I've been ridiculously busy (or possibly just lazy), and therefore haven't written on here in a while, so here's a (not-so) brief recap of my last week and a half in Poland. The second half of class went pretty well. I continued working on Polish grammar (although I'm still by no means fluent, especially when I'm speaking and can't think of the proper word endings on the spot, I think I understand it a little better now!) Now that I'm back home and no longer surrounded by native Polish speakers, it'll be somewhat more difficult to get speaking and reading practice, so I need to be disciplined about keeping up with studying. Our guide for some of the sightseeing tours around Krakow, an American guy living there who taught himself Polish while and before moving there, suggested reading some of the Polish newspapers online as a good way of getting language practice. I also picked up a few books (Polish-language graphic novels at Centrum Komiksu in Warsaw, and English-Polish bilingual poetry books published by Wydawnictwo Literackie) that will help me practice, as well as a few CDs of Polish bands. Yay for "fun reading" that also counts as research. In any case, though, I think I'll definitely need to take a few more language classes either before or when I actually get there for my fieldwork.
Other than that, during my second week in Krakow, I visited the Ethnographic Museum (Muzeum Etnograficzne). The slogan posted above the front door (in English and Polish) is "My Museum - A Museum About Me," which seems to reflect the museum's focus on the ethnography of Poland specifically (at least as far as I could tell from the exhibits that were up when I visited). The first floor had rooms for visitors to walk through and model buildings, representing typical houses and rooms from the late 19th and early 20th century in Krakow and the Podhale region. (There was also an exhibit called "Islam Orientation Ornament," featuring Islamic art from the Middle East and Africa, which required an additional ticket - given that I got there about 45 minutes before closing, I unfortunately didn't have time to check this one out.) In addition to houses, they had exhibitions of a fulling mill, a school, a potter's oven, and an oil mill. The rooms were either labeled "reconstruction" or "arrangement," but I wasn't sure if this implied anything about whether the objects were original or not, or whether this just referred to how the curators had arranged the objects. The second floor had an exhibit on life in rural Poland, with an extensive collection of objects ranging from newspapers to children's toys to kitchen utensils; it also, like the Warsaw ethnographic museum, included a section on annual rituals in Poland. I talked with a few of the tour guides, who told me that I had been the only English-speaking visitor there all day (although apparently they get French tourists fairly often). On the museum's top floor, there was an "object study" featuring chests from different Polish regions and different time periods, with information (in the form of a Polish/English bilingual brochure) about where they came from and what they were used for (mostly, in the case of the ones displayed, for dowries).
Later in the week, we took a tour of Nowa Huta (the "New Steelworks"), a district of Krakow that was originally planned as an ideal socialist city. It's well known as one of the most famous examples of socialist realist architecture, and during the 1980s, it became an important place for demonstrations and protests by the Solidarity movement. Near there is the Wanda Mound (Kopiec Wandy), which according to legend is the burial place of an 8th-century Polish princess. (Evidently this has never been verified by archaeologists.)
There's also an interesting public-art project going on in Krakow called Chopin in the City. The composer Frédéric Chopin is an important cultural/national figure in Poland (the airport in Warsaw is even named after him!) The project, according to the Web site, places public-art projects around the city (for instance, a walk-in dome made up of speakers playing Chopin's music, set up outside the Galeria Krakowska mall) to use "non-standard actions and modern technologies" to bring Chopin's music into public spaces in new ways. Pretty cool.
I left Krakow on Saturday and spent a few days in Łódź, which is between Krakow and Warsaw, and is basically a former industrial city in the process of re-inventing itself as a cultural and technological center. It's known as a center of Polish cinematography, with a famous film school and cinematography museum. Łódź also has the Manufaktura, a former factory complex that has been converted into a shopping and entertainment center with stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, a movie theater, a science museum, and even outdoor volleyball and bungee jumping. It's also an interesting place culturally speaking - they have the Festival of the Dialogue of Four Cultures, which showcases the town's multi-cultural history (of Polish, Jewish, German, and Russian residents). (Unfortunately, the festival wasn't taking place while I was there.)
The hostel I stayed in, Flamingo Hostel, was really nice - it had only been open for about a year, and so everything was fairly new (and apparently, not many people know it exists - I only had one roommate in a 6-person room for all three nights!) However, it appeared to be actively under construction while I was staying there. The first night, I attempted to take a shower in our bathroom, which featured a bathtub with a shower head and no curtain. When I woke up the next day, we had a shower curtain and a holder for the shower head, which was definitely not there the night before. Weird.
For my last night in Poland, I headed back to Warsaw and once again stayed at the Oki Doki Hostel, where I had been for my first few days there. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone planning to visit Warsaw - both the guests and the staff are very helpful and friendly, and they have tons of maps, brochures, etc. with suggestions of things to do around Warsaw. I headed out to the Stare Miasto (Old Town), then promptly got caught in a rainstorm and spent an hour or so hiding from the weather in a nearby Pizza Hut (the ever-so-traditionally-Polish dining establishment). After walking around Warsaw and Stare Miasto for a bit, I headed back to the hostel, where I attempted (with moderate success, I think) to speak Polish with some of the other people working/staying there. My flight was at 7 a.m. (again, for future reference, not the most pleasant time to be at the airport, but probably significantly cheaper than scheduling it later)...so I had to wake up at 4 a.m. and head to the airport. After 19 hours altogether of flights and layovers (first from Warsaw to Brussels, then from Brussels to Atlanta [during which my suitcase somehow lost its retractable handle in transit], then finally from Atlanta to San Diego), I finally got back home.
All in all, a great (and hopefully productive) trip. I picked up a ton of notes, photos, brochures, etc. that will hopefully help me write this dissertation proposal...so far I've got a few vague ideas about technology, memory, and the mapping of public space, tourism and the publicizing of culture and history/memory, and the relationships between public and private, and individual and collective, memory. Now to actually sit down and start writing...