Polish semiotics 2: food and drink

There are many kinds of establishment in which to eat and drink in Poland. In some of them the food is very ordinary, just okay, but at least they are honest in their advertising.


Some places are real dives, but you know what you are going to get.


Others send out surprisingly mixed messages.


Kraków is of course famous for its fusion cuisine

and for its cutting-edge experimental fare.


This is in part a legacy of the communist era. A common tactic of quotidian anti-Stalinist resistance was to embrace empty formalism over socialist realism, claiming an ultra-modernist approach to all aspects of social and cultural life.


Another tradition left over from that era is the underground drinking establishment, typically little more than a cellar or pit stocked with potato vodka, raisin jack and moonshine. What once was hidden can now proudly be declared, including such establishments’  frequent ties to organised crime – and related health problems.

There are other kinds of drinking establishment, though.

Oh, but aren’t they all!


Oh, but if only they all were!


When it comes to groceries, many local stores are bigger than they look from the outside.


But there are also some depressing trends. For example, in Nova Huta, once a Stalinist workers’ paradise, and later a centre of anti-Stalinist resistance, there stood an amazing cinema.



Now, you guessed it, it’s a fucking Tesco local.

Polish semiotics 1: the unironic corner of irony, and other juxtapositions

Found in Nowa Huta, the easternmost district of Kraków. Built in the 1950s as a Stalinist utopia to house the workers at the new steel mill, it also became one of the centres of resistance to the communist regime. Which might explain the otherwise inexplicable:


Other conjunctions make more sense.



But to be honest, I can make no sense of this at all.


I think it means find love at the-queuing-for-inadequate-bathroom-facilities-hotspot.

The typical Polish home


One of the legacies of the Communist era is that every Polish home is guarded by a robot –  with lethal capabilities and firefighting equipment. Although many Poles feared they were installed as surveillance devices, this was pretty much beyond the technical capacities of the time.


The most such experimental models could do was phone the Esbecja on themselves, and not very surreptitiously at that.

While the guardian robots are now often regarded with nostalgia, there are other holdovers from the Communist era which are not cherished, such as the still rigorously enforced ban on ice cream

and, if your home is considered too large for the number of residents, the ban on using the upper floors.


Another feature of homes build under Communism is the circular inner chamber in which to isolate punk rockers and other troublemakers.


Culturally, the Polish people are divided pretty evenly between fans of L. Frank Baum and fans of CS Lewis, and they often decorate their entranceways so as to affirm their allegiance to one or the other.

The Polish are a relaxed people and their homes are always full of flowers.

The Polish people honour the memory of the ancient hero, Jan Skrzetuski, famous for leading an army of elephants across the Carpathians to defend his homeland. There is a  shrine to him in every home. Typically, this takes the form of his three favourite pachyderms, reproduced in varieties of modernist glassware.

The current right-wing Polish government has adopted a number of controversial measures to maintain its support in working class communities. These include encouraging a population increase and pushing women back into more traditional roles by paying parents a substantial sum for every child that is born. Thus it is not uncommon nowadays to find in bathroom cabinets supplies of powdered semen.

Especially valued – and commanding huge prices on the black market – is the desiccated spermatazoa of renowned philanderers.


There is a far more sinister side to this recent upheaval in Polish life, though.


The trade in pulverised infants. Just add water.


Serendipity – Kraków style

poc2Bearing in mind quite how many miles we have wandered on foot through Kraków – some tourist locations but more often in between and beyond them, and only occasionally guided through our semi-random, off-the-map perambulations by Kung Fu Elvis – it was a thing of beauty to end up our final full day at the oldest Jewish restaurant in the city for dinner and to find that pretty much the only BDS option on the wine list was a bottle of this:



in which Mark once more forgets the point of a holiday…

…and spends yet another day in the salt mines…



…but at least this time they are in another country (Wieliczka, near Kraków).

The most stunning cavern carved out of the salt/rock is given over to the immense St Kinga Chapel.


The second most stunning cavern carved out of the salt/rock contains the gift shop.