36 Hours in Warsaw by Denny Lee appeared in the weekend edition of the New York Times and immediately sparked controversy. Some like it because the author describes more than the obvious “must see” tourist sites. Others criticize Lee’s portrayal of Warsaw as a city slowly emerging from the gray cloud of communism still hovering over it. Magdalena Górnicka, the talented columnist and writer who won this year’s edition of the Wprost and U.S. Embassy essay contest, was clearly outraged. “According to Denny Lee, a weekend in Warsaw is a challenge for those brave men who are not afraid to venture out to this faraway city at the end of the world, where Coke billboads started to appear only after accession to the EU,” she writes. In fact, the tone of Lee’s article can be disappointing to those who came to appreciate Warsaw for its cosmopolitan chic, rich cultural scene, excellent restaurants, and truly unique character. Contrary to what Lee writes, contemporary Warsaw doesn’t need to aspire to be like other European capitals, including Berlin. It is mesmerising in its own way, not a carbon copy of other cities Denny Lee deems great. “The next Berlin?” he asks and concludes (having visited just two galleries and one museum) that “reports of Warsaw’s up-and-coming art scene may be exaggerated.”
Warsaw is a unique, truly fascinating city but to discover this, one has to spend some time here, definitely more than 36 hours. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing the writer spent a very disappointing weekend in Warsaw. It was probably late fall, raining and cold, and Mr. Lee clearly missed the opportunity to enjoy some excellent traditional Polish cuisine. In a paragraph titled “No Pirogies” he writes that “Poland isn’t known for its gastronomic delights” (excuse me?) and while he praises the famous U Kucharzy restaurant, he focuses on the “freshly slaughtered” dishes which include veal brain on toast, stuffed beef and baked perch. Dinner anyone?