Hidden Warsaw: The Night Market

The following article was written after a visit to Warsaw’s night market in the summer of 2016. I’d made contact with a local foodie who promised to take us to some of Warsaw’s most interesting food stops. He didn’t disappoint…

I give the taxi-driver the address; he is perplexed. “Do you know the Night Market?” I ask. He shrugs his shoulders. It is clearly not on the tourist map. En route he points out Stalin’s baroque Palace of Culture and Science, glowing indigo. The 3300-room high-rise looms over us, and I begin to fret as the elegant buildings thin out, and I enter unfamiliar territory. I am dropped off in Wola (pronounced “Vola”), once the industrial heart of Communist Warsaw. Next to me is the husk of the old central station. From 1945 until the regime fell, it was the hub for trains to Moscow and Eastern Europe. Now, all is quiet and still. There is a disused goods yard behind me. The streets are wide and empty, lined with construction sites, and very poorly lit.

Thankfully, my guide, Marcin appears out of the gloom. He’s tall, stocky, and somewhat resembles a lumberjack. With his shaven head he’s quite intimidating, but he is grinning behind his full Slavic beard. A lecturer in food studies at Warsaw University, he also describes himself as a guerrilla street-food vendor. I walk with Marcin towards the end of the goods yard, past high, graffiti-covered walls. I spy a gap in the fence, and through it, crowds of people who are illuminated by flashes of pink and green light. I find myself immediately on a sunken platform. Hanging from a corrugated metal roof is a neon sign announcing Nodzne (night) Market, a pop-up market that will last as long as the warmer evenings allow.


Source: Facebook.com/NocnyMarket

As proprietor of the underground Asian Food Foundation, Marcin regularly swaps his double denim, not for a chef’s overalls, but for a chemist’s lab goggles. “They protect my eyes,” he explains. He shows me a picture of himself behind a wok sizzling with lemongrass and coconut. His latest dish is a slow-cooked beef heart rendang, derived from travels in Malaysia. His cooking often brings him more money over a single weekend than the average teacher’s monthly salary. Many of the stalls here are also Asian-inspired, but tonight Marcin’s usual spot has been replaced by a tapas stand. There are pickled herrings on toast alongside the patatas bravas: a strong, acetous scent lingers in the nostrils.

“It’s not just about food,” says Marcin, as he buys a single oyster. He sups raspberry vinegar and shallots from the shell. “This is a place for people to hang out, to be seen. It’s a lifestyle market.” He nods towards the tattoo parlour and the barber shop. The stalls have names like Oyster Hooligans, Viper Sniper and Cool Cat. They share a minimalist, design-conscious style, most with logos in black and white. A DJ wearing a vintage 80s jacket and silver headphones dances behind rainbow-lit decks. Giant speakers vibrate next to people lounging in pink deckchairs set alongside electric cable-reel tables. There are long queues at the vodka bar and the wine bar. Beyond, the ghost of the railway station stretches into the night; lush undergrowth has crept all the way up to the tracks.

Marcin swallows the oyster and takes me to meet his friend Bitos, who co-owns the Viet Street Food van. Bitos has been living in Poland since 1990 when his parents left North Vietnam, along with thousands of others, in a second wave of immigration. They were attracted by Poland’s emerging capitalist society. “There’s a range of Vietnamese food in Warsaw,” Bitos says, “But it’s PoleViet, not true Vietnamese.” He makes me a Banh Mi, which he offers as an example of authenticity. It’s a baguette; a reminder of Vietnam’s French colonial past. It’s crammed full of Vietnamese ham, coriander, hot sauce, pickled carrot and kohlrabi. It’s zingy and exciting, although I’m rather full and regretting the gnocchi I had before coming to the market. Marcin is watching my reaction. I have to eat it all.

He selects a bottle of Primitivo, and we sit down at a makeshift table. Eyeing the cement pillars and corrugated iron, I wonder aloud: What was it like to live under martial law? As a child of ten, Marcin says he experienced the world through a diet of Communist-approved TV programmes. His favourite, Life on Earth, showed him what lay beyond the soldiers and the economic hardship on the streets. “Warsaw couldn’t be more different now,” he laughs, and pours the last drop of wine into my glass. As the evening ends, I walk past Oyster Hooligans, Cool Cat, and the Viet Food van. I go back through the gap in the fence. The lights, the music and the voices from the old platform fade into the night.


The Ghostly Lugger and Other Goonhilly Folk Tales

On 26th September, I ran family creative writing workshops as part of Goonhilly Village Green, a wonderful project merging art, science, nature and community. Together we explored the flora and fauna of the heath and talked about its history and its ghostly tales before creating stories and characters (human and otherwise) to populate the imaginary sixth parish of Goonhilly. Originally inspired by the legend of Croft Pasco pool – in which a ghostly lugger inexplicably appears when the moon is full – participants of all ages created a collection of their own haunting tales.

In the stories, you can meet the giant Arthur, who created Croft Pasco pool by hurling rocks between the sea and an imaginary Croft Harbour, and Heathy, who gave his name to the surrounding Heathland in his battle against the giant. Meet poor Hereina, whose son was stolen by the “child taker” of the pool, and threw herself in the water in her grief. Meet Marie, whose throwaway wish not to have a sister tragically came true when a spriggan stole her away, and the benevolent Lydia, a ghost who longed to talk to the children – Nena and Freddy – who played in her forgotten garden. There’s lonely Ned, who drinks too much and is haunted by the memory of a lost love, and Ben and Jemima, children lured into the depths of the heath by a mysterious, magical light. Clever Bob the Fisherman managed to outwit the spriggan who stole his child, by summoning magical creatures who came to his aid. Alas, however, poor Michael Bright was not so lucky. He longed to bring his wife back to life but got more than he bargained for …

Check out the stories here.

Source: The Ghostly Lugger: Goonhilly Folk Tales with Kelly Stevens

The Ghostly Lugger

Excited to be a part of the Goonhilly project!


6aug09-still13 Sara Bowler, ‘The Ghostly Lugger of Croft Pasco Pool’ (2009).

“In the midst of the dreary waste of Goonhilly…the form of a ghostly vessel may be seen floating with lug-sails spread…” Come and write your own story and create village characters based on the local legend, The Lugger of Croft Pasco Pool. How did the lugger come to be there?

Join writer Kelly Stevens for a writing workshop based on this Goonhilly folk tale. The workshop will be approximately 90 minutes long and will run twice during the day. Please check back for further details.

kelly stevens bw profile


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Seeing a ghost: writing for people with dementia

Some days, I am a ghostwriter. I don’t work with celebrities or the rich and famous. I work with ordinary people who want to write their memoir for their own pleasure, and to share their accomplishments and family histories with anyone who will listen. This afternoon, I have an appointment with Allan, who is 84 and has dementia, to help him write his book.

I have been working with Allan, a retired surgeon, for a few months. The first time we met, my 11 year-old daughter came along. We walked up to his front door, which was slightly ajar. I knocked cautiously, and then more loudly until out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow, and the door opened to reveal Allan with his thick, bottle-top glasses and enormous grin. “Aha!” he trilled, “my ghostwriter is here!”

We followed him into his study, past a large, circular wall sculpture made up of dozens of corkscrews in curious shapes and sizes. The room was filled with books, papers, bookshelves and cabinets filled with objects from old surgical blood-letting dishes to Café Royal memorabilia. “Now may I offer you a cup of tea? I have Lady Grey, Earl Grey or proletarian PG Tips.” Daisy thought he was wonderful.

During that first interview, Allan told me his life story. His memories were filled with extraordinary detail and richness. We were probably there for about three hours. To my daughter’s credit, she sat and alternated between reading her book and listening with interest to his stories, until near the end when I started getting little tugs on my sleeve and it was time to go. Allan and I pinpointed the events and themes in his life that would make up the chapters of his book, and then we agreed to meet and cover the themes week-by-week until we had a manuscript to work with.

This is how it goes. We meet, he talks, I guide him and ask him questions and make notes. I capture everything on a digital recorder. I go home, transcribe the interview fully, and then I shape and edit it. He often repeats things week to week, and he’ll tell you himself that he can ramble at length! I don’t mess with his words, unless I need to tighten a story, make sense of something, or do additional research: if there is something particularly interesting historically that adds some colour, I’ll put it in. He’s a man who loves words, trivia and history. I’ve learned so much from this man, from the story of George Lansbury and the Poplar Rates rebellion (did you know an entire town council was jailed for refusing to collect high rates from their constituents? What council would do that now?) to the story of New Orleans jazz coming to London in the 1940s. Allan may not be a “celeb”, but he’s definitely not ordinary.

As time has gone on, Allan has had his difficulties. His wife is dealing with secondary breast cancer. He had shingles, then a minor stroke, then a fall. On his way to the hospital after one calamity he told the ambulance driver, “This can’t be my last journey. I’ve a ghostwriter you know!” Worried that Allan wouldn’t get to see his book in print, I suggested we publish his stories online in a blog format. That way, Allan gets to see his story published chapter by chapter and doesn’t have to wait. He has the potential of an immediate audience (an idea which he loves), and he also gets the multimedia experience that an online format can offer. Songs, sketches, photographs, anything he mentions in his own story can be fleshed out and placed in its historical context. I had the most wonderful time researching the music and writing up his chapter on 1940s jazz.

When I go to Allan’s house today, I will share the jazz chapter online with him. It’s been a while. I suspect he will tell me off for picking the wrong songs, but I know that he will be thrilled to see and hear some of his old buddies singing along with his story. Our progress on the book may be slow, but it doesn’t matter.  I know that just talking about his life cheers him up. Seeing a ghost is doing him a world of good.

Kelly Stevens

Tattooing: the final creative touch after mastectomy

Ever since I had breast cancer surgery, I have been fascinated by the idea of surgery and reconstruction as art. Down to creating a fake nipple and colouring it with a tattoo, the process is a creative  one. I wrote about my own experience of medical nipple tattooing in my Oncoplastic Fruit blog a while back; it was quite something to see the range of colours at my nurse’s disposal when I had it done – not unlike seeing the range of nail varnishes when having a manicure!

nipple tattoo colour crop Someone recently gave me a copy of Rose, a free French magazine for breast cancer patients. It’s beautifully produced, with ads for luxury brands like Chanel, making it possible to pay for well-researched and meaningful articles, illustrations, and photography. This copy has a comic-book style article about nipple tattooing in it, which stopped me in my tracks.

The images of the tattooist at work are brilliant. It’s like art describing art. You can see at a glance how it works; I instantly recognised the rows of ink, so similar to mine. You can see how the tattooist reassures his client and how pleased she is with the result, which would give confidence to patients who are weighing up whether to have this done or not. I love the idea of sharing knowledge with patients in this visual format, and I wish we could do more of it. It would be a lovely thing if patients were given graphic articles and illustrations like this to make even complicated medical issues more accessible and easy to understand – as long as it’s in the right language of course…

tatoueur de baltimore crop

2015: my year of running

Some time ago, I watched my partner join a running club. He ran twice a week, and then would get up early on Sunday mornings for races, whatever the weather. I would yawn, roll over and bask in the extra space in my bed thinking: sucker!

After a few months though, I noticed how much happier he seemed to be. He came back with stories of running through hidden paths and woodlands, and across beautiful fields and cliff tops. He made new and deeper friendships with his companions. He brought the fresh air back home with his flushed cheeks and mud-spattered legs. And what legs! Instead of thinking my partner was a mug, I began to feel jealous and left out. So when he told me about a 0-3 miles running group, organised by Falmouth Road Runners, I thought, why not? If I could run for a bus, maybe I could do it for fun, too.

It took some courage for me to turn up to the beginners’ group. I’d been recovering from early breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction on one side. I’d had many healing complications, and I needed to build my strength up again. I was self-conscious about my body and a little bit scared about how it would take to running. But I was determined to do something healthy. I needed to get out of the house and feel the blood pumping through me.

The running group worked because it began – literally – with tiny steps, and involved lots of instruction and support. The coaching team were friendly and approachable; I had been worried that I might feel intimidated. I was relieved to find that many of the others, and we were all ages, had never run in their lives. All we had to do was run a minute, walk a minute. That was it! As time went by, I found I could actually run further than the end of my road, and when I completed the three-mile challenge despite my dodgy knees and everything else, I was absolutely chuffed.

I discovered running’s health benefits: I lost a bit of post-surgery weight, and I gained a lot more energy, but there were also social benefits. Running was how I met Sylvia. She had been through a rough time, and so had I. We may have looked silly running down the road together – she’s about a foot taller than me – but we were well matched for running, and as we made friends, we found that talking helped keep us going. Simply having a friend there made me more motivated to turn up. I plucked up the courage to join Falmouth Road Runners, which previously I would have considered way out of my league, but I was surprised to find they welcomed even the slowest of runners with open arms.

A few weeks ago, I decided try the club’s regular social run on the Bissoe trail for the first time. I’ve never been able to before; Saturday mornings usually mean a mad dash to swimming or ballet or something else to do with my children. As I drove to the trail, I listened to Radio 3. I thought it might put me in touch with my better self. Vaughan Williams’ Pastoral symphony was playing, and as I got out of the car and surveyed the sun shining beatifically over the valley, I could hear the angels singing. Almost.

This was the reason I took up running in the first place: just to be outside, in nature, moving my body and feeling alive. I realised I was too late to run with the group, and the club runners had already left, so I started running on my own. I started laughing stupidly as I ran. It felt fantastic! And all I’d had to do was turn up. That reduced the anticipation of a difficult run to its most simple form: just turn up, put one foot in front of the other, and see what happens. That morning was so glorious that I’ve made up my mind to keep running every week, and even participate in races. My aim is to take part in the Cornish Grand Prix, a series of races across the county, at the end of which is the promise of my first-ever sporting trophy. Will I really be able to give up my Saturday morning lie-ins and commit to regular training? That’s a column for another day…

bissoe sunshine