Sunday, July 28, 2013

Warsaw After Dark: Moonlight Feels Right

Don't you know what the night can do?

I'm convinced that for big, bustling cities lacking in drop-dead beauty during regular business hours, sunset offers the best possible makeover. After a first day in Warsaw spent being rubbed the wrong way by cranky locals who didn't get any nicer in the gloaming or after (with the exception of the gay men at Toro and the taxi driver who asked if it was okay for his teenage sun to ride along and then proceeded to try to tempt me with a flyer for a local girls girls girls nudie show), my view of Warsaw began to improve when the sun went down.

All it took were a few spotlights hitting buildings at just the right angle. I started to realize that part of my initial negative reaction to Warsaw was architecture shock. I had known it would be quite different from Berlin, but I was expecting something more along the lines of clusters of pointy Gothic buildings that look like something out of a medieval fairytale. While there's certainly a vintage side, particularly in the old town and down the city-center streets that branch off from Aleje Jerozolimskie, Warsaw doesn't resemble something out of the 1950s or 1960s (as does Berlin in many parts), much less the Middle Ages.

English is not as widely spoken in Warsaw as in Berlin, and that cute sidewalk cafe, if you can find one, is less likely to have Wi Fi, but Warsaw feels more urban and modern, with all of the automobile traffic and open-all-night eateries and convenience stores that entails. I even saw some AC units in several windows along Ulica MarszaƂkowska, and the blasts of cool air blowing from the wall units at Toro meant that, unlike the sidewalk outside Marietta in Berlin, the ground-floor outdoor area wasn't the only place to be.

If I were to compare Berlin and Warsaw to New York City neighborhoods, Berlin, with its manicured facade and quiet gracefulness, would be the West Village, while Warsaw, grimier and far more rock & roll, would be the East Village. Or to compare them to phases in the history of Depeche Mode, the band that performed in Warsaw the day before my arrival, Berlin is '80s DM, measured and controlled with perfectly spiked and moussed coiffures -- if she were a guy, he'd have a new-wave hairstyle. Warsaw, meanwhile, is DM in the '90s, all roughed-up edges, with guitars in the mix.

Alas, with modernization comes a certain level of anonymity. Warsaw could be any European city with skyscrapers. Berlin is more distinctive and loaded with character, far easier to pick out in a crowd of cities. Though it's larger and more heavily populated than Warsaw, it seems smaller. Berlin is more global in scope, yet it has more of a neighborhood feel. It's okay that it doesn't get dark until well after 10pm in the summer (in contrast, night fell on Warsaw before 9.30 on my first day in town). Berlin still looks beautiful in the harshest sunlight.

That lucky old sun (which retreated behind storm clouds late in the afternoon of my arrival, resulting in my first brush with rain since I left Bangkok) is even more fortunate in Warsaw, where there is far less to detract from its beams. But if sister moon is going to outshine architecture that looms somewhat unremarkably by day but glows majestically in the dark, she has her work cut out for her.

Warsaw's Buenos Aires Connection: On the first night I went to a club called Toro (Spanish for "bull," my astrological sign, and the image that's tattooed on my right bicep) and met a guy named Tomasz. On the second night, Tomasz took me to a club called Glam, which happens to the name of the first nightclub that I ever loved in Buenos Aires. As you can see below, the kids in Warsaw, like the ones in BA, are not the greatest dancers!

Swedes Are Hot in Poland, Too: "I Follow Rivers" by Lykke Li (as heard in Glam) almost made me forget that I still haven't heard "I Love It" by Icona Pop here.

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