On February 13, 1991, during the first Gulf War, U.S. planes bombed a shelter in the Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, Iraq, killing 408 civilians. The Pentagon held Saddam Hussein’s regime responsible for “deliberately hosting civilians in military installations to serve as human shields”. In such case, as every time the weapons deployed factor out any conceivable technical error, we have grown accustomed to parley about collateral damage. A memorandum issued by the U.S. Air Force (USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide — AIR FORCE PAMPHLET 14- 210 Intelligence) broadly defines collateral damage as “unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities”. In other words, whilst achieving a high death toll among civilians is arguably not top priority in military actions, such casualties are easily dismissed as not important enough to justify the costs of their prevention, especially in the face of the massive vested interests which are usually at stake in war.
Papusza (2013) is a biopic, directed masterfully by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze, about the Romany poetess Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987), born and raised in Poland. The film doesn’t follow a coherent chronological line, continuous flashbacks take the story from the beginning of the 20th century, when Papusza (which means “doll”, that’s the Romany name of the poetess) was born, to the first years of the postwar period, in a wounded and wrecked Poland, trying to put the pieces back together; and then to WW2 when Gipsies had to hide in the woods to escape from the horrors of the Nazis. Lastly, to the 1970s, when Papusza and her community were forced by communist authorities to become nonmigratory, settling down in houses and attending school, that will entail the cultural “death” of the Romanies (I shall come back to this).
Automatic thinking and mathematics go hand-in-hand, of course; however, the mathematician is more often than not concerned with the internal, formal structure of mathematical objects themselves. It is not before we turn mathematics into a tool for self-introspection that something interesting happens: in the spirit perhaps of Novalis’ astounding apothegm “das höchste Leben ist Mathematik”. Beckett, Borges, Queneau, to name just a few, are all busy at work in a large, coherent, systematic exploration, which climaxes with Turing’s mathematical model of a hypothetical, universal computing machine, as well as with Shannon’s information theory. Kafka’s Strafkolonie and Vaclav Havel’s Antikódy, on the other hand, turn everything topsy-turvy, investigating the progressive bureaucratisation and depersonalisation of the language of authority.
One of the very first things foreigners may notice once they arrive in Poland or move there is that people still read on public transports. Polish commuters flip through free press and chick-lit, but prefer engrossing themselves in quality dailies such as Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita or in weeklies such as Polityka or Newsweek Polska. What they seem to enjoy even more, though, is good old paper books with the occasional e-book reader popping up. By looking at or asking what kind of stuff Poles read, the foreign observer will soon find out that it’s mostly non-fiction. And their subject of choice is often a specific kind of journalism known as reportage here. The term dates back to the 17th century French verb ‘reporter’ meaning to ‘carry back.’ However, in both British and American English reportage is rarely used.
It was one of those autumnally drenched afternoons, when the clouds loom heavily over us pouring their chaotic grey into our eyes that continuously and repeatedly cannot stop looking after the colours of an already-gone-summer; a summer that can survive thanks to our memories seeking for a shelter into her hay-scented warm hug. Mama had dispatched me and Adela to bring the lunch to Jakub. Jakub is my dad, but he was an unlikely father and that makes it difficult to call him “daddy”, so I have always preferred to call him by his first name – a name that to me, little dreamer and drawer, sounded enchanting. It reminded me the old stories about patriarchs that my grandpa used to tell me in the wintertime, when all the other adults were too busy to take care of me, strange child that I was. Fortunately, grandpa loved to narrate and I, I loved to shape paper figures with those words; for words are kaleidoscopic tools of creation working in perfect harmony with the world.
In Poland, interest in world music is quite alive, and has managed to foster a sizable array of oh-not-so-bad artists during the last twenty years: the Kroke group from Krakow, just to mention one example, is very successful in mixing Klezmer and Balkan flavours with a decent jazzy box of tricks. Varsovian singer Katarzyna Szczot, also known as Kayah, co-authored with Goran Bregović one of the bestselling albums in Poland (Polish: Kayah i Bregović, 1999; 700 thousand copies sold); later on, she has proven an excellent evangelist of the Ladin, Yiddish, Arabic, Hebrew, Macedonian, Roman, and Polish musical traditions (Transoriental Orchestra, 2013). The Dikanda ensemble was founded in Szczecin in 1997. Its reference “space” is still the East, this time in an even more comprehensive meaning, as a semi-mythical place that extends well beyond the purely geographic scope and acquires a historical as well as an anthropological connotation.
In his seminal book Diffusion of Innovations (New York: Free Press, 2003), first published in 1962, Everett Rogers admits that “the structure of a social system can facilitate or impede the diffusion of innovations in the system”. This is especially true today, as new technologies, new thought paradigms and new models of communication are continuously disrupting and recasting our lives, whilst putting huge pressure on the underlying social structures. The penetration speed of innovation is thus a function of the amount of inertia such structures are inherently endowed with, even though it was the collapse of solid societies, as Bauman would call them, that first demanded for a global re-editing of traditional models.
Nowa Huta – so many things.
From a merely cadastral standpoint, Nowa Huta is the easternmost district of Krakow, the XVIII. It is, also, one of the few places in Poland inhabited without gaps since the Neolithic Era; subsequently, the site is home to a large Celtic outpost as well as to the country’s oldest Slavic settlement. Later on, it appears to be linked with the city’s eponymous founder, Krakus, and with his daughter, whose mortal spoils rest underneath the Wanda Mound (Kopiec Wandy), a few kilometres away .
Still afterwards, Nowa Huta becomes grange to the Cistercian monastery of Mogiła. In due course the outskirts of the yet-to-be-recognised district are included in the border between territories controlled by Austria-Hungary and Russia. After 1945, the socialist regime decides to erect a satellite city combined with a vast industrial complex, in part to attract people from the countryside and to abash the resistance of the city’s middle class.
In Polish, Nowa Huta means “New Steelworks”.