Friday 20 March 2015

Dramatic Polish Gloom

 Model Pretend Daughter-in-Law
It's Polski Piątek here on "Edinburgh Housewife", and our subject today is the Polish tango because Julia, a half-Pole in Australia, has never heard of it. Down in London Polish Pretend Son probably choked on his cigarette smoke when he read that.

Incidentally Polish Pretend Son is Single but picky (as should you all be), so if you are Polish-positive and greatly resemble Pola Negri, please send me an email with a personal photo attached. Fiery temper encouraged. Denim-wearing right out. 

Here is a link to a post on Polish tango, and now I shall make some characteristic observations.

First, Poland finally regained its independence in 1918, only to be blotted from the face of the earth by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in September of 1939. Thus the Polish tango craze coincided with, and was the soundtrack to, the entire existence of the Second Polish Republic.

Having done nothing but keep the flame of Polishness alive for 150 years, the Poles gave themselves permission to relax and check out foreign stuff. And the foreign stuff they apparently liked best was Argentina's tango. Why?

Just so I am not the only one to make outrageous generalizations, here is another, even more fanciful, post on that subject. And to put my biases on the table in plain sight, the first things I ever heard about the Poles as a child was that 1. they were suicidally brave, 2. my Polish courtesy uncle was said to be a lady-killer: "a very devil with women", 3. they were living in utter poverty under Soviet oppression.  In short, courageous, dangerously attractive, poor and oppressed.

Because Uncle Lady-Killer never set foot in church, I did not know that the majority of Poles were, despite all the Marxism around, devout Catholics. However, I know now that in 1919, if you were not Jewish, Ukrainian or a German living in the Second Republic, you were a Latin Catholic. And if there was one thing that all Latin Catholics could agree on in 1919, it was that sexual attraction was delightful but dangerous and could get you into all kinds of trouble, ultimately sending you straight to hell. And this is what tango is all about.

Here follows Seraphician Rant Against Tango Dancing:

Having a romantic and fatalistic disposition, I greatly enjoy reading Polish tango lyrics, which are all about suicide, fog, break-ups, petty crime, defeat by rivals and emotional anguish. However, I do not like the dance because I was once seriously involved with a very good tango dancer who was also a control freak. Tango as an expression of male dominance in intimate relationships is not attractive to me, a woman who has suffered abuse in a male-dominated intimate relationship.

If you have been surrounded by milquetoasts your whole life, or merely by men who are so awed by you that they give you little presents and obey your every command, then--okay--being pushed and pulled firmly around a dance floor by a man you are nestled up against might be rather thrilling. Certainly I have met enough tango fanatics to know that there is something about it all--perhaps the music, perhaps the sexual ideal they are chasing--that inspires and consoles them. But the idea makes me want to kick something. My super-romantic role at a tango gathering would be to wear a lot of black eye-liner, drink vodka and brood amidst the ruins of my youth.

"Come and dance, Pani Anielska."

"Nie! Już nidgy! Never again..."

"You have been hurt, then, by some horrible tango dancer of your youth?"

"Ah, my friend, I could tell you such a tale it would make a statue weep. Give me your palm, and I will read your future. O Boże! What do I see?!"

End of Rant.

Tango, it occurs to me, is the ultimate rebellion against feminism, political correctness and the pious cheer of the Theology of the Body, which brings me to Saint John Paul II and back to the Catholic-dominated Poland of 1919-1939.  And I think it is enormously funny that large numbers of Catholic Poles danced the tango on Saturday nights, thrilling to dark romantic fantasies about suicide, drug addiction, crime and betrayal and then went to Mass on Sunday morning and sincerely prayed their hearts out. It shows the contrariness of human nature and also the devotion to emotional sensation  a Slovene acquaintance of mine called "the Slavic Soul."

"This next piece," he said, hands poised over his piano, "expresses the Slavic Soul."

He opened his eyes wide as he said "the Slavic Soul", and  his face took on an expression of intolerable mental anguish.  He then plunged into something complicated and Russian. I first fell in love with him when I was fourteen, and later when I was twenty-six. Fortunately he never noticed, and so we are still friends.

I suppose the nice thing about tango, from a traditional Catholic perspective, is that it is incredibly sexual without actually being a sin. Arguably. I knew a old lady, raised in a Portuguese convent, who was forbidden by the nuns to play tangos on the piano. And as Sister Faustina ran away from a dance in 1924, I suspect that the band was playing a tango. In our day, traditionalist Catholics have had kittens over tango masses, and I am positive Polish tango aficionados wouldn't like them either. The Poles of 1938 would be scandalized.  Mixing up tangos with church takes the fun out of one and honest piety out of the other.

So tango, I argue, appealed to the religious and cultural sensibilities of the Second Polish Republic, including those of the Jewish minority, whence came a large number of the composers, lyricists and musicians. 

Now, of course, Polish tango epitomizes the mostly vanished Second Republic and the whole interwar period, with its good manners, piety, national pride, smart fashions, beach resorts, inexpensive servants, etc, etc. I say "mostly" for it still flames in the hearts of Polish Young Fogeys like Polish Pretend Son, who sported a waxed-pointed moustache until it caught on with hipsters, and then he shaved it off.

"He prefers to behave as if it were perpetually 1938," I explained to a  trio of Polish young ladies when he had left the table for a smoke. These were very young and modern Polish young ladies, and yet they all fell silent at the thought of 1938. The most Pola Negri-looking one had tattoos, but for a moment they seemed to fade away.

At last she broke the silence.

"If that were true, Poland would be very rich," she said.

"Yeah," said her blonde hipster roommate, nodding vigorously.

We all sighed.

Take it away, Sława:

(That's Pola Negri again in the photo.)


  1. Dear Seraphic,
    I seriously suspect that your Soul is Polish... Another great article! Thank you. Polka

  2. Dziękuję bardzo! Wait until you read my childhood romance story! :-D

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  4. That's not tango!!! That's old-people-Polish-club music!!! (Or was that your point all along...?)

    This is tango (well, Tango Nuevo, at least, which some purists argue is not real tango, but whatever, it's realer than Polish Tango):

    Well, PPS might have choked on his cigar smoke, but I just asked my father (you know, the one with Polish parents) what Polish Tango is and he had no idea. Really, I think PPS would hate my guts.

    Am I Polish-positive? Well, in the sense that I'm not racist I suppose I am!

    I do not resemble Pola Negri -- I'm too blonde and green-eyed.

    I don't have a fiery temper (I think.)

    I don't wear denim, though. I'm right with PPS on that one.

    So...two out of four ain't bad??? :P

    Also, I am freaking out about my trip to Poland next year because all I read about online is that all Polish women are SUPERBABES and GODDESSES and all English-speaking women are TROLLS and whatever. So I asked my father if Polish women are super-beautiful. He says no. He thought that English women were the most beautiful, at least back in 1974. But anyway, I am expecting my trip to Poland to be a totally ego-crushing disaster of an experience. It's funny. I get told frequently that I look Polish/Slavic, and then I keep hearing that Polish women are soooooo super-pretty, but I am certainly not considered pretty in Australia, so is there some sub-group of Polish women who missed out on the good-looking genes?

    I'm so terrified of PPS that I think I would just about wet myself if I met him. He's even scarier than my Aussie Young Fogey friends.

  5. On a side note: has anyone seen the new Polish-made film "Ida"? It's set in post-war Poland, and concerns a young about to enter the convent when she is told what happened to her family in the war. One reviewer said that is "faith confronting nihilism." The review was haunting--it's in black and white, very atmospheric. I can't wait to see the whole movie!

  6. Also, the music--whether you call it Polish tango or old-people-club-music--is awesome and I love it ;-)

  7. Julia, I look everywhere for these supermodel women in Poland and have seen exactly two. The young women are almost always slim, it is true, but they usually look either pretty or just like regular girls. But Polish men are a lot more conscious of women than English-speaking men, and goodness, the sultry looks I have got, even at Mass, and me an old married lady. I think this is because of my foreign glamour, so trust to your foreign glamour. But it is probably also because they are more likely to notice if you look at them. It's like they can hear you think "Oh, he's rather cute."

    But PPS is pretty terrifying. I am terrified of him myself. And yet various women scratch each other's eyes out to get near him and then flop before his feet, creating large piles of women he has to climb over to get to an ashtray, etc.

    1. Are you serious? Ugh. Sometimes I really hate female behaviour. And I can just imagine the contempt with which PPS regards those women. And to be honest, it doesn't sound like PPS needs any further reason to be contemptuous of people (you will note, PPS, that I wrote "it doesn't SOUND like..." and not "it isn't as if...", and feel free to step in to defend yourself.)

    2. Well, no, not contempt. Just a kind of boredom. And he almost NEVER comments. In fact, I think he has commented exactly once, and even then I am not sure as it was anonymous. Amusingly there is no blog evidence that he exists.

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