Thursday, April 8, 2021
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Normally holidays make a good blog topic, but I re-read last year's Easter contribution (Easter in Poland) and I'm pretty pleased with it still. If you didn't get a chance before, I recommend giving it a read to learn about the Polish Easter traditions.
This week, I want to introduce you to a Krakow-specific tradition–the legend of Lajkonik!
When I first arrived in Krakow, I saw the symbol of Lajkonik (the silhouette of a bearded man in a pointy hat riding a horse) everywhere: the bus seat upholstery, bakery logos, and bike racks. I didn't know what it was, and in my mind just assumed it must be some historical king. Though he may be kingly, he's actually remembered as a valiant trickers. The pointed hat, paired with colorful oriental attire, is characteristic of Krakow's 13th century enemies, the Tartars. The horse, is a wooden hobby horse, a humorous fill-in for the real thing, which has become more iconic than the true story.
Through the 13th century, there were multiple Mongol invasions of Krakow. The main one was in 1241, and led to a lot of destruction, but is said to have only lasted 10 days. Lajkonik's story comes later, in 1287, during the third Mongol invasion of Poland. The Mongol army joined forces with Turkic troops and the two planned a raid on Krakow, after having already looted and seized Sandomierz (approximately 160km north east of Krakow).
Quick interjection–you'll notice that I'm using multiple names to refer to the invading army. Although I think the most historically accurate term is the combined Mongol/Turkic army, I will refer to them as the Tartars, as that is the term used in most of my references. According to the lovely Encyclopedia Britannica, "Tartar" is the umbrella term applied to any Turkic-speaking group. Ok, now back to the good stuff!
Legend has it that the Tartar armies wanted to surprise the city, so they decided to hunker down in the village of Zwierzyniec (fun fact: the street I used to live on was Zwierzyniecka). A group of local raftsmen happened upon the group while they were doing their regular regular river-based wood transportation. These local heroes attacked the would-be raiders in their sleep, killing many of the Mongol generals. The Polish attackers wore the slain's outfits and rode into the city.
The Krakowians feared the city gates were breached! It was a great relief that the city dwellers were simply on the butt end of a prank, and were in fact not being attacked. Once the story had been all cleared up, the Mayor of Krakow declared the raftsmen as local hears, to be commemorated every year with a return of Lajkonik, dressed as Tartar Kahn, parading through the city streets.
Yes, I agree, the part about the Mayor declaring an annual celebration day-of seems a little far fetched (especially since other sources say that the annual tradition only goes back to the 17th or 18th century). Also, I can't find any documentation concerning the fact that the city nearly was breached and that there was still (presumably) some unhappy Tartars waiting outside of the city. Regardless of the actual historical facts, it is true that every year there is a Lajkonik festival.
On the first Thursday after Corpus Christi (10 June, 2021), a procession follows the plucky Lajkonik from Kosciuszko Mound, through Zwierzyniec, up the Old Town market square. Along the way, he and his follower reenact the battle, do a dance with the city flag, collect ransoms from shopkeepers (money, food, booze), and strike onlookers with a golden mace (which is considered to bring good luck). As put by In Your Pocket, "Lajkonik is so beloved he basically has carte blanche to do whatever he wants along the procession route." It takes five hours to travel to the city center (and there is no expectation that he will arrive sober), but on the square "he collects a tribute from the Mayor of Krakow" and the city citizens join him in raising a toast (Karnet). The whole ordeal ends with a salute to the city.
Now you think to yourself, "well that sounds fun, but why is Aisha writing about this now rather than in June when the Lajkonik parade actually happens?" Well, my friend, it's because I am pessimistic that there will actually be a parade this year, as there wasn't one last year due to Covid precautions. Also, author David Abulifia, wrote that the first Tartar/Mongol invasion happened on Ash Wednesday- 10 March, 1241, which is enough of an Eater connection for me! So enjoy the read, and Wesołych Swiąt!
I read a lot of online articles and blog posts beyond just the ones that are linked to in the main body of my post. The other websites I consulted can be found here, and most have great photos of the annual Lajkonik procession:
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Zalipie is a village of less than 1,000 people, approximately 1.5 hours drive east of Krakow. If you look online at what the median age is, it will say residents are mostly in their 30s, but based on driving around the town you would expect the median age to be closer to 60 or 70. It's a farming town, with most houses neighboring a large field or a fenced in pen full of ducks, geese, and turkeys accompanied by a guard dog. All-in-all, it's a pretty typical Polish village, yet it has been on my Polish to-do list for months.
Despite it operating as a small standard farming community, Zalipie is listed as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Poland. The town has a tradition of painting its houses, both inside and out, in intricate floral patterns. The more traditional walls are whitewashed first, but the flowers can be found on all shades of painted wood, stone, dog houses, wells, bee boxes, bicycles...just about anything.
That's not to say that every structure within Zalipie is smeared with paint, but an annual cottage painting competition generates enough interest that as you drive around the small town it seems like every third home has at least some painted surface. Those with the most elaborate homes are very proud of them, and will often welcome you into their yards to get a closer look. We definitely shared a few waves from our car window with a few locals, and I had a very rudimentary conversation about a turkey farmer's painted barn shed. In addition to being the cutest village we've encountered, I think it might also win #1 in the friendliest village award category.
Despite Zalipie showing up on just about every "top 10 things to see in Poland" list, there isn't a whole lot of fanfare around the village. There is a community center that, when open, gives out maps and tourism information, a museum, and a gift shop. Near this public-interest sites there is some signage, but the history of the blooms is fairly pedestrian, and isn't even that old of a tradition.
Within the last two centuries, housewives would paint the interior of their homes white to help brighten up the dark walls caused by the smokey stoves. Even after the walls were painted, dark soot spots would still be visible, so those were covered up further. The concept of covering the dark spots with bright colorful flowers spread across the town and from the inside to the outside of homes. Since then, the paint has changed (from a milk- and fat-based paints to our modern longer-lasting versions), the paintbrushes are no longer made of cow tail hairs, and the wood-burning stoves have been replaced. The annual cottage-painting competent was introduced after WWII as a means of cheering people up after the war. Despite the relatively new history, the town feels old and quaint.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
In Krakow, our first days of spring have included a surprise return visit from the snow clouds. It also was paired with some not-so-welcomed Covid restriction returns. I won't get into those in full, but suffice it to say that the hopes I had for doing a little weekend getaway are, at the very least, suspended. Regardless, I will always welcome a snowy walk. Especially, if that walk turns into a scavenger hunt, or even better, a witch hunt!
I recently learned that March 21st is the day to welcome Polish spring by burning, and then drowning Marzanna, the witch of winter. School children will build dolls out of straw and cloth, decorated with twine and accessories to parade around. Then, all of the Marzannas (and male counterparts Marzonioks) are burned at the stake. The witches are then dunked into water, all while children sing ominously gleeful songs about the process.
It's an old pagan Slavic ritual, as a way to turn away from winter, plague, and death, and to welcome the spring. In Germany, there was a similar tradition of burning a snowman in the town square as everyone jumped abroad the "summertime train." These equinox rituals are so much fun for me, but maybe that's because we don't have a similar counterpart (that I know of) in America.
Sadly, my witch hunt was not a success. Nowhere along the river did I find any charred carcasses or trails of sopping rags. Some villages have a town-sponsored celebration, but I don't know of one in Krakow. Even if there typically is something, nothing would be going on this year (nor last year). Also, I get the impression that the celebration is mostly carried on by children, so maybe because today isn't a school day there weren't any school-sponsored massacres. Lastly, it's really cold today, so I'm sure only the most dedicated made their way out to the water today.
Alas, it's just another small loss thanks to the year+ pandemic, and in the process of researching this, I caught wind of another springtime activity, which I think is unlikely to happen this year– a city-wide pillow fight. Even though I don't expect anything like this, I'll be taking a stroll through Rynek on April 4th!
Saturday, March 13, 2021
I love going grocery shopping—it is my favorite weekly chore! But that's only now that I am familiar with my local stores and know where to find some "speciality" items like popcorn kernels and chocolate chips, even if it means shopping online or going to a specialty store. When we first moved, it was a little overwhelming and anxiety-inducing to make a trip to the grocery store. I even wrote my first Toastmasters speech about it.
Once I learned the pattern of the grocery store, it became fun. I love meandering the aisles and seeing what still sticks out as unusual. Most things I've stopped noticing–eggs in the regular shelving, foil-topped yogurt containers, and unrefrigerated produce–but every so often something still sticks me as either clever or confusing. Rather than my regular format, I think I need to narrate through photos:
These are the standard carts that are available in most mid-sized grocery stores. In the mega grocery stores (only found inside shopping malls) will you find the full sized carts. Outside of those mega stores, though, aisles are really tiny, and even these two photographed options feel cumbersome in the cramped spaces. Also, I still struggle to smoothly unpack these types of carts at checkout.
Speaking of checkout, this is what it looks like- typically pretty tight with not a whole lot of space to set your stuff down (especially in photo #2). Baggers are not a thing, and it feels like a race trying to bag up your own goods without impeding on the flow of traffic behind you.
Dairy & Protein:
Like I said, eggs are never refrigerated, but what is even more peculiar to me is...
Dairy also surprised me at first. Virtually all dairy comes in plastic cups with foil lids, which makes it hard to re-seal afterwords. I have never seen a container of yogurt larger than the one pictured here (about 500 ml). There is refrigerated milk, but there is more variety in the non-refrigerated UHT (ultra pasteurized) cartons.
I'm not regularly in the meat aisle, but this is a pretty standard set in about half of the stores. However, the other half only have fresh raw meat behind a manned meat counter similar to...
I don't know how interesting this is, but tofu always comes in these vacuum packed squares, and when Cameron gets a meat treat it is often some sort of salami is a pretty loosely-packed plastic or paper sleeve.
Down the Aisle:
If it can't be found in the mega store, it probably can be found in a speciality store. I don't frequent them often, but I have found Indian and Hispanic food shops.
One of my favorite places is an underground high-end goods store. I can't afford most of it, but I often buy specialty sodas for Cameron here when I want to get him a treat.
More bags: for a while I could not find cocoa powder and Karob was the closest I could find. Chips and crackers are Cameron's snack of choice, but there aren't a lot of options. A few of the more interesting one's I've found are paprika (which is quite common), ketchups and these ones: mushroom tart.
Now for our vices. You can buy M&Ms but I've only found them in the mega stores and they are SUPER expensive (this bag costs the equivalent of ~$10). As far as alcohol, it is pretty cheap. The Soplica brand is very common for flavored liquors, vodka is the standard here, and I love this brand of Georgian wine. One thing I find interesting is that all alcohol has the paper seal over top that you can see on the wine bottle.