The joys of Polish

We have already seen, that Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish pays special attention to the interjections – aha! oyoyoy! feh! hoo-ha! nu! –, distinguishing up to fifteen or eighteen shades of meaning of them, and illustrating each with a fitting joke. For example, the word aha:

Mr. Sokoloff has had dinner for twenty years in the same restaurant on the Second Avenue. This evening, as always, he orders bouillon. The waiter brings it, and wants to go back, but Mr. Sokoloff addresses him: “Waiter!” – “Yes, please?” – “Be so kind to taste this soup.” – “But Mr. Sokoloff, you have come here for twenty years and you have never complained.” – “Please”, repeats Mr. Sokoloff obstinately, “taste this soup.” – “But what is the matter, Mr. Sokoloff?” – “Please taste it.” – “All right”, the waiter says. “But… a moment. Where is the spoon?” – “Aha!”, says Mr. Sokoloff.

In the same post we have also seen that The Joys of Yiddish, this magical little book is able to inspire authors even without reading it, such as Tamás Raj, the chief rabbi of Budapest, to write his 100+1 Yiddish words. Now we can see another example of this from the Polish grammar of the Assimil publisher, written by Barbara Kuszmider:

1. Proszę pana. Może pan pozwolić na chwilę?
2. Słucham, czym mogę służyć?
3. Czy może pan spróbować tej zupy?
4. A co, niedobra? Może podać inną?
5. Po prostu, proszę jej spróbować.
6. Nie smakuje panu?
7. Niech pan sam spróbuje.
8. Mamy inne dania. Zaraz podam kartę.
9. Nie, dziękuję. Nie chcę nic innego.
10. Polecam panu doskonały bigos.
11. Prosze tylko, żeby pan spróbował tej zupy.
12. No dobrze, skoro pan nalega…
Ale jak mam spróbować, przecież nie ma łyżki!
1. Waiter, may I disturb you for a moment?
2. Of course. What can I do for you?
3. Would you please taste this soup?
4. Oh, is it not good? May I bring you another one?
5. No, simply taste it.
6. Don’t you like it, sir?
7. Just taste it, please.
8. We also have other dishes. I bring you the menu.
9. No, thanks. I do not want anything else.
10. May I suggest you a perfect pasta?
11. No, just be so kind to finally taste it.
12. Well, sir, if you insist so much…
But how could I taste it, since there is no spoon!

It is just the punch line, the aha! perfectly closing the original dialogue, which is missing here. Although emotion words are not lacking in Polish either.

(The start-up photo represents the elegant Odessite Café Fanconi, a favorite restaurant of the Jewish businessmen at the turn of the century. The enlarged photo covers today one wall of the Jewish museum in Odessa. The spoon hanging on it is the only piece remaining from the original tableware, sent to the museum by the heirs of one of the café’s regulars from America; all the rest got lost during the revolution of 1917.)

The navel of Europe

“The center of the world is about half-way to Bukovina. South of Galicia, east of Máramaros, northwest of Moldova, along the river Tisza, there is a point. A straight way leads there. If we approach it through the valleys and glens of Subcarpathia, it is not far from the salt mines of Aknaszlatina/Solotvyno. We follow the way leading from Beregszász/Beregovo directly to Czernowitz. It can be done by train in seventeen, but by car or bus in five-six hours. You should not choose the train also because it meanders just like history did in this region, dividing the world into fortunate and unfortunate societies; the binaries run sometimes on the Romanian and sometimes on the Ukrainian side; the border guards stop us several times, and when it is flooding, the wagons do not move, but even the buses and cars remain standing. In Máramarossziget/Sighetul Marmației, at least this is how it seems from the train, there are no fortunate societies any more.”

On full screen

“Between 1873 and 1913 the Military Geographical Institute of Vienna carried out the first leveling survey in the whole territory of the Hapsburg Empire, setting up a nationwide height reference point network. Here, along the Upper Tisza, facing the Barnabás mountain ridge, we find the center of Europe, or at least – according to some descriptions – that of Central Europe. True, simple mathematical calculations do not support the idea of the existence of any center here; nevertheless, at that time, at the turn of the century they quickly erected an obelisk with the following inscription: Permanent base point, established with an extremely precise Austro-Hungarian leveler, according to the European grades of longitude and latitude.

“Of course I did not tell the truth; the road is not straight, but curved. Whoever sets out for the center of the world, wonders how beautiful the world is. The Apsas (Lower Apsa, Middle Apsa, Upper Apsa, Little Apsa) have wooden churches on their hilltops, lined with soft carpets, and as the traveler goes past them, he suddenly arrives to small cemeteries at the side of the churches. He proceeds among collapsed huts, looks at rebuilt bridges over the Tisza, and waddles among the bunkers of the former Árpád line. The center of the world is exactly between the Barnabás and Terebesfejérpatak/Delove. If we go on, and leave behind Rahó/Rahov as well as Kőrösmező/Yasinya, we arrive to the source of the Black-Tisza. Here ends the Tisza and its valley. And over the 2000-meter high ridge of Charnahora already begin the hills of Bukovina, the land of the Hutsuls and Hasids, the rivers Suceava and Siret, and behind them former arable fields, now weeds and some cultivated land: here lived in five villages the Székelys of Bukovina.”

“But let us turn back to the mountains! The forest Hasids of the Cheremosh know something. Someone once wrote that they are the real pessimists of the regions, because if they predict a disaster, they will be right. Let us therefore not run down from the mountains, because there is still something that we do not see, although it is there in the forest. If we look towards the Charnahora, to the east we see the snow-capped peaks of Pop Ivan. Let us look up on the mystical mountain of the intuitive peoples! The pious inhabitants of the deep black gorges of the 2028-meter high Pop Ivan were once Greeks, Romans, Jews and Rusyns. And over the past centuries from here started the rafts of wood, carrying timber to Kuty, to the Danube, and even as far as to Szeged. Whatever the mountains are telling is known here to everyone, and will remain a secret only to us for a while.”

Kiss Noémi: Bukó, detail. Lettre Internationale 58/2005

“Kőrösmező/Yasinya. Rafters’ prayer at the coming of the dam water”. Rafting timbers along the Tisza, not far above the center of Europe. Below the same, from a Hungarian newsreel of 1943.

A dozen of places compete for the glory of Europe’s geographical center, from Germany through the Hungarian Tállya in the region of Tokaj to Lithuania, and, in addition, each with a good reason, depending on how we draw the outlines of the continent and how we interpret the middle. These points are visited one by one by the Polish director Stanisław Mucha in his hilarious and thought-provoking film Die Mitte (2006).

The obelisk standing at Terebesfejérpatak/Delove reflects this complexity. This was the earliest defined midpoint of Europe, unless credit is given to the legend of the inn Mittelpunkt Europas in Hitler’s birthplace, Braunau am Inn, according to which it had been recognized as the center of the continent already by Napoleon. This obelisk was erected by the Military Geographical Institute of Vienna in 1877, during the first nationwide leveling survey of 1873-1913, when precisely this village became one of the seven main base points of the Hapsburg Empire. However, the midpoint defined by them is not exactly here, but some forty kilometers to north-west between the mountains, under Ökörmező/Mizhgire, where Ivan Olbracht wrote in the thirties his ironic and heart-wrenching stories about Rusyns and Hasids. The column served only to raise awareness of it along the main road leading from Vienna to Little Vienna, as Czernowitz was called at the time. And as the primitive elaboration and the incorrectly copied Latin text warns about it, this column is not that column any more. The original monument of the Monarchy may have been changed for the present one in 1986, when the Soviet plaque in Russian was attached to the wall behind it. This was followed by the rocket-like steel symbol, and after 1990 by the memorial wall with the tryzub in Ukrainian. And the symbolic space formed by the official memorial columns is readily filled by the neighboring population with their landmarks: roadside crosses, open air market, the inn furnished as a folk museum.

A further folk landmark on the nearby Tatar Pass, in the folk sculpture park at the former Hungarian-Bukovinian border


“Please! Just not this “Polish-Hungarian, two good friends”! It is a quite old and boring saying, and, excuse me, only a sentimental crap nowadays. Of course, in Poland everyone knows this, just as the alphabet or the national anthem. But when you ask them why we are friends, the answer is: because… um, because… I don’t know.”

It is impossible to watch without emotion and sinking heart the Polish newsreels of October 1956, in the weeks during and after the Hungarian revolution. We have read enough about the fraternal assistance provided to us at that time, but the images of the Polish newsreel complement our readings with an astonishing power.

For the better understanding of the captions we need to correct a deeply rooted translation error. The popular saying in Hungarian goes like “Hungarian-Polish, two good friends…”, but its equally popular Polish equivalent says: “Polak-Węgier dwa bratanki...”. However, this means cousin and not friend in Polish.
In the news about Hungary, the announcers of the Polish newsreels, B. Niewinowski and A. Racławicki used sometimes this term, but mainly the expression brać. Since other terms were also used to express friendship, even in the same newsreel (worker-peasant friendship – robotniczo-chlopski przyjaciół), therefore we feel it more appropriate to translate the terms brać, brat as “brother”.

From the World

Here the new are mentioned first in the newsreel.

Blood for Hungary

The call of the Central Committee
of the Polish United Workers’
Party to the brotherly Hungary

The Polish society running
to help the people of Hungary

At the call of the Hungarian Red
Cross, thousands and thousands
go to give blood in Warsaw
and in other cities

A beautiful example of emotions,
solidarity and friendship

There, in Hungary, blood is flowing.
The blood of our brothers!

Our blood can save the life
of more than one people!

The action of blood donation and
plasma preparation is led by the Polish
Red Cross and the Ministry of Welfare.

Special aircraft delivering the
preparations from Warsaw to Budapest
Our nation is sending her own blood
to our Hungarian brothers.

In the Zerań car factory of Warsow the trade union and party organizations also address the Hungarian situation. The workers, similarly to the Hungarian revolutionary workers’ councils, speak freely, make cartoons on Stalinism, go to negotiate with the factory leaders and party organizations. The addressed bureaucrats make phone calls, and if necessary, sit on a plane to arrange the matters as quickly as possible.

One week later the Hungarian news are only at the second place.

From the Near East…

At our Hungarian brothers

Our film crew accompanied twice
the planes carrying blood and food
to Budapest.

Lenin at the airport of Ferihegy

The Polish planes are the first ones
since a long time.

They are received with great love
and friendship at the airport

Hungarian soldiers reading the
call of our party to our
Hungarian brothers.

This is how Budapest looks like
after the first tragic days
between 22 and 30 October.

The Hungarian flag often appears
also on the streets of Warsaw.

Financial help, food and blood

Hungary is calling for help!

The wounded need blood!

Help Hungary! Buy the graphics of
the A.S.P.! We send all our income
to the Hungarians!

Admission to medical work,
right wing

The Polish society has found the
most various ways of giving help.

The tragedy of the brotherly
Hungarian people has deeply
touched every Pole.

Gomulka, coming back to power on 24 October, in the special annex of the newsreel tries to convince his audience by urging the avoidance of the situations similar to the Hungarian tragedy.

Now the Hungarian news only at the third place.

From the Near East…

Eisenhower is the president

Further help

Shipyard workers! In the name
of solidarity and friendship with
the brotherly Hungarian nation,
let us join the assistance action!

We are in Gdańsk, where the
workers are donating

In a few days several thousand
zlotys have been collected.

Katowice, blood donation station.

Every day thousands stand in line
to give blood for Hungary.

Every day a great amount of
donations arrive to the
Red Cross in Krakow.

"Pénz, élelmiszer az adomány."

The Polish nation in these days
does not forget her friendship
towards the brotherly
Hungarian nation.

In the December newsreel we only see Hungarian images towards the end.

For the Hungarian children

An autobus is just arriving,
directly from Budapest

The Polish postman are hosting
Hungarian children

“They receive the guests with love,
then the presentation follows

They will forget at us the past
tragic period, and will laugh again

A beautiful offer from the activists
of the Women’s Council of Warsaw
working on the metro line

They prepare gifts
for the Hungarian children

The worker’s children  of the metro
project of Warsaw also prepare
their gifts for their
little Hungarian friends