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 KARTA is an organization that collects and archives historical documents, especially those having to do with the repression of people under state socialism as well as the opposition to it (particularly in the form of the Solidarity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.)

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