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            February 2005


National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.
GG_Name
GG_Editor Who runs the show: Darek Raczko, Editor in Chief, with help from Deputy Editor Marcin Jamkowski
 
Name of the Game: National Geographic Poland
 
When it all started: October 1999
 
Where it all happens: Warsaw
 
Who makes it happen: Ten editorial staff, including the editor and deputy editor
 
What goes out: Around 200,000 copies a month
 
What keeps everyone going: "Anytime one of us returns from an assignment, an expedition, or from traveling abroad, we always bring back some of the local food—especially wine. That's all the excuse we need to organize a small party and start socializing."
 
Best office perk: "The Vietnamese restaurant across the street. Sometimes I pack up my things and head over there to work."
 
Favorite end-of-the-workweek activity: "I have two hobbies that I try to find time for. The first is rock climbing. My favorite areas are southern France, Morocco, Mali, Madagascar, and Sardinia, Italy. I've gone climbing in Austria a few times on the weekends. It was 12 hours driving, 48 hours climbing, and 12 hours driving back. The second is scuba diving. When I want to go diving, my favorite place is the Baltic Sea, which is maybe a little strange since it's so cold and murky. There's no coral reef, but there are a lot of historical shipwrecks. It's one of the best places in the world for wreck diving."
 
What's great about Poles: "They're funny, happy people. Poles like to spend time doing relaxed things, going to parties, and having a good time visiting with friends at home."
 
What's great about Poland: The girls! They are the most beautiful women in the world.
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Cultural Bests
The deputy editor's enthusiasm for all things Polish doesn't stop with his admiration for his country's beautiful women. Here's what he had to say about his favorite traditions.

1. Pilgrimage to Czestochowa
"The monastery of Jasna Góra is located in the southern city of Czestochowa. Inside is a painting of the Black Madonna and Christ child that people believe grants miracles. For hundreds of years Poles have walked as many as 190 miles (300 kilometers)—starting weeks before—to convene at the monastery on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. They come to pray for solutions to their problems and illnesses. Religious belief in Poland is very strong. Today the pilgrimage attracts more than 150,000 people, many of whom leave with the certainty that they've been cured."

2. Sekacz Cake
"Sekacz is made mostly in eastern Poland. It contains 40 or 50 eggs. It's an incredible cake, in taste and in shape. When you pour the batter, it forms what look like stalactites. You rotate it over and over again for ten hours, using something that looks like a crank from a well. And it must be baked very close to a hot wood-burning fireplace. When it's done, you stand it up vertically so that all the stalactites stick out. In the old days, sekacz was only baked for weddings because it was very expensive to make. Today it's more popular. You can find them every day in the bakery. And, unfortunately, I do."

3. Kulig (Sleigh Rides)
"This tradition takes place during Carnival season in the highland region of Poland. People ride sleighs to visit their neighbors at night. The hosts are expected to offer their unexpected guests a feast from all the food in the cellar and pantry. When the celebration ends at one house, the hosts join their guests for a sleigh ride to the next neighbor. Revelers carry torches, and there is a lot of singing, dancing, drinking, and general merrymaking around a bonfire."

4. Topienie Marzanny (Sinking of Marzanna)
"The long cold winters linger into early spring. In a special celebration in early March, children in the western regions of Wielkopolska and Silesia make dolls from dry grass and twigs. The doll is called Marzanna, which most likely comes from the word marznac, which means "freeze." To get rid of winter and prepare for the warmth of spring, the children parade down to nearby rivers, burn the dolls, and throw them into the water."

5. Wianki (Festival of Wreaths)
"This festival is held on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Young maidens in white dresses weave wreaths from fresh flowers and herbs. Then, escorted by young men portraying medieval soldiers, they walk to nearby waterways and set the candlelit wreaths afloat. The course a wreath follows is believed to determine a young woman's marriage prospects, in keeping with St. John's promise of youth, love, and fertility. After the wreaths are released, everyone celebrates with music, dancing, and fireworks."

Photographs by Pagani/CORBIS SYGMA (left); Raymond Gehman/CORBIS (center); and James P. Blair (right)
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