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Feb 102012

The BeekeeperThe Beekeeper is the most mysterious figure in this little patch of lost and recovered nothingness. He’s always got a gigantic hat on, so it’s hard to see his face and harder still to catch his eye. He raises bees and only bees, and all the plants and all the people who grow plants have a lot to thank him for.

I’ve never heard him talk, sing, hum or whistle. Not to his bees, himself or anyone else. He doesn’t make a sound. Once he was lingering by his gate with a woman, I think it was the Lady With Sparkling Eyes, but I can’t be too sure. She did all the talking.

He has a huge działka held together with women’s pantyhose. There’s a lock on his gate, but what’s the point?


This looks terrific, don’t you think? The hose, the twigs, strings, scraps of fabric, wire.

The Beekeeper's Gate - Close

Oct 202011

My Gentlemanly Neighbor

The allotment next to mine is cared for by an old man. Is he seventy? He is very trim, and I think he’s quite handsome. He has never said a bad word to me, that I know of. He’s always saying, “Dzien dobry, pani!” and making small talk of the sort I can usually manage, like about the types of trees, amount of sun, vegetables, flowers, and being away. We were both away for much of the summer. He clued me into Pan Kale, who is in the allotment on the other side of him.

I like him and he likes me. That’s real nice. Maybe he likes me because I removed a source of trouble for him — this plot was a hangout for garbage-dumpers, drinkers, trash burners and that sort of lot. One of the trash heaps I cleaned up was right next to his fence, so I’m sure he appreciates that it is no longer there.  I often see him sitting on his bench and looking at his flowers. He only grows flowers.

Of course lately he’s been cleaning up and getting ready for winter just like everyone else. When I first met him he seemed worried about the way I slung my jacket over the tree. He said, “Keep everything in your pocket or someone will steal it.”

A few days ago I came to the garden and noticed the gate was wide open. It turns out I forgot to put the lock on. The lock was still hanging there from the chain, unlatched. Inside, everything was in order. That’s good, because it wouldn’t have fit in my pocket.

Apr 022011
Warning from a boy

Warning from a boy

Today two boys stopped and called to me over the fence. They were about 12 years old. One of them started talking. Told him, I don’t speak well etc. He seemed very excited about the prospect of speaking to a foreigner. He warned me about the drunks. I said, “Nie ma za co,” which I thought meant something like, “It doesn’t bother me.” But maybe it doesn’t mean that because my response seemed to upset the kid. He then said something like, “I only wanted to inform you.” I felt bad.

Mar 282011

"Nie mam domu."

Today I met Bogdan. Enter the garden and there he stands stoking a noxious fire. He’s burning electric wires. He’s small and sort of hunched into himself, his only protection. I figure he’s the one who started the last fire — I’d seen ashes on the day after it snowed last week — and that he’s doing it to stay warm. I’m an idiot.

I tell him it’s toxic, not good for the health.”Why not burn wood?” I say, pointing to the mounds of sticks all around us. Then he explains it to me — and it takes quite awhile for me to understand — that he is burning the wires to get the copper out of them. To sell. Oh.

He has no money. He has no home. I had a wife, he says. He spent 4 years in France. He did renovation work. I think he said that he came back in 2005, but can’t be sure. We talked about the owner of the działka — dead, he says. But I’m not sure if he KNOWS that the owner is dead or if he means the owner is “probably dead”. The place has been empty for several years, he says. I think he’s surprised that I talked to him like a regular person. I asked him how he got in and he pointed to a sagging part of the fence. After he was done burning, he went to leave the same way, by creeping. Please, for christ’s sakes, use the gate! He did.

This is what I was thinking: he has the same right to use this place as I do and even though I don’t like the toxic smoke, I hope he feels like he can come back and that he does. It’s great to finally see how the space is being used, to understand what people need it for. So far this is what people need it for:

1 – A place to drink, to sit and rest while drinking

2 – A quiet place to have a phone conversation (typically while walking in circles)

3 – A place to burn things to get something salable out of it

4 – A place to break bottles (on the railway)

5 – A place to dump garbage


Mar 212011

"Polska jest chory kraj."

I don’t speak Polish well. In fact I can hardly speak it at all. What’s worse is that my ears reject it as a barrage of consonants: “chishshkrchshiz”. It’s like a grinder in my head. After a year of struggling I have to admit that perhaps I am just one of those unlucky people who have absolutely no talent with languages. But I learned something new today: I actually can have a conversation in Polish so long as my conversational partner is a drunk. Not a person who is drunk, but a person who is always drunk.

Roman, tipsy at 10am, was weaving down the garden path as I rolled up on my bike. He warned me about the drinkers (pijaków). Under the circumstances I found this quite charming.

Roman asked for my name. I gave it to him but of course the name “Jodie” is not easy for the Polish mouth and he couldn’t manage it. I told him to call me Baltazar. In Polish this is pronounced Bal-TA-zar and you have to roll the r. But he didn’t want to call me Baltazar because ‘that’s a boy’s name,’ he said.

When I took out the key to open the gate, he became very animated. He asked if the garden was mine and I said, “It is now.” He seemed to understand what this meant. We talked about where I live, where I’m from, etc. He said that either he or his brother lived in the blok nearby. I’m not sure which. He left after I went in but was soon back with sausage and buns — one set for himself and one for me. He asked if he could come in. I refused the food, but he thought I was refusing him entry. Once I understood the misunderstanding, I invited him in. I kept telling him I didn’t want the food, wasn’t hungry. Why? I don’t know why! Well I gave in pretty quickly and took the food. A cheese and pickle sandwich! It was awesome and delicious!

Roman is a short fellow. Perhaps as tall as me. He’s not very old — in his early 50s, I’d say. He has a wide face, neither distinguished, imploring, or even curious. Just a nice (red) open face. A cute face. He told me he used to be in the army (wojska) near the sea. Maybe he said the navy. Maybe I heard wrong. We started talking, in very general terms, about trouble in the world. I must have seemed like a goofy optimist to him because I was saying or trying to say that there’s always something that can be done — we can always make things better. At some point he said, “Poland is a sick country.” I’m not sure what he meant specifically and I didn’t have the language skills to find out, so I told him that it’s the same everywhere. All countries are sick. Aren’t they?

Mar 122011

Some people put their garbage in a bag and take it out to the bin. Others put it in a bag and take it to an abandoned lot and bury it, or if they’re in a hurry, just toss it over the fence. Thanks to these people I get to see what the inside of a garbage bag full of garbage looks like after 15 years.

What I see is always the same: dirt with chunks of metal, glass, and plastic in between. The metal looks the most natural–it’s often mistaken for a root or a worm. Glass maintains its integrity, its form, unless some joker smashed it first, not an uncommon occurrence. It’s the plastic that drives me nuts. Little shards, smaller than my fingernail, calling attention to themselves with their bright colors pink green and blue. The only way to get it out is to pick it up between two fingers. I’ll be picking up these little useless pieces for years.

In the last week I removed about 150 bags of garbage and recycling. Fortunately there’s a garbage bin and recycling bins very close. Inventory: 3 cigarette butts, 1 condom and 1 needle, both used, 100 aluminum beer cans, 50 plastic bottles (juice, soda), 5000 beer bottles. I’ll let you draw conclusions about what this might reveal about my neighborhood.

Purple Lady

She: What are you doing, lady?

On my bicycle, I can carry two bags of garbage at a time. The neighbors must think I’m crazy, but so far only one person has said anything. She was in her 50s, dark purple hair, dog. This is how it went. I think. (My Polish isn’t very good.)

She: What are you doing?
Me: Cleaning.
She: In the garden?
Me: Yes. It’s very dirty.
She: [Satisfied? Says nothing.]
Me: [Keep walking.]

Anyway, the garbage is of the dumped variety; that is to say it didn’t accumulate gradually, but rather was dumped here in bursts. Digging through it I start to reflect on the devastation and destruction of materiality. Everything ripped to shreds. Japan was just hit by an earthquake and tsunami and I’m thinking: all of Japan looks like this działka. Obviously the destruction of human beings is devastating, but I keep thinking about all the non-living matter that has been reformed and reorganized so carefully and purposefully, and then ends up as so many useless little bits. It’s amazing to me that it’s the living things that end up as useful bits; that is to say, as soil.

I put all the big useless bits, the ones that are heavy and awkward, and set them aside. I don’t when I’ll have the strength to move them.

The leftover leftovers

The leftover leftovers