Young Poland

WILLIAM MORRIS (1834-1896) was amongst other things a textile designer, printer, writer, and a Socialist. He was closely associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement which lasted from the late 19th century into the early 20th. This movement can be considered part of the wider Art Nouveau/Jugendstil movements on the mainland of Europe. Morris’s Socialist leanings were embodied in his desire to make beautiful objects available to people of all social classes. His creations were not purely aesthetic but also politically motivated.

As a child, Morris lived in a grand Georgian house in northeast London’s Walthamstow district between 1848 and 1856. This became the home of the publisher Edward Lloyd (1815-1890) between 1857 and 1885. Today, this building is the home of the William Morris Gallery, which has several rooms dedicated to exhibits illustrating the achievements of Morris and his movement. It also hosts temporary exhibitions. One of these, which we visited today on its final day, the 30th of January 2022, was aptly housed in a building dedicated to such an important person in the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Between 1795 and soon after WW1, Poland did not exist as an independent country; its territories were divided amongst the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian empires. Polish language and nationalistic aspirations were suppressed. Between about 1890 and 1918, the Young Poland movement flourished. It was a wide-ranging artistic development with many similarities to what was happening in the Arts and Crafts Movement that was initiated by John Ruskin and William Morris. Just as Morris was concerned that industrialisation and mass-production might lead to the loss of beauty associated with the works of traditional craftsmen; this was also the worry expressed by members of the Young Poland movement. Like Morris and his collaborators, Young Poland was also hoping to expose all social groups to objects of beauty. As a placard in the exhibition explains:

“Like William Morris, Young Poland makers believed in cultural democracy: that everyone had a right to beauty in daily life; the spiritual benefits of handiwork; and the equal value of all the arts irrespective of materials or techniques used.”

The Young Poland movement had another motive in addition to making beauty available for all. Many of their creations illustrated and celebrated aspects of Polish tradition and national pride. It was not only an artistic movement but a fairly subtle way of expressing the desire for independence of the Polish people and Roman Catholicism during a time when more overt nationalistic expressiveness would have attracted adverse reactions from the invaders, who were then dominating the Poles.

The exhibition was large enough to be spread over several rooms. The exhibits, most of which came from collections in Poland,  are stylistically similar to what was produced in the British Arts and Crafts Movement are beautiful as well as being typically Polish in subject matter. The artists and the various subdivisions of the Young Poland movement are summarised in the gallery’s website (https://youngpolandartsandcrafts.org.uk/exhibition/).  One of the many works, which I liked and that illustrates the nationalist sentiments of Young Poland, was a painting, “Dawn at the Foot of Wawel Hill”, by Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907). He was, like Morris, a polymath. The picture depicts Wawel Hill in Krakow during the time when this area of the city was being used as a barracks by the Austrian occupiers. The picture is in muted drab colours except for one bright light on a lamppost. The glowing lamp represents the Poles’ eternal hope for independence, which was only achieved in 1918, 24 years after the painting was completed.

One room in the exhibition is dedicated to drawings and paintings by the playwright Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (1891-1945), who died in Manchester (UK) having come to England from Poland in 1939. Although she would have been too young to have been a member of Young Poland, her rarely seen artworks were included, according to the gallery’s website, because:

“These bold and intimate watercolours feature fantastical and macabre elements inspired by Polish folk traditions.”

It was these traditions that also are reflected in the works by the Young Poland creators.

The exhibition was both fascinating and uplifting. I am glad we managed to see it and hope that it will be held again somewhere so that all of you reading this will not have to miss out on what was a wonderful experience.

Boy meets girl: dining in Bradford

BRADFORD IN YORKSHIRE is a vibrant multi-ethnic city. Many of its inhabitants have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. We found that many of these people with subcontinental ancestry regard themselves as neither Pakistani nor Indian, but Kashmiri.

International restaurant in Bradford

When we first visited Bradford a few years ago, we were itching to try the local restaurants serving what is generally called “Indian food”, regardless of whether it has been cooked by an Indian, or a Pakistani, or a Bangladeshi, or even a Kashmiri. As we drove from the station to our hotel in a taxi, we asked the driver, who was of Kashmiri descent, where he thought we would get good Indian food. He recommended ‘X’ in Bradford and ‘Y’ in nearby Shipley. A couple of other people, of whom we asked the same question, both recommended X. With three different recommendations for X, we decided to book it for that evening.

When I phoned the restaurant, a lady answered. I asked to book a table for two. Then, she asked:

“Is it two males or a male and a female?”

Puzzled, I replied:

“A male and a female.”

When we reached the restaurant, we were given a nice table. We had arrived at X with high expectations and good appetites. It was a pleasant restaurant with obliging staff. However, we were served one of the worst meals I have ever eaten in a restaurant serving Indian food. After this experience, we did not try another ‘Indian’ restaurant in Bradford.

During that unsatisfactory meal, the head waiter or manager came up to our table to ask if all was well. Politely, we replied that it was, but my Indian wife, who had seen ladies entering the restaurant but disappearing up a flight of stairs, remarked:

“I have noticed that apart from those little girls with their father, I am the only woman in this room. It does not bother me, but it is a bit strange.”

The head waiter looked perturbed and said:

“Sorry, so very sorry. You should not have been given a table in here. I was not aware of your arrival. Had I greeted you, I would not have seated you in here. It is reserved for men, and sometimes they can get rowdy. Can I move you to another table?”

We said that we were happy where we were. After the man left, we wondered how it was possible that men could get rowdy in a halal restaurant that clearly did not serve alcohol. At the end of the meal, we noticed that there was another section of the restaurant where men and women could dine together, a sort of ‘family room’. We also noticed that groups of women unaccompanied by men were directed to another part of the restaurant on the floor above. While the food at X was memorably poor, the experience was far from dull.

Recently, in September 2021, we revisited Bradford. There, we met our Polish host. Remembering our unfortunate experience at X, we thought it would be fun to try something different, a Polish restaurant perhaps. We asked Pavel if he could recommend one. To which he replied:

“There used to be a Polish restaurant here, but it’s closed. Anyway, I don’t like Polish food. You should eat curry here. Try the International. It’s just around the corner and gets good reviews on Tripadvisor.”

In view of our previous ‘Indian’ meal in Bradford, we entered the bustling International with some trepidation. When the food arrived, our fears evaporated rapidly. We were served some of the best ‘Indian’ food we have ever eaten in the UK. The portions were enormous, and we noticed that at every other table, diners were taking home the remains of their meals in packages. We also noticed that at almost every table, diners had ordered chips (French fries) with their ‘Indian’ dishes. The restaurant’s owner, the son of its founder who opened it 50 years ago, told us that in Bradford:

“These young people eat chips, pizzas, and burgers all the time; sometimes they don’t even eat curry.”

We asked him whether the International was an Indian or a Pakistani restaurant. He told us that it is the latter, but he and most of his staff are Kashmiri.

Tandoori king prawns at the International

We enjoyed the International so much that we returned there for dinner on the following day. Once again, we enjoyed first class food served in huge portions. Thinking of the tandoori king prawns and lamb chops makes my mouth water as I write this piece.

On both occasions, we sat at tables on the ground floor. On the second evening, our table was next to a staircase leading to an upper floor, which we were told was used for parties. Both waiters bearing trays loaded with dishes of food and also customers continuously dashed up and down the stairs. At one point in the evening, a group of heavily bearded Asian men dressed in loose fitting robes, Pathan suits or similar, began ascending the stairs. One of them looked down at us, an Asian and European dining together, and we saw him smile and then heard him say:

“Boy meets girl.”

Espresso in Ealing

Until a couple of years ago, I considered that the very best coffee served in London could only be found in a few coffee bars, all of which were Italian (e.g. Bar Italia, Lina Stores, and The Algerian Coffee House in Soho; the Portobello Garden Café in Portobello Road), Portuguese (e.g. Lisboa Café in Golborne Road and Madeira Star in Lambeth), or Spanish (e.g. Brindisa near Borough Market). I still consider all of these as good choices for excellent coffee, but need to add another to my list.

A Polish born receptionist working at the dental practice where I used to practise dentistry, suggested that a restaurant in Ealing called ‘Sowa’ (means ‘owl’ in Polish) served good Polish food. We visited this place, but were not impressed by the food. Much better Polish food can be obtained at Café Maja in POSK, the Polish Centre in King Street, Hammersmith.

The well-appointed restaurant at Sowa adjoins a café, which is part of the same establishment. Unlike the restaurant that fails to shine, the café is magnificent. The coffee served here in all forms (espresso, cappuccino, latte, etc.) is at least as good as that we have drunk in the best of the Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish coffee houses in London. Having visited Sowa too many times to remember, I can safely say that the high quality of its coffee never wavers. 

Sowa’s café also offers a mouth-watering range of highly tempting pastries and cakes. It seems in general that the Polish have a magical touch when it comes to making these delightful accompaniments to coffee.

So, if you are in Ealing, ignore every other café, and head for Sowa.

PS: Next door to Sowa, there is a lovely Polish delicatessen that offers a wide range of salamis, hams, and other cooked meats, as well as other Polish food items.

Sowa: 33 High St, London W5 5DB

NB: I have no interest financial or otherwise in Sowa. I am simply a content customer!