November 4, 2012

TGI Friday's on a Sunday

So here we are, waiting for our flight once again, in the same place - the only one that will give us food, drinks and Google under the same roof. As I previously said, we're wiser and better prepared this year - we have discovered the wonders of technology and so, instead of spending our time reading or sleeping or planning, we are taking silly pictures, which turns out to be a lot more fun than any of the above.

It's time to travel, it's time to go

As always, trapped between the temptations and the promises awaiting for me and the ones I'm leaving behind. There is no doubt about the perfect symmetry of my state of mind - I am sure that upon leaving Cuba I will be just as trapped as I am now, before leaving Warsaw. But growing older apparently does make us wiser - I am now wise enough to refrain from questioning my moods and my mixed feelings and from trying to put everything in order. I'm taking my mixed feelings and my confusions with me and I have no intention of solving any of my dilemmas while away from home.
The only certainty I have is weather-related and I am more than happy to leave the snow behind, looking forward to overdosing on sun and light. And dancing, but that goes without saying.

October 21, 2012

The unbearable blurriness of being

The underlying theme of the story of my trip to Elblag, where I ran away for the weekend to watch a dance competition, was the continuation of my "explore Poland like a backpacking hippie without actually looking like a backpacking hippie" plan. 
Even though I spent most of the time staring at the dance floor, taking pictures and recording the dances and updating my blog, I did have an hour to walk around the Old Town which supposedly is very pretty, not that I could tell because the fog was so dense I thought I was having eye problems again, luckily I knew I didn't because I'm fresh after seeing the eye doctor who said I was fine so it must have been the fog. There. Bottom line, it was foggy. So foggy you could see the fog coming at you. 
And here comes the best part of my explorations in cities about which I only have very limited knowledge. They somehow always manage to match my mood. I don't know how that happens and I'm not saying it's something that works as a general rule (I'm definitely less  gloomy than Polish weather is) but in key moments in my life or in new places in this country, there has almost always been a perfect match. 

The rather unpredictable near future in regards to which I'm quite optimistic but then again unpredictability has never been my favorite dish on the menu, the growing enthusiasm over the results of a very wise decision I took this summer and the perspectives it opens, a slight concern over the possibility of very unexpected, out-of-nowhere butterflies for which I don't have the time nor the energy yet for some reason they insist to stay, the upcoming trip to Cuba and all the mixed feelings emerging from it, they all add up and generate the confusion and fogginess in my head. I think chronic lack of sleep also helps. 
But just like the city's morning fog, which had nothing dark and depressing about it, the one in my head does not make me insecure, nor does it lower my spirits. There is a kind of relief in not seeing clearly, in projecting (great) expectations over the things to come, even in accepting the unexpected as a natural part of life, giving the type A control freak in me a well deserved break. Because beyond all of the above lies the certainty that things will become clear and settled once again. 

September 19, 2012

What makes Torun so cool

Except for the obvious attractions to be found in any guide (gingerbread included): it is probably the only town in Poland where you can meet really beautiful girls working with stained glass in a small shop hidden on a narrow street among other red brick buildings that look medieval and very inviting, going along perfectly with gingerbread (the town's trademark) and impossibly sweet wine. The entire town has a fairy tale feeling to it so I guess it's only natural for some of its inhabitants to look like princesses. 

It has unicorns! Makes sense if you think about the "once upon a time" atmosphere of the city so no surprises  here, but the unicorn fanatic in me just couldn't help an inner shout of joy at just how pretty this particular one was.

Also, it was a relief to discover that I have no more hidden talents. I think I'm done, at least for the time being, which is indeed good news, as I doubt I'd have had the time for anything that is not already included in my routine. But at least I tried and my rather unfortunate involvement with traditional art resulted in a ceramic chicken that looks like a duck with scales instead of feathers, a painted egg that I am too embarrassed to show, as it stands proof for just how shaky and not suited for drawing my hands are, and some wood scultpure that was very close to becoming finger sculpture. 
But at least I finally got my city break. And a huge pack of books from les parents so there will be no more complaining for a while. I'm pretty sure about it.

August 21, 2012

City break

I think I'm down with the lack-of-holiday disease because I keep having dreams about suitcases, packing and cake. Two months left and I'm off to Cuba again but something tells me I might have trouble waiting that long and I'm fidgety and eager to go somewhere even for a few days just to hang out without having about 5 to do lists and a list that organizes my to do lists. I need a city break. Like last year's trip to Krakow: fresh fruit, books and nice people, I'm really not that demanding. 

And speaking of travel and Poland, I came across this text I wrote three or four years ago about Warsaw, back in the days when it was not home, but my number one tourist destination, and I thought I'd share. 

August 15, 2012


This is not at all how I imagined my comeback. But a while ago a very wise friend of mine told me that he knew I was happy and serene because the blog was so quiet and apparently people tend to write more when they are sad and nostalgic. I wasn't sure I agreed with him, but I guess he did have a point because the past two days have been anything but happy and serene and here I am, back to writing.
On the 13th of August, El Santino was stolen and - the horror! - he was stolen from my block, where he was safely fastened and quietly waiting to take me to dance practice. As if this wasn't enough, gone were my wonderful red dance shoes and my panther dress. 
Luckily my dance partner was around and somehow managed to prevent a nervous breakdown, which inevitably took place a few hours later, while we were at the police station, waiting for someone to pay attention to us or to pretend to be doing their job. I don't know why, maybe because it was late, maybe because nobody cares about stolen bikes worth 50 euros, there are probably countless reasons why I had to deal with the most incompetent policeman I have ever met. Not that I met so many, but this guy was beyond all jokes and folklore about policemen. Not only did he not know that Romania was part of the EU, he looked at my passport and claimed he couldn't read Cyrillic, he could not handle simple calculations and was unbelievably rude, but in the end it turned out he could not even spell right. He kept asking if I could speak Polish and if I understood what he was saying and then printed out the statement he had written which was so full of mistakes it would have made a 10 year-old blush. And then he sent me home, telling me to go look for my bike on the Internet, maybe someone will eventually sell it or check out the flea market on Sunday and call the police if I find anything. 
I'm pretty sure El Santino is gone for good and no matter how heartbreaking this is I have to accept facts. 
To the one who dared touch him and take him away, with his pretty basket and his Cuban registration plate, I hope La Regla de Ocha comes biting your ass without you ever knowing what hit you, I hope you find out his brakes were broken only when it's too late and most of all I hope you never ever in your life experience what a good compañero he was. And whoever tries dancing in my perfect Latin shoes, I hope you won't even do the basic right.
As for me, I'm lucky enough to have good friends who are willing to give up their plans in order to go shopping on a cold and rainy and moody day. And so, I am pleased to present Santiago: 

June 13, 2012

The Polish-Russian war

It is a well-known fact that in Romania the media have a soft spot for drama and exaggeration. Sometimes when reading the morning news I have to double check with family & friends back home to make sure that the country is not on the brink of extinction or civil war. 
In Poland, however, the media are far more reserved and less dramatic, that is until the Russians and their football team are factored into editorial decisions. Then all sanity goes out the window and suddenly we are dealing with a Polish-Russian war, occupation, nationalism, historical grievance and some wounds that are too recent to close. Yes, both Poland and Russia have some hardcore fans, battles in the streets are not uncommon during the domestic season and incidents have been reported since the beginning of Euro 2012 in some Polish cities. Still, that doesn't really count as a war, and chances are, talking about it and making such a fuss will only add fuel to the fire and transform football into a pretext for other issues that don't necessarily have much in common with it. 
Earlier today, having overdosed on stories and editorials on the most ardent topic of the day, I went out to get coffee and had to fight my way through massive crowds of overweight men eating kebab and drinking beer, with their bellies exposed in the mild Warsaw sun, probably getting ready to go to war. I'd say accuracy is crucial in times like these. 
Which reminds me: Tango 12. No matter how much I liked football (this month), I have some major objections to mixing tango into it. Even if it is a tribute to the World Cup in 1978, organized in Argentina. Even if it is faster, rounder and more resistant than any other official ball. Apparently the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation has the explanation: "It's a great ball. It's got a special name, Tango. It's the dance of a couple and has a great connection to football". All it takes to make the war complete is an army of semioticians, and even then I'd still have my doubts about the symbolic meaning of tango in the complex and elaborate structures of football.
Adidas Tango 12
P.S. Who didn't see this coming?

And did anybody see this coming?

June 10, 2012

Euro 2012: first weekend in Warsaw

I've never been much of a sports fan and sport events have not exactly ranked high on my "to do" / "to see" lists. Not even when faced with my obvious obsession with dancesport, which I have always labeled as art rather than sport, despite all evidence that points otherwise.
But every two years I get into this football frenzy which I can't really explain or fully understand, not that I'm making any effort in this direction. I just sit down and enjoy, occasionally wondering how is it possible that something I am not normally interested in keeps me focused for an hour and a half.  
Obviously I got really excited over Euro 2012 taking place in Poland and I was looking forward to seeing Warsaw go through a major makeover, becoming loud, colorful, wrapped up in a bubble of energy, the kind of energy that's only perceptible when mass events are spiced up with competitive tension.

What happened on the day of the opening match resembled a ritual performed by the book, following all rules and etiquette from flawless organization to massive mobilization, dress codes, slogans and face paint. This is in fact one of the things I admire most about Poland and Polish people, their ability to get together and support any cause as long as it's a matter of Polish pride. All of Europe was watching, so they had to display a sea of white and red outfits, supporting their team and making the name Lewandowski probably the most uttered word in Poland for one night. To put it in my words, it looked like a perfectly executed choreography, with great technique but no sparks or feeling, and even though from an objective point of view I have to admit they were praiseworthy, the subjective indicators of a good performance were far below my expectations. I remember the matches I saw in Croatia in the main square in Zagreb, the nights out in Bucharest when our schedules revolved around football even though Romania wasn't even playing or the surreal match between Czech Republic and Turkey in 2008, which I watched with C. in a small pub in Brno where I swear the roof was about to collapse from all the screaming and jumping and somehow I expected Warsaw to be ten times better and that's probably why I was so disappointed. Because in the end it all looked like yet another pretext to get senselessly drunk and lie on the sidewalk in the otherwise very posh and exquisite Foksal street which after the opening night smelled like a gigantic open-air toilet.
Then on Saturday the city was back to normal, as if nothing had ever happened, as if people had come out of their houses for an impeccable white-red performance and returned to their lives the next day, oblivious to any other games, results or teams, the only thing that reminded there was something going on were the helicopters and the few Portuguese fans cheering for their team in the pubs that did bother to turn on their TVs. By Sunday I could have easily said that Friday night never happened, as if I was so eager to witness a football championship in my city that I hallucinated one. And if I didn't, then I surely did project all these unreal expectations over it, but that is just another proof that I never learn anything from my previous experiences and never seem to remember that note to self that says "stop expecting things to look the way you thought they would". 

June 6, 2012

Let the great world spin

One year later, we're anxious to go back, with improved dancing skills, emotions under control, a plan to save our bodies from demineralization, ready to avoid some of the mistakes we made last year and looking forward to repeating some others. 

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range.

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
(Alfred Tennyson, Locksley Hall)

May 9, 2012

5 p.m. on the corner of Krucza and Wilcza

El Santino and Miss Piggy chillin' in the afternoon sun, waiting for snow in Havana.
In the meantime, we were talking plane tickets, research plans, robots, dance, work and chocolate cupcakes. Spring afternoons in Warsaw, when the air smells of fresh energy and endless possibilities, have always been one of the main reasons why I love this city so much. And today was no exception. 

May 1, 2012

Istanbul in a nutshell

It's been ages since I last had so little time to explore a city yet, to my surprise, Istanbul and I sparked from the first few hours. It was more of a sniffing the city's potential situation than actually interacting with it, nevertheless I still have more than a few highlights: 
- the city is inconceivably large. Warsaw looked like a little village on Sunday afternoon when I finally got home after very little sleep, a lot of time spent on planes and airports and too much coffee (but even that didn't stop me from sleeping 19 hours).  
- the food (all of it, but especially the indecently sweet cakes). I think I ate in three days more than I normally eat in two weeks in Warsaw and I didn't regret any bite nor did I count any calories, which is not my typical behavior

- Turkish baths - another proof that my obsession for spa treatments is a very legitimate one. I felt relaxed, pamepered and, strangely enough, hungry
- drivers, especially bus drivers. They drive, speak on their cell phones, count money and give change, manage to squeeze themselves in the traffic that pretty much resembles what I had previously seen only in disaster films,  when the main character desperately needs to get to his loved ones but is stuck in a motionless sea of cars. I don't know about the end of the world, but Turkish drivers are pretty damn impressive.  
- Bagdad street late at night after dancing with a very skillful salsero and the bars near the marina, bazaars, small shops in the narrow and hustling streets, glittery plastic, freshly squeezed juice, kebab places (I even liked the smell of those and they normally make my stomach hurl), fake Fendi and Louis Vuitton bags, which I honestly believe to be the most authentic souvenir one can buy in Turkey, silver jewelry, spices, sweets

- Taksim and its almost surreal contrasts, Cuba bar, the bartender who was fluent in English and Spanish, Son de Cuba and a nostalgic on both ends conversation about rumba, Havana, dancing and performances, cake, the guy dancing breakdance, taking a cab to get to the bus stop to get to the airport
- the gay club which I found by accident while looking for Cuba bar and the guys who offered me tea and asked if I really intended to go to a party without wearing make up
- University campus, the size of a small Polish village, a very unfortunate conference which I feel very happy to have attended because otherwise I would have imagined something completely different than it actually was
- the sea. Impossibly blue, breathtaking in its beauty, feeding my fantasies about the war of Troy and convincing me I had to go back. 

Apparently this is the year of ports. Since February I'm practically living half the time in my suitcase and after a very lucky and warm encounter with Tallinn (more on this coming soon) and a very unfortunate one with Oslo (nothing to be shared about that except that I hope I never have to go back there again), a few weeks ago I went back to Gdansk (which is my second favorite city in Poland after Warsaw and deserves a post of its own) and I'm getting ready for Liverpool. And, in the more distant future, for the most beautiful port on the most beautiful island known to mankind. 

February 21, 2012

And if the music is good, you dance

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how dancing came to play such an important part in my life and how it managed to change so many things for the better. If I were to draw the line now and sum up the benefits of almost two years of dancing, I'd have to place on top of my list the fact that I became more aware of my femininity and I stopped trying to pretend it was a non-issue. It's a major issue, it looks good and it feels good and it makes me happy. I became more intuitive and figured out a thing or two about dealing with people, not having the same expectations and demands from everybody, giving back just as much as I receive. No need to get too involved with people who aren't going to get involved with me. It might sound self-contradictory, but while dancing has helped me become more tolerant and made me see the bright side of everything, it has also  made me more demanding and has given me a good dose of assertiveness and forwardness that does wonders not just on the dancefloor, but in life as well. Ballroom has taught me to trust people, focus, smile more and stay positive, something no shrink and no pills have managed earlier. 
The other day I found another confirmation of all my conclusions, surprisingly enough while watching The Simpsons (not South Park) over morning coffee: apparently, the part of the brain responsible for learning dance steps is also responsible for anger. Studies show that people who can do the foxtrot are less likely to commit a double homicide. Which is probably pretty much what I'd feel like doing right now if it weren't for my countless hours of trainings and practice, so I can only be grateful for all those hip twists, promenades and turns as the most efficient means of fighting stress, anxiety and of course deadlines. 

January 29, 2012

Havana City, Havana crazy

It had to finally happen. Two months after our return from Cuba, I started missing it so much I find it almost unreal. I still remember all the things I didn't like about it, the things that made me feel uncomfortable, insecure, unhappy, emotionally drained. And yet all these seem to fade away, or at least partly, luckily they are still in my diary and I don't fully rely on my memory to recreate the image of Cuba and of our first trip there. But leaving my diary aside for now, here's what kept coming back to me these days (and yes, Los Van Van did play an important part in idealizing my recent past):

Los Van Van - Havana City

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  • Nights out with El Pollo Loco and Los Ninos. We all know it was not always fun and perfect and I'd raise an eyebrow a lot more often than any sane woman approaching 30 would allow herself to, but I'd trade a few Sundays in Warsaw for just one Sunday night at 1830 or a sunset on the roof of our casa.

We had a thing for mirrors, shop windows, sunglasses, TV screens, lakes and rivers 

  • Meeting Amado and talking about the rumba, my academic dilemmas, concerts, politics, traditions and music

66 years of Clave y Guaguanco summed up in one afternoon

  • Cooking with Ana and talking about innovation and creativity in the kitchen and in art, dancing with Ana and learning about trust, partnerships, femininity and conquests. I am very grateful to Ana for washing away some of my cynicism and making a few very good points about belief and expectations.

Stories about the rumba down by the river in Matanzas
Rumba class with Ana
My first rumbera outfit

  • Ana's grandchildren and especially my best friend in Cuba, Malik, who one morning explained all I ever needed to know about Orisha traditions and then taught me how to dance. He is also the author of a very spectacular and experimental photo session that will be published here shortly.
One of the rare moments when Malik took a break from dancing
Malik and his partner dancing guaguanco
  • Rumba. I still feel awkward dancing it and I'm not exactly brilliant, maybe because I had already sold my soul to ballroom dancing before going to Cuba, but I do miss a good show. And my favorite rumberos, obviously. I couldn't stay 100% objective no matter how hard I tried.
Yoruba Andabo at Cabaret Las Vegas
Clave y Guaguanco at Palacio de la Rumba
Los Munequitos de Matanzas at Palacio de la Rumba
  • Cake!!!
Insanely sweet. Loved it. 
  • The sounds of the street since early morning. No other city will ever match the fabulous soundtrack of Havana. And I can't wait for a replay.
Juan Formell y Los Van Van - 10 - Agua

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January 11, 2012

How Google killed the buzz

The other night over cocktails a friend of mine told me about this guy she had seen at a party just a few days ago. She spoke with that very specific mix of enthusiasm and uneasiness that most of us have when talking about someone we think we might like, yet know absolutely nothing about. That is, until we start looking for information. In less than ten minutes she sent over all the links I needed in order to have a clear image about the guy's career, experience, projects and agenda. And his girlfriend. My friend's enthusiasm was suddenly silenced. 
Then I remembered a few months ago I had gone through a similar episode on a rather dull Monday evening. I was on my way to the grocery store when I spotted the new dance and ballet school just a few hundred meters from my apartment and decided to take a detour and see what it was all about. Had this been a movie, I would have probably gotten the idea post-shopping and would have taken a short and intense trip in the world of ballet carrying a watermelon (if this doesn't ring a bell, it's probably been quite a while since you watched this). But I gave in to my curiosity. In less than five minutes, I had managed to spark with a person who was pretty close to what I had been looking for but hadn't realised it: ballet dancer, world traveler, probably at least bilingual and, as it turned out later, lead dancer for the Polish National Opera and most likely married, but I only found that out after calling Ana and blabbering about men in tights. It didn't take Google too long to kill the butterflies in my stomach and my enthusiasm over the new dance teacher in the neighbourhood - because this time it was not just about dancing, it was also about liking someone I would have probably discovered at a later point was out of reach, but that later point would have happened a lot later if not for my conditional reflex and for the easiness to find out absolutely everything there is to be found out.
Back in highschool I could spend weeks without even knowing the name of my newest crush and then get all girly and blushy and quakey when we finally spoke, there were countless questions filling my head and I'd get an adrenaline rush every time I found out something so unimportant as where he usually goes for beer, how he likes his coffee, the name of his dog, the bus he takes every morning or the books he borrowed from the library the week before. 
Back then it was a lot easier to daydream about men because fiction was the only filler for the gaps that appeared in our brains every time we had a new guy in sight, until we actually got the data that gave us a complete picture. Now it's pretty sure we're able to find out more than we actually need about most guys we meet, be it the bartender from the pub around the corner, the Starbucks guy who makes the best vanilla latte in Warsaw, a new dance partner or just someone randomly met on a Saturday night. Some might say this spares us a lot of trouble, but I'm really not sure I want to be spared the trouble of daydreaming and putting a bit more effort into finding out things that I'm practically offered prepacked with just a few clicks. And trying to control the impulse of searching all this information is more difficult than it appears, cutting Google out of my life is much riskier than letting him cut out some potential new prospects. 

January 9, 2012

Monday morning

May all my mornings at the office be as lovely and surprising as this one.

January 1, 2012

My one and only resolution

Happy New Year!
I spent most of my day reading some wonderful posts, skimming through the books I carried with me after a short and lovely trip back home, drinking coffee and thinking about my resolutions for 2012. 
I'm a natural born planner and a bit of a control freak, with just a hint of neurosis - I like lists, excel tables, deadlines (I take comfort in knowing they're there, even though I hardly ever meet them), agendas, getting things done and planning ahead. I have a rather clear picture of what my priorities are this year, of my main goals and objectives and the steps I need to take in order to achieve them and I'm quite satisfied knowing it's all written down, accompanied by a well defined timeline. 
Aside from my many plans, I only have one resolution this year: learn to keep my mouth shut.