Invitations to go half way round the world are easy to accept when the trip is two years away. In 1987 Malgorzata, my Polish friend, told me of a planned conference in Warsaw, Interferometry 99. Over a few drinks and dinner I agreed to talk at the conference on "Collecting and Critiquing Art Holography". Such a talk I had never done; but it sounded like fun at the time. By the time the conference rolled around I had almost forgotten, and I found myself thinking up excuses. Malgorzata, herself had given up on me, guessing that I was not serious. However, I underestimated the persistence of a certain German friend who was involved in the conference.
The conference was being held at Pultusk Castle, 60 Km north of Warsaw, a fitting country for such a conference which was homeland to Copernicus and Michelson. With the marvels of email and the world wide web I found myself faced with a once of a life time opportunity to experience Poland in a special way. So here I sit on Lot Polish Airlines, somewhere over the Atlantic.
Another reason to go soon developed. Fifteen years ago an organization known as the Knights of Holography was formed in Germany. Each year, the most recently selected knight chooses a respected scientist in the field of holography who has also proven himself as a gracious international host. The new member is honored in a surprise ceremony, knighted with his own new sword, and welcomed to the brotherhood of holoknights. The organization now has Knights in five countries. Interferometry ’99 was the perfect place to conduct the ceremony and what better place than a castle.
Again, the marvels of the internet allowed a complex negotiation between knights in all parts of the world. Soon a barrage of email flowed between Ole of Trontheim (Norway), Werner of Bremen (Germany), Paul of Alsace (France), Hans of Bavaria, Richard of Massachussetts, and me, Jim of California. Our next holoknight would be Matsuo (Takeda) of Tokyo, an extremely well-liked Japanese scientist who has done marvels in the field of interferometry.
My arrival in Warsaw came with one of the greatest pleasures of the WWT, being met not by one but by three friendly faces upon arrival at a foreign airport. A Polish professor, Ramold Jarwichi, his daughter, Argota, and a student, Marke guided me through the first hours of confusion that always accompany a new country. The four of us squeezed into Argota’s car and within the hour pulled into the gates of Pultusk castle. I checked into a room and before I had time to consider jet lag was sitting around a table with friends from four countries eating Gabash (a cabbage and pork dish) and drinking Polish beer.
Soon afterwards a reception began which started a series of conversations of every variety from technical to political that continued non stop for four days. We worked, played, drank, and partied from 7 AM until midnight with little pause. Our Polish hosts had pulled all the stops beginning with a series of 18th century cannon salutes the first morning, preceded by a vodka toast (which we were assured is a Polish invention). Even the Russians liked Polish vodka better.
English, or (I should say) "Bad" English is fast becoming a universal language. European science conferences are held in English to accommodate the many languages that exist across Europe. For Americans and British this is good news and we should feel lucky that we can use our natural language everywhere. But it is not that simple and not as good as one might think. As a minimum one should not be too hasty to oversimply the situation. From early observations in Pultusk, a new WWT homily was born and a new relationship was discovered
Homily number 20, the Principle of Universal Bad English Confusion (PUBEC). Do not assume that the way we speak English is the most understandable (or the most useful) to others who use it as a second language.
I quickly realized that in the 27 different countries represented in the conference, the British and the Americans were not necessarily the best understood by the others. Actually, we had the strangest accents of all as far as the others were concerned. I could see the Japanese and the Russians carrying on a rather continuous conversation and understanding all of it (well, at least some of it). I discovered a useful ratio defined as the amount of information conveyed divided by the number of words used to convey it. Since I formalized the ratio in Pultusk, I have named it the Pultusk number in honor of the Castle. The Pultusk number is quite high for universal (Bad English) English. It is quite low for American English and approaches zero for British English.
Within a few days I found myself learning and using some of the weirdest expressions that everyone seemed to understand fully. I found that I was understood much better if I eliminated a lot of adjectives, articles, and especially long words, slowed down, and I even considered pronouncing the word "the" as "Zuh" since almost everyone else did. The point is that as more foreigners begin speaking English and teaching each other, the actually used English will not be the same as the one we know. "Zuh" will become the preferred pronunciation of the word "the" because more people will be able to say an understand it. Only after I acknowledged that American English and Universal English are two different languages did I feel accomplished at conversation.
Technical meetings meetings began at 9 and continued on until 6. I only slept through three or four of the papers and was rested for the night poster session which was accompanied by food and drink, making the papers a lot more interesting. These kinds of meetings are especially rewarding since all attendees are captive to be with each other from dawn to midnight, having meals, work, and fun together.
On Tuesday, after a morning of meetings, two friends and I walked into the village of Pultusk . In addition to getting Polish money at the local bank, we found a market place, and old church, and a beer hall that interested us….all about equally. Wolfgang cashed a Eurocheck for 200 Deutchmarks. The paper work was incredible. We kept looking at each other and laughed each time someone stamped it again. By the time Wolfgang had his money, the bank had generated several pieces of paper, captured four signatures and provide a form that had four different stamps on it. I noticed the bank guard suspiciously eying us and I took Nadya outside so as not to make the situation any worse. This underlined the complexity in doing banking across borders. Wolfgang was going to have the document framed as a favorite souvenir for the trip.
The church, founded in 1434 was a nice church mostly because it is so old. Any church that was built before my own country was discovered impresses me regardless of how it looks.
After a brief shopping spree in the market place, we stopped for a beer in the town square. Over Polish beer we had a lively discussion about the merits and demerits of each of our countries. I am always interested in the impressions others have about the United States, especially friends whom I can trust to be honest with me. I had been in similar discussions before. Americans believe that America is by far the best country in the world (whatever that means), and they wonder why this is not obvious to everyone. They really believe this, to the amazement of most foreigners and they seem puzzled when foreigners aren’t quick to agree. What the foreigners don’t know is that even within America each region of the country thinks his is the best. When you think about it, it does seem bizarre that this belief is so widely held by Americans, especially the ones who have never been abroad. It is not clear why the belief is so important to us.
I was commenting that I had some credibility troubles with Russians because they want to make sure the rest of the world credits them with inventing things (almost everything) first. I had met several Russians from different parts of the country, each of which had claimed to have personally invented the same electro-optical device. Ndya immediately responded by asking me if I knew who invented the periodic table. Even though I once knew it was Mendelson, I had long since forgotten, and maybe never realized he was Russian, this not being information that would ever be of much use to me. I don’t think that she realized she had just proven my point. On the other hand, could it be that the Russians DID invent everything? She could probably care less that an American invented Pizza. (The Italians still find this hard to believe.)
The banquet was the perfect setting for the holoknight service. I was seated with a Mexican, a Japanese, a Croat, and a Pole. Mitsuo was taken completely by surprise when his name was called to receive a beautiful Samurai sword after being tapped on both shoulders. The crowd seemed pleased with our choice. The celebration went on until midnight. By that time, Mitsuo had drunk enough champagne, vodka, beer, who knows what else that he finally admitted being a trained Samurai. He proceeded to give us a demonstration with his new sword, and a tutorial on Samurai etiquette. He ended the demonstration with a simulated attack on his mentor, Ichiru Yamagoochi, during which I closed my eyes wondering if Ichiru’s head would wind up on the castle floor. Mitsuo assured us that Samurai don’t have killing as their objective. We learned that the next holoknight will have the title, holosamurai.
Amazingly, I rose on Wednesday morning without a hangover, had breakfast and still had time for a walk on the grounds with Ndya. She told me of hardships in Russia. Her salary as director of her institute is about 25$ per month and her apartment rent is $20 per month. She makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.
At the end of the day, Pierre Boone, from Belgium, and I gave special invited talks on holography in art. Pierre’s talk was "Holography-Art or Science?" and mine was "Holography, the ultimate collectible of the 21st Century-or-How to make your grandchildren holomillionaires". Pierre expressed the concern that artists take the attitude that only artists are allowed to make what can be called real art. He believes that holography acts like a bridge between science and art. I disagreed, believing that science actually acts like an obstacle to holographic art, causing would-be art lovers to be intimidated by the work. After hearing my talk Pierre was convinced, however, that he must become a holographile and start saving holograms.
In preparation for the talk one of the bits of information I had sought unsuccessfully was the use of holography by Salvador Dali, a notion that I had read about briefly. To my pleasant surprise, in my audience was Jean-Louis Trebillion, a French holographer who had worked directly with Dali for several months in producing one of his works. He also knew details about other holographic works of Dali. Later at the bonfire feast I cornered Jean-Louis who had already consumed enough beer to make him quite talkative. He described Dali’s admiration of Valasquez, and that Dali’s multiplex hologram was a use of Velasquez’s painting "Las Mininas" in a collage that also contained the words "Velasquez-Holos". Another work of Dali’s described by Jean-Louis was one of four astronauts playing cards and drinking beer.
The bonfire was the party of all parties. After we consumed three or four pigs that had roasted on the fire and who knows how much beer, a band struck up and dancing began. I had never seen dancing like this before. Dancers hit the floor running with and without partners doing a dance so lively, spinning and kicking so hard, it made one extremely tired (and thirsty) just to watch. I ended the night discussing a high level theory of photons with Pierre and Wolfgang. Fortunately, the castle was nearby and enough others were returning to it that we made it back without getting lost. Before I left the bonfire, I had agreed to go to a meeting in Lugano Switzerland in May, 2000. I imagine I will start regretting this discussion around April 2000.
We ended the conference with an impressive tour of the University of Warsaw school of micromechanics. I was impressed by the numbers of graduate students working in optics as well as the quality of the work and facilities.
Because my schedule in Poland had not left much time for touring, I did something that the WWT almost never does; I signed up for scheduled tours to begin a worldwind view of some of Poland. About 10 of us boarded a bus with a guide and began to see the main sights of Warsaw. Our guide packed 3000 years of Polish history into a few hours, and this worked surprisingly well.
One reason Warsaw differs from many other European cities is that 90% of the buildings were destroyed in WW2. In many instances, unlike other places that were bombed, Warsaw was dynamited. The Germans methodically drilled holes and dynamited almost everything. At the end of the war they actually considered moving on down the road and building a new Warsaw. Finally they decided to rebuild the old Warsaw. They did a pretty good job.
Our first stop was the Wilanow Palace, which includes some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. The palace itself is famous for its portrait galleries, which contain hundreds of portraits of the royalty as far back as the middle ages. The palace is also adorned with beautiful architecture, frescos, and furniture. The palace, already had the holes drilled for dynamite, but escaped destruction because of other priorities. What on earth kind of mentality could have led someone to choose to blow up this palace?
The tour passed many of the city galleries, churches, halls, and features that are now more like a blur. It ended at old town where we had a late lunch. Old town was one of the many places that had been dynamited into rubble by the Germans. All of this seemed to point out how outright mean the Germans had been. Old Town was fully restored to its original state in a 10 year construction project over protest by the Russians. Fortunately, a former king had commissioned an artist to fully document the city with accurate paintings and drawings that were still available to the renovators.
Clearly the Polish people really caught hell in the war. To add insult to injury, near the end, the Russians convinced the Polish to launch an all out attack on the Germans promising to move in and help. When they did, the Russians sat back, watched, and waited until the Polish had been essentially annihilated before finishing off the Germans and dominating Poland for the next thirty odd years.
I ended the day by attending a Ballet in the Warsaw National Theater, a beautiful building of classical Greek architecture and modern inside. The music was Chopin "Pianofortissimo" and the ballet was performed by about 100 dancers. Within 15 minutes of the beginning of the performance, I had relaxed so much that I closed my eyes to concentrate on the music. I was awakened by the applause for intermission. I took a brief walk outside to awaken my senses. The second half of the ballet was equally beautiful. As soon as the lights when down, I conked out again only to be awakened by the applause. I woke and clapped as loud as anyone.
I have been told by at least five or six people that Krakow is the jewel of Poland, that Warsaw is not very interesting, and to be sure and see Krakow. The next scheduled tour would begin on Friday morning. I would go from Warsaw to Krakow by train, be picked up by a guide, showed Krakow, then off to Auswitz then back to Warsaw the same day. I mistakenly concluded this was the only way to see Krakow efficiently. I will relate the experience to you only to let you know how NOT to do Krakow and Auswitz. Traveling in a normal way as the WWT I would spend at least three days in Krakow and one full day at Auswitz.
I rose at 5:30 AM to make sure I was on time for the 7 AM train to Krakow. I boarded the train with four Japanese, an Australian, and an Iranian who were joining me on the excursion. In Krakow we were met by a pleasant little old lady who seemed to know everything that had happened in Krakow since around 1100. And she told most of it to us in a non stop monologue that began from the time she greeted us at the station and continued non stop for the next 8 hours. There were at least two problems with this. Only the man who was next to her could hear and just keeping up with her was an all out race. At some times she was walking half a block in front of the entire pack, and I could see that she was still talking to the void.
Although this is not the best way to see Krakow, the process was efficient. She knew scheduling details that allowed us to see things that many tourists would miss. For example, in the Church of our Lady, a famous alter piece that traces Mary’s life from birth to accent into heaven, is opened each day at noon in a special service that is accompanied by music. The piece is spectacular, rising over thirty feet high, with larger than life figures, the largest altarpiece in Europe. We arrived at the church at 11:45, ordered hamburgers at a shop across the street, went into the church at 11:55, watched the opening, grabbed the burgers and ate them while chasing her down the street on the way to the Castle. At one point the Australian, realizing that a few Japanese were now over two blocks behind, convinced her to at least wait until they were in sight. Krakow Castle is an impressive structure. As we arrived, she allowed us five minutes for a pee break, then ran us through four floors of paintings and furniture in 55 minutes. By 1:30 we were back in the minibus and on our way to Auswitz.
Before WW2, 60,000 Jews lived in Krakow. Today there are 150. We toured the Jewish district which still has two synagogues. There are not even enough Jewish to make a weekly service in both synagogues.
Regardless of what is displayed and told, what happened at Auswitz is impossible to comprehend. Time after time, to have 2000 women and children strip naked then stuff them in a "shower" while they stand shoulder to shoulder and get gassed to death after which they are shaved and stripped of all golden teeth then cremated is difficult to grasp. Some of this starts to sink in when you see piles of shoes from the floor to the ceiling and over 50 tons of human hair ready to be turned into cloth. Outside the gates of Auswitz 1 is a gallows where Rudolph Hess, the engineer of Auswitz was hanged. This is one hanging I would like to have watched. Some how hanging seems to be much to light a sentence. I hope the devil is torturing the son of a bich today.
There were three areas at Auswicz, Auswicz 1,2, and 3, all with a few miles of each other. Auswicz 1 seemed to be the experimental prototype that was used to design the others more efficiently. My emotions covered anger, confusion, disbelief, sickness, fear, and pain as I walked through the compounds and torture chambers. How could such sick people have gotten in control of a nation of people as intelligent as the Germans?
I needed more time than the 2 hours at Auswitz. I needed time to make a better attempt at making this seem more real. I could not imagine walking down the same streets where such pain and horror existed for so long without the outside world knowing. To save time, Christine, convinced us to all hold our pee break until we arrived at Auswitz 2. At Auswitz 2 we peed and had 15 minutes to see where nearly 2 million people were tortured, killed and burned. Nevertheless, this place was on my mind for days afterward. I finally could understand better why the Jews fifty years later are still looking for the guys who were responsible. My Russian friends reminded me that although this was a horrible event, they were equally concerned about the ll million Russians who died fighting the paper hanging son of a bich.
I spent the next two days walking around Warsaw, both alone and with Polish friends. Warsaw is a good town to walk around in. The city is full of beautiful architecture, sculpture, art, parks, and interesting sights to see. One of the most relaxing is a park behind the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The park adorned with walks lined with statues, fountains, flowers, and trees. Old town is a 10 minute walk away.
On my way home I reflected on the overall experience and realized that I had experienced even for a short while what it can feel like to be the World’s Best Tourist. Don’t worry, however; I don’t think it will become a routine of mine.