Good old Germans! No, really!

Yesterday, the President of Germany called for English to be made the “lingua franca” of the European Union. Partly, this was in response to reality: most young people and many businesses already use English as the starting point for international communication (and even as a substitute for their native languages when at home…English is so much more practical than many others.) Partly, it was a well considered suggestion to reduce the 300 million euro cost of translators and translations that the European parliament and its institutions cough up every year. Apparently, this only adds up to the cost of two coffees a year for each of us, but what price democracy?


I know what you are thinking: if the President of Germany gets his way and we introduced some efficiency to the EU, what will we do with all those poor translators who have their snouts in the public trough? I don’t know. But I do know what I would do with some of their money if I got my hands on it. I’d fund an English language theatre in Warsaw to provide a forum where Poles and others (native speakers, too) could enrich their English, outgrow the hateful and widespread “Euro speak” which debases the language (and turns the stomachs of most native speakers,) and open the door to the unparalleled wealth of human experience encapsulated in the literature of the English language. (No slight intended, Frenchies).


The good news is that an English language theatre in Warsaw is on the way. But it needs your help. Why not become a part of it by contributing your skills to making it work?  While you give this some thought, this morning I am making a beeline for the German Embassy, not as a victor but as a supplicant.



Film premier in Warsaw

Last night I attended my first film premier in Warsaw of a film I am in. The last time I went to a premier of a film I appeared in was  in Rome in 1988: “Francesco” directed by Liliana Cavani, starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham-Carter. I played Francesco`s First Wise Brother. The leaders of the Christian Democratic Party attended: ex-prime ministers (in Italy they have a lot), a handful of prelates, diamonds and tiaras and almost anyone who was anybody. The cinema in Piazza Cavour was packed. I hardly got in myself. Afterwards, there was much adulation and celebration, even though my part was so small if you’d have blinked you’d have missed me.


Last night we gathered at the Luna. Well, actually, I almost didn’t. I went to the wrong cinema. I went to the Muranow. Fortunately, I was with a friend who has a powerful Jag and drives accordingly. We arrived in good time. The audience was gathering. My cousin, who is a journalist and was already there, was overwhelmed by the number of celebrities in the small but discerning audience. The film by Julia Kolberger was warmly received and you would have had to blink long and slow to miss me.


Afterwards, there was a reception in the foyer. I stood, expectations high, waiting for some kindly comment, some warm handshake, a pat on the back. Alas, nothing. I mean nothing, except from my small group of friends. I was glad I had had the foresight to invite them. Even so, three didn’t turn up; one wrote this morning to say he preferred to ride his bicycle in the newly invigorating spring air.


Depressed? I am a little. “Poles are shy”, wrote Michael in an email before going to bed. “You were excellent”. Hmmm….Thanks. Very much appreciated, really, very much.

Grim outlook for young Poles, unless they are computer programmers.

The ex-president of a large bank rang me this morning to cry off a dinner appointment tomorrow night. His wife has the flu. Apparently, swine flu has appeared in Poland and the doctor told his wife to take extra care.


We got onto the subject of the stock markets. “They don’t reflect reality at all.” But, reality is changing faster than he may have noticed. In America unemployment is on the rise, but so is productivity. How so?  The unstoppable rise of the robot. Robots are taking jobs from people and they won’t be giving them back.


So, what hope for the young?  They must find jobs which, for the moment, computers cannot do. Computer programmers will probably be needed for some time yet. So, too, will people in any areas involving empathy, jobs in teaching, health care, the Arts. 


Thus, the question must be asked how the Polish government is preparing for this future? Not at all. These are areas of education where the state is failing dramatically. The future looks impossibly grim for the young of Poland unless, of course, they are computer programmers.

Warszawa 1935

Yesterday I saw “Warszawa 1935”. This is a National Lottery, Ministry of Culture, Prudential sponsored animation of what the mostly late 19th century part of central Warsaw looked like before the War. At the end of the showing in the half-filled, on-the-cheap-newly-restored-Communist period National Film Theatre, there was gentle applause. Some people liked it. Good, because it must have cost a lot of money. Although one name kept appearing on the credits, there was a great number of supporting contributors. Obviously, animation is an expensive process.


Some of the scenes were impressive, particularly the cars and the trains and a walk through the Saski Park which evoked in me a particular sense of loss. However, silent animation rarely engages the senses and a question that must be asked is what was it all for? Why spend so much money on regenerating images of a lost city when there are so many powerfully evocative photographs from the period with real people and real scenes available in almost any bookshop in Poland and on the internet?  


A city without people is like an empty stage. Without the players it is impossible to engage. Few of the buildings are of much interest and I write this knowing that my great great grandfather Alfons Kropiwnicki built more in central Warsaw than any other 19th century neo-classical architect. So, why the film?

If it was to evoke in the public a sense of loss, I suggest it failed. If it was to point the finger at the Russians and the Germans for the devastation they caused, the people around me did not seem moved. Anyway, here there is a great irony. The Russians, in particular, were responsible for financing the huge growth of Warsaw after 1863. If it was simply to show how clever we are with our technology then it is a shameful waste of public recourses. However, I suspect that this last must be the real reason.


There seems to be a belief that unless technology is involved representations of the past are inadequate. How wrong this is. The desecration of the Chopin house at Zelazowa Wola is proof enough, if proof were needed, of the inadequacies of computer generated images. Without the human element, there is no emotion. Without emotion there is no imagination. Without imagination there is no engagement. Hence the gentle applause in the cinema yesterday morning and my feeling of boredom.

Morning shoot

Knowing that this morning I would have to get up at 4.30, I have been waking up at 3.30 every morning for the last four mornings. Great. That’s the way my metabolism works under stress. No doubt, you are asking yourself why I had to get up at 4.30 at all? This is the reason.


I had to shoot a scene for a film which has its premier next Tuesday. A bit late, you might think, but it was an easy scene. …come out of the front door of a large suburban house and head off into the dawn…an academic taking his morning run. Easy. Yes, it should have been and would have been had we filmed in late summer when we did the rest of the film. It would also have helped if this had been a normal spring morning.



As it is, yesterday the crew had to clear away the snow. This morning the equipment truck got stuck in the mud outside the location and had to be towed out by heavy equipment. Having run out of money, even more so since she had to pay for the vehicle assistance, the director was doubling as sound engineer. However, after trying to get a female cable plug to mate with a female input socket on the recorder she exclaimed, “I don’t think the sound is going to connect with the camera” and leaving the recorder and cable on the car seat headed off to get help from the technician sitting in the beleaguered van in a river of mud. To fight the cold and keep my brain active I decided to check out the sound equipment. Every cable has two ends and most have a different plug at each. This cable proved to be no exception. When she returned empty handed I did not rub in the fact.



The day had begun inpropitously for the director. A very kindly, usually intelligent and thoughtful girl she had bought me a bottle of Chianti as a reward for getting up so early and in lieu of payment…the production has no more money for this scene. Sadly, this good intention had not made it to the car: it lay smashed on her kitchen floor where the bottle had fallen waiting for her boyfriend to clear it up when he got up, at a civil hour. The cameraman whom we picked up on the way to the location also almost came without something vital: the mic boom. “It’s not usually my job to remember booms” he announced cheerfully. Fortunately, we had hardly moved from the curb before he realised.


This brought to mind what happened when Maureen Murray came to Poland to make a road documentary about me. Armed with her little video camera and an external mic, we shot in the deep south east of Poland. On finishing, we got into the car and had been homeward bound for 100 kilometres when suddenly she uttered a string of expletives. No sound! For the last hour of filming she’d forgotten to switch on the mic!  I had to drive fast to get back to our location and grab the last hour of light. Since she was returning to England the following morning we had no option. So I did, and we did. There is probably a moral here: leave it to the robots? Soon we will have no choice, anyway.



The shot I had to do this morning and which I have already described was much more difficult than I had anticipated. “Try not to look cold”…I was in a sweat shirt, fog surrounded the house, there was ice underfoot and the temperature was minus 4. “Try to look as if you do this every morning!”, “Don’t wave your arms about; keep them close to your chest.” “No, that’s too much”. “Try again”…and I didn’t even have a line.


Oh yes, and I have forgotten to add that Friday, as a result of sitting for three hours in a meeting where I was supposed to be talking in Polish, something I cant do, I sprained my knee. Don’t ask me how. Stress? Possibly. So, altogether, and despite the knee support I found I had by chance in my bathroom cupboard, it was not an easy morning.


Thankfully, the director’s driving, yes, she provided the transport, was more fluid on the return journey. Heading out into the unknown suburbs, she had insisted on holding her GPS in her left hand and doing the driving with the right. Despite claims to the contrary, some women cannot multi task. Going home, she was more instinctive. Not to worry, soon we’ll have robots doing almost everything. Roll on the day.