Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wandering in Kraków and Zakopane

...and the adventures continue. I'm beginning to be marginally less confused by Polish grammar, although I still can't get the case endings (and, quite frequently, the verb conjugations) right, especially when I'm speaking and don't have time to think about it. Yesterday I went to Zakopane with some other people from the language school. We went hiking on one of the trails, which turned out to be pretty difficult (although amazingly beautiful). I eventually did make it to the little restaurant area at the top of the trail, although about 10 minutes after everyone else in my group got there. (Evidently I am ridiculously out of shape, although I already knew that.) Even so, I got some great pictures of the forest and rivers, and talked with some Polish kids on the way up. (Their English was much better than my Polish, although I guessed they were probably only about 12 or 13 years old...interesting commentary on the American education system's [lack of] emphasis on language learning, relative to that of the rest of the world.) After getting lunch at the restaurant there, we hiked back down (it was going to rain, so we couldn't spend much time up there). The views from the top of the trail were amazing. We could see the forests, and the tops of the mountains, for what looked like miles around (I'm pretty sure some of them had snow on them, even at this time of year). I've got some pictures and videos which I have not yet uploaded to my computer, but which I'll post on here and Facebook when I do that.
After the hike, we headed down into the town of Zakopane, which is kind of a resort town that's well-known especially for skiing and winter tourism. The main street was incredibly crowded, and a bunch of us spent the hour we had in town sitting at a cafe and talking. It's apparently also a culturally distinctive region in that the Górale live there. We headed back to Kraków around 5 p.m., then got some dinner at a vegetarian restaurant downtown which I forget the name of at the moment.
I spent this morning doing work on my computer at my host family's place, then decided that if I was going to have to do work, I should at least do it outside where I might actually meet some people. So I grabbed a zapiekanka for lunch, headed to a cafe in the city center, worked a bit more, and have spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around in Kazimierz, Kraków's historically Jewish area, which is full of really interesting old buildings and museums (including the Old Synagogue, which is a division of the Kraków Historical Museum).
I'm currently using the free wi-fi at Czajownia, a tea place just outside the aforementioned museum. It's semi-expensive, but the atmosphere is pretty interesting - they have a huge selection of tea (their menu is literally about 30 pages long), with extensive descriptions of each one, how it's made, where it comes from, and other random information (one was described as something like "ideal for drinking while reading the Russian classics," another as something like "perfect for after a walk alone in the park at twilight"). I'm also looking up travel information - I haven't yet decided where would be best to spend my last four days in Poland after my class finishes, both in terms of seeing interesting things and in terms of transportation logistics. (My plane leaves from Warsaw at 7 a.m. on Aug. 4, and so I need to be back there in time. Rather than booking a hostel room for a few hours, or taking one of the night trains which I hear are not exactly the safest or most pleasant, I figure that, unless I end up back in Warsaw for those four days, I'll just head back there by train or bus late in the day on the 3rd and spend the night in the airport...probably should have thought of that when I booked the tickets.)
And now I am off to find dinner and probably do some further wandering around Kazimierz and the Rynek Główny (super-touristy and usually very crowded city center area, which has got some pretty cool street performers and booths selling random things, as well as a statue of Adam Mickiewicz [Poland's national poet] and a church with a trumpeter who plays every hour to announce the hour). Do zobaczenia!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nie rozumiem! (Or, adventures with Polish grammar)

Just finished the second day of the two-week Polish language class I'm taking here (Monday wasn't officially a class day, since we just had our language tests and placements and then a pronunciation workshop). It's a lot more difficult than I expected - the classes are conducted entirely in Polish. Most likely this is one of the best and fastest ways of learning, and I'm learning a lot in such a short time, but I feel like I'm having a really hard time keeping up. I'm not sure if this is just my own frustration at thinking I understood something and then realizing I had no idea, or if I really am getting behind in the lessons. On top of that I've been randomly getting up at 6 a.m. and therefore going about my day tired and annoyed because I haven't slept enough. Yay, jet lag.
Either way, I suppose this kind of frustration is something anyone spending any amount of time in another culture or learning another language runs into...I guess the important part is recognizing it.
Prior to coming here, I studied Polish for a year (3 quarters) through Rosetta Stone and LiveMocha (basically a free version of Rosetta Stone, and with a social networking component...rather awesome site), and also met up with a few Polish speakers around the San Diego area. UCSD doesn't have Polish classes per se, but they do have a program through the linguistics department called the Language Lab (which is amazingly awesome for those of us who want to learn languages that aren't as commonly taught at the university). Students can sign up for a 2- to 4-credit class, which gives us access to self-teaching materials (there are several different curricula you can choose from; one is Rosetta Stone, and they also have textbooks and, I think, video courses of some sort). We learn on our own using the material, and then take a midterm and a final each quarter. There is an instructor of record who assigns grades, but the exams are scored by the software.
Having gone through the Rosetta Stone program was pretty informative with regard to basic vocabulary and common expressions, and so I'm able to communicate at a very basic level and, at least some of the time, be understood (I hope). However, the Rosetta Stone software works by showing pictures and the corresponding words in the target language - there are no translations at all. (Incidentally, LiveMocha's is structured the same way, but you can click on a button and get a translation if you want.) Which is good because it forces you to think in the language you're learning, but it works better for some things than others. Grammar, for instance, is really difficult to get across without explicit explanations. Some of the time I could infer what was going on, but more often than not I had to post on forums, ask someone, or just guess.
The class I'm taking here is really helping to fill in the information I'm missing with regard to grammar, rules of the language, etc. (Now if I could only keep up with all of it!) Polish is a much more complicated language than I realized! First, there are the verbs and their conjugations to learn. (I'm not going to go into much detail since I'm pretty sure there's a lot I don't understand yet, but Polish Blog, among other sites, has some useful explanations.) The verbs (as in many other languages) are conjugated according to first/second/third person, the number of people involved, (sometimes) gender, etc...there are a few different categories of verbs that have different conjugations, in addition to the irregular ones.
In addition to basic verbs, there are different prefixes and derivations. Sometimes these form completely new, but related, words, and sometimes they distinguish between perfective verbs (having to do with actions that have been or will be completed) and imperfective verbs (having to do with actions that are taking place, but are not necessarily completed). (For instance, the verb "czytać" means "to read," but if you add the prefix "prze-," which means roughly something like "in front of" or "before," to it, you get "przeczytać," which can either be a perfective form of the verb or can mean something like "to look over"...I think. If any Polish speakers are reading this, please correct me!)
The nouns and adjectives also change, though, because the Polish language uses declension. I had seen the word changes while I was studying with Rosetta Stone, but wasn't sure what they meant. There are a lot of other languages that use it too (Latin, Greek, and German, as well as other Slavic languages, are a few, but there are a lot more), but I had never learned it explicitly before (the only other two languages that I've studied, other than English, are French and Japanese, neither of which uses anything like it). So I spent this morning trying to teach myself what the different cases referred to in preparation for encountering them in Polish. (Surprisingly, the WikiBooks entry on the Polish language has actually been pretty helpful.)
These are just a few of the grammatical aspects of Polish. Interesting stuff, but incredibly complicated, especially when I'm feeling pressured to learn all I can while I'm here and surrounded by Polish speakers. I'm also, intentionally or otherwise, learning a lot about the limitations of language self-teaching, as I'm now encountering all the (as it turns out, fairly important) things I didn't learn from Rosetta Stone. Hopefully by the time I head back to San Diego, I'll have enough of a foundational knowledge of both vocabulary and grammar to keep learning and practicing without being completely bewildered.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Museums, Language Classes, and Further Excitement

I'm now in Kraków! Just took my language placement test (apparently I'm level 1B, which is roughly advanced beginner). I got here yesterday afternoon after taking the train from Warsaw, which took about three hours. It was pretty crowded, and so I had to sit on my suitcase in the little entrance area between train cars. (Also, when we passed through a storm, we got rained on inside the train. Excitement. There was a nice view of the countryside and some little villages from the windows, though.) There were some interesting people sitting near me, though - some students from Poland and some travelers from England - who I talked to on the way here.
I took the taxi to my host family's house - they live a bit outside of the main city, but the tram which goes directly into downtown (for only 2.5 zloty, or about $1, each way) is only a block away. I actually managed to hold a conversation with them in Polish! (Well, rather ungrammatically and with lots of hand gestures on my part, but still, I was quite proud of this.) Later, I went into town and found a Coffee Heaven (essentially the Polish version of Starbucks, and just as ubiquitous here. Considering that it's air-conditioned and has free Wi-Fi, the name has proven rather appropriate.) I Skyped my parents to let them know I'd gotten here OK, then figured out tram directions from where I'm staying to the language school with the help of a Polish guy who lives in San Francisco, but happened to be visiting Kraków. After leaving the cafe, I got a first-hand experience of the infamous Central/Eastern European caught in a downpour without an umbrella. :/ (Luckily, I managed to find a store selling them on the way to the tram stop.) At least it's cooled off a bit's been really hot and humid the past few days, and carrying most of my stuff with me while walking around the city hasn't helped. (Since the hostel had been switching my room each night, I figured it was easier to just take anything I might need throughout the day - laptop, books, etc. - with me instead of going into and out of the cloakroom until I could check back in.)
Before heading here from Warsaw, I also had a chance to see quite a few other interesting things on Friday. I visited the State Ethnographic Museum (Państwowe Muzeum Etnograficzne). The first floor had an exhibit on the history of the museum itself, how it got its collections, etc. They have objects from anthropological field expeditions all over the world, but Polish anthropology also seems to include a lot of fieldwork within Poland as well, particularly on rural areas and folk art/craft. There's a gallery devoted to "folk art," which seems to designate non-professional artists and includes both contemporary and historical works. There's also one with artifacts showing traditional handicraft (which they define as manufacture for household use). On the top floor, there's an exhibit on traditional Polish annual rituals for holidays and seasons.
I spent about three hours in the museum, then headed out to the main street, where EuroPride was happening. This was the first year it was being held in a Central/Eastern European country. It was pretty heavily policed - there were officers standing in the street and we weren't allowed to cross until the parade had passed by - and there were a few counter-protesters here and there, but seemed overall to be fairly peaceful, at least from where I was standing. Here's a BBC News link to a recap of the event:
I also visited the Warsaw Rising Museum. It's fairly new and apparently has been pretty well received in comparison to many other museums in the area for its use of interactive exhibits and multimedia. Because of this, I figured it might be informative fieldwork-wise to see it. There are three floors, arranged chronologically as you walk upstairs from the events leading up to the Warsaw Uprising to the event itself. The museum's floors and walls are designed as if you're actually walking through the city in 1944, and there are different kinds of displays - historical objects in cases, information on the walls to read, and handouts for visitors to pick up (most interestingly, little calendar pages that have each date and what happened then in 1944). There's also a big screen showing films shot by people involved in the Warsaw Uprising in the center of the museum, which you can see as you walk around on the different floors.
After leaving the museum, I managed to get lost looking for the bus. There are no centralized transport schedules, at least that I could find, so I basically got around by asking people which bus to take to the central train station/Palace of Science and Culture. I was hoping to also see the Poster Museum, but it closed at 6, and by the time I figured out which bus to take, it was 5:30. I headed back to the city center, did some shopping in the areas nearby (the Empik media store is pretty cool - didn't buy anything there, although I did conclude from the displays that people in Poland are just as inexplicably obsessed with Twilight as are people in the States), and then back to the hostel, where I hung out in the cafe/bar with some of the other people staying there.
I'm currently in a cafe about a block from the language school. I have discovered that Facebook evidently gets very confused when you go to another country and try to log in...first they asked me to verify my account, then they tried to send me a text message with a confirmation code (absurdly high international roaming charges aside, my phone doesn't get service here anyway). It did eventually let me log on, though. Good to know for future reference. Free Wi-Fi seems to be pretty readily available, though, so if nothing else I can keep posting on here.
My first language class starts in 20 minutes. Off to go learn about Polish pronunciation!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Warsaw, Day 2 (7/16/10)

Got up much later than I wanted to, and then had to switch rooms (and carry all my stuff around in a backpack all day!), so I didn't end up leaving the hostel until about 11:30. One of the archivists from the KARTA Center e-mailed me back that I could meet with her this afternoon, so I had some time before that. I explored some of the area near the hostel – there are some bookstores on the street on the other side of us (Marszalkowska is on one side of the block where I'm staying, and it seems to be one of the fairly major streets in this area. Facing the doors where we leave the hostel is a park, and on the other side of the building is Kredytowa street, where the bookstores are). I bought some Polish-language newspapers (not sure how much of them I'll actually be able to read, but I'll try!) and some language learning books. I stopped by the Muzeum Etnograficzne (Ethnographic Museum) and found out that admission is actually free tomorrow, so I think I'll come back then. :) I did end up walking around the bookshop and buying a catalogue put out by the museum, called “Etnografia Nowa” (New Ethnography) - it's mostly in Polish but there is some English content, and it describes the ethnographic museum, what it means, how it is changing, and whether it is still relevant. Quite useful for my research interests.
After navigating the Metro (not too hard, since there's only one line going north and south), I headed to the KARTA center. On my way there, I found a comic book store where I got some graphic novels in Polish, by Polish authors. I wonder if any of them will be attending Comic-Con in San Diego this year? I'll still be out of the country for that.
After that I met with the KARTA archivist and talked with her for about an hour and a half, and got to tour the building and the archives. Their entire collection is open to the public, except in July when they're closed (although people are still working there, hence the reason I was able to visit and meet with them). KARTA is an organization that collects and archives historical documents, especially those having to do with the repression of people under state socialism as well as the opposition to it (particularly in the form of the Solidarity movement). It started as a sort of underground journal publishing analyses of life under repressive conditions as well as art, poetry, etc. in the early '80s when publishing certain types of political material was still illegal. (The journal itself is still publishing, although obviously looks much different by this point.) They focus a lot on preserving and documenting individual histories and memories in particular, as opposed to official narratives of history. I was amazed at how a collection of documents and information that I imagine must have been incredibly difficult to collect and maintain, and that had to be distributed among individuals rather than having a centralized location, has now come to be archived and organized in one location. It must have taken an incredible amount of effort on the part of the people who had kept the documents in the first place, as well as the people who put the central archive together and are currently working on it. That, and the fact that people took such care to preserve these documents is now providing an incomparable collection of primary sources for Polish history...preserving, and continuing to add to, documentation of histories that might have otherwise been forgotten, but that are now able to take material and textual form and be heard by the public. That said, I was also surprised by the building itself. The KARTA center is this unassuming little office on a street full of apartments and across from a park; the only indication it's even there from the outside is a sign on the wall outside the door.
On a completely unrelated note, my camera seems to be officially broken. It figures. I took some videos with my iPod and bought two disposable cameras, and I'm also going to try and use my phone camera (Verizon doesn't get reception here anyway, so there's no chance of someone texting me and me ending up with a $1000 phone bill...I hope.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Warsaw, Day 1 (1/2)

I'm in Warsaw! Actually got here yesterday afternoon, but have been too busy to post anything. I checked into my hostel around 4 p.m. Turns out there was a mix-up with my reservation and they thought I hadn't confirmed, but luckily they had rooms open, so I'll still be at the same place for all three days. (Different rooms, though.)
After getting settled in my room, I headed out for a walk around the surrounding area...having no idea what was really around this particular area, but just to check things out. I ended up visiting the Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki, or PKiN, in Polish). It's the tallest building in Poland, with 52 floors, and it was built in 1955 as a gift from the (then) Soviet Union to Poland. It apparently is, or at least was, somewhat controversial due to both the associations with the Soviet Union and its aesthetic appearance - according to my guidebook, it has the nickname "The Wedding Cake" because of its multi-layered look. I don't necessarily know if that's the first association I'd make - my first impression was of some sort of clock tower - but judge for yourself.
After paying the 15zł (around $4.72) admission, I went up to the 30th floor, where there's an observation deck from which you can see pretty much all of Warsaw. I got some great views of the city (and, perhaps most prominently, the advertising around the city center), which I'll post as soon as my camera starts working correctly. I think I may have to venture into one of the electronics stores here and buy a new SD card, since mine seems to be corrupted. There was also an exhibition on art, science, and the environment going on - some of the things featured were digitally altered photos of landmarks having been overtaken by nature (think that History Channel show "Life After People") and photos of families around the world with the different types of food they ate in a week. Interestingly enough, I saw some similarly-themed exhibits around San Diego a few months ago, at the Calit2 gallery on campus. Most of the rest of the building, other than the observation deck and cafe (on the same floor) and the exhibit on the first floor (some of which was also displayed around the observation deck area), seems to be either theaters or offices.
There seemed to be a fair amount of people still there for it being almost closing time (I got there at 7 p.m.), both tourists and people from here. There's also a little park around the Palace, which I walked through a bit before heading back to my hostel.
Anyway, off to go explore the city some more and hopefully get this camera working...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pre-Fieldwork Adventures, Part 1

(Update: I wrote this post this morning. Since then, I have found Internet! I had to pay for it, though.)

So I've made it through two absurdly long flights (on top of not having slept much the past few days anyway because of packing, and the amount of unrelated work stuff I had to finish while I knew I would still have reliable Internet access), and I'm now sitting in the lobby of a Courtyard by Marriott hotel outside the Prague airport, waiting for my laptop battery to charge. (Turns out I don't need to use the voltage adapter for it, by the way – the plug converter worked just fine, and my computer hasn't caught on fire yet. Yay.) Unfortunately, there is no free Internet in this particular lobby, and I'm writing this in OpenOffice. By the time you read this, it will be the future! ::cue sci-fi-music:: (Yes, I obviously need sleep.)

I got here a little after 7 a.m. (local time), and my flight to Warsaw doesn't leave until 2:30 p.m., and I have to change planes and re-check-in I figured I would go outside and walk around a bit instead of sitting in the airport for the entire time. Hopefully having left the airport won't make the check-in process too much more complicated. Also, because of having to go through customs, I now have a stamp on my passport from a country I've actually visited (as opposed to just ones where I've only stopped in the airport). One lifelong goal accomplished! :P

So...pre-fieldwork. What does this mean, anyway? Anyone's guess is probably as good as mine, although Open Anthropology Cooperative has a good brief summary of pre-fieldwork and its purposes. Mainly I'm trying to go see in person some of the places I've spent the past year reading about, meet potential research contacts for when I come back to do my “real” fieldwork, and work on refining some of my research questions. Right now my explanation of what I study, when people ask me, is some variation of “memory and history practices in Poland, how this is played out in the relationship between individual and collective/public/cultural memory, and how and whether these practices are being changed by the introduction of digital media.” A clearer project proposal than this time last year, but still vague and a bit internally disconnected. I hope to have it slightly more refined by the time I go back to San Diego.

I purposely didn't schedule too many specific activities during this trip, other than taking a two-week language course, because I figure the more uncommitted time I have, the more time to meet up with potential fieldwork contacts and just generally take advantage of interesting opportunities that come up. (There are certain things I definitely plan to see and do, though.) The most important thing, I think, was getting here in the first place, then once here, trying to get out of my comfort zone, linguistically and otherwise, as much as possible. I know I won't be doing any official interviewing, since I don't have an IRB and my grasp of the Polish language is as yet nowhere near where it needs to be to do in-depth interviews. (I am hopeful that the latter of these two will improve, even if not be entirely rectified, after I've taken this class.) Still, probably the biggest thing I'm worried about is that I won't manage to do anything useful research-wise...for instance, that I'll only manage to meet other English-speaking travelers, or that I won't be able to find anyone who has time to talk to me at the museums, etc. that I'm going to visit. (Of course, there is the view that anything I do while in Poland will be informative for potential fieldwork, even if it only involves learning how not to do fieldwork.)

I can't check in until 12:30, so that gives me 3 ½ hours to wander around Prague. Goals for the next few hours: find Internet access (preferably free) [done]; get a phone card and/or access Skype through said Internet access [done]; call my parents and let them know I got here OK [done]; send off transcripts I did while on the plane [done]; e-mail people from the places around Warsaw I'm planning on visiting tomorrow; figure out whether I'm actually going to try and do anything tonight or just go to sleep when I get to my hostel.