Damien says that FLEA MARKET is a cool issue, and that we can find something interesting about it in Warsaw and be creative with this. I cannot say I am a big fan of going to such places: I went to Bazaar Rozycki on Zabkowska street in Praga district of Warsaw just once when I needed to buy birthday presents for my close friends and I dug out a champion cup (don’t remember in which sport) and a metal plate with an engraved Polish highlander’s head. Bazaar Rozycki is 20 meters from the place where we live and Carrefour is 100 meters from there.
Damien and me decide that the best neighbourhood to make interviews and to take pictures would be the flea market in Kolo district. Unfortunately trade is alive there only on weekends. Thus, I postponed my travelling planned for Friday to Saturday in order to help Damien inviting electro-punk band’s guitar player for our radio show, but anyway we did not use that Saturday for going to Kolo.
Praga dwellers get excited when telling old stories about Bazaar Rozycki
Instead we go to an improvised flea market near Hala Mirowska on Jana Pawla street on Wednesday. When we arrive at Hala Mirowska at 1 pm and we see only two policemen eating their sandwiches Damien says that usually people are selling their stuff right here. At that moment I get an SMS from our flat mate B. “Bazaar Rozycki traders are protesting on Bank square. I feel very young among them”. Bazaar Rozycki is what makes old dwellers of Praga district feel nostalgic. It was one of the most important places for informal trade in the city till the end of the communist rule. It was possible to buy everything there, from vodka to gold. And in the café Oaza on the other side of the street, one could have even hire a killer. When you have shots with old Praga dwellers and all of a sudden start asking questions about how was Praga 25 years ago, they get very excited and start showing their old tattoos and interrupt each other when trying to find metaphors on how important Bazar Rozycki was in the 1970-s and 1980-s.
Manifestation at Bank Square
Damien likes the idea of going to Bank Square and checking this manifestation out. “It is about various conflicting types of trade! Our flat mate B. can help us to talk with these people!” The manifestation is about granting Bazaar Rozycki a status of cultural heritage site which would partially protect it from aggressive investors. Historians of architecture, vendors, the market’s director and our flat mate B. are the most articulated interest groups. The historians argue for its patrimony and want to protect its current setting, the vendors want to keep their jobs and the director tries to make the bazaar competitive by all means in relation to Carrefour and fashionable clubs mushrooming in the district. We start running to Bank Square, yet after a moment we get another SMS from B. saying the protest lasted only 30 minutes and all people have already left.
Chats with the traders
Damien says “look, vendors are coming, they start putting their goods on the floor” when we come back to Jana Pawla street. Those goods are mostly second-hand clothes, second-hand toys and CDs without case. The first guy we meet does not turn away from us. It is R., a gentleman in his 70-s. After a minute of talking to him I realize that he is simply too old to turn away. In front of him lie about twenty old wrist-watches. He says he collects broken ones in the garbage, goes to the warehouse to buy spare parts, repairs them and comes to the surroundings of Hala Mirowska to sell them. He says he had a kiosk on Bazaar Rozycki in the past but now “there are no clients anymore”. When we say that Rozycki traders were just protesting on Bank Square, he finally uses his neck muscles to show that this is not interesting to him.
Damien says that this information is not enough for a creative reportage and encourages me to start a conversation with the other traders by mentioning Bazaar Rozycki and saying that we live just 20 meters from it. The couple we try to talk to next responds that they also used to have their kiosk on Bazaar Rozycki. Yet they are not really enthusiastic to talk to us and turn their heads right and left watching out for the police that comes over and fines the traders from time to time. Policemen are strolling towards McDonald’s and Damien and me are wondering why since they just had their sandwiches.
When I see a guy unfolding a carpet with the image of two boxers and the heading Minsk 1998. Boxing European Championship, I cannot resist and ask where he got it from. The guy mumbles something like “it’s not your business” but when he hears my East of Bug accent he tells me that his name is K. and that his wife is from the surroundings of Minsk. It appears that he used to have his kiosk on Bazaar Rozycki too, but currently Bazaar Rozycki is nothing, “not like in the 1980-s”. Damien wants to take a picture of K. holding the Minsk carpet. For this I creatively buy the carpet and say that I would be happy to have something with the image of two boxers and the heading Minsk 1998. European Championship in my room, while Damien is using his 1000 Euro Nikon. Afterwards we try to talk more about Praga and Bazaar Rozycki but the guy loses his interest – rough guys do not talk loudly about Praga to the strangers, they just reservedly show that it hurts. Some of those who are nostalgic about old days in Praga district are also nostalgic about old semi-criminal hierarchies. And if you are a rough guy but do not have a reason for being nostalgic about for old semi-criminal hierarchies, it is still better to show that you are nostalgic.
The first person who grabs us and tries to continue the conversation himself by all means (usually by repeating what he has already said) is Pomidorczyk. Damien suggests me to ask the guy if he can take a picture of him with his 1000 Euro Nikon. Pomidorczyk refuses by saying “I have already been interviewed on TV. Ask all these people, they have seen it”. Now Pomidorczyk is selling second-hand trousers and old toys but he says he made an entire fortune in the 1990-s buying Belarusian or Russian cigarettes and vodka in Bialystok (Eastern Poland), where he is from, or Kaliningrad and selling them in Hamburg, Berlin and Brussels, staying in the best hotels and going to the best brothels. Pomidorczyk repeatedly uses Russian and German words necessary for buying and selling proper amounts of alcohol and cigarettes.
Damien nods his approval when I say that Putin and Schröder should have had addressed the values and needs of the commuting population of Polish borderlands. It would probably have helped to pacify the hostile perception of Russia and Germany in Poland, and maybe even to make Poles from the centre feeling more comfortable in between their own East and West. Pomidorczyk has another sip of cheap wine from his second-hand Nestea plastic bottle. In a while police comes, shuts the market down and Pomidorczyk invites us to come with him. We go to a shop and he fills his Nestea bottle with another litre of cheap wine. After another two sips he remembers that he is invited for dinner. We also head home discussing the carpet we bought.
“some guy was filming … I … took his camera and sold it”
Damien is just claiming that he still plans to go to Kolo market on the weekend after having told the carpet story to our flat mates, when door bell rings. It is Pani K., our neighbour and one of the most experienced traders from Bazaar Rozycki. She was so impressed that our flat mate B. attended “her manifestation” in the afternoon that decided to have a couple of shots in our kitchen. She reeks of alcohol and shows that she is looking for money to send one of us to buy vodka from the shop next door. None of us wants to drink, and the bottle of beer we bought when going to shop with Pomidorczyk saves us. Pani K. is drinking her beer from a tea cup and talks about her patriotism in relation to Bazaar Rozycki and hence in relation to old Praga too.
Flea market in Kolo district.
Damien is quiet because he does not understand much Polish. No one knows what Pani K. does exactly on the Bazaar, i.e. what she sells, where she gets her goods from or how much she earns. When one of our friends started talking to her about it, she shut him down by “it’s not your fucking business”. However we all know that she is excessively anxious about new set-ups of trade coming to Praga district, that she knows all the locals and that no one can stop her from defending the Bazaar. We talk about people preferring Carrefour to Bazaar Rozycki, about old Praga inhabitants one dying after another, about developers, who regard the bazaar simply as a good location for investment and as a real estate for building a hotel. Pani K. says that we are too young and do not know even 1 percent of what she knows about Praga. Before leaving she says again: “But I will protest and no one will stop me. You know, 3 years ago there was a manifestation on the bazaar and some guy was filming it. I broke his face, took his camera and sold it. Although I broke my hand, I would do it again if I had an occasion!”
We do not translate it to Damien who is playing with his 1000 Euro Nikon in the corner.
Text by Siarhei Liubimau
Pictures by Damien Brailly