Monday, July 23, 2007
Poland: Klezmer Festival in Kazimierz Dolny
This past week in Budapest has been one long kanikula, or heat wave, and I have had no energy to set foot outside, much less post anything. Temperatures reached 41 centigrade (107 degrees farenheit) in Hungary setting an all time record. After a week of that the heat finally broke with a cool, fresh wind blowing in last night and today seems positively invigorating with temperatures around a mere 85-90 degrees farenheit. This was somwhat in contrast to the weather we had up in poland two weeks ago when we went up to teach and play at a Klezmer Music festival in Kazimierz-Dolny: cold, rainy, and from our present viewpoint, eminently preferable.Kazimierz Dolny is located about two hours from Warsaw, just by Lublin, and it is a pretty little old market town that owes its preservation to the fact that it was the site of one of the royal castles founded by King Kazimier of Poland. Kazimierz is basically an artist colony, and fills up on weekends when the yuppies of Warsaw come in for a weekend of pushing baby strollers alongside the Wistula river.Every day I taught a klezmer music workshop to a group of about twelve young Polish music students. Klezmer in Poland is quite popular - it represents a previously unkown, exotic-yet-local music tradition to young Poles, who show an active interest in learning about the traditions of the Jews who were once at the heart of small-town Polish life before WWII. As for the Klezmer music, well, Polish klezmer, like so much European klezmer, is a fantasy music with very little connection to anything Jews ever played at weddings. I was hired on to fix that situation, armed with music from Naftule Brandwein, German Goldenshteyn, and the Belf Orchestra.The students were actually surprised that anybody was actually teaching them Jewish music - modes, niggunim, wedding lore - instead of just piling on the melodies. Like young musicians anywhere, they tended to play fast, whereas in Klezmer you can increase intensity without increasing speed by using ornaments, phrasing, and accompaniment tricks. After a few days they seemed to "get it." The festival was sponsored by the Restaurant U Fryzera, which is housed in a beautiful old style wooden building in Polish folk style. The festival policy was that whatever the musicians wanted - food or drink - they would get for free at the U Fryzera. This included pierogis from the outdoor pierogi bar next to the festival tent. The meat and wild mushroom filled ones won the award...Since it was raining and cold almost every day, soup filled the bill, often a Polish zurek, a creamy sour soup made from fermented rye grains filled with frankfurter bits...Every Polish town seems to have at least one "Jewish Style" restuarant serving "historical" dishes such as latkes, chopped liver, cholent, or kasha varnishkes. These are usually prepared from some anonymous hobby cookbook... because they don't ever seem to resemble anything I ever saw Jews eat. Chopped liver at these places is exactly that - chopped liver, chopped eggs, chopped onions arranged in attractive layers on a plate. Jewish chopped liver, however, gets mixed into a mashed mess suitable for making into statues of Bar Mitzvah boys and is spread on TamTam crackers... so stick with the herring. Our hosts, however, are used to serving Poles, who easily wolf down a half kilo platter of herring in a serving and consider it the salad course!