heart Strings

 Above is a beautiful folk painting at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow depicting The Sacred Heart of Mary.  It's decorated with paper flowers perhaps for a special day or holiday honoring Mary and to show the painting's owner's devotion. This was a common practice in peasant homes with their religious iconographic images and sculptures to honor, show their connection and devotion to their these images, spirituality and religion.
Today I am leaving Krakow. My bags are packed, I'm ready to go and my cousin will be here in about an hour to take me to have a "goodbye" coffee then to the bus station.

I feel my own personal connection with this image of Mary who's heart represents her interior world, her love to God, Jesus and all humanity. 

My personal resonance with this image comes from my heartfelt feelings of connection with how I have opened to this place, to my family, to Poland's history and culture. A real, experiential thread of connection and love have been established and I will carry this connection and the thread will stretch as I travel away from this place.  Something greater than myself has drawn me here. I'm listening to and acting on what my heart tells me to do. Seeds have been planted and a lot remains to be learned and discovered. How far and deep will the roots of my seed grow and spread?
My last days in Krakow were particularly interesting as so many activities and unexpected events were happening around the town square which I got to witness and be a part of. On Friday I spent a full day walking all around the town center and down to Kazimierz. I came upon a Wine and Cheese Festival where I tried a few Polish wines and decided to have a glass of a Polish white wine while I sat and people watched from the edge of the square. I ate a special mountain cheese that is heated directly on a grill. It was served with a garnish of berry preserves...very tasty. Later I tried the fried dough with a type of sour cream spread over it, topped with a layer of cheese. Wow! That was something. After eating all this good food there may be more coming home with me other then some souvenirs :-)! As I sipped my wine I got to see the DJ begin to work with light effects and stage smoke and do the DJ thing with head phones and bobbing head. It was an interesting scene.

Also that same night, the next square over was a WWI 1914 memorial/music event with a crowd of people gathered, singing along with changing choruses on stage and a uniformed MC. A military marching band came through and lead a number of songs. A Polish flag banner hung from the tower next to the stage in the main market square. A ran into Marcin, my Polish language teacher who said this happens every year. Identity and nationality were strongly being expressed during this event. I'm sorry I can't tell you more as I do not know anything else about this tradition.

Last night, my last night in Krakow was very memorable. It just so happened that it was the last day of a huge bike race event, the Tour de Pologne and the cyclists were coming right through the main market square! I had a date to meet my cousin and his family for dinner in the square and as fate would have it we had a lovely dinner right next to the lane where the cyclists and their entourages were coming through. I have to admit this was very thrilling to me. Each time a new batch of cyclists came through the sirens would wail and a helicopter would circle low overhead. Always it's thrilling for me to see people excel at their talents, passions and interests so seeing these fit athletes speed around the curve of cobblestone streets was really great.

I ended my evening with a cup of flower tea and Polish miod (honey) at one of my favorite cafes along the Planty, the green belt surrounding Krakow center. The sun was about down and all the candles were lit on doily adorned wooden tables. People were walking and biking about on the Planty and I sat watching them from my table on the edge of the cafe's huge art nouveau style porch and wrote in my journal for an hour. After dark I walked to the tram and took it back to my room where rest and dreams awaited.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Six Senses Friday: Krakow V

- blue skies and fluffy white's been awhile
- a beautiful and serene secret garden courtyard where I sat while the rain stayed away long enough for me to eat my soup and toasted sandwich.
- wax dripping from lit candles and creating abstract, organic sculpted pieces on the table holding the candelabra
- night visions, lighting, architecture... Krakow when the sun goes down
- a man levitating(!) ...I'm still trying to figure out how he does this feat!

- flute, two male voices singing in harmony, an acoustic guitar performing Ukrainian, Russian and Polish folk songs.
- bells chiming from a Baroque Church as the morning sun shines
- pigeons, crows and other city birds making a racket up in the trees on the Planty every evening as the sun descends
- rain pounding the buildings and pavement for this weeks late afternoon down pours
- a stadium where a soccer game is taking place, down the ways from my dorm, erupting in cheers

- a sweet pea bouquet at a flower stand in the city square
- incense burning in a church
- a cool, old, damp smell coming from the stone of a gothic cathedral in Kazimierz
- poppy seeds wrapped into a breakfast roll, reminding me of my grandmother and the bread she makes

- many a sample of fruit and herb infused vodka's and liquor's at a specialty shop
- quarters of fresh fig topping a salad
- honey beer in a cold ceramic mug
- chocolate covered ginger cookie

- silk of a hand painted scarf
- linen dresses in a shop
- hands of new friends in greeting
- my cousin Marta's long, blond hair 

- meditative as I kneel to pray at the Franciscan Church
- anxious as I try to use my time wisely and well my last days in Krakow
- like there are so many doors in Krakow I haven't walked through yet and that I will be back here someday
- reflecting on the themes of identity and authenticity
- a deep appreciation of soulful expression

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Peasant Art and the Natural World as Inspriation: Wyspianski

I've have a lot on my mind. Clear thoughts seem to pop up most often when I am taking walks around the city. While in motion, I have the most clarity...always. This is the case when I walk and garden. Perhaps I need to carry a recording device with me because a computer or journal just doesn't cut it...too much movement and too much dirt. I get back to my room, the computer, my journal... What were those thoughts? I try and retrace steps in my brain. 

One of the topics that has a lot of circulation around my neuropathways is Polish peasant art, folk art, making sense of it, the expressions and the context for expression. Who did what? Why? What were/are folk artists drawing from? What was the their world like while they were making art? Who has drawn from peasant art in different art historical periods for inspiration? Who is drawing inspirations from it today?

Obviously I have a lot of questions (and this isn't even all of them). So many that one of my contacts at the Ethnographic Museum, after emailing her a few questions said, "All your questions and topics are very interesting but cover extremely wide field of knowledge. It is nearly program of 3 years university studies of ethnology or cultural anthropology. If I’d like to answer one of  the topics or even try to talk about, it would take a lot of time. May be you would consider ethnology studies?" Hmmmm.... She was very gracious and about to head out on her holiday so she pointed me to a number of good books in english. She offered for me to read in the museum's library which was open for three mornings before it closed for renovations for the summer. I went, I read. She's right, my questions are going to take study, reading and a good amount of time to answer.

An artist who I have been learning about here in Poland and am drawn to is Stanislaw Wyspianski. I'd like to write about him because of my attraction to his work and the fact that back in the late 1800's early 1900's he was drawing from Polish peasant art and it was most definitely influencing his creative output. I'm so impressed with his work, his life, his vision. He strikes me as a Polish renaissance man, a "Leonardo Davinci". His life ended way too prematurely at age 38. What he was able to accomplish is amazing. He was a playwright, a painter, a poet, a stained glass window designer, a furniture and interior designer, he designed his theater sets and costumes... He was also a non-conformist and shook things up. He looked to the past as inspiration and brought it to the present. He brought Polish peasant art and romanticism to his work yet in a modern and new way. He regularly drew on this inspiration as a theme. He was connected to the natural world which is evident in his studies of flowers and plants. He also drew patterns which evoke patterns found on Peasant costume.  One of his most well know works is a play called "Wesele" (The Wedding Party) which addresses class ( peasants verses the upper class) in Polish society in the 19th century. I have yet to read or see this drama but it is high on my list to familiarize myself with upon my return to the states. I think it is available to see as a film too. He married a peasant woman which created quite a stir in the upper class, intelligentsia he came from...  Wyspianski is one of the most important Polish artists. I like him all the better because he expressed his sense of identity, Polish identity, and consistently referenced the authentic, honest, earthy, yet spiritual peasant art and culture to express himself.  I believe this was especially important as he created his work during the Polish Partitions when Poland was not even a unified country.  Polish peasant art and artist's like Wyspianski helped keep the Polish national identity alive during the 123 years when Poland did not exist as a country.  This reality further proves my feeling that the artist's job is to express the heart and soul of humanity, of a place and of spirit.

The following pictures are paintings by Wyspianski and photographs that I took from the museum that honors him and his work and from Krakow's Franciscan Church where he designed the decorative flower motifs on the walls expressing the Franciscan's love of nature. He also designed the beautiful stained glass in this church as well. It is my favorite stained glass in Krakow. The image of God the Father emerging from chaos is captivating with it's organic shapes, lines and bold colors...drawing from Art Nouveau. I hope you enjoy seeing some his work as much as I do!

Self Portrait with Wife at the Window, 1904

 A snowflake interior lighting design by S.W....

Planty Park at Dawn, 1894   ...this is a scene right from the beautiful green belt surrounding Krakow Center

Stained Glass, Franciscan Church, Krakow

Floral Motifs, Franciscan Church, Krakow

Stained Glass, Franciscan Church, Krakow

God the Father, emerging from chaos...Stained Glass, Franciscan Church, Krakow

Monday, August 1, 2011

Haunting and Thriving... Kazimierz

I am continually finding myself down in Kazimierz, a distinct neighborhood in Krakow. Of course it has to do with the fact that the Ethnographic Museum is located here but there is something else... A haunting and a vibrant quality resonates around and within this place, most likely because of it's rich and intense history.

This part of Krakow was founded by Kazimierz the Great in 1335 and was built with it's own wall, two distinct churches, town hall and plans for a university. Kazimierz became even more distinct and separate in it's feel when in the late 15th century the king moved Krakow's Jewish population here. It was a thriving center of Jewish culture for many, many years where there was relatively peaceful coexistence of the Jewish and Polish people. Synagogues, churches, Jewish cemeteries, historic buildings, narrow streets lined with buildings showing their age and character, cobblestone streets and squares mark this place with a solid character and feel. Please read about Kazimierz on Wikipedia if you are interested in it's history.

Kazimierz is haunting. Perhaps it's a haunted place? I sense people who are long gone and events that took place here. There is an echo of intense sadness vibrating from empty buildings, stone walls, rebuilt synagogues, narrow cobblestone streets. However, alongside and touching this haunting is vitality. There is a  quality of time moving on and people moving forward with fresh, healing energy. Does Kazimierz have a dualistic nature? These two qualities, hand in hand, are bound together in my sense of this place.

I also feel confusion, disgust and mourning about the years of terror during the Nazi occupation of Krakow for about 5 and 1/2 years between 1939 and 1945 when the Polish and the Jewish populations were brutally terrorized. I went to Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, which is now a permanent exhibition called "Krakow Under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945", were I was overwhelmed with tons of information describing  the intense history of this time... where both horror and humanity were expressed.  Erased lives, families that were torn apart, hate, discrimination, murder, destruction... all this is palpable. So is the reality that some survived and risked their lives to aid in the survival of others.

A sense of this time infuses Kazimierz even today. What was once a thriving Jewish center is a fraction of what it was. Prior to WWII Krakow was home to thousands and thousands (60,000 -70,000) of active Jewish people. One feels the ghosts of this kind of cultural and religious presence. Now the Jewish population is small but thriving. Synagogues have been rebuilt, museums and educational materials share the intense stories, Jewish religious observations are taking place, cafes, shops and live music bring vitality, energy and awareness back. Perhaps healing is happening here? Time is moving on.

Many people live in Kazimierz now. It is home to a thriving and very cool cafe scene. Cafes serve coffee, tea, wine, beer and alcohol. Spaces, leading to another, filled with vases of colorful flowers, art work on the walls, dripping wax candles gracing every table, nook and cranny along the bars and walls, outdoor garden space to sit, talk and sip a drink. I could do a blog post just about these wonderful places and spaces. Art galleries line streets, studios, restaurants... colorful signs and atmosphere. Kazimierz has a bohemian feel which is infusing this place with fresh beauty and vitality.

The pictures shared with this post were taken over a few days... there are photographs of street scenes, a synagogue, buildings, a museum display celebrating American-Jewish music, spaces that were featured in Spielberg's movie, "Schindler's List", artistic spaces, places with history...