Warsaw, The River Vistula, Gary Cooper and some Film Trivia

Warsaw and the Vistula

I’ll tell you how cold it was this morning, so cold that it stopped Kim from stopping every few yards and window shopping, so cold that my face was stinging and my eyes were watering.  Way too cold for a boat ride.  It probably wasn’t such a great idea then to take a route to the old town along the banks of the River Vistula.

It was quite a long walk to even get there along a busy boulevard called Jerusalem Avenue on account of the fact that there was once a Jewish town around here and to mark the spot there is a curious fifteen metre high artificial palm tree which supposes symbolises the natural vegetation of Jerusalem.  To be honest I thought it just looked odd!

Eventually we reached the river and I knew straight away that I had made a mistake.  After all the hard work repairing the damage of the Valentine’s night evening meal fiasco I almost immediately flushed away any bonus points earned.

I had imagined the riverside walk to be a similar experience to strolling alongside the Danube in Budapest but it was immediately obvious that no one was going to write a dainty waltz and call it the Blue Vistula!  It was grey and ugly and there were no embankments just muddy no-man’s-land where the water met the silt and the river debris.

Kim wasn’t at all happy about this and to be honest neither was I. There was no one else around, just a busy road running adjacent to the path and we had to pass under several bridges where I imagined danger to be lurking in every shadow.  The bridges too were ugly, in complete contrast to those in Budapest.  In fact they were so ugly there were no love locks attached to any of them, which is of course a good thing, in fact they were so ugly that I imagine that the only lock someone would attach here would be a hate lock!

We walked quickly and as we got closer to the Old Town the environment became less threatening, there were more people and soon we were climbing steps and making our way to the restored streets and squares.  On reflection I am certain that there was no danger down by the river, it was just so unattractive and didn’t feel good.

Solidarity Gary Cooper

As we approached we passed the heavily guarded Presidential Palace and on the pavement outside there was a display commemorating some previous uprising or other and as a backdrop there was a huge canvas poster of Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Kane in the film High Noon.

I had no idea why until I looked it up later:

In 1989 there were some partially free elections in Poland and this was the official poster of the Solidarity movement and it shows Cooper armed not with a pistol in his right hand but with a folded ballot saying ‘Wybory’ (elections)  while the Solidarity logo is pinned to his vest above the sheriff’s badge. The message at the bottom of the poster reads: “W samo południe: 4 czerwca 1989,” which translates to “High Noon: 4 June 1989.”

Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa  explained it later:

“It was a simple but effective gimmick that at the time was misunderstood by the Communists. They tried to ridicule the freedom movement in Poland as an invention of the ‘Wild’ West, especially the U.S. But the poster had the opposite impact: Cowboys had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom. ”

In 1953 Gary Cooper won the Best Actor Oscar for High Noon* and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa became President of Poland.

I digress for a moment.  Gary Cooper wasn’t present at the ceremony because of filming commitments and the award was accepted on his behalf by John Wayne.  In the speech Wayne said he liked the film so much he was going to try and find out why he hadn’t been offered the part.

This was rather hypocritical, he hated the film so much that he called it “… the most un-American thing I’ve seen in my whole life.”  With a town full of cowards and a scared Marshall (Cooper) he didn’t think it captured the true spirit of the old west as he personally preferred to represent it.

Soon after he collaborated with the film director Howard Hawkes to make the film Rio Bravo (c0-starring Dean Martin) which presents a similar story line in a completely alternative way.  Wayne and Hawkes liked their own film so much that they remade it twice – El Dorado (co-starring Robert Mitchum) and Rio Lobo (co-starring no one in particular).

Gunfighters of the Old West

My favourite cowboy film star is not Gary Cooper or John Wayne but James Stewart.  My favourite western film is Shane with Alan Ladd as the reluctant gunfighter…

As it turned out John Wayne was a bit of a coward himself and while movie stars like James Stewart, Clark Gable , Kirk Douglas and Audie Murrphy  all enlisted to serve in WW2, Wayne dodged the draft to concentrate on his Hollywood career.

I like the story of James Stewart who was originally rejected for military service because he was under weight so he spent a month drinking beer, applied again and was accepted.

Anyway, back now to Warsaw.

It was still quite busy today but nothing like as crowded and vibrant as the previous day so we walked around the remaining restored red brick walls of the Old Town which didn’t take very long and then at a previous fortress gate we made our way inside and really did nothing more than repeat the circuitous walk that we negotiated the day previously. In the Old Town square, the statue of Syrena, the mermaid symbol of the city, seemed hopelessly marooned in the middle of an artificial skating rink which looked cold, empty and uninviting.  It was raw and bleak, the stubborn mist hung low and the wind cut through our clothes like a sabre.

We needed to find somewhere warm, and this is how cold it was, Kim didn’t object for even a moment when I suggested that we make our way to the Royal Castle and take a look at the Museum inside.

Royal Castle Warsaw

I took this picture the following day when the mist had cleared and the sun came back out!

* Best Actor for a western is quite rare.  Warner Baxter won  for In Old Arizona (1929), Lee Marvin for Cat Ballou (1965), and John Wayne for True Grit (1969). The most recent nominations for actors in a Western include Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves (1990), Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven (1992) and Jeff Bridges in True Grit (2010).

31 responses to “Warsaw, The River Vistula, Gary Cooper and some Film Trivia

  1. Interesting. High Noon was a fixtionalized version of the writer’s experience during the Red Scare. His friends abandoned him during his fight against the anti-Communist crusade. Ironic that the image would be used against Communism in Poland.


    • The more I read about it the more interesting it became. It is worth watching the Wayne acceptance speech. I read too that the part of Kane was first offered to Gregory Peck who was well known as a liberal. He turned it down because he thought the role was too similar to that in the Gunfighter!


  2. What a disappointment! 😦


  3. So perhaps the answer to all further avoidance of the dreaded shopping is to travel to only arctic destinations. 🙂


  4. Too bad your river walk turned out cold *and* ugly. You two are troopers for walking around in such weather. Hopefully the museum had the heaters going. 🙂 What an interesting story about the poster you found. So glad you decided to look it up!


  5. Such a shame about the river walk, Andrew. I don’t know why cities don’t make more of their rivers and, in some cases, their beaches. I remember being in Santa Barbara some years ago and how the town was lovely but, as you got closer and closer to the beach, it was not inviting at all with many of the buildings in a poor state of repair. It may have changed since then but I remember wondering why a city with such a wonderful centre would have a sea front and beach that was not in the least bit attractive.


  6. Very interesting description of the Vistula on a cold day – it made me feel cold reading it and if you found it cold I would feel like I was in Antarctica being acclimatised to warmer weather here in Perth! I guess with so much of Warsaw decimated after the Second World War, other areas of the city have taken priority for rebuilding?


  7. Now I need to backtrack to find out what went wrong on Valentines 🙂


  8. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbol – High Noon and Solidarity | Have Bag, Will Travel

  9. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory | Have Bag, Will Travel

  10. How ironic that John Wayne should lecture people on courage. Did he have the guts to fly a B-17 over Germany like Jimmy Stewart, or go as an air gunner like Clark Gable? No, he preferred to hide in Hollywood.


  11. Pingback: Ten Years Ago – Warsaw in Poland | Have Bag, Will Travel

  12. I’d forgotten this but I love the digressions, Andrew. And I can imagine that cold, though I was much luckier with Warsaw. But I was there in high summer and the riverside was a good place to be.


  13. John Wayne would have had no problem falling for Trump. He wasn’t the only Hollywood “hero” who avoided service.


  14. Interesting diversions I wouldn’t have expected in a post on Warsaw!


  15. I really loved your digressions in this one. Politics, film, and smack in the face reality. Brilliant.


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