Archive for Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

Notes from a Warsaw Residency, 1

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, Family History, Life and What about It, Poland with tags , , , , on April 13, 2015 by Louise Steinman

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some notes from this Warsaw residency (courtesy Adam Mickiewicz Institute, courtesy Warsaw Bauhaus)… the word “resident” from the Latin <em>sidere</em> to abide awhile, to settle down. To settle down on ul. Smulikowskiego, to read and write and move and think in this quiet flat not far from my friends Joanna and Wojtek, to emerge from this quiet flat to walk in the morning, drink coffee in cafes near the university library, to observe the animated conversations of young Warsavians, the changing exhibitions at Warsaw Bauhaus…

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to enter the Warsaw zoo where the sight of flamingos ignites the landscape, where strolling families are exiting after a Saturday looking at zebras… to a special ceremony to dedicate the villa residence of the Zabinskis, the zookeepers who rescued many Jews during the German occupation of Warsaw..

that was two days ago, sitting under chestnut trees listening to Chopin with geese clacking overhead and i swear i heard other creatures (wolves?) adding to the melange of sound and feeling… late afternoon walk on the nearby Vistula, admiring a barge named Atalanta, thinking of the saviors of Atlantis who wandered and collected the shards of Jewish history in Poland after the war, to the present, the vibrant present here in Warsaw today… walking through the doors of the new POLIN Museum and where I will be in conversation with my dear friend Tomasz Kitlinski in just two days… a chance to sit and talk with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the scholar, the nimble mind who designed, oversaw, strategized, curated the core exhibition… which, as she points out, is told without foreshadowing or backshadowing, where we are asked to walk through a 1000 years of history, an exhibition worthy of debates, an exhibition that left me emotional and asking questions and remembering that moment years ago, when my friend Cheryl asked, startled, “Am I Polish?”

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To sit in the flat of the journalist Kostek Gebert, with his cat Kescia on my lap, purring… to feel at home in Warsaw. To walk Dobra at night, under the bridge where the tram clacks along, a mysterious night walker passing by, wearing  a coat with a fur collar….

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to wander the Warsaw flea market with Joanna and Wojtek, where discarded dolls speak from boxes of clutter, postcards of alpine flowers and soldiers from a war a century ago, tools that had a meaning in another age, that stretched a woman’s elegant shoes, a Ukrainian ceramic of a fish with a wide-open mouth, bent-wood chairs, 60’s jazz playing on an old turntable, a yellow china teapot my grandmother might have used to brew her dark tea, which she’d drink through a sugar cube, held in her mouth.

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Leaving Warsaw, Arriving Warsaw

Posted in Poland with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2010 by Louise Steinman

The sun is shining my last morning in Warsaw, a brisk 9 degrees F. outside. My bag is packed (I think my dear husband, the “master of space and snacks” would be proud of my packing job) and I even have a little time to attempt a last blog post before leaving for the airport, flight to California.

Yesterday’s meeting in the flat of a journalist friend, is what first comes to mind. Climbing the old wooden stairs, the heavy door opening to Kostek’s smile, his Buddha cat, the book lined shelves of his study. High ceilings, folk art, kilims on the floor, kettle on the stove, a shot of welcoming vodka to warm up.

Kostek is a great storyteller and I am happy to sit with my tea, to listen. He grabs a volume of poetry off the shelf, a poet named Wladyslaw Szlengel, who died in the Warsaw ghetto uprising… he reads to me, first in Polish (so i can hear the rhythm of the language), then his own translation. I close my eyes to listen to Kostek’s sonorous voice. It is a poem about the enforced move to the ghetto, the compression of life, the clattering of the wagon laden with possessions which one by one fall away. The objects animate, follow their owner, the table, the chairs, the dishes all are roaming the streets of Warsaw.

Szlengel’s poems were discovered after the war, they’d been secreted inside a table and when the owner of that table started to chop it up for firewood, he found paper, these poems, this testimony.

Yesterday I walked the perimeter of the handsome new building that will house the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, right on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto. It is scheduled to open in 2012 and it will animate the history of a thousand years of Jewish life in Poland. I had dinner last night with the core exhibition team leader, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, who has spent the last three years in Warsaw researching, overseeing this incredible creation. Specific stories will anchor the narrative, drawn from diaries, testimonies, much else. What about the medieval Jewish traveler whose carriage breaks down on the Sabbath, what kind of choices did he face? Her passion for this work (check out her marvelous intro to MY NAME IS MAYER JULY, book of paintings by her father of his hometown of Opotow, Poland) is contagious. Barbara and I ate dinner at the marvelous U Kucharzy restaurant, which occupies the kitchen (the size of a cruise ship) in what was once one of Warsaw’s most beautiful hotels. (The SS liked it so much they didn’t blow it up.) Beautiful Polish food– duck and apples, cabbage and mushrooms and potatoes. I am well fortified for the journey home. I took a last late night walk down Nowy Swiat, avoiding the black ice, enjoying the holiday lights, the lit-up shops, the murmuring hand-holding couples, the accordion player. Finished the night reading a few chapters of Jacob Glatstein’s 1934 chronicle. I fell asleep just after Glatstein arrives in Warsaw after an absence of twenty years in America. On the last hour of his train ride, he is fevered by an extraordinary dream: “Thanks to my dream, I was returning home after twenty years not only with a strong sense of home, but also with its sad tonality. I now felt as if my pockets were stuffed with the homey goods of my dream which I had preserved through twenty years of estrangement… I have not forsaken you, O Jewish Poland, with your terrors and sad celebrations. Do not forsake my right hand as I have not forsaken you. Early morning Warsaw hadn’t welcomed me yet, the city still slept.”

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