The world… over another cup of coffee


Ben’s “Instant Coffee Mexicano” and its ingredients. Photo by Ben Angel.

Before rambling my way through my view of the world, I wanted to take a few paragraphs to share my latest preferred method of staying awake. It’s supplanted Starbucks venti mochas and energy drinks (both too costly) and, for the moment, yerba mate (I’m running into short supply). This new coffee drink seems to work quite well for me, even as the temperatures go up here in southwestern Poland.

To make what I’m calling my “Instant Coffee Mexicano” drink, you pretty much need only the usual supply of powdered ingredients that you’d find if you have kids in the house that love cocoa. Well, maybe you’ll also need to love adding hot pepper powder to food as well, and I guess cinnamon isn’t really that common in Polish dishes, if you are also in this area of the world. But with a well-stocked Biedronka (or Safeway) store nearby, you can easily come up with everything you need:

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Places in History: Sketches of past lives taken from a shared family tree


The Maryland Dove, a replica of the original 40-ton pinnace “Dove” that accompanied the 400-ton “Ark” across the Atlantic. The original “Dove,” owned by the Calverts, remained in colonial waters for two years after its arrival until 1635, when it vanished at sea while attempting to take furs back to England. Photo by Acroterion via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of 2010, when I accepted an offer to join the curator community on, I was in the middle of a personal project to collect history from everywhere I had traveled, and to put it all into a single timeline. I had hoped that I could use this timeline to start writing historical fiction, creating publishable works that someone would want to buy.

I had, at the time, envisioned that someone to be a publishing house, but even when I had started collecting regional histories from various online and offline sources, this centralized world of writers submitting to publishers was already vanishing. The Internet had created a new world where writers could submit works directly to the readers. And frankly, that new reality left me confused for a few years.

All the while that I was sorting out what was happening, I learned more and more about history from a micro-perspective in my role as a curator on Geni. I learned to identify useful research on historical individuals, and to make sense of their positions in more than one family tree. Among my responsibilities as a curator, as I saw them, was to use such research to correct and otherwise render accurate the shared tree on Geni, and to help everyone involved understand what the best available research was saying. Sometimes that meant that I would be the one learning from others (I’m always grateful for the help in picking up on something new, or correcting my own misunderstanding about the past), but at other times it meant sharing something new that others hadn’t seen when first compiling their individual tree. Sometimes that would be something as simple as checking the date when a town was settled, or understanding when a region or colony changed hands. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another attempt to jumpstart my muse


Wrocław from the ulica Racławicka Bridge. Photo by Ben M. Angel.

It’s been awhile, but sometimes I’m inspired to write. These days, it seems like it’s mostly memory that serves as my muse. Central Europe is awash with faded impressions of important events of my young adult past. It’s a place that once held so many people with whom I’ve since lost touch with, all of whom my mind treats perhaps with greater affinity than it should. They were all important in their own way, though some admittedly more important than others.

It might be argued that memory could have been the real thing that drove me back to this part of Poland more assuredly than fear. Central Europe, after all, was the place where my ideals first met reality, and where I learned my limitations, as I had a few years earlier in Mexico, in ways that I probably shouldn’t have lived through.

Continue reading

Posted in Culture, Writing and reviews | Leave a comment

Fond recollections of my time with The Stranger

The present offices of The Stranger on Capitol Hill in Seattle, a far cry from where it used to be. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

The present offices of The Stranger on Capitol Hill in Seattle, a far cry from where it used to be. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

I remember returning to Seattle in the fall of 1991. I had spent two years drifting around the Detroit area after failing to apply for admission to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in time for the 1990-91 school year. That life phase ended after a friend of mine and I took a couple of months off to hitchhike across Europe – first following an all-girl rock band through Poland, and then, after I broke off to write about my experiences with them from a friend’s place in Berlin, chasing after the band across the continent to get them to fact check what I wrote.

After I returned to Detroit, I found that my job as a student media facilitator had vanished (not returning to work at the time you originally estimated you would come back will do that to you). Additional pressure to leave the Motor City came when, having watched the Soviet Union disintegrate after a hard-line coup failed, I saw an opportunity to do something really worth writing about. Gathering the last of my funds, I set out for Alaska, intent on finding some way to cross into Siberia, and become one of the first to make a low-budget crossing of all 15 former Soviet republics.

In retrospect, I blame my failure to cross the 11 time zones of the collapsing USSR on poor planning. When you don’t have money, or contacts, it doesn’t matter much how intrepidly you stand on the shores of the Cook Inlet of Alaska. Russia was far out of reach. So I returned to Seattle in the latter half of September, showing up on the door of my mother’s newly-purchased condo on Lake Meridian in Kent just in time to get ready and go out and try to sneak into the Paramount for Nirvana’s big concert promoting their Nevermind album. (I failed utterly, but Kurt Cobain was polite about not being able to get me in – as a bonus, I got to meet Courtney Love for the first and only time… sadly, it would be the last I would ever see Cobain alive.) Continue reading

Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

Ben M. Angel’s maxims

Near the start of this blog, I once tried to translate into Spanish the Maxiims of François de La Rochefoucauld. These were so like my own thoughts that I figured if I had a reference to work from online, I could learn Spanish from these and be able to converse on subjects I normally talk about in real life. He had pretty much embodied my own thoughts some three centuries before I was born.

But then I really thought about it. Do I really have nothing that I could contribute if asked to throw in thoughts of my own? Is all of human wisdom so derivative and so over-repeated that I could contribute nothing?

Well, it probably is. But if someone, somewhere had already said everything I could think of, at least I could repeat some of the ideas I feel are most useful at least a different order. And maybe that will be enough to stir new thoughts about life, and everything that affects it. Let me be clear, these are not the Maxims of Rochefoucauld. If you want to read them, and they are well-recommended, copies of them exist. What follows are the thoughts that go through my head written similar to the works he produced as they were published in English.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

At the end of a year of living in Poland



Albina posing with original Orange Alternative Wroclaw Dwarf images at the Konspira Restaurant near Plac Solny. Photo by Ben M. Angel

About a year ago (well, it will be a year on June 15, 2016), I brought my family from Belarus to Wrocław in western Poland. The move was as well-coordinated as anything resembling a flight of refugees from potential Russian aggression might appear. However, we were coming to this city well ahead of any urgent need, as migrants, or at least my wife and kids were. She held a karta polaka, and could confer residency on our kids, while I held onto an American passport in its last year of validity.

I could say we had high expectations, coming to this city. It was a growth center for this country with lots of foreign businesses looking at it for investment. Jobs seemed to be plentiful. The Cultural Capital of Europe baton was on its way here, meaning that my kids would not be stuck with a provincial mental picture misshaping their thoughts and lives. There were things to do, and many people to meet. At least five capitals were a short distance away, should the decision be made to travel to any one of them – all of which were within the so-called Shengen Zone, a border-less collection of different states. There would be no visa hassles to face down.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Silesian Summer: A change of seasons (Albina Angel’s First Day of School in Poland)

Albina walks confidently beside mother on the way to school on Sept. 1. Photo by Ben M. Angel

Albina walks confidently beside mother on the way to school on Sept. 1. Photo by Ben M. Angel

Almost a month has passed since school has started, but I figured I would be remiss in not mentioning something about the end of our Silesian summer. After all, the change of seasons marks a further step toward settling my family safely in the cosmopolitan Polish city of Wrocław.

Our reality is, thankfully, far different from that of the desperate souls fleeing the unadulterated evil of the so-called Caliphate straddling the border regions between Syria and Iraq. The culture here is not that foreign to us, even though we’re still regarded as immigrants from “Poland B” to some who live here. Compared to the Syrian refugees who might first appear at the train and bus station any day now, we’re welcome, even despite our varying degrees of incomplete command of the Polish language (mine being the worst). Naturally, out of all of us, our daughter Albina is the one that is most rapidly overcoming that obstacle to life in Poland. Although kids generally have a distinct natural advantage in learning new languages, part of the reason for this improvement clearly stems from the fact that she has successfully enrolled in school here.

Although I remember being surprised by the fact that I was being taken to school on my first day of Kindergarten more than four decades ago, well, a kid’s first day of school should be something special. In Russia, they call the day of the first bell the “Day of Knowledge,” a celebration of learning that introduces children to their teachers and prepares them for the work ahead. In places like Belarus, they are fully dressed up in suits and uniform dresses, and they bring flowers as a token of respect and affection.

Here in Poland, the rules are similar. You have the first day ceremony, usually on or around Sept. 1, and kids meet their teachers in black-and-white dress. No classes are held the first day. Instead, teachers introduce themselves to their students and to all the parents, and with the information conveyed that day, the event becomes an opportunity for the parents to take an important first step to becoming deeply involved in their education.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment