Dog's Dinner

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A River Runs Through It, or: A Few Words About Gliwice: Part I

[Been taking it easy for a few days. We had a four-day weekend, a real joy for me as I usually work Friday evenings and Saturdays-- and we have another one coming up soon, yippee!!! Read a bunch, more on that later. Plus the Poles had All Saints' Day where they visit the graves of dead loved ones and remember them, and I tagged along for part of that, and then we had the election and so on, and a good friend and former student returned from England and that was exciting. I thought some people might be interested to know a little more about where exactly I am in space...]

The town where I currently (not "presently," for you half-literate hangers-on; that would mean, in English, "immediately" or "very soon") live and work is a town called Gliwice, pronouned "Glee-VEE-tse." As you can see from the top right hand corner of the page, it's in a place called Silesia, in the southwest of Poland-- Upper Silesia, to be precise. Silesia in Polish is "Shlonsk." It makes you think of an elephant's trunk, perhaps, even if you don't know that the word for elephant in Polish is "słon" (swon), in Russian "slon."

Gliwice has a population of about 200,000. A black river runs through the town, and it (the river) smells of shit, frankly. I thought this might be the result of postwar pollution until I read Adam Zagajewski's Two Cities, where he describes it as having been the same when he came here from Lvov right after the war. Students have told me that a plan is in the works to improve Ol' Man River's condition in the coming years, but I'm skeptical.

On the other hand, 70% of the town is lush green verdure, and it shows. If you talk to people in other parts of Poland, they won't believe you when you tell them that, but it's true. They'll shake their heads and say something like, "No, Upper Silesia is probably the most depressing, ugliest and poorest place in Poland." Which is flat wrong, as in fact anybody knows that the eastern regions bordering Byelorussia and Ukraine are the really grim parts of Poland. I guess part of the reason is Upper Silesia and Gliwice were always known for their coal mines, a pivotal feature of the economy here for many years. But that's now changed, as the coal mines were closed some years ago. As you would expect, many jobs were lost. But then the German car maker OPEL brought their factory here 6 years ago and there was much celebrating, as it brought new jobs. Apparently it didn't bring quite the boom that was hoped for, but most people have somehow been able to muddle through. Anyone for another statistic? Gliwice apparently is home, proportionally speaking, to the highest number of cellphones in Poland.

Gliwice's been compared to Grosse Pointe, MI, in that it's the somewhat nicer or less awful neighbor to a huge, ugly industrial city (here, Katowice; there, Detroit). But me it always somehow reminds of Boulder, where I grew up. It's like Boulder in that it's a college town, host to the Silesian Polytechnika or Polytechnic, a university with departments of everything from robotics to architecture to administration, but no humanities or arts.

And it's like Boulder in that there is a kind of sometimes not so merry war on here between different youth subcultures, as an acquaintance of mine from the internet cafe, one Rafał, was explaining to me the other day. Rafał, a Politechnika student of mixed Irish and Italian ancestry who looks Greek or Spanish, is a metalhead, and he was telling me how the metalheads and the punks can't stand each other. These two groups both tolerate the hippies, of whom there are less than I remember there being in Boulder, but when you look at them it's sometimes hard to tell the hippies and the metalheads apart. The metalheads just want to listen to their music, man; the punks are for total destruction of the established order, anarchy is freedom, man. The hippies presumably just want to smoke pot and make love, not war. But nobody likes the "Tracksuit Guys," or as we might call them, "jocks," and they don't like anybody else.

2 Comments:

At 11:12 AM, Blogger Sutton said...

"Silesian Politechnika, a university with departments of everything from robotics to architecture to administration, but no humanities or arts. Can't think of the English name for such a school, if there is one please tell me. "

Uhhhhh... polytechnic? Oh, wait, you're kidding. Wait-- ARE you kidding?

 
At 8:08 PM, Blogger jimeye said...

Since when are you such a craby old man? I think it is somewhat self-annoited.

 

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