Monday, February 27, 2006

These gates of wrath

Although I've been back at my editing (and have made some progress) this past week has been one long headache - mainly because of the flu which is still persisting behind my eyes and at the back of my throat. I must be Poland's number one consumer of Solpadeine (a fantastically effective soluble pain-killer).

Today I got up at 6am to accompany a friend of my mine to hospital for an operation. As instructed - we arrived well before 8am. It seems to be norm to not tell patients attending public hospitals for surgery:
-What day they will actually have their operation
-What time they will actually be registered and admitted
-What time they will actually have their operation
-Exactly what test results they need to bring with them when they come (well, they tell you and then maybe when you arrive for the op they add some requirements - which if you haven't got you must go away and get and much of the process must begin again from scratch.)
-They tell you partially what you need to bring with you (this time they forgot to say you need to bring your own knife and fork).
-They tell you partially what you may or may not eat before the 'potential' operation.

As I said, we arrived a little before 8am but did not manage to get registered or admitted until 12pm. That's a grim waiting room marathon of 4 hours. Of course in many countries 4 hours could be considered quick but I would imagine that most hospitals in most countries do not operate a policy of:

"First come, last served."

Which was what was happening this morning. That wouldn't upset me that much but one woman who was waiting with us was nine months pregnant with twins (could she get any bigger?). Even when we managed get registered and left she was still sitting there waiting. Furthermore there I was some deeply unpleasant Polish Post Office-style verbal violence to sit through. A woman with her daughter (her clone it would seem) did not need to wait more than 5 minutes on two separate occasions to get seen - invoking sly accusations from the other inmates of the waiting room of 'insider connections' and contempt for the heavily pregnant women. The accused launched into a passionate victim's plea of innocence and (as so often happens) threatened tears. Most of her defense statement was beyond my understanding.

It was all very unpleasant - but once admitted through the sterile cracked paint gates of the second floor everything was fine. The rooms were clean and spacious and the staff almost too friendly and relaxed.

Taking a break from the hospital I ate 'lunch' (and took another Solpedeine) in McDonald's. Once upon a time you used to have to show your receipt to a lady to get into the toilet. Then you had to ask for a plastic coin from the staff to get into the toilet. Not anymore! Now your receipt comes with a PIN number that you need to key into the toilet door. Wow! But how does it work I wonder? How does the door know that my 4-digit McRoyal and fries PIN is valid? Is the toilet door somehow communicating with the McDonald's till or does the PIN contain an encrypted timestamp for the door to make sense of? What if the toilet communicated with the till? What information could that provide the 'Golden Arches'?

Curious stuff. And then...

On the way home I witnessed an elderly man having some kind of seizure on a pile of 'sidewalk snow' while another guy tried to convince a taxi driver to take him to hospital. It was almost a scene straight out of Decalogue 5 - but this time the taxi driver did agree.

Next up, on the Metro something hidden in a large pram threw a frighteningly violent tantrum and made blood-curdling screams that had the whole carriage staring in amazement. Whatever was in the pram was so strong it almost managed to throw the pram over with its rage.

So if Damien's 'time has come' once again - it seems it has come again in Warsaw. Rather apt I think given the day's events.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dreams of a bird with flu

I've just spent the past three days out of action with flu. Before anyone comes to cull me I should add that it was just the usual kind of flu - temperature, fever, mucus etc and not the tail feathers poking out of the pond type. I'm not going to go into further detail as I think (and rather hope) that most people do not enjoy reading about illness.

But one aspect worth recording though was a fever-driven nightmare which replayed in my mind for several semi-conscious hours: I kept seeing hundreds of boxes painted white scattered out on the earth almost like matchboxes - except that they were almost certainly coffins. There was something in the middle of all the coffins but I couldn't identify what it was. I could hear loud cries of violence or anger and my mind kept searching for a reason, for an understanding of what had happened to produce all the white wooden coffins. Towards the end of the nightmare two words were chanted repeatedly: "Jamal Islamia".

I'm not about to look those words up - as far as I know its the name of a group held responsible for several bomb attacks in Asia.

A few days previously I had a dream in which a twenty-something Nicole Kidman was sitting on the floor of a dark room in a red dress and whispering to me about some kind of a clinic she had sent her (unnamed) man to. Both dreams were unusually bizarre but if I had to choose one to suffer repeatedly through the torture of a fever - and I think most of us can agree - I'd take the red dress over the white-washed coffins any day.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Surveying the spoils

Well the mission went better than I had expected. Snow fell for most of the day in large fat flakes - the kind that show up well on video. Despite the usual frustrating (late buses), painful (snow-stuffed shoes) and surreal (breaking through military funeral preparations in search of a loo) I was able to cover the birch war graves of the 'Zosta' battalion (the prime objective) plus some alternatives before returning to retake a shot from the Tartar cemetery. The deep snow seemed to keep the grumpy gatekeeper well clear of me - and fairly silent.

I moved on to the Powązki cemetery - plastered white it looked like a fantastical storage area for a lost civilisation's frozen kings, barons, angels and economists. After fifty minutes of searching I finally found Kieslowski's grave. Recently instructions for how to find it appeared on the internet but even with them it was hard to find (the cemetery's index only goes up to 1995 and Kieslowski died in 1996...). I have since updated the instructions on Wikipedia's Kieslowski entry and if for some reason they get deleted let me make it clear:

Kieslowski is buried in plot square 23 which can be found easily on the cemetery's map boards.

On the way home and as the dusk set in I took a long detour and was able to pick up (if I don't say so myself) some rather delicate suggestive shots of office workers trapped in their cells while the snow danced past outside - potentially very useful for the final part of the film.

Tomorrow I shall be off to Lodz for an exhibition - a rare break from routine. Naturally the very last of this winter's snow is predicted to fall at precisely that time. I shall just have to bite my lip and be grateful for what I've already been able to get. But if only to have one last chance...

Monday, February 13, 2006

War Footing

A wise chap once said:
"Making a film is like declaring war on reality"

Light snow fell for much of Sunday afternoon and I was able to cover the tiny Tartar cemetery before the grumpy old man in charge of it decided to close it at a seemingly early 3:10pm. I imagine he wasn't able to veg out properly in front of his TV knowing that a certain little bird was recording some shots on his (almost-never-visited) terrain.

Today there was more light snow to tease me but I was too tired to go out after yesterday, and besides I had to check the Tartar material to judge whether or not I will have to reshoot any of it - it seems I may have to. Probably I shall have to bribe the grumpy old man second time around.

Tomorrow a day of snow is predicted - probably one of the last for this winter. I require one last snow shot (Christian war graves being snowed on) to complete the (possible) opening sequence of the film. My destination is the Cmentarz Wojskowy (the soldier's cemetery) which incidentally is the last stop on the rather cheery 'see what's left of Warsaw' tour as offered by the city's Public Tourist Bus. is war footing:

Batteries...recharged and packed in the correct pocket
Public transport route...planned, bus numbers marked on hand
Secondary objectives...planned and timed
Tripod, umbrella and snow tubes...beside the door
A dozen layers of clothing...piled in order
Morning tea...standing by
Standby breakfast (another 2 eggs)...laid out
Reshoot reference cards (if the snow keeps going)...printed out
Camera...sealed and tape positioned
Satellite weather image...checked - 'flurries expected'
Wallet...emptied of all but essentials (bribe/Snickers money)

I even have a 'snow-alarm' - if a friend encounters falling snow on the way to work - I receive a warning message (I might be still asleep and snow is seriously silent...).

Its 8 hours until dawn. We shall see if the white stuff falls on cue. I have the feeling I won't be lucky this time but we shall see. Probably I should have been fearless and gone today but you usually record 'off shots' when you're tired.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Buried in white

Yesterday I went filming. I started at 9am and finished at 5pm. The temperature was about -5C so not too bad (it was -20C not so long ago) and the snowfall was pretty constant as was predicted. I covered the Brodnowski cemetery and the old Jewish cemetery (the free one) and just managed a test shot at Targowek before night fell. I had hoped to do the Tartar cemetery as well but as usual doing any more than 2 locations in one day is pretty much impossible, especially when you're running on two fried eggs and one frozen Snickers.

The camera held up well considering it was outside for 8 hours. We both seemed to have developed an immunity to the Polish winter. Having said that I was working in heavy snow without an umbrella (I left so fast I forgot it) and so the camera's LCD monitor got soaked through with snow despite my covering it with my EU health insurance card during each recording - well it is supposed to be there for you in an emergency...

Home at last I defrosted myself - a process where your feet turn an alarming scarlet colour in the shower and your nails turn orange and appear longer, the skin around them having receded from the cold. But who doesn't enjoy the 'victory' of returning after a hard day's filming?

Then comes the not so pleasant part. Has the camera recorded anything? Is it even still working or has the condensation finished it off for good, the tape as well? I slid my hand into the snow-soaked camera bag to find the camera drenched in condensation. I thought it was game over...
...but not this time! - After drying her off carefully and bracing myself for sparks - she was reconnected to the mains and with her characteristic monotonal BLEEP she returned to life. Amazing! For the hundredth time - thank you Canon for over-engineering her!

Today I reviewed the shots. Well out of 50 minutes of recording I got the one shot I really needed to get and a second one that might be destined to become the first shot of the film. Some others may also prove useful, we shall have to see.

You might think that given the effort 2 'in-the-movie-for-sure' shots is a poor outcome for a day's work. Statistically for this production it is slightly below average but given how hard it is just to walk through a winter's worth of uncleared snow in a cemetery - let alone film in it - I'm pleased with the outcome. Perhaps I could have done better. Perhaps I could have made it to the Tatar cemetery or even the communist soldiers one... But we shall never know - all that remains of the day now are the shots that I did manage to record.

Unlike the majority of Warsaw's citizens I really hope we haven't seen the last of the winter and that another day of continuous snow will be granted by the little-known 'God of Filmmaking'.

Well let us pray.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Making tense of us all

Over the weekend I witnessed an interview on BBC News between the BBC's oldest and most ambivalent male presenter (David Something) and a young 'spokesmen for young British Muslims' who had been rushed in to discuss what can be described as the 'cartoon protests'.

Here is my trimmed down and slightly extended transcript of their conversation.

BBC: (scuffing the safe ground) I've had a look at the cartoons - well, they're not even good ones. But what's your reaction to them then?
Young Muslim Spokesperson: Well, they're outrageous and deeply offensive. They portray the Prophet Muhammad as terrorist with a fuse, a bomb on his head. We condemn their publication in such a provocative manner.

BBC: What kind of effects could these cartoons have on Muslims across the world?
YMS: They could push many moderate Muslims towards the more radical Islam.

BBC: Would could that result in?
YMS: Well we'd see more of the kinds of attacks like the ones we saw last year.

BBC: I take it you mean the bombings...?

OK, I added that last one but the thought did seem to cross the BBC presenters face as he quickly reached to rustle some papers (perhaps subconsciously looking to refresh his memory of the cartoon.)

Both CNN and the BBC seem to me to grow increasingly uncomfortable with their task of having to explain why the protests are happening without sounding at all coy when describing the beliefs of those involved.

CNN's Michael Holmes made a brave a stab at sounding objective without coming across as implicitly ironic. In his soft Australian accent "Muslims believe that..." he did his best to appear curious and contemplative - almost pretending he was only just beginning to get a handle on the scenes of mayhem himself.

But when it came to the protests in London the BBC let slip a discreet message to their base audience by sending in veteran war correspondent Jeremy Bowen to cover the story. Despite seeming a tad intimated by the (carefully edited-in) anti-BBC placards (some reading 'Newsnight go to Hell' of all things) he managed to corner a protester of his own age and size and score a point in the name of freedom of expression.

And if we ever see John Simpson in Trafalgar Square wearing body armour, what will that mean?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Nostradamus: redressed

Have I seen too much of the future today? I wrote the post below this one referring to Nostradamus at about 5pm. At 11pm I turn on the TV and on TVP2 find that the 1994 film 'Nostradamus' is on. Curious.

The first image I see if of vast city draped in smoke and children drenched in what appeared to be oil. This film was made in 1994... And bizarrely enough includes a vision depicting Saddam Hussein. I guess in 1994 after the first Gulf War it seemed like a good idea to throw in that bit of footage to just to impress further on the audience the -potential- significance of Nostradamus' predictions - 'see he even predicted him'.

I imagine the film's producer today contemplating a George Lucas-style series of endlessly update-able 'Special Edition' re-releases that replace Saddam Hussein with Osama Bin infinitum:

"Includes never-seen-before digitally-enhanced premonitions" and so on.

I hadn't seen the film before but remembered reviews on its release that stated that the film was largely dull and uninspiring aside from a few key scenes - like the burning city and Nostradamus discussing 'Hisler' and then painting a swastika on a church wall which really were 'visionary'.

For those key scenes the film is worth watching and despite the apparent sleepiness of its writer, director and editor (some shots are simply pathetic - witness the scene where Nostradamus collapses before a group of monks/extras clearly waiting to pick him up) - despite all that it does have an powerful cast of period movie pros including:

Tchéky Karyo, Julia Ormond, F. Murray Abraham, Rutger Hauer, Michael Gough, Maia Morgenstern and Amanda Plummer.

Look out for it in the bargin bin at the supermarket.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Legacy of the Prophets

A remember a time many years ago - must have been about 1998 when I sat down in Warsaw with a friend of mine to watch a Polish documentary about the coming millennium and what Nostradamus had predicted might be happening at about this time. With zero knowledge of the Polish language at the time I sat through the programme as a purely visual experience. It was a cheaply made documentary - using 1970s-style hand drawn illustrations to portray visions of the future.

The camera panned across illustrations showing angry-looking arabs with curved swords accompanied by the sound of flames and explosions in some kind of vaguely futuristic city. I asked my friend what the narrator of documentary was revealing about the French prophets predictions.

"He says there will be a war between the Arabs and the Christians."

I remember sneering with disbelief at such an idea - this was 1998... "Yeah, like how's that going to come about?" My friend (translating from the narration) said that Nostradamus had not specified, adding with tongue in cheek "But don't worry he says the Christians are going to come out on top and that the war will favour Poland." like it was of any relevance.

I was bemused and incredulous but after the events of recent years I looked up some of Nostradamus' other predictions about what just might be happening about this time. They are great fun to read and one that struck me was:

The great star will burn for seven days,
the cloud will cause two suns to appear:
The big mastiff will howl all night
when the great pontiff will change country.
Century II - 41

There are dozens of interpretations of these quatrains but I'm curious to know how YOU would interpret this one. Does it suggest a large explosion within Israel (the great star) perhaps at a nuclear installation (two suns) forcing the Pope to leave Rome or is it perhaps something to do with a crisis caused by a cosmic event?

One Way or One Day

Yesterday I set out to visit a human friend of mine in hospital in Warsaw. I had to take the metro to get there (let's say I have a phobia about air ambulances) and so entered the little underground shop to purchase a ticket. Although they never seem to stock the cheaper '60 minutes' tickets I always ask for one - the strategy being that they might one day, given the choice, decide it might be fun to offer more than 2 types of metro ticket out of the dozens that are rumoured to be available.

I ask in Polish but burn out on the exact grammar of the 60 minute aspect of the ticket. The lady behind the counter shakes her head - "Niema!" ('none' - hallowed keyword of former communist countries). My one thousandth "niema" - I feign surprise mixed with disappointment. The lady stands to attention and addressing my 'foreigner-ness' announces with great force in English:


A vision of the hospital flashed before me - the corridor lined with patients too ill or too foul-smelling to join those already in their own rooms --- those condemned to lie together in the harrowing twilight of an eternal Polish soap opera. I blinked - What was the correct choice? Why was there no mention of a return?

The Bird Has Landed

Yes, you have found the very the first post on this blog. What's that? You feel disappointed? Even with the charming picture of yours truly scavenging for inspiration? Well then why not try the one above.