Jul 102014
Loose Change: Tram Hero

He’s out there, somewhere. Righting wrongs and protecting the weak. Roaming the streets of Krakow on the side of the humble tram rider, the nightmare of the gas guzzler. I’ve never had a hero before, being inclined to almost toxic levels of cynicism, but I found one last week. It was a Friday evening, and I was heading to Kazimierz on the number 19 tram. I’d noticed him of course. It’s not often you see a 60-something-year-old guy dressed in full Polish mountain man regalia, including feather in leather hat. Decades of living in cities have taught me exactly what to do about crazy people on public transport. Rule one: Don’t look directly at them, but don’t let them out of your sight either. We pulled up at Wawel. The doors opened and fellow passengers hopped down among the line of cars idling across the tram stop, waiting on the lights. Feather hat guy rose from […]

May 232014
Loose Change: The Sexy Shop

I had high hopes for the Sexy Shop. Nestled comfortably in double-fronted premises of moderate size on ul. Tomasza, ‘sexy’ suggested to me a light-hearted flirtatiousness otherwise entirely absent from the terrifying world of Krakow’s go-go bars and those grim staircases advertising ‘24h massage.’ I was expecting more in the way of saucy, handmade lace items and less in the way of hard-eyed, Belarusian blondes. I was disappointed. The not-necessarily-horrifying lacy lingerie is there, manufactured by the hands of winsome grandmothers in some mountain village I never want to go to, but a closer inspection of the window display raised some alarms: cellophane-wrapped packages featuring pouting and big hair, a suggestion of ball-gags, a pair of strap-on breasts manufactured from a plush, furry material. I didn’t go inside. I may be wrong. Maybe the place is run by a genuine Venus with a perfectly nuanced grasp of English. Maybe she really is here to put a […]

Nov 182011
Perspectives on Poland: Right Side of the Lens

This month I made my second, annual visit to the World Press Photo exhibition. That’s enough severed heads, crushed bodies and utter hopelessness to hold me for another 12 months. Like last year, I came away with the conviction that it’s vitally important to live in a country where World Press Photos are exhibited rather than in a country where World Press Photos are taken. There should be a list. Those rankings that invariably and inexplicably identify Sweden as the happiest place on Earth should include a ‘World Press Photo location frequency’ indicator. Any country where three or more World Press Photo winning shots have been taken should be avoided like the plague – because they almost certainly have the plague, along with a dozen other sudden and exciting ways to die or have parts of your body removed non-consensually. Also like last year I was amazed by how popular the show is. It’s perfectly possible […]

Sep 122011
Perspectives on Poland: The death of Catherine Z.

The body of 21-year-old British student Catherine Z. was found by a railway embankment in Krakow on 30 July. She had been beaten unconscious with a metal bar and left to drown in a drainage ditch. I’m calling her ‘Catherine Z.’ since Polish law prevents me from publishing her full name, but I know what her name is because she wrote to me just a few days before she died. Catherine Z. was studying History and Philosophy of Art at the University of Kent. She had dual Polish and British citizenship and was in Krakow working on building a career as a journalist. That’s why she wrote to me. She had put together a review of an exhibition at the Zderzak Gallery and wanted to know if I would publish it in the Krakow Post. I didn’t publish it, simply because she happened to send it on the day the July edition was finished and on […]

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