Polish woman serves region

CHESTERTON — The Country Cafe on Broadway was not crowded on a recent Saturday afternoon, but there was a steady flow of customers.

Some of them were curious about the new owner, who was talking in her shy Polish accent as she bustled briskly about the tables and tended the cash register.

The conversation was familiar to anyone who ever tried to explain the leftover food on his plate to a Polish cook.

“I try not to eat too much,” the elderly gentleman apologized.

“You want to take it home with you?” she asked eagerly.

In the two months that Marianna Halina Shedlock has been running the downtown restaurant with the all-you-can-eat-fish Fridays, she’s become one of the most talked-about women in town, something that makes her feel a little uncomfortable as a newcomer twice over.

“I was worried my first day here, will people accept me or not? I was from a different area,” she confessed.

Shedlock was said she was in her 30s when she decided 15 years ago to come to this country by herself from Augustow, a city twice the size of Portage in the northeast corner of Poland.

“I wanted to come. When I go to school, I studied, I learned many things about the United States,” she said.

Like many before her, Shedlock settled in Chicago. She brought her grown children three years later.

“I go to ask for any position in a restaurant. I got the job busing tables and then as a waitress,” she said.

Gaining experience, she was soon running her own bar at Cicero and Armitage, which she then sold and opened a restaurant on the south side of Chicago at Kedzie and Archer.

Shedlock said she had been looking for something in Northwest Indiana for several years while visiting friends near LaPorte, home of a notable citywide celebration of the peculiarly Polish holiday of Dingus Day.

She said that her unfamiliar speech caused her some problems with establishing credit and renting an apartment when she moved to Chesterton after buying the cafe.

“It’s my accent and my language. They know I’m not American,” she said of her second bout of trying to fit in as a newcomer.

But the town had a surprise for her with her new venture.

“The people were so nice to me. I almost cry sometimes because they say so many nice sweet warm words,” she said, a full smile spreading across her face.

Among the most frequent questions was, what will be the new name for the place, which she parried with, “Do you have a good name?”

Shyly again, Shedlock said she “has some plans” for the cafe, such as fixing up the kitchen and the basement to make things more comfortable for the staff, who stayed on to work under her.

Meanwhile, the mural of Broadway and its streetcar tracks from Calumet westward stays on the east wall, with the one real change being the addition of her special ethnic fare to the American, Italian, Greek, seafood and breakfast sections of the menu.

More than enough to bring tears of nostalgia for Old World home cooking is the Polish Combo Plate for $7.95: Rich soup that is definitely homemade, a Polish hamburger patty of beef and pork called schnitzel, a generous length of Polish sausage, mashed potatoes and gravy, that unmistakable Polish-style kraut, a half dozen cheese, kraut and potato pierogis (of course!), a cheese blintz, and other trimmings.

“So do you like Chesterton?” another customer asked as she came to clear the first course.

Not for the first time that afternoon, the words “I love it” passed across the table.

More ingredients:

The Country Cafe, 213 Broadway, Chesterton, Indiana. Open Tuesday-Saturday 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Phone 929-4567. Takeouts available.

© By Charles M. Bartholomew / Post-Tribune correspondent

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Business profile: Jan Kunat

Jan Kunat

Title and company: Co-owner, Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen.

Services: Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen, which Kunat founded with his wife, Ela, in 1998, sells spice blends for salmon and halibut, as well as Alaska-made cedar planks for preparing salmon, halibut, poultry and vegetables.

The planks, which have been used in salmon preparation by Natives in the Pacific Northwest for centuries, enhance not only the flavor but the presentation of Alaska seafood, Kunat said. Cooking salmon on cedar is not well known in this area because Southeast Alaska is further north than cedar traditionally grows.

In addition to rectangular planks, the business makes planks carved in the shape of salmon and halibut. He has applied for a patent in the United States and Canada for the fish-shaped planks.

“It makes the planking much more attractive,” Kunat said. “I always say that people eat with their mouth and their nose, but most of the time they eat with their eyes. The presentation of food makes a whole lot of difference.”

The shapes also allow for a bit of creativity in serving food.

“If you cook salmon on a plank in the shape of salmon, you can make an eye out olives, fins out of carrots or peppers. … The sky’s the limit,” Kunat said.

Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen sells its goods to many stores in Alaska and several in the Pacific Northwest. Twisted Fish restaurants in Juneau and Palm Springs, Calif., use the planks to prepare salmon, and Taku Smokeries sells the planks and spices in its gift shop.

Keeping their products Alaska-made is important to the Kunats.

The plank “is a good product,” Kunat said. “It’s 100 percent Alaskan, made from Alaska wood that is not clearcut.”

The company buys, from the U.S. Forest Service, wood that has been blown over in storms or washed up on the shore. Alaska Litho Inc., in Juneau, makes labels for the company’s products.

“We could have printed less expensive somewhere else, but we like to keep it local,” Kunat said.

Biographical information: Jan Kunat and his wife were born in Poland and came to the United States 16 years ago. They’ve lived in Alaska for eight years, and developed the idea for Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen when Jan was running a charter fishing business.

“I cook the fish people catch on board” he said. “I always have to spice it, so I asked my wife to mix some spices together. From that on it’s become our business.”

Jan credits his wife with starting the business. She creates the spices and seasonings and helps manage the business.

“Frankly, she does it all,” Jan Kunat said.

Family: Jan Kunat lives in Gustavus with his wife, Ela, and their four children.

Quotable: “The scientists, they look for why the salmon is coming back each year to the streams. I say they’re coming back to be baked on cedar planks. Salmon on a cedar plank goes together. It’s so good that once you try it, you might never try it the other way. … We guarantee that you will like the taste, and that’s a lot to say. Nobody has ever returned a plank to us.”

Contact information: The Kunats and The Wild Alaska Mama Bear Kitchen can be reached at (907) 697-2704.

© Copyright 1997-2002 Juneau Empire

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The quiet man

From Poland to Melbourne, actor Jacek Koman has led a strange, if not secret, life, writes Catherine Keenan.

There have been some weird moments in Jacek Koman’s life. A curiously aimless attempt to enlist him in the Polish secret police. The time he and his brother were saved from destitution by a former Nazi. Plus, when we meet, he has just come from rehearsals for the Sydney Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Samuel Beckett’s absurd masterpiece, Endgame, a play about a blind man who can’t stand up, and his servant who can’t sit down, stuck in a lonely room after the apocalypse.

So I probably shouldn’t be surprised that there are times during the interview when I feel that we have both fallen down a rabbit hole into a strange, Beckettian universe. His conversation is littered with pregnant pauses, ideas that tail into nothing, and cryptic epigrams. “Beckett is bleak, bleak, bleak,” he says at one point. “But joyous, too.”

The 46-year-old actor speaks with glacial slowness and deliberation, as if – like his character, Hamm – he is following scripted pauses. When I ask what the production will be like, for instance, there is a long period of silence before he says: “This and any other faithful production of Endgame will be very, very similar, because it’s all so orchestrated.” Pause. “Like a piece of music.” Pause. “And a painting.” Even longer pause. I don’t know if he’s finished speaking: not for the last time, I find myself waiting for words that, like Godot, may never come.

Then, as if this, too, is scripted, comes a sudden flourish. “It’s paradoxically in those quite rigid limitations that you suddenly find mini-universes of freedom,” he concludes. I have no idea what this means, but when you have a gravelly eastern European accent and a face like his, you can say such things and make them sound both cool and profound.

This, it seems, is the paradox of being Jacek (pronounced yat-sek) Koman. He looks ferocious, like a kind of gypsy Mephistopheles. This, and his accent, mean he has spent much of his career playing bastards, from his award-winning turn as Roy Cohn in Neil Armfield’s production of Angels in America, to Dominic, Gab’s married boyfriend, in The Secret Life of Us.

Next year he and his wife, Catherine McClements (who also appeared in Secret Life as Carmen, Evan’s older love interest), will appear on stage for Company B as the most evil couple of them all, the Macbeths.

Yet off-stage, Koman could hardly be more different. Far from being formidable, he is quiet, gentle, and has an endearing vulnerability. His pauses and hesitations are the result of shyness, not intransigence, and he apologizes more than once for not being interesting enough. A week after we meet, he still feels guilty for “not giving me the good stuff”, and rings to ask if there’s anything more he can say or do.

Does he find it odd that he is constantly cast against the grain, in such dark roles? “Well, someone has to do it. And it better be done well,” he says, jokingly. But, yes, he does find it slightly disturbing. “The deeper you go, the more instinctive it inevitably is. And more dangerous. To what extent is it a purging exercise, and what extent is it a twisting one?” Then he shrugs, as French people do in movies. Epigrams seem to come naturally to him.

Theatre runs in Koman’s veins. He was born in Poland, where both his parents were actors, and although he went through the near-compulsory period of ambivalence about their profession when he was in his teens, he ended up enrolling at drama school in the city of Lodz.

When he left his country, just over 20 years ago, he assumed he would have to leave acting behind, too. It’s a measure of his determination he considered this a fair price to pay for freedom. His reasons for wanting to leave were mixed: partly to escape the communist regime, and partly because he wanted to see the world. He says he wasn’t especially political. “Not beyond what everyone was. There was this shared hatred towards authority, and you followed that because you sucked it with your mother’s milk.”

Still, there was that time he was leaned upon to work for the secret police. He was at drama school when he was caught with a friend who was carrying illegal papers and magazines.

“We were both pressured to get ourselves off the hook, to collaborate. There was no real pressure, just a gentle offer . . .”

But he didn’t give in. “I wriggled like a worm. I managed to wriggle my way out of it.” It soon became apparent, as his friend rose through the theatrical ranks, that he had accepted the offer to collaborate, but Koman says he didn’t really suffer because of his refusal. “I don’t want to make it sound so tragic and depressing. It was a fact of life.”

He and his brother, Tomek, found it surprisingly easy to get permission to leave the country in 1981 for a holiday from which they didn’t return. They went to Austria first, and after being refused entry to a refugee camp (it was full), ended up sleeping rough on building sites in Vienna, at the end of winter.

There was some petty theft involved, to get by, but in a Kafka-esque twist, their salvation came in the unlikely form of a family friend who was a communist Esperanto speaker, and his friend, an ex-Nazi. “We were staying at the ex-Nazi guy’s place. He was perhaps doing his penance for the past.”

After eight months of their hospitality the brothers left for Australia, because it was “far and quite unknown and exotic”. There is another Beckettian pause before he adds, thoughtfully: “When you’re running, you want to run as far as you can, and you can’t run further than Australia.”

The pair landed in Perth, where they got drunk, cleaned pools and gardened until Koman had mastered enough English to band together with some other Poles and, with the help of a council grant, put on theatre in public parks. It rekindled his desire to act, and soon the group had started their own company, Theatre Zart.

Koman stayed with them for five years and then he left for Sydney, because, he says, he was curious. But with his accent, it was virtually impossible to get acting work – he couldn’t even get an agent. “Those two years in Sydney were spent occasionally talking to an agent, but mostly fishing in the harbour and frying the catch, and getting ready to go to Perth to do some theatre.”

Melbourne was a bit more welcoming, and after stopping enroute back to Perth, he decided to make it his home. He worked with Anthill Theatre for five or six years in the late 1980s, and since then has received critical acclaim in a number of brutal roles. He has also fared well as a clown, playing Trinculo in The Tempest; Picasso in Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile (both under Neil Armfield’s direction); and the Argentinean strong man in Moulin Rouge!

But it is his role on The Secret Life of Us that brought him into people’s living rooms. In Melbourne he can feel people recognize him, even when they don’t say anything, and he finds this kind of spooky. Especially when they get confused, recognizing his face but not the context. One man was absolutely convinced that Koman had taught him at the local TAFE. “It makes shopping quite difficult and embarrassing.”

He is more comfortable with serious theatre, like Beckett. Like many shy people, one of the things he likes about acting is the immersion in other lives. “I enjoy submerging myself, like now, in the Beckett world, where I wouldn’t necessarily by choice decide to go.

“If you believe in fate, if you believe that things offer themselves at the time you are ready for them, or when it’s important for you to expose yourself to things . . .” He falls silent, and this time it feels like we’re both waiting for the words to continue. He never finds them – Godot doesn’t arrive this time either – though he does launch into an analogy between acting and the night vision of horses. I don’t quite understand it, but it doesn’t matter. As Beckett knew, not everything needs a meaning.

Endgame opens January 7 (previews from December 28), Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company. Details: 9250 1777.

The Sydney Morning Herald

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KWANZAA, The First Fruit Celebration

The Creation of KWANZAA (Kwahn-zah) — Celebrated December 26 to January 1 of every year

In 1966, KWANZAA was created by a young visionary living on the west coast who was also the founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organization. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a trained political and cultural scientist and a participant and theoretician of the Black Liberation Movement, postulated that significant and meaningful Black movement in the U.S. was improbable, if not impossible, without a cultural component (base). He felt that at the base of any movement must be the cultural imperative that give the people a clear and precise sense of “identity, purpose and direction.”

KWANZAA is derived from the Swahili word, KWANZA which means first fruits and is part of the phrase Matunda Ya. Dr Karenga added the extra “a” to distinguish the Afro-American from the African. The idea and conceptions of KWANZAA developed out the system of social and political thought of Kawaida (Tradition and Reason), also developed by Dr. Karenga.

The roots of KWANZAA are continental African, but the branches and fruit are distinctly Afro-American. Dr. Karenga sought to make the natural and profound connection of Afro-American people to their ancestral beginnings, therefore, KWANZAA “as a holiday of the first fruits” comes directly out of the tradition of agricultural people of Africa, who celebrated and gave thanks for harvest at designated times during the year.

Each tribe or community in Africa would come together to sing, dance, eat and drink and celebrate the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables. The would bring food they grew or items they made to give to the feast.

Although Afro-Americans are essentially an urban people and, thus, have few crops to harvest, the concept of “ingathering and celebration” formed a conceptual basis for KWANZAA.

The cultural dynamism of KWANZAA is best displayed through its progressive value base, the NGUZA SABA (the Seven Principles) and its unique absence of a dependency on mystical or spookistic distortion of the world. The NGUAO SABA was created by Dr. Karenga in 1965 and represents the “minimum set of principles by which Black people must live in order to begin to receive and reconstruct our history and lives… they are social principles, dealing with ways for relating to others and rebuilding lives and a more positive image.”

The NGUZA SABA requires an introspective confrontation of self and society, demands political action rather than non-action and emphasizes building than crippling destruction. The Seven Principles of the NGUZO SABA are listed below:

NGUZA SABA (the Seven Principles)

  • UMOJA (UNITY) –To Strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  • KUJICHAGULIA (SELF DETERMINATION) –To define ourselves, names ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves rather than to allow others to do these things for us.
  • UJIMA (COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY) –To build and maintain our community together to make our sister and brothers’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
  • UJAMAA (COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS) –To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • NIA (PURPOSE) –To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • KUUMBA (CREATIVITY) –To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.
  • IMANI (FAITH) –To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Suggested Reading:

  • KWANZAA A Progressive and Uplifting African American Holiday (ISBN 0-88378-012-7) by Haki R. Madhubuti
  • The KWANZAA Coloring Book by Valerie J.R. Banks Illustrated by Sylvia Woodard (ISBN 0-9622340-4-4)
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National orchestra delivers solid performance

Guest conductor leads review of European masters

St. Joseph’s Church rang with the music of the 19th century on Friday evening. The Lebanese National Symphony Orchestra delivered a distinguished performance of European masters conducted by one of Poland’s best-known conductors, Jozef Wilkomirski. In the second half of the program the LNSO was accompanied by Polish organist Andrzej Bialko.

The capacity crowd could not have been more appreciative.

The concert began with the overture from the opera Paria, composed by the 19th-century Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko. It has a nice, easy-going melody, though somewhat reminiscent of movie soundtracks from the 1950s. Moniuszko is little-known internationally, but in Poland he is renowned for his revolutionary operas and romantic songs based on popular poems.

The second piece was quite different from the first ­ not easy to listen to given its lack of melody, but very interesting. French composer Francis Poulenc wrote the piece for organ, strings and timpani in 1938. The contemporary composer’s style was best described in the concert program as a “journey that ranges between Bach and the fairground.”

Poulenc incorporated different styles of organ music, many which sound familiar at first, only to be completely changed into something new a few beats later. The combination of instruments was also very rare. In the Concerto for Organ, String and Timpani, the rhythm changes constantly as does the style ­ varying from baroque to liturgical to romantic to atonal music, and then back to baroque.

The final and most challenging part of the program was the 45-minute Symphony No. 4 in E Minor by Johannes Brahms. The melancholy symphony, composed in 1884-85, is a true masterpiece. The final Allegro Energico seemed to have been the most difficult passage to perform ­ a fascinating composition of an eight-tone melody, varied 30 times.

Considering that the LNSO is only three years old, the concert was extraordinary. The overall performance was harmonic, the wind instruments didn’t get too carried away by their natural volume, and the musicians followed the different rhythms with discipline.

A few small mistakes could be heard, but the enthusiasm of the musicians spread to the audience, who applauded the performance. The program was interesting in its makeup, but the pieces would have been better served with a pipe organ, rather than the electric one used.

Wilkomirski turned the performance into a special event. He has spent 50 years conducting orchestras across the world. One of the LNSO’s own conductors, Wojcieh Czepiel, was a student of Wilkomirski and brought the conductor to Lebanon for this performance.

Wilkomirski is a perfectionist ­ and was of course not free of criticism when talking about the orchestra and the performance last Friday.

“The most important thing (for) an orchestra is its sound,” he said. “The sound is elaborated over many, many years.”

Wilkomirski founded an orchestra in southern Poland 24 years ago.

“After five, 10, even 15 years I was still not happy with the sound,” he said. “Now I can say that the orchestra is becoming quite good.”

To have tradition and continuity ­ what he identified as two essentials for quality sound ­ is easier said than done. Lebanese orchestra members are mostly young, inexperienced musicians from across the world: Ukrainians, Rumanians, Polish, Armenian and Lebanese work together, and all of them bring techniques from different music schools. Also, there is a great fluctuation of musicians, in an area where continuity is so important.

“All these factors make the work particularly difficult,” said Wilkomirski, who has worked with the musicians for just five rehearsals. He added that national particularities are a big challenge, not only for young musicians but also for world-famous conductors ­ even Germany’s Herbert von Karajan.

“He’s my idol,” Wilkomirski admitted, “and he knew how to perform Beethoven. However, once I saw him on TV conducting Tchaikovsky, and I switched it off because it was so bad.”

Looking back, Wilkomirski said he decided that Brahms was probably too difficult for the young orchestra, though he chose the piece himself.

“When working with an orchestra, there has to be a long-term plan with increasing degrees of difficulty,” he said.

However, he said he loved the young musicians’ enthusiasm: “I could feel that they really wanted to play. They rehearsed a lot on their own and worked in the group with great concentration. And these are the best preconditions of all.”

Certainly, the most striking part of the performance was their enthusiasm and will to perform such a difficult symphony, which made it worth listening to.

“For me, Brahms is a god,” Wilkomirski said. “He made the best symphonies in the world.”

When talking about the Polish composer Moniuszko, Wilkomirski was far less patriotic: “He composed nice melodies and was important for the Polish people during a difficult period of time, but he is not one of the great geniuses.”

Much work lies ahead for the national orchestra but ­ as Friday’s fine performance attests ­ it is already greatly appreciated by its home audience.

Christina Foerch, Special to The Daily Star

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