For the next six weeks the city of Warsaw is going to be our home. This is Cirque Du Soleil’s first venture into Poland and if opening night is anything to go off with the crude clowns calling for volunteers, enthusiastic arms extending high into the tent, abundant belly laughs and a standing ovation, I think Cirque will deliver a touch of magic to Warsaw. It’s insufferable to imagine that six decades ago Warsaw was a pile of rubble and only three decades ago it transitioned from communism to democracy.
Warsaw’s history is tragic, bleak as the middle of winter and painfully heartbreaking. 80% of the city was destroyed in World War II when Hitler declared it the “centre of evil in Europe” with six million Poles perishing in the Holocaust and the relentless bombing of the city from 1939-1945. If you want to know more zbout this time the film, The Pianist, is a historical look at the torment the Polish people suffered. It is also directed by Roman Polanski, who himself was a Holocaust survivor.
Following the war the Polish government, without any financial assistance from surrounding countries, set about re-building Warsaw by introducing the world’s largest social community project ever undertaken. People from all over Poland were tasked to leave their homes and jobs for months at a time to re-build the city. With 3 billion dollars and more than 20 million hours of unskilled labor, the capital was re-born and their accomplishment is nothing short of impressive.
Warsaw is like a caterpillar, emerging as a beautiful butterfly thanks to the extensive restoration and change in political climate. There’s a vibrant food and coffee culture and a block from our apartments is the BioBazar, a food market open Saturdays and Wednesdays, selling organic and free trade produce which also happen to be extraordinarily large! Oh and the juiciest, red sweet tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, this week I’m going back for more.
Today I’m lunching with my husband Skip in the quaint Old Town when I suddenly feel a wet squishy sensation on the back of shoulder accompanied with a farting sound. I spin around in my chair to find a boy the age of five, suctioned to my shoulder, blowing a rather large raspberry. He stops, cocks his head to the side, slides one arm around my neck hugging me with a cheeky and quizzical look. I know him. Well I don’t know him, per se but in the three times I’ve been to the Old Town I’ve seen him.
He usually has a styrofoam cup in hand, filthy clothes and muddy face, begging for loose change. He points at my glass of water and gestures if he can drink it. I had just ordered a 750ml bottle of water, so I hand it to him and say “You can have this bottle if you like?” He unscrews the cap and like a parched camel trying to hydrate after days in the Mugabe desert he gulps down two thirds of the bottle in one go. After a loud satisfying gasp he slams the bottle down, screws the lid back on, pats me on the back a few times in thanks and walks away. I call after him “Take the rest of the water! You can have it.” He doesn’t turn but waves his hand in the air to say ‘Don’t worry about it’ and he’s on his way. All I can think of is this kid has bag loads of personality, I’m confident he isn’t going to be on the street for long.
I join a free walking tour in the Old Town. Our tour guide, Agatha, points to an all white building and says, “This a place where dreams come true and nightmares begin!” It’s a wedding reception hall and everyone breaks into laughter and I break into nervous giggles. I have a slight girl crush on our tour guide, not great for someone used to asking questions and now experiencing interrogation stage fright. Agatha is so radiantly beautiful and wonderfully intelligent that I hear only half what she is talking about. Her ice blue eyes dance, as she talks enthusiastically about the history of Warsaw. Her long blonde hair flicks side to side to side to side as she answers questions in five different languages. I tell myself to snap out of it and try to learn a few things along the way.
We pass a mural painted on the building that renowned scientist, Marie Curie, once lived. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only person to win twice in multiple sciences (chemistry and physics). She was responsible for the discovery of polonium and radium and forever changed medical research. I’m in awe of women with such talents and evaluate my own life, wondering what else I could be doing besides catching up on Downtown Abbey episodes before season 6 is released.
Interestingly we learn Poland’s mascot is a mermaid wielding a sword and shield. (Could be worse, Scotland’s mascot is a unicorn!) Legend tells of two mermaid sisters swimming in the Baltic Sea, when one of them stops to rest in Copenhagen and the other, her name is Sava, continues on and reaches Warsaw. Upon resting she is captured by a rich merchant who finds her extraordinarily beautiful and sells her to a circus for men all over the world to come and seduce her.
As with all fairytales a chivalrous moment occurs when a fisherman, called Wars, comes to her rescue. They fall in love (of course!) their names were joined and the city name Warsava (Warsaw) was born. Sava, the mermaid, thanks him for releasing her back to the sea and promises to always protect the city.
Agatha says, “Where was she in World War II is what I would like to know?!” I want to interject and tell her if a rich mermaid pimp snatched me off a rock, tried to pass me off as a circus hoe and a fisherman had to throw me back to sea, I wouldn’t be rushing back to Warsaw either! But alas my crush on Agatha has rendered me speechless and I continue on, admiring the city for what it is now, a picturesque new town.
Amanda is a marketing and events professional with a passion for food and travel. She is currently travelling around Europe with her husband, Skip, who is the Head Chef for Cirque Du Soleil’s show ‘Kooza.’ Together they write about their circus adventures around the world on their blog “Graze the Earth”. You can follow their travel escapades at: www.grazetheearth.com.au or Facebook: Graze the Earth.