Sunday, November 20, 2011

Polish Festival in Melbourne

It was a lazy Sunday morning where I had few plans, so I thought I'd head into central Melbourne and visit the Polish Festival in Federation Square. My father is Polish, though he has lived in England for over 60 years, so I have an affinity with Polish culture. I have never learned the language, but I do know a few words, and even more than I realized I knew started coming back to me as I wandered around the festival. The stage in Federation Square hosted a series of traditional Polish folk entertainment (I thought I could hear Chopin at one point, though it was probably coming from a stall I was passing). There were children singing when I was there this morning, but adults were waiting in the background in traditional dress.

There were a number of stalls around Federation Square where local Polish businesses were selling goods, such as Polish language books, jewellery (a lot of amber), and homewares. There were some handmade gifts being made as you waited, and stuff for the kids.

Carved wooden gifts, and hand loomed materials

Along the Yarra, there were plenty of food stalls. For me, this is always one of the highlights of the various cultural festivals held in Federation Square.

 Mmmmm, pretzels

 Granny's (Babcia) Kitchen

 Europa Bakery
Lots of stalls spread along the Yarra River

There was an excellent Festival Guide given out for free with loads of information about Polish culture, history, language and contacts around Victoria. I live fairly near to a large Polish community in Bentleigh. In Centre Road, Bentleigh, the excellent Europa Bakery and cakeshop is situated, though there is another in Acland Street in St. Kilda.

Poland and Chess

Of course it also interests me to follow Polish chess players. Poland have never had a chess World champion, but they have certainly had their share of great players. Perhaps top of the list was Akiba Rubinstein, who for a couple of years before the First World War was considered among the very best in the World. He won a string of strong tournaments, but didn't get a shot at the World Championship. A contemporary of Rubinstein's was Savielly Tartakower, who was a probably a greater writer than he was a player (though he was a strong enough player). These 2 spearheaded Poland's victory in the 1930 Olympiad, and Tartakower was the teacher of the next great Polish player, Najdorf. Although Najdorf lived for most of his life in Argentina, he was born in Poland and represented Poland at an Olympiad before the Second World War. During the Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe after the Second World War, no great Polish players emerged, and it was not until recently we have seen an upsurge in Polish chess again, most notably with Wojtaszek being chosen to be part of World Champion Anand's team. But he is just one of a number of young strong Polish players, so the future of chess in Poland looks pretty bright.

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