Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Piano Gift for the Chopin University of Music, to Remember my Parents (Vol. 4, No. 9)

When I started learning music back in the 1960s in Poland, I played the violin (badly), then viola (better), and then a bit of piano... At the Elsner Music High School and the Chopin University, we called it "mandatory piano with both hands" - and this is what it was, a required class done because you had to, not very musical. However, I learned to sightread at the keyboard and entertain myself by singing one part and playing two other parts of Bach's Kunst der Fuge. I also loved singing along with his Chorales. In playing Chopin, I did not move beyond easy preludes and nocturnes, but liked playing for myself, getting lost in the shifting moods and soaring melodies of his music.

The hours at the keyboard are long gone and my California upright sits in pieces in the garage, but the Arnold Fibiger "semi-concert" upright has survived in excellent shape in my Mom's place in Warsaw. After her death this summer, I donated the piano to my Warsaw Alma Mater - Fryderyk Chopin University of Music. It used to be "Academy" when I attended it and "State Higher School of Music" a decade earlier. I thought of selling it, but decided that a donation would be a better choice than getting a measly $200 for this beauty. ..

The piano is decorated with Art Nouveau reliefs and carvings; two Art Nouveau candleholders attached in front, and most of the keys still in the original ivory, with some yellowed inserts in plastic. No chance for historical restoration of those keys - ivory is banned, and rightly so... but was not at that time. I hope that my piano will bring long hours of enjoyment to the University's music students and will enrich its permanent collection of antique instruments.


While in Warsaw, I made four other donations - the Museum of Ethnography received three cuts of home-made linen, two from my great grandmother on the maternal side - Konstancja Wasiuk, and one made from scratch, that is from planting the flax, through making the thread, to weaving the fabric - by my grandmother Nina Niegierysz - Trochimczyk.

 The long stretch of linen was made for towels, with a standard "home-made" (samodzial) weave, 70cm wide and over 4 meters long. The staff at the Museum of Ethnography were thrilled to unwrap and measure the fabric. My grandma told me how she made it, how they planted the flax, harvested the long stems, soaked and beat the stems to create the material for weaving, in a long-lasting process. She then made the thread using her spinning wheel ("kolowrotek"), and finally wove the fabric for her dowry when she was getting married. She was born in 1906 so this activity took place in mid-1920s on their estate in Mieleszki.

 The patterns on two shorter cuts of homemade linen are much more ornate. They were made by a professional weaver near the village of Trzebieszow. My great grandmother Konstancja was repatriated after the war, that is thrown out of the family estate near Baranowicza in the borderlands part of eastern Poland (Kresy, now Belarus), with whatever she could take and pack in the alloted part of the train, and sent back to Poland, while Soviets took over the family estate to convert it to Kolchoz...

She brought with her not only her intense faith in Jesus and a bad temper to boost, but also various strange remnants of her former life, including large spools of linen thread, that was made by her farm girls back home, in the Kresy... The thread made on the estate near Baranowicze was woven into different patterned fabric and used for towels, tablecloth... The museum will use it in its fabric collection.


The next stop was the Museum of Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw-Wola. I brought there the medals, photographs, and letters of Barbara Wysocka, one of my mother's close friends who house-sat the condo during her travels, and was invited to all major family functions, especially Christmas Eve (when no person should be alone) and Easter breakfast...

 Pani Basia was single, and had no family at all. Her entire family died in the Warsaw Uprising and she was the lone survivor. She never married, never had children... What she had were her medals for bravery and a handful of pictures. The Museum staff took the medals, though was not happy with the one bestowed upon the veteran freedom fighter by the communist government (even though it was the highest honor, Polonia Restituta!) and did not like any of her post-war pictures nor letters...



They took the photos in uniform, of the young Barbara on the poligon, and with other soldier-friends before the war... She was not famous and I do not even know what her Home Army pseudonym was. After the war she had ordinary life, finished college, worked in an office. Thanks to my Mom, she had an "adopted" family - us - and spent her weekends in the summer house, holidays at our table, and one colorful vacation (at the expense of my parents) in Abu Dhabi where my father worked for over 20 years and my mother lived for six months each year, spending her winters in the warm south and summers in cool Poland.

Barbara Wysocka's memory should be preserved by a museum dedicated to this cause - where many of her colleagues are also remembered. I'm glad that the Museum took the medals, but troubled that they wanted to deny that there was any good done in the "communist" times - without these times as a bridge, there would have been no independent Poland today. Some Home Army veterans were hounded and killed, others survived and helped rebuild the country. Warsaw was completely destroyed by Germans who forcefully removed all inhabitants and blew out all buildings, especially the large and historic ones... leaving shantytowns on the outskirts untouched, pocked by bullet holes.... Now, the historic core of the Old Town was rebuilt and Warsaw grows, with its history carefully reconstructed...


 My parents, Henryka and Aleksy Trochimczyk, loved to travel, loved to see the world and visit far away places. My father, an electrical engineering specializing in power plants, worked first in Iraq and then in the United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi. He spent most of his career working abroad, as an electrical engineer building a sugar beet refinery in Mosul, Iraq, and then the power plant and water desalination plant in Abu Dhabi. My mom joined him there, and the family traveled both there and through Europe - Greece, Turkey, Italy...

My mom also went to Spain and took a three month tour of the U.S. while staying with me in Canada. One day she said, I'm going for a trip, the next day she was on a Greyhound bus... Similarly, when Princess Diana died, my Mom decided to pay her respect and my parents drove to London for the funeral. All these trips were documented in picture albums and in guides from the many places visited.

These guides and albums were donated to the Museum of Sports and Tourism and will enrich the permanent collection. The large yellow suitcase of my parents photographs, especially from Abu Dhabi and my mom's American tours, was borrowed by Mr. Piotr Niedziela of the Museum of Digital Information. He loved working with negatives and after reviewing the set of materials, picked over 600 images for his collection to illustrate an important part of Polish history - Polish engineers working abroad, building infrastructure in many countries. The Persian Gulf was certainly exotic enough to merit attention....

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