Tuesday, 1 November 2011

All Saints' Day

Year by year, I dare to claim the first day of November is called ‘All Saints’ Day’ because it takes patience of a Saint to survive it. Having spent almost 24 years in this world I still can’t grasp the concept of rounding up all people on cemeteries around one day. Maybe the incongruity is no bigger than distributing visits over the whole year, but these visits result in throng, throng and once again throng. Jammed roads near cemeteries, crowds of people walking from one grave to another, hundreds of candle- and flower-sellers putting up their stalls outside cemeteries, drivers struggling to park their vehicles – these are main types of entertainment on that lovely day.

Visits to cemeteries make an opportunity to ponder upon the place of death in contemporary culture. Remembrance is being pushed aside – just take a look – everyone suddenly remembers about the departed around 1 November and as soon as they come back from cemeteries, they forget, until the next year. Just a week ago when my mother and I drove to Piaseczno to tidy up my grandparents’ grave, they were hardly any cars outside cemetery gate. Today cars were parked everywhere, within the distance of one kilometre from the cemetery. Oddly enough, traffic away from cemeteries is quite sparse, but beware…

Long weekend around All Saints’ Day is a time when too many people depart this world. From Saturday until today’s afternoon death toll has hit 47, 476 people were injured in traffic accidents. This weekend will go down as one of the most tragic of all. Everyone says weather is to blame. In most parts of Poland the day is warm, visibility is reasonably good, it doesn’t rain nor snow, so drivers tend to put their foot down. The higher the speed, the more tragic accidents are. When the weather gets bad, drivers slow down, there are more prangs, but far fewer people die or are injured. Today I saw one smash-up, typical rear-ending, quite hard to understand for me, but from what I’ve observed over the past weekend, drivers’ behaviour this year is even up to the mark, the biggest dangers are posed by reckless pedestrians. Such thoughtlessness, recklessness and inattention have I never seen. Walking in the middle of a road, trespassing onto the road just in front of an oncoming car, swerving, standing on a road and staring at God knows what, staggering. No wonder pedestrians account for about 50% of this weekend’s fatalities. If my observations are right, in many cases they also caused accidents. Another plague are of course cyclists, usually elderly people riding their bikes loaded with kilograms of stuff they carry to a cemetery. The wobble, don’t see what’s going on behind them. So beware of them as well.

Not breaking the old tradition, my family visit the graves earlier. We went to Bródno in mid-October, a week later to Piaseczno, as our visit coincided with my grandfather’s death anniversary and on Sunday we went to Prażmów and again to Piaseczno. As yesterday my father was busy and I was at work, last visits were put back to today. In the morning we visited cemetery in Konstancin where my father’s family rest and then went again to Piaseczno. Fortunately, the tour was ticked off by midday and in the afternoon I could enjoy a walk on a lovely autumnal afternoon (temperature of +13C, four degrees cooler than a year ago, yet still balmy).

To the right – a symbolic grave of three boys, aged 20 – 21, killed in an accident on 15 September 2011. The inebriated driver of BMW 735 drove at almost 200 kmph, so as it lost control over the car and it went into a skid, the Burak Ma Wózek shattered into pieces. One of the passengers, who hadn’t fastened safety belts was shot out of the car and miraculously survived. Three other ones died at the scene. The accident was the local “issue of the day”, but later the coverage of it ceased. As my mother’s friend learnt, the driver was a son of a local policeman so no wonder the case was covered up. Maybe I am insensitive, but I don’t understand why so many people feel sorry for the drunk idiots who killed themselves. I feel sorry for their families and feel a big relief that they didn’t kill anyone else. And I can’t see the point in making an altar out of rear lamp and parts of bumper of the written-off car. So many people cry after three sods, while many valuable people die in loneliness…

Then I strolled west to Stara Iwiczna, to visit a small, cosy cemetery, with beginnings traced back to first half of nineteenth century. I noticed the local society has put up a symbolic grave for priest Andrzej Kwaśnik who used to be a rector of the parish in Stara Iwiczna for 12 years. He died tragically in near Smolensk on 10 April 2010.

Heading back home, I snap another nightmare outside cemetery gate. This is just a small cemetery and cars are parked everywhere. The worst thing is that everyone MUST take their cars, normally kept in a barn unused and go to a cemetery by car, even if they live within a walking distance from it. My neighbours came there by their clapped-out car and thus covered almost one kilometre in a car, rather than as they should – on foot.

Around that day, I came to think about Karol, whom I had lent 1,000 PLN in May 2010. Needless to say I still haven’t recovered the money. I decided to call his mother to find out how he was doing. I called her on her mobile, from mine, without withholding the number. There was no reply. Yesterday I dialled their landline number and in case they had caller ID detection on, withheld my number. The one who picked up the phone was Karol. Now I know he stays at home and is alive. It finally sank in to me that I’ve long got over the loss of money, but I can’t get over being duped…

And finally yesterday, while being on a loose end at work, I browsed profiles of famous people who passed away over the last year. And… the read was a bit shocking. Out of 24 people, two were hated by millions and killed (Osama Ibn Laden, Muammar Gaddafi), two committed suicides (Andrzej Lepper, Edward Żentara) and one was a drug- and alcohol-addict (Amy Winehouse). The list is lightly dejecting, but uplifting is the news that over 200 lives were saved today


Anonymous said...

hi Bartek:
after work, I stopped in at the cemetary and paid my respects to my loved ones(father, and my in-laws). It was a completely sublime and serene experience. I arrived around dusk and it was wonderful to see the twinkling candles shining through the cemetary. Invariably, the candles illuminated Polish names. It was not crowded, but people could be seen strolling through the cemetary. I suppose I would find the experience frustrating if it was crowded and people were competing for parking spots. As it were, it was peaceful and beautiful.

Re: 767 landing. I happened to open the Wyborcza website while the landing was being attempted. What a gripping and wonderful story. So glad that Capt. Wrona executed such a perfect landing.
Keep well.

Pan Steeva said...

I can't accept your "remembers ... around 1 November and ... forget, until the next year". I do not get invited to my Father-in Law's grave in the All Saint's period, but I do go several times a year - name days, anniversary of death, etc. Although the car park has few cars - less people go at the same time, there are always people there and most of the graves are well looked after, with new flowers - there are several flower shops at the gate open every day of the year and doing good business. The cemetery always looks pretty.