Thursday, March 4, 2021

Chopin in the Snow and Celebrating his Birthday (Vol. 12, No. 3)

Photo from the article posted by

 The 2020 Sapporo Snow Festival included a replica of the Palace on the Isle, from Warsaw's Lazienki park, and, as a bonus, a snow version of the famous Chopin Monument by Waclaw Szymanowski, which was designed in 1907, unveiled in 1926, destroyed by Germans in 1940, and rebuilt by 1958 in Warsaw's nearby Ujazdowski Park. I wrote about this monument in the first installment of the Chopin Monuments series on this blog.

The rebuilt monument is in Ujazdowski Park, and not right by the Palace as placed in Sapporo... There is a large reflective pool right in front of the bronze sculpture of a weeping willow, with branches tangled by wind, and a composer "inspired" sitting in its shade. 

After looking at the composer's photographs, I noticed that the monument shows the suffering, inspired pianist in reverse, with the lock of hair above the frown flowing dramatically to the left, from hair parted on the right.  The historical accuracy has to give in to the artistic vision... For a detailed story of the concept and genesis of the monument read the article by Waldemar Okon, "The Monument of Fryderyk Chopin by Waclaw Szymanowski: Concepts and Reality" in The Age of Chopin, edited by Halina Goldberg, 2004. 

The Sapporo Snow Festivals are held every winter since 1950, when six snow sculptures were placed in Odori Park; and various winter games were played. Over 50,000 visitors showed up and a tradition was born.  In recent years, one huge replica of a well-known building was constructed each year. So far, the Sapporo Snow Festival featured 

In 2020, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Poland and Japan, Polish landmark was chosen, the classicist palace, a favorite estate of King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The snow building, constructed by over 100 soldiers of Japanese Self-Defense Forces, is 14-meter-tall, 26-meter-broad and 20-meter-long.  The Chopin Monument placed on the side, is considerably smaller. 

Photo of the Lazienki Palace and the Chopin Monument to the right in Sapporo from:

According to the "Royal Baths" website (Lazienki Krolewskie), in Warsaw, the history of this site reached back to the 17th century: "The origins of today’s Palace on the Isle date back to the late seventeenth century. The Bathhouse was built at the behest of Prince Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, one of the most important politicians, writers and philosophers of the time. The Baroque garden pavilion, designed by the Dutch architect, Tylman van Gameren, was intended as a place for resting, leisure and contemplation. The interiors of the Bathhouse were stylized on a grotto with a spring which symbolized the Hippocrene, a fountain on Mount Helicon in ancient Greece, which was the source of poetic inspiration for the Muses."

"In 1764, when looking for a place in which to build his summer residence, King Stanisław August purchased the Bathhouse together with the Ujazdowski estate. Thanks to two architects – the Italian born Domenico Merlini and Johann Christian Kammsetzer, who was born in Dresden – the King transformed the Baroque Bathhouse pavilion into the neoclassical Palace on the Isle. Modelled on Italian architectural solutions, such as the Villa Borghese, Villa Albani, Villa Medici and Villa Ludovisi, it was intended to symbolize the dream of an ideal, modern and sovereign state."

There are no mentions of the "Royal Baths" Lazienki Palace in Chopin's letters - during his time, it was still a Royal Palace, not open to the public, but rather used by the Russian rulers of Poland.  His letters have some mentions of beautiful parks with ancient huge trees. Mentions of such parks are found in his correspondence to family and friends, sent from Scotland in 1848, for instance, describing the charms of the Calder House estate, with a beautiful park. . . 

Calder House in Scotland, where Chopin visited in 1848, photo from:

March 1, 1810 is Chopin's birthday celebrated today as the accurate date - it was celebrated by his family during his lifetime. There is another, earlier date, celebrated on February 22, as written on Chopin's baptismal certificate. Scholars still have not come to terms as to which date is correct, but the majority is inclined to follow Chopin's family tradition of March 1. 

The commemorative plaque in The Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmiescie in Warsaw, where Chopin's heart is held in one of the columns, bears the date 22 February 1810, instead of March.

This "confusion" is actually a bonus for Chopin Festival organizers as they schedule events for the whole week from Feb. 22 to March 1, and bring lots of Chopin's music to the public. For instance, in Chicago, jazz vocalist Grazyna Auguscik is one of the organizers of the week-long Chopin in the City Festival, held from February 22 to March 1, with an eclectic range of concerts, not just Chopin's piano works being featured.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Chopin Heard on YouTube with Listeners Comments, and a New Portrait (Vol. 12, No. 2)

After a long walk along the Rim of the Valley Trail, I did not want to get off the sofa and instead of getting a Chopin CD, I turned on YouTube,, The Best of Chopin by Halidon Music. Three hours by pianists I never heard of - Giovanni Umberto Battel, Rogerio Tutti, and Vadim Chaimovich. I'm not that well versed in the younger generations of pianists. But I can say that these three are all wonderful. The music was as soothing as Chopin always is after a long day: when you listen to a Berceuse or Andante Spianato you enter a different world of affection, nostalgia, and brilliance. 

While listening, I scrolled down to see what other listeners say, and as always, they love the music, and express their admiration in unique style. This is what keeps the music alive - its direct emotional impact on the audiences, generation after generation, year after year. 

Youssef Slimi: "Chopin may be the founder of modern music. His music sounds like it has just been made. He is really a genius."

Genia Sherwood: "My dad played this and I remember lying under the Steinway feeling the vibration and allowing the music to fill my ears and my soul. I will always love this piece. It was also used in the movie, The Turning Point as Leslie Brown bourree'd across the stage."

Graanvlok: "My favourite composer. He captured the human condition so perfectly - the beauty and the anguish."

Eschelar: "Nocturne in C Sharp Minor... in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, you can explore the Victorian era Buckingham Palace. You might find the White Drawing Room, which has a piano and a pianist playing a shortened version of this piece. It is one of the most memorable things I've encountered in a video game and sadly, just about the only memorable thing in that entire game."

Soul Boken: "Chopin was not human, this soul was a gift from the universe <3"

Karin Anna Maria: "such a genius. his music is pure bliss"

Stefano Rossi: "How i wish i could play piano... being able to play any instrument would be the first wish i'd ask a genie...and then being able to speak any language would be the second wish."

Gabriella Salvador: "Just learned I can't listen to Chopin while studying because I become too emotional but also in the best way possible."

Maude Gonne: "I was looking at a portrait of Chopin and saw such sensitivity and suffering etched on his face. I thought the nature of genius is the ability to turn suffering into art which touches our hearts. Did he realize that  he would still be reaching out and helping other struggling souls nearly 200 years after his death?"

Beautiful Classical: "Pianos, unlike people, sing when you give them your every growl. They know how to dive into the pit of your stomach and harmonize with your roars when you’ve split yourself open. And when they see you, guts shining, brain pulsing, heart right there exposed in a rhythm that beats need need, need need, need need, pianos do not run. And so she plays."

Myau: "I've never listened to classical music in my life, what is this sorcery. Why is it so moving, what are these emotions, why am I crying AAAAAAAAAAAAAA"

Rat Girl (about the Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2): "I genuinely feel this song. you can listen to it, sure, but if you dont feel the emotions this work of art is trying to send you, listening to it is pretty much useless. this song, for me, personally, makes me forget about everything and everyone. it takes care of all the anxiety that's been building up for the past couple of weeks and just empties me completely. I'm hollow inside when it comes to listening to this, but there's also something there, in my heart, it's not completely hollow. theres still some emotion, emotion awakened by this piece. the slight spark of joy that's still left after holding all my emotions trapped inside and not letting them go. and that slight spark of joy being too powerful and overwhelming that I just break down completely. I crumble to pieces. this piece has a big impact on me for some reason and honestly I'm not mad at it. anyway, what I'm trying to say is that music/a work of art isnt created to just be admired, its created to be felt. thank you for reading this."-a random 13 year old.

A computer artist, named Hadi Karim decided to use the existing photos of Chopin and some portraits to recreate his "photograph" with modern technology. He managed to capture the sensitivity, elegance, and suffering of this genius whose music continues to touch and inspire, or even ambush unexpectedly with a torrent of emotions.  It speak directly from the heart to the heart. That's true magic. Now we try to analyze it, describe every aspect of his life, illness, relationships, tastes - the flowers he enjoyed in his rooms (violets), the food he ate (gingerbread from Torun), the clothes he wore (fancy white kid gloves and the most elegant evening attire). Yet, the mystery remains. 

One of only two daguerreotypes of Chopin made during his lifetime, this one is blurry and does not show much, except the evening attire. This photograph was taken in 1845 or 1847, the original was lost in WWII, it was discovered in 1936:

The better known photograph by Bisson, from 1949, was taken just a few months before Chopin's death at 39. It is so full of suffering, it hurts to just look at it.

There was also a death mask made by Auguste Clesinger after Chopin's death: 

Here's another set of fictional photographs of Chopin reinvented in the 20th century by Hadi Karim. 

I think these portraits are remarkable and much closer to what Chopin looked like, as shown in the historical daguerreotypes than so many 19th century portraits, painted from imagination and re-creating the sickly and vulnerable genius as an all-power young Master of music, a country gentleman in a fur coat from his estate. 

Instead of continuing with the Best of Chopin and listening to the Etudes, I went back to the Nocturnes, recorded years ago by Claudio Arrau.

This music is sublime. Just read what the listeners say:

Oudtshoornify: "Am 77, and have not ever before heard the Nocturnes played like this.   Makes my heart  turn over, giddy from the beauty.   Thank you for this gift."

Gary Lotilla: "What a soulful rendition. No tricks, no bravura playing. Sheer beauty. Touches the soul. Transports you to the divine and the infinite."

Marsha Carlson: "Play music through my computer. CD's long gone. LP's of course too.;-) My daughter came over for dinner,  this recording was playing. I told her I could not listen to anyone else play Chopin. We had this playing every evening for many years in our home when she was a child. She said, "Mom, I know every note'. Good wishes to all who love good music like this. :-)"

Nicholas Bianchi: "Arrau's slow and laconic lyricism is the perfect temperament for these pieces. To truly play Chopin's Nocturnes one must understand the poetry of dusk and darkness."

teddy toto: "Arrau’s interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturnes strikes me as one of the most naturally beautiful interpretations. So direct, simple and beautiful."

MichaL H:  "Chopin touches the deepest , most private and personal feelings and emotions humankind is capable of experiencing . A poet , and a Titan of the piano ."

Georg Vrabetz: "When diving into this beautiful world, created by the ingenious compositions of chopin and the marvellous rendition by grand seigneur Claudio Arrau, all of the daily problems seem so far and meaningless."

R: "Chopin has an ocean in his soul. I have no choice but to sigh in front of his ocean."

ccmik123: "This is the most beautiful thing that i have heard."

roobear 53: "his piano is a magic loom spinning dreams of sound"

Just Jeanne: "Ahhhhhh.....Chopin.... is there anything more beautiful or transcendent?"


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Portraits of Survivors - Babcia, Prababcia, Grandma, Great Grandma... (Vol. 12, No. 1)

 My Aunt Barbara recently found and posted a photo of her Grandmother, my Great Grandmother, Konstancja Wasiuk. Born Sudnik Rynkiewicz, she lost her husband in 1935 in the eastern Borderlands ("Kresy") that are now Belarus, but were then Poland (1918-1945).  Konstancja's mother, my Great Great Grandma, came from landed gentry, Woyno Sidorowicz, from the Nowogródek area. Konstancja and her husband Wladyslawl Wasiuk lived on a country estate called Kamionka in the same county.  After the death of her husband, she survived the war, living successively under the Soviet occupation (1939-1941), German occupation (1941-1943), and back again Soviet occupation. The area became a part of the Soviet Republic of Belarus to 1990 and the country of Belarus after that. 


This city is a cipher without a face. Just splinters 
of images caught on paper.  The blustery winter 
street with a round poster stand just like in Warsaw. 
The opulent interior of the photographer’s studio
with a bearskin for naked babies, a mahogany stand 
for First-Communion girls, with rosaries and lace gloves. 
Flowers for Marshall Piłsudski, tightly held in a fist
by the prettiest girl with locks of curly hair.

That’s all. No childhood street corners, no velvet 
and muslin curtains of the family home. 
No church bells. Some forgotten shrines.
This was the site of battles. In 1916 — 100,000 dead, 
far less than the 700,000 of Verdun. Known to no-one.
Still, each life matters. Once more: Baranowicze 
where, in forty-two, forty-eight priests and teachers 
were murdered in cold blood. By Germans?  Soviets? 

The German rule meant disappearing in the ghetto.
Half of the town gone. The Soviet rule equaled 
crowded freight trains to Kazakhstan, Irkutsk, 
and Arkhangelsk. For me, this city is a cipher, 
only existing as the birthplace of my Mom.

Lucyna tells a different story — bus trips to Świteź,
Mickiewicz’s poems, silver ponds at Grandpa’s farm.
Spring: white bells of the lilies of the valley, 
picked by the bucket.. Summer: gold fields,  
sunflower heads as huge as dinner plates. 
Autumn: the Soviets came. Nothing 
could save them from deportation, ruin — 
you know — life as usual. 

(c) 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk, from "The Rainy Bread: Poems from Exile"

After the war, Great Grandma Konstancja moved for the last year of her life to Trzebieszow,  near Lukow in the Lublin Voivodeship (Province), where my maternal grandparents lived: Konstancja's daughter Maria, with her husband Stanislaw Wajszczuk and children, my Mom Henryka and my Uncle Jerzy, plus Barbara born after the war.  (The family tree of Wajszczuks with some seven thousand entries is online includes those names, but not Konstancja - ).  I heard she loved music,  so maybe, my fascination with Chopin is a tradition inherited from her, via my Grandma's radio and listening to the daily Chopin Hour concerts at noon that were the fixture of my childhood? I do not know for sure. I just do not know enough. 

She looks pretty here, with a pleated hairstyle, traditional in eastern Slavic countries, called the crown.  My Mom said her Babcia Konstancja was very pious and very mean. Apparently, she was not happy in a small, crowded, poor farm-house with two bedrooms and no running water. It is not hard to guess why - she was traumatized by the war, loss of family, loss of her real home near the city of Baranowicze.  Konstancja's Catholic faith was steady and deep: once she got tired of living as a refugee, a permanently displaced person, she decided to die with Lord Jesus on Good Friday. She went to bed on Monday and waited until Friday, when she breathed her last. Such faith! If only were she able to use it to love her Grandchildren and tell them stories of the lost past, instead...

So, if Konstancja Sudnik Rynkiewicz Wasiuk was a piece of music composed by Chopin, what piece would she be?  The music has to capture her youthful serenity in a noble home, comfort of extended family and country estate. Then, there must be a dramatic storm that interrupts and breaks the serenity...  Ballade No. 2, in F Major, Op. 38 seems to fit the bill... Here it is, played by the young Krystian Zimmerman.

Christmas 1938 in Baranowicze, my Grandparents with my Mom, 
her brother and Great Aunt Wiktoria in a white dress.

When I was studying musicology and sound engineering in Warsaw, I met a composer, sound designer, Tadeusz Sudnik Hrynkiewicz who told me he was my cousin. I never understood how we were connected. Finally, I know! Great Grandma Konstancja, from a landed gentry family of Sudnik (Hrynkiewicz and Rynkiewicz sound like variants of the same name), married somewhat below her status, assuming the last name Wasiuk - this name, I think, could only be of a farmer, not of someone of a noble origin. However, my Aunt tells me that Wladyslaw Wasiuk was connected to the most powerful aristocratic family of the area, Duke Radziwiłł: attended their events, dinners, and hunting parties. Wladyslaw's brother worked as an administrator on the Duke Radziwiłł's vast estate.

 Grandma Maria with her sister Jadwiga, married Hordziejewska

One of Konstancja's daughters, Jadwiga Wasiuk, married back into the landed nobility. As a wife of  Dominik Hordziejewski she lived on a large country estate in the same county of Nowogrodek. It was the favorite place of my Mother's that she visited with her parents in a horse-and-buggy. She loved trips to the lake Switez, and eating blintzes with butter in the huge, warm kitchen... After the war, Ciocia Jadzia with her husband and son ended up on Gdansk Oliwa, forcibly resettled by the Soviets, who confiscated their manor, all possessions and lands. . . they could keep one cow and some furniture, that would fit in half of a railway carriage. Here's a poem to commemorate their fate.


Her mother’s aunt, Ciocia Jadzia works in a kiosk in Oliwa
selling papers and razor blades in a ruined city
of charcoal buildings and five-year plans
She hides the best blades for her faithful clients
in the kiosk on the way to the Cathedral
where angels with puffy wooden cheeks
triumphantly blow their golden trumpets
walls and benches shake with the majesty of Bach
the gold-starred ceiling shimmers
in summer evening cold
The music of the seaside vacation heals the grey hours
of the girl, sitting in the kiosk, selling matches and tickets
after Ciocia Jadzia goes home to cook dinner
for her silent husband, drunk artist son
She works — Uncle Dominik, a proud nobleman
in a top hat and a black Sunday coat
walks through Oliwa’s parks
with his last, prize-winning Holstein cow
He grieves the loss of his estates — the life he had had
before that fateful train ride from the East
He still sees the red-roofed manor with a white porch
bronze oak leaves scattered on the gravel path
silver gray of Lake Świteź
golden rye fields before the harvest
He walks home to rusty bricks pocked by bullet holes,
smoke-dark hallways, and a burst of color
in the courtyard where asters tremble —
in last evening breeze –
a bouquet of fallen stars

(c) 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk, from "The Rainy Bread: Poems from Exile"

What would have been Ciocia Jadzia's portrait by Chopin?  I picked Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31, very dramatic and full of twists and turns, restarts and digression. Pathos interrupted by moments of sweet delight.  Krystian Zimmerman again does the honors of playing this work, for my maternal Great Aunt, Jadwiga nee Wasiuk Hordziejewska:

My Grandma Maria nee Wasiuk Wajszczuk (1906-1973) was a real beauty. Haughty and elegant, she never stopped being a city girl from Baranowicze, displaced to a village where she ended up after running away from the Soviets in the winter of 1939-40.  I retell that story in a blog about my gold heirlooms, my Mom's sapphire engagement ring that now graces my finger... After Soviets invaded Poland on Sept 17, 1939, and uncle Glinski, a Polish soldier, was shot in the street by NKVD, his widow, Ciocia Tonia (Gransma's sister, Antonina) was deported within 24 hours to Siberia with her sons. My Grandpa Stanislaw, who had worked for the Polish Radio Station and the Polish Railroads, was next on the list; he went into hiding, moving from one place to another every couple of days. He had good friends that helped! 

In a month or so, my Grandma sold what she could, bought gold Krugers (Krugerrands, South African coins) to sew into my Mom's coat and hide in her toy bear. Then, just before New Year's Eve, they left everything and took a train to the border, to walk at night across the frozen river Bug to the Polish side. Though occupied by the Germans, this area was still safer for a Polish family of a former Polish government official, much safer than their town of Baranowicze, occupied by communist Soviet Union. Deportation to Siberia or death would have been their fate if they had stayed.

Babcia Marianna, Dziadek Stanislaw with 
Mama Henryka (Henia) and Uncle Jurek, Baranowicze park, 1938.

I wrote about that time in my "Slicing the Bread" poem from the book of the same title, published in 2014.  Here's a story of the escape through the winter landscape, as told my my Mother, from "The Rainy Bread"


The Soviets came in 1939.
They shot her uncle in the street, 
and took his widow, Aunt Tonia, 
with their two sons to Siberia. All in 24 hours.

Her father did not wait. He sold what he could.
They went through the “green border” 
back to his family near Lublin.
Germans were not half as bad. 

Two pairs — a parent, a child — walking quietly
in a single file through deep snow drifts.
Long shadows on the sparkling, midnight white.
The guide took them in a boat across the river Bug.
Smooth, black water between brilliant banks.

Twisted tree branches, turning.
The moon hid behind clouds.
Stars scattered.  On the other shore,
the guide told her to take off her coat. 
He ripped out the lining, counted 
the gold coins her mother had sown 
into the seams.  He tore apart her teddy bear, 
took the jewels from his belly. 

I got frostbite on my cheeks and hands that night.
Look at the spots, she told her daughter.  
We had paid him already. You cannot trust
anyone, not anyone at all.


They finally arrived in Trzebieszow the ancestral village of my Grandpa Stanislaw Marcin Wajszczuk (1895-1973). His father, my Great Grandfather Franciszek Wajszczuk (1862-1935) was the village's Mayor and a poet, too... 

Trzebieszow, Winter 2016, photo by Barbara Miszta

Apple tree in bloom, Trzebieszow. Photo by Barbara Miszta

So  it could be said that the family was well established in that large and vibrant village, where houses lined the road in a single file, for miles on end. While grateful for survival, the refugees from Baranowicze were starving through the rest of the war in a two bedroom house, with 20 people crammed together into bedrooms with wall-to-wall fold-away beds. Outdoor bathroom, no running water, and very little food...


Her mother's hunger. One huge pot of hot water
with some chopped weeds ‐ komesa, lebioda
she taught her to recognize their leaves,
just in case‐plus a spoonful of flour,
for flavor. Lunch for twenty people
crammed into a two-bedroom house.

The spring was the worst ‐ flowers, birdsong,
and nothing to eat. You had to wait
for the rye and potatoes to grow. The pantry
was empty. She was hungry. Always hungry.
She ate raw wheat sometimes. Too green,
The kernels she chewed‐still milky‐made her sick.

Thirty years after the war,
her mother stashed paper bags with sliced, dried bread
on top shelves in her Warsaw kitchen.
Twenty, thirty bags...enough food for a month.
Don't ever throw any bread away, her mother said.
Remember, war is hunger.

Every week, her mother ate dziad soup‐
fit for a beggar, made with crumbled wheat buns,
stale sourdough loaves, pieces of dark rye
soaked in hot tea with honey.
She liked it. She wanted to remember
its taste.

(C) 2014 published in "Slicing the Bread" (Finishing Line Press), reprinted on Quill and Parchment:

Here we are, coming home from Church in Trzebieszow.

I earlier commemorated my Grandparents in a mazurka poem from the Chopin with Cherries anthology (2010). My Grandpa played a folk fiddle in a folk kapela, and his violin, decorated with ribbons, was a source of much delight in my childhood. I often asked him to play for me and danced with my brother to the lively obereks and mazurkas. . . We loved to eat the baked mazurkas, cakes for Easter, one of the specialties of Grandma. 

 How to Make a Mazurka (fragment) 

             after Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4,

               for my Grandparents, Stanisław and Maria Wajszczuk,  
               who could play and bake their mazurkas like no one else

Take one cup of longing
for the distant home that never was,
one cup of happiness that danced
with your shadows on the walls

of Grandpa’s house, while he played
a rainbow of folk tunes
on his fiddle, still adorned
with last wedding’s ribbons [...]


I dedicated the "How to Make a Mazurka" to Chopin's Mazurka op. 17 no. 4, wistful and nostalgic, full of emigre sorrow...  Here it is played by Josh Wright. 

My mother at First Communion, Baranowicze, 1937.

So far, I wrote too few poems about my Grandma Marianna, who was an amazing chef, baker, and hostess. Elegance personified! Speaking proper literary Polish amidst a sea of peasant dialect; always wearing white gloves and beautiful dresses, with elegant jewelry.  My Mom inherited her gift for baking and giving parties. The very first poem I wrote about my Grandma is in my book "Slicing the Bread" - she taught me the meaning of war-time hunger that she experienced, and the displacements that scattered the family around the world.


Her Grandma showed her how to hold
the knife, cut a straight, narrow strip,
keeping the creamy flesh nearly intact,
ready for the pot of boiling water.

Don’t throw away any food.
The old refrain.
My sisters, Tonia and Irena lived on potato peels
in Siberia.
 The girl is confused. She knows
Ciocia Tonia — glasses on the tip of her nose,
perfectly even dentures — but Irena? Who is that?

They were all deported to Siberia. Not sure how
Irena’s parents died — of typhus, or starvation, maybe?
They used to pick through garbage heaps,
look for rotten cabbage, kitchen refuse
to cook and eat. They cooked and ate anything
they found under the snow, frozen solid.

The water’s boiling. Babcia guides her hand:
You have to tilt the cutting board
toward the pot, slide the potatoes in.
Don’t let them drop and splash you.

What happened next? The orphaned children
went with the Anders’s Army and the Red Cross
to Iran, Switzerland, Chicago.
The kitchen
fills with memories. Mist above the stove.
Grandma piles up buttery, steaming,
mashed potatoes on her plate. Eat, child, eat.  

Ten years later, Aunt Irena came to visit.
She looked like Grandma, only smaller.
Her legs were crooked. 

(c) 2014 by Maja Trochimczyk, reprinted in "The Rainy Bread" 2016

The "river" Krzna - called a river, though really not much than a stream
flows through flat Trzebieszow fields. Site of great fun at vacation time. 

A more recent poem is dedicated to Grandma Marianna's exile in a village, where she did what she could to protect her identity and pride.  This is published in "The Rainy Bread: Poems from Exile" of 2016.


Ko-ko-ko — the clucking of hens
is a homey refrain of my California morning.
Some neighbors got themselves a chicken coop
in our sunlit village on the outskirts
of a grand metropolis.

Ko-ko-ko — the sounds take me back
to vacations with Grandma. Too proud
to stoop down to the level of peasants, she
wore a thick apron and gloves for work outside,
took it all off every time she walked into the house.

She could kill a rooster swiftly with one strike of the axe
and peel off the feathers in a gruesome spectacle
of steaming blood and guts.

Ko-ko-ko — dark orangey goo of the egg yolks
colored with a gold hue the best Easter babka,
the muslin one, so tall and delicate that children
were sent out while it cooled atop feathered pillows
in the locked bedroom.

We ate the rooster soup, rosół,  with home-made noodles
Sliced with the sharpest knife, from a sheet of dough
dried in the same room on clean white linen towels.

Ko-ko-ko — the hen measures time as I think of Babcia.
In her city youth, she never touched a chicken,
a fashionable niece of a rich landowner,
she wore her pearls and an ostrich-feather hat
for the Sunday ide to church, while the farmhands
worked as hard as she does now.

A lone lady in a peasant village, she learned
how to pick the eggs and bake a babka.
She has her crystal vases full of lilac, still,
but she knows how to cut off the rooster’s head
with one blow, how to cook her unexcelled rosół
with fresh carrots she picks from the garden,
like a lady, in gloves. 

(c) 2016 by Maja Trochimczyk, from "The Rainy Bread"

Now, to think of a piece of Chopin that captures the spirit and personality of my Grandma, Maria nee Wasiuk Wajszczuk... I did not have to think for a long time at all. Chopin's "Heroic" Polonaise in A-Flat Major Op. 53 has the grandeur, nobility, bravery and pride, with tumultuous section of national drama. Here it is played by none other but Artur Rubinstein:

Easter table of Mom with her grandson Marcin, Warsaw 1980s.

Great Aunt Tonia (Antonina), Grandma Marianna, Great Aunt Jadzia (Jadwiga)
with their daughters, Aunt Basia (Barbara) on the bottom right in the back, 1960, Gdansk Oliwa. 

A line of brave, courageous, feisty women - who loved to cook, host parties, dress up, sing, dance, go out. They did not play the piano, as far as I know - but all loved listening to Chopin. They were all survivors, all displaced from their homes in one way or another.  What do you do when the "winds of history" take you from country to country, from one continent to the next? Change your hair color? Style? Name? 

My Mom was a brunette and become a blonde, a color she picked after turning grey. Black hair color looked awfully fake in Poland and she spent half of her life as a blue-eyed blonde. She loved singing, sang in a chorus as a young girl, but never learned to play any instruments, and never pursued an active career in music. Gave me lots of opportunities to listen to Chopin at home, bought my first LPs of classical music...

Mom at 39, her favorite age 

Mom at 64 in Abu Dhabi where my father worked for 20 years. 

If my Mom, Henryka Teresa nee Wajszczuk Trochimczyk were to be composed by Chopin, with her fantasy, warmth and  deep, unstable emotions, would she be a Polonaise? Probably not, too straightforward... Maybe a Ballade? The Ballede No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 would fit the bill -  so sublimely sweet and tensely dramatic, and profoundly sorrowful, despite the surface gaiety... Let's hear Krystian Zimmerman again:

Mom Henryka and Maja at one year old.


—- is all there is, all you take with you when you go
from country to country, carried by the winds of change.
The merciless gale of history blows you backward
to the time before homes were homes,
before safety, before love.

Hold on. Language is all there is. You’ll leave
your sentimental treasures — a miniature
flower vase from your cloistered Godmother,
brown like her Franciscan habit and warm eyes.

A worn sapphire set in the ornate gold ring
Dad bought in Moscow for your Mom’s engagement —
scarred by work and trouble, washing dishes,
work, always more work.
A suitcase of photos you are too raw
with grief to open — one day, you say,
I promise, I’ll do it, one day.

Language is all there is. Words slip back
under the avalanche of hours. What you took
was yours then, what is theirs now?
Rough tones of Polish mountain village resound
through the gilded salons of an L.A. mansion.
They speak a 17th century peasant dialect in Quebec.

Out of one accent, not yet in another,
you sound foreign everywhere, to everyone.
You keep your word in-between kingdoms.
One day, you’ll find new treasures.

Language is all there is
until your New Day comes. 


Sapphire engagement ring of my Mom.

So we can think and write and keep the shards of memory alive, with just a couple of photos, just a couple of stories, never enough, never with a proper context. What do we really know about the past?  The gift for music, the love of music, beautiful singing voices pass on through generations. No pianists? Not a problem... The love of music stays alive. 

Now to play the game again, what piece of Chopin would I be? If I could be a piece of music? Maybe Fantaisie Impromptu Op 66 with its shifting moods and unpredictable directions? Serenity interrupted by frantic motion? Maybe... Recorded by Rousseau.

What about my daughter, Anna Claire Harley-Trochimczyk? She sings jazz choir, and barbershop style choral music, but if she were a piece by Chopin, I think she would have been the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23.  Here it is, played by Krystian Zimmerman.

Maja Trochimczyk with Daughter Anna Claire Harley Trochimczyk, USC graduation 2011

Mama Henryka as a butterfly, 5 years old, Baranowicze, 1934

Maja at four, dressed up as a snowflake and brother with a bow and arrow

Daughter Ania at 3 years old in Warsaw

Thanks to Ciocia Basia and cousin Waldemar Wajszczuk we now have the Wajszczuk family tree. I do not know of similar family trees for the Wasiuks, or Sudnik Hrynkiewicz, or for my father's side, Niegerysz and Trochimczyk.  I'm also grateful for the scanned photos, used here along with the ones I inherited from Mom. 

Ciocia Basia with frost flowers in the winter.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas and New Year after the Winter Solstice - The End of Kali Yuga, the Age of Aquarius (Vol. 11, No. 3)


We have passed through the eye of the needle, and emerged on the other side, victorious. Congratulations to all Lovers, Lightworkers, and People of Good Will! On December 21, 2020,  the planets Jupiter and Saturn entered into a conjunction that made their light appear as a bright Star of Bethlehem, last seen 800 years ago, and supposedly seen at  Christmas... 

This Winter Solstice also marks a monumental cosmic event: the old era of chaos and destruction ended. We entered into the glorious waters of the Age of Aquarius. We are on our trajectory to a Thousand Years of Peace. Or so, I read, and decided to believe. Why not? Much better vision of the future than the alternative... 

I celebrated this momentous transition with a new poem:

The Star of Christmas, The Way of Light

Jupiter and Saturn became one. Bright
orange gold merged with deep blue purple
into a diamond white Bethlehem star.
A solstice miracle.

We saw it through the telescope
in the neighbors’ driveway.

The cross on the hilltop is flooded with light.
A Christian beacon, a sea lantern on the shores
of receding darkness. The end of Kali Yuga,
the twisted age of chaos and destruction.

We look at it from the safety of our bed - 
limbs intertwined, after interstellar flights
through galaxies of affection.

The portal opens. The way back
irrevocably closes. From the Zero Point
of no return, we step into the Age of Aquarius.
my Winter Solstice poem comes to life. 

Togetherness, acceptance carry us
on ultraviolet waves into 
the ultramarine infinity 
of one true love.

Our ascent is punctuated by bursts
of belly laughter, flavored 
with the sweetness of winter tangerines, 
dissolving into the pure intensity 
of childlike joy - rediscovered 
at the threshold of the Golden Age, 
embroidered on the fabric
of the Thousand Years of Peace. 

(C) December  21, 2020  by Maja Trochimczyk

Well, technically speaking we are still deep within the Kali Yuga that lasts for 432,000 years, has begun 5,121 years ago and will end in the year 428,899. But we can end it sooner in our own lives if we want to bring peace, prosperity, happiness, kindness, gratitude, love and light into this world, ourselves and all around us... 

According to  the ancient prophecies of Srimad Bhagavata Purana, the last avatar of Lord Vishnu will descend as Kalki to destroy the effects of Kali and Satya Yuga will begin. There are four eras starting from the Golden Age, Satya Yuga, followed by Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas. As we have seen so far, during the Kali Yuga, "religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day" and "wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man’s good birth, proper behavior and fine qualities. And law and justice will be applied only on the basis of one’s power." In contrast, in Satya Yuga, the age of goodness, all virtues will triumph and people will live long, in peace and happiness.

As for the Age of the Aquarius, it follows the Age of Pisces, or Christian Fish, and some say will start in 2024, while others claim it already started in 1957, or in 2000. In the hippie musical "Hair" there is a song celebrating its arrival. It all has to do with the "precession of the equinoxes" an astronomical phenomenon caused by the curious rotation of the Earth with its axis at an angle; while going through the 12 signs of the Zodiac during 25,868 years, it stays in each sign for 2,155.67 years. If the Age of the Pisces started in the year 1 of our times, we still have 135.67 years to go... In other words, nobody knows anything...

In any case, Christmas followed the Winter Solstice and a Christmas poem should also make an appearance. This one is a repeat from 2015, when I still spent my Christmas alone, with small kids with their Dad in Canada... I figured out how to not feel lonely, but rather grateful for all the amazing gifts of peace and well-being in my garden. 


Music Box Christmas

I wind the spring on the music box.
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe.

 The twinkling of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” fills the air

Santa on the rooftop falls into the chimney.

Are you ready for the holidays?  With Scottish whisky cake

Polish makowiec, American apple pie? Will you cook

Tamales on Christmas Eve, your family gathered

Around steaming pots, laughter mixed with hearty flavors?

Will you roast turkey with fixings on Christmas Day?

Will you nibble slices of chocolate oranges, after unwrapping gifts,

Will you taste walnuts and sesame snaps from your stockings?

I wind the spring on the music box.
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe.
Memories of home swirl before me.

I make cranberry sauce with pears and apples

The way my Mom taught me. Do I still know

How to chop figs and dates into finely ground poppy seeds

Boiled in milk, re-fried with honey? The favorite flavors of childhood,

Float away with Ogiński’s polonaise, Farewell to the Homeland.

Under blazing sun of California, I still taste the exotic desserts

Of Poland’s eastern borderlands, where cultures mixed

And worlds mingled – Poles, Lithuanians, Tartars, Jews –

Cornflower blue skies, shimmering gold of rye fields.

I wind the spring on the music box.
Silvery specks swirl in the snow globe.
I make a promise to myself I will not break.

This Christmas, I’ll read a novel, wrapped in a plush red blanket

And a Santa hat. I will walk alone in the park, come back

To the empty house and watch The Lord of the Rings,

The epic battles of the elements, good versus evil,

Good versus evil  - twirling and waltzing - the silvery specks

Dance in the snow globe. I sing along “We wish you

A Merry Christmas”  thinking of the Christmas play

My daughter an Angel waving a green pine bough

Singing, in a sweet chorus of children’s voices:

“We swish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

© 2015 by Maja Trochimczyk

Finally, the most important news is the most timeless. Whether in this age or the next, whether at Christmas alone or with family, we are a rain of diamond light on this planet. Let's shine! 

A Diamond Miracle

I live on a planet

where it rains diamonds

on red-gold leaves of myrtle tree

under the azure – sky so alive that it breathes

and vibrates in the distance.


Look up! See the cosmic sigh?


I live on a planet

where it rains diamonds.

Water droplets shine in sunlight

scattered on pine needles and broad leaves

of the bird of paradise, stretching, stretching,

growing until orange blossoms alight amidst the foliage

like a flock of birds, copper flames in jade.


On my planet, western bluebirds,

Finches, and doves drink from the fountain.

They fly away when the scrub jay comes to take a bath,

dip his head into the crystal pool and shake diamond droplets

down his back.


On my planet, hummingbirds hum

suspended in the air by red hibiscus flowers.

Mockingbirds mock the tune of my alarm clock

at four a.m. and sing the songs of red wing blackbirds

that pass through on the way to Mexico or Canada

resting in the garden, then moving on.


My planet, where it rains diamonds,

breathes and vibrates with wave after wave

of energy that spins into life forms, growing, decaying,

returning – the endless ocean of live diamonds

that multiply and sparkle in the sun.


Would you like to be a diamond with me?


(C) November 2020 by Maja Trochimczyk

Happy New Year of Peace, Prosperity and Diamond Light!