Darth Vader Was Polish, & Other Lessons Learned

Upon Bo’s insistence, I took a break from grading school work, social media, kids, the lot. The plan: meet my friend Rachel (not the one recovering from a brain tumormost Lutheran mothers were compelled to name kids of my generation Rachel, Sarah, or some form of Kristine) at Polish Fest.

Milwaukee is a hub of summer festivals. Summerfest is the “world’s biggest music festival,” apparently, and there’s German Fest, Pride Fest, Bastille Days, Feste Italiana, India Fest, Irish Fest–just, gobs of stuff. I don’t live in Milwaukee, so attending these goings-on is a rare treat for me. I decided to take advantage of childlessness and attempt something  Inesemjphotography does brilliantly all the time:  chronicle life.


What did I learn? Capturing people is hard! Take these monks, for instance. (Seriously, take them–ba dum CH!) I was too nervous to stop in front of them and flash the camera like they were some sort of oddity,even though they were an oddity in Milwaukee, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were doing there.  Had they come down from Holy Hill?


Later Rachel and I discovered a few more inside the Polish Fest grounds by a beer stand. Apparently the monks had made the beer….not that I got a picture of that…

We enjoyed some Still Stormin’ polka by the festival’s entry. A few even took to dancing, like this fellow in the red shirt. (By dancing, I mean a slight bending of the knees mostly in rhythm with the bobbing of his head. That’s how I dance, anyway.)

Determined to spot interesting characters, we meandered about.

This particular gentleman was something of a clay mound of curmudgeonness. His eyes moved only when people came anywhere near his art.

Lake Michigan. It can look beautiful by Milwaukee if you time it right. Never look upon its shores after a storm; city sewers dump disgusting horrors, and you can’t help but wonder if the film Wall-E is a reality not far off, after all.

Some displays, and a sun I decided had to be artfully captured over the dragon’s head, and therefore rather lost the Wawel Dragon.

“I hope this isn’t a secret effigy,” Rachel said of the doll. And I have to admit, the way these dolls were tied onto the posts, I was rather worried if those Milwaukee blacksmiths had other activities planned for their forge’s fire.

My attempt at people pictures was feebler. More feeble? I’m amazed no grammar check popped up with feebler. Who says feebler?

The sun wreaked havoc on my shots. The sky itself had barely a cloud, but once the sun reached a certain point in the sky, all my shots looked like I had a thin coating of Vaseline on the lens.

At least I found more monks. Rachel kindly obliged for a shot, too. 🙂

Over the course of the evening, I also learned just how hard it is to capture characters. Professional photographers have an eye for the elements of setting and person that create a “scene” or a “character.” When one is NOT a professional, and is determined to FORCE such shots to happen, one doesn’t get much. Rather like writing, isn’t it?

Thankfully, Polish Fest gave me a few lucky breaks, sunlight aside. These ladies were cultural assistants, driving around the festival and answering questions.


Some sort of run/walk relay was about to start. I’m not sure why that would require elf-heads, but then, this was my first Polish Fest.


Saw this and felt a pang for my kids. Blondie and Bash would love to be nude all the time, if not for, you know, public decency and all that. (Biff is the shy one for some reason.)

I also couldn’t help but be impressed that the mom had successfully tied that balloon to her daughter’s hair, and it stayed throughout the clothing change.


But here, here stood my ultimate failure on this photographical excursion:


I know, they’re just a couple. But she in a loud, newer Star Wars shirt with Darth Vader and his lightsaber on full blast, he with a mustache that HE KEPT HIDING FROM MY CAMERA BLAST HIM


He with a mustache that would have made Hercule Poirot proud.

Sentence fragments aside, I felt like I had finally found my characters. I would have loved to eavesdrop on their conversation and discover what brought them here. Heritage? Boredom? A secret meeting of sci-fi mystery enthusiasts?

But alas, they moved purposefully away from my loud phony speech as I “CHECKED MY PHONE” for…whatever, I forget. Pretty sure I’m not made for undercover work…but then, Poirot wasn’t much for undercover, either, and he was still one of the world’s greatest detectives.


And to top it off, they ran out of paczkis.

Slumping abounded.


It seemed best to pack it up, camera-wise. My timing was off, the sun was horrible. Only so much quality could be had from a smart phone’s camera, anyway. And there wasn’t anything to really notice. Maybe I’m being hard on Milwaukee, or maybe I’m being hard on Polish Fest. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, but I thought for sure such a niche festival would have drawn a more unique flavor of life out of the community. Right now, all I could taste was the very American cheddar cheese in my pierogi.


“Let’s at least try some culture,” Rachel said with a nod toward a long tent off the main walkway. I follow, still slumped. No paczkis. No nationally renowned polka bands with dancing contest. No delectable paczkis. No fascinating people who stand still in a dramatic fashion at the right moment to be preserved for all posterity. No powdery paczkis with oozy raspberry goodness in the center. No cooking demos instructing one on how to make her own paczkis lest such a tragedy were to befall one again.

We walked in, and I lost my slump. Still no paczkis, but there was a fascinating man with some sort of mini-telescope around his neck spinning wool into thread. Angry, spooky pottery. Straw creations that hailed me back to my childhood, when I had tried to follow a Swedish pattern for straw Christmas ornaments. Polish women who had made hats for the Resistance back in *mumble white noise date lost mumble* and were now making them to sell, along with flower wreaths. “Try them on!” They had that sort of loud-laugh-command voice, the kind where they sound light-hearted, but that’s only because they’ve got rolling pins at the ready under the table.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my very Polish grandmother-in-law, it’s that you don’t mess with an old Polish woman.

Guess I didn’t need to hunt for characters so much as be a character. It helps to have a good sport for a friend, too. 🙂

So, overall, a good day. I learned photographing people is best left to professionals, and that Polish Fest should be visited at midday, when paczkis are freshly filled with gooey yumminess and polkas echo up and down the midway.

In the meantime, I’ll wander in the twilight, sharing a breath of lake air with monks and yearning for the sugary delights of far-off lands.


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31 thoughts on “Darth Vader Was Polish, & Other Lessons Learned

  1. Ha ha I am laughing at the pix of you and your friend. As for the dolls tied to posts? What kinda place was this!!!! Seriously looks like you had a great day, the kind you need from time to time. Look at it this way if you are not happy with the pics…you need to go back xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 3 people

      • Irish Fest eh??? Oh would love that!! We tend to be more music orientated here. Like we used to have the Jazz and Blues fest. It was a great time. There would be a host of musicians from all over, from the States, from Europe and from the UK. There was gala concert to kick off but then the rest of the weekend was free. The pubs hosted the bands and it just great. We always went in a crowd. That is no more cos of funding cuts. However there is still a wee remnant of local bands who will be getting together and doing an Almost Blue Fest. Better than nowt!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Almost Blue Fest? Oh that’s brilliant! We’ve got a lot of musical festivals around here, too, but sadly, the kids aren’t quite the size yet that we can take them out and they won’t scream the whole time. 🙂 I do hope you hit that Almost Blue Fest this year! I need to make sure I attend the Milwaukee Highland Games next year, now that I know when it is… 🙂 xxxx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved reading this post last night on my Kindle. For some reason the pictures weren’t displayed, so it was fun to imagine what the heck was there, and that made me look forward to re-reading it on my laptop wthe its accompanying photos.

    Now that I’m here looking at the vivid pics, I just had a flashback. I’ve actually been to Wisconsin – Kohler, Wisconsin! My ex was born in Sheboygan, and when I was in my early-20’s we drove from Santa Cruz, CA all the way to Kohler to visit his mom.I was in a deep depression at the time and we toured the Kohler plant – I truly thought I was in Hades. We did not go to Milwaukee, or any festivals for that mattter, but we made a pit stop in Madison and I remember the town seemed very hip and vibrant.

    I know….amazing, eh?

    I worked in music festival production in Silicon Valley at events with attendances in the hundreds of thousands. I was fascinated to learn that Summerfest is the world’s biggest music festival! 🙂 I got a big kick out of that effigy section – it made me think of a very creepy Midsomer Murders episode “The Straw Woman” about…you got it: effigies! Whoever wrote that one was super-twisted. Here’s the recap:


    It *is* very hard to get the kind of professional-caliber photographs you describe and appreciate – I sure can’t do it! It was a blast to see the photo of you and & Rachel….hee hee.

    I’m also thrilled you took up Bo’s advice and got out to do this in the first place with Rachel!

    And now, before I forget, I must email you for the Lessons Learned Collection!!!!!

    hope you’re enjoying the day and DRINKING WATER & TEA & YES, COFFEE
    until you become Lake Jean!

    forgive typos – so tired. I wish Lucy could proofread/edit!

    Liked by 2 people

    • OOOOOOH, I think I remember that episode! Yes, that is pretty creepy. Any time I think of dolls like this I think of a creepy horror movie I saw as a kid where a ventriloquist dummy gets possessed and killed people. That was bad enough; then my dad had to go and tell me he had a dummy JUST LIKE THAT IN THE BASEMENT.
      Yeah, I didn’t sleep for days.
      Yes, I’ll send the collection for you tomorrow! I’m a bit burned out from grading school work today, but tomorrow I’ll start sending the collection out.
      Kohler? Hmm. I can’t say I’ve been to Kohler, but yes, Madison IS a pretty neat town, so long as you don’t have to park–the one-way streets and metered parking are HORRIBLE. Milwaukee is a struggling city, one I’d love to photograph sometime because it’s buildings make me think of King Lear–majestic, yet in decay. Still, it has some lovely moments in it, and these lakefront festivals are one of them.
      YES, I’m drinking pints and pints and pints of water. I need to drink at least two cups of tea, though, rather than one. Officially on that for tomorrow! 🙂 xxxx


  3. Had to google paczkis 🙂 Look like doughnuts with jam in the middle, I think I have seen them in Polish shops. Never bought one though. Must try 🙂
    Thank you for mention! I love your chronicles, both the pictures and the narrative. Darth Vader shirt is the cherry on top! The post about your Polish Grandma was one of the first I have read on your blog. I think that in your picture you got the character just right 🙂
    I like to try hats on too, even if I am alone 🙂 Great post, great fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You did? I just always thought them to be doughnuts, but they do have a different texture to them: a bit heavier. If you like jelly doughnuts, then you MUST try. 🙂

      Oh yes, you did! Then you know why I take my interactions with the Polish quite seriously. 😛

      I used to own quite a collection of hats out of necessity, actually–my skin is very quirky, and in college I had this sort of psoriasis that drove me nuts. Far cheaper to cover my head than get medication back then. 😦 Thankfully motherhood reworked my hormones and that’s not quite such a problem as it once was.

      Hope you hit some festivals soon–I love your parade collections!
      I’m so glad I saw that woman, too! I hope I didn’t creep her out trying to get their picture. I suppose I should have approached them and asked them to pose, but they were so deep in whatever their chat was, and clearly had determined searching glances, that I couldn’t think of a really good reason to break in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I would love to have a collection of hats but it would be a total waste because I look awful in any hat 🙂 Still haven’t found MY hat 🙂 My daughter can put a shopping bag on her head and look fantastic 🙂
        If you asked them for a picture, how would you explain why? 🙂 How would you explain your attraction to her shirt? 🙂 She could get mad with you 🙂

        Now, it is just 9am but I already want a doughnut 🙂 What have you done with me! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • See, precisely! I have no clue what I would have said. Freelance journalism? Not to mention the most dangerous scenario: that they would LIKE me, and talk to me….and talk….and talk…
        I have a relation like that. Once he latches on he will literally talk to you no matter where you walk. I can barely insert a verbal utterance of any kind, he just. keeps. GOING. The way I can lose him is pretending my kid needs help with the potty. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! Yeah, the work on 45 really mucks everything up, doesn’t it? I tend to take Bluemound or Wisconsin whenever a highway is worked on. It doesn’t help that you were driving through town during Summerfest, so congestion is AWFUL right now. Sorry your timing, well, stunk. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: #Writers, Discover Portals to #Fantasy in the Beauty of #NaturePhotography. | Jean Lee's World

  5. The photos are fine. I bet you don’t have one of those really expensive Mirror less cameras the professionals use. Is that the Wisconsin look these days? The days of just entering a run in a T-shirt and shorts have gone. I was beaten in a sprint by a chap in a full chicken costume during the Great North Run.

    Liked by 1 person

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