A Fulbright Gathering, Some Accordions, and a lot of Candles
U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones
I have a number of events to report on in this issue, and I'll start with a visit to Poznan by the top U.S. diplomat in Poland, recently appointed Ambassador Paul Jones. Ambassador Jones, just recently sworn in by Secretary of State John Kerry, is posted in Warsaw, but spent the day October 28 in Poznan, primarily at Adam Mickiewicz University, participating in a conference and meetings. One of those meetings was a gathering of current and former Fulbrighters, hence my attendance. That meeting brought together roughly 15 students and faculty members, the majority of whom were Polish scholars who had spent time on U.S. campuses through the Fulbright program. It was a chance for Ambassador Jones to see the positive impact of the Fulbright program on U.S./Polish relations and to appreciate the tangible results of these exchanges. One Polish scholar, for example, who had spent a season conducting research at the University of Notre Dame, said the experience completely shifted and refocused his understanding of and approach to research in his field (photochemistry), and it inspired him to help launch a laboratory in applied photochemistry in his home university in Poland.
|Fulbrighters meet with U.S. Ambassador Paul Jones (center, in dark suit with red necktie).|
I was the only U.S. Fulbright faculty scholar attending the meeting, but there were several great Fulbright student scholars from the U.S. who are serving here in Poznan. Generally, these students teach courses in English at various colleges and universities in the city. Also, to my surprise, there was an active-duty U.S. Air Force officer attending the meeting. He is in Poznan under an Olmsted Foundation program that supports active duty military members pursuing advanced degrees internationally. This Air Force member is completing a doctorate with Adam Mickiewicz University here in Poznan. How nice and unexpected to find a fellow Air Force member here!
I've posted before (and will continue posting!) about the wonderful concerts conducted frequently in the Aula Nowa of the Academy of Music here in Poznan. Last week, I could not resist attending a concert featuring accordions. In the U.S., it's an instrument associated with polka bands and perhaps French and Italian bistros. On this evening, though, the accordion was convincingly presented as a versatile and inspirational classical instrument capable of a wide-ranging repertoire. The men and women who played, students in the Academy, quickly dissipated any preconceived notions I might have had of tedious renditions of "Lady of Spain." In trios or solos, sometimes supported by other orchestral instruments, the performances were captivating and highly impressive. The concluding piece was performed by nine accordionists backed by percussion, a bassoon and a flute (I can't imagine there is a large library of music composed for such an ensemble!) and genuinely rocked the house.
|One accordion piece (plus strings) included choreography.|
|Nine accordionists plus other musicians combined for an impressive composition.|
I had not previously seen the style of instrument most musicians played. I'm more familiar with an accordion with buttons for chords on the left hand and traditional piano-style keys on the right. These, however, featured buttons on both hands. As a reed instrument, this makes sense -- borrowing more from the oboe or the clarinet. Regardless, it was an impressive evening, and it considerably expanded my impression of the virtuosity required to master this instrument.
Candles, Candles, Candles
This past weekend marked Halloween, and in the U.S., this has become a much larger holiday than I recall from my youth. Additionally, the event has transitioned from a mild opportunity for kids to dress up as football players or ballerinas into a celebration of the dark, sinister and macabre. In terms of focus on decorations and merchandising, Halloween is threatening to eclipse Christmas. This is not the case at all in Poland, and it provides an excellent opportunity to highlight a stark difference between the two cultures.
Respect for the deceased is manifest in the placement of flowers and candles on grave sites. For weeks before All Saints Day, stores feature special displays of elaborate, votive candles and candle holders. Flower shops and kiosks dramatically increase their inventories as the day approaches.
|Polish families and individuals head to cemeteries at dusk on November 1, All Saints Day, to honor deceased relatives.|
|Headstones are decorated with flowers and candles.|
|Children are included as parents demonstrate the importance of remembering lost relatives and others.|
|The grave of a British soldier, age 30, killed in 1941, remembered by the Poles.|
|The reflective quality of the evening is somber and peaceful.|
|A Polish man, in his early 20s and probably killed in the war in 1945, is honored.|
How different from the holiday being celebrated in the U.S.
That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for your visit. Do widzenia!