National Geographic : 1926 Aug
STRUGGLING POLAND A Journey in Search of the Picturesque Through the Most Populous of the New States of Europe By MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS AI'TIOR OF "CZEC(HSLOVAKIA, KEYLAND OF CENTRAL eUROPE," "AT TIE TOMB OF TUTANKHAMEN," "LATVIA, 1AND OF rTHE LETTS," "RUSSIA'S ORPHAN RACES," "THE GRAND DUCHY OF IUXEMBURG" "THROUGH THE IIEART OF HIINDUSTAN," ETC., ETC., IN THE NATIONAL, GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author APICTURE of day-by-day life in Poland, without regard to its seething political undertone, was the object of my stay of several months in this reincarnated republic, the most populous of the new states created as an aftermath of the World War.* In a search for the picturesque, I trav eled to all quarters of the republic, which accounts itself the sixth largest state in Europe, embracing an area of nearly 150,000 square miles. The porter who meets one at the train in Warsaw was but yesterday a million aire. Fantastic figures gave birth to fan tastic habits. No one asked for change. With a mass of brain-cluttering zeros, it was easier to deal in round numbers. Then came the zloty, worth a gold franc, twenty cents, or I,8oo,ooo Polish marks. There were no zeros to toss around and many travelers, likewise reduced from the ranks of millionaires, prefer to carry their own bags; hence there are three porters for every job. Each must live from the proceeds of a day, two-thirds of which is taken up in having his services refused. As a droshky rolls up the blue-coated driver in a leather cap hands his number to a policeman, who slips it onto one end of a broken ring. A duplicate number hangs between the shoulder-blades of the cabby. When an arriving passenger wants a carriage, a number is slipped off the other end and the driver of that num ber wins the fare, according to the first come-first-to-serve principle. Occasionally, when demand for drosh kies exceeds supply, a number never gets * See, also, "Partitioned Poland," by William Joseph Showalter, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for January, I915. onto the ring, and instead of a lot of tags representing idle carriages there is a queue of potential patrons. At the hotel a long succession of mili tary heels, relief committee boots, and suitcase salesmen's shoes have reduced to paper thinness the carpets in which one once waded through luxury. Exasperated guests have killed flies against the wall paper. Careless bacchantes cooling their brows have broken the bottoms out of the washbasins. After years of war and de preciation, funds must be found to restore the hotel to its former state. On top of the necessarily high price the municipality imposes an 80 per cent surtax, plus a dollar for a passport inspection each time one returns to town. Beautiful parks and gardens surrounded by dull, gray, depressing streets are the first impressions which Warsaw, the capi tal city, makes upon the visitor. WARSAW'S ARCHITECTURE IS DULL AND PONDEROUS The buildings are huge, impressive be cause of their size but not picturesque. One can imagine the way one of the big office buildings, for instance, was ordered: "I want four caryatid figures, 800 feet of pilasters, eight balconies-make 'em heavy, understand-six dozen assorted whorls and sunbursts, and five tons of cement gingerbread. What's that? Win dows? Oh, yes; you might put in a few of those, too." Coupled with heaviness of construction. there is a somberness whose psychological effect is disheartening. There is nothing depressing about a country scene, even on a night without a moon; but in a city, with the sky shut out, darkness weighs upon the heart.