Journey to the Slightly Eastern Pole

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. As far as school assignments go, this has got to be the most bizarre, Mr.Bean-like (for those of you who had a healthy helping of British comedy growing up) experience I’ve ever had.

I guess I’ll begin with my journey into Greenpoint, where the United States’ second largest Polish enclave wages its unending war against gentrification. I decided to walk over from the L train instead of transferring to the Green line because I hate subway stations, so instead of some Alice In Wonderland deal where I pop up out of the ground into a brand new sparkly neighborhood, I sort of waded out of Williamsburg and into Little Poland.

Aside from a minor detour where I accidentally trespassed into the Acme Smoked Fish factory, the journey over was quite uneventful. I’d imagined the Polish-ness of the place would be subtle so I kept a sharp eye out for anything Pole and quickly took note of the subtle shift of storefronts and flyers. However, it wasn’t until I passed McCarren Park that I suddenly felt like I had left the dusty faux vintage storefronts of “hipster” Brooklyn.

What struck me first was this Polish only travel agency. It wasn’t strictly “POLES ONLY, EVERYONE ELSE TAKE YOUR DIRTY MONEY ELSEWHERE”, more of a “Everything is written in Polish for a reason” type deal. Asides from the obvious linguistic disparity, I also noted the different style of decoration. Whereas Williamsburg storefronts somehow turned rustic Americana into a formula, these storefronts were easy going and whimsical.
Screen Shot 2016-10-04 at 1.19.54 AM.png

It’s difficult to explain exactly why, but the little paper cutouts gave me a sense of open wholesomeness. Probably because it reminded me of kindergarten.

I did end up going into a little gift/book shop for directions to the nearest Polish speaking church and staying for a bit. I was amazed by the vast collection of Polish books they had in stock, as well as traditional handicrafts and I ❤ Poland tshirts (which I bought in exchange for photos). The lady at the shop helpfully told me that today was actually the Polish Parade in Manhattan, which was why so many shops were shuttered and churches had different service hours.

Being in that shop, however, kind of gave me a jolt of understanding of affect. Massumi, or rather Spinoza, defines affect as “an impingement upon the body” (Massumi 31), which I initially understood somewhat superficially. An example I might’ve given would be how a gun would make me feel uneasy, despite being inherently benign without interaction with another body. I understood that, but I don’t think I really felt it for myself with the idea of affect in my head until I was in that little store, surrounded by kitschy figurines and red and white tracksuits. The objects, their placement, their position to each other, all reflect a person’s life, their habits, their cultures, their subconscious quirks. Each object, with its own meaning, whether imposed upon by human hands or poetically brought forth, constitutes what Deleuze calls a rhizome, a “body without organs” (Deleuze 4). All together their, for the lack of a better word, aura create the homely familiarity of Poland for the immigrant store owners, but individually, they hold their own vitality.

Another example of this that I encountered that day was at a senior home a couple of blocks away from the store. I saw a couple of old men in military uniform, which piqued my interest and drove me to ask them for their photo. They ended up inviting me inside to their Polish Parade after party and made me drink a toast with them (to Polish pride I suppose?). Maybe I just wanted to tell the story of how I accidentally crashed a veterans reunion party and made friends with a couple of old fellows, but I’d have to point out that his wardrobe gave off an affect that would otherwise have not drawn my attention to him and made him seem more important than the other Polish speaking old men in the area.

Screen Shot 2016-10-04 at 2.37.28 AM.png

“Can I have your photo-” “DRINK FIRST”

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique 31 (1995): 83-109. Web.



~ by ml4372 on October 4, 2016.

2 Responses to “Journey to the Slightly Eastern Pole”

  1. Best in engagement. This post is an excellent piece of creative nonfiction commonly known as the Personal in the Journalistic. You speak with people in your ecology, ask questions, laugh, understand. Without both you and the people you met, the third, unique thing, this post, would be much different.

  2. Best engagement: I think this is such an interesting topic and you did a great job of helping me to understand some of the affect that you experienced without explicitly saying so. The bit that goes, “What struck me first was this Polish only travel agency. ….. Whereas Williamsburg storefronts somehow turned rustic Americana into a formula, these storefronts were easy going and whimsical.” was awesome, it was immediately very engaging and pulled me into the location. You were really able to convey your experience and your voice while still tying in the readings and taking notice of the affect of your location. -Anna

Comments are closed.