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Poland pays homage to its "Elvis"

Poles set out to reclaim Chopin, two centuries after his birth.

Zelazowa Wola, a small manor house about 35 miles from Warsaw where Chopin was born, has been modernized. In the past it used to be a run-down place with no toilets, a bedraggled gift shop and not much of a draw for anyone to spend much more than a few minutes looking around before fleeing back to Warsaw. Now two new glass, wood and stone pavilions, one housing a restaurant and the other a concert hall, aim to turn Zelazowa Wola into a major tourist destination.

Chopin's global reach was demonstrated at the start of the Chopin celebrations, which kicked off in December with a concert in Beijing (a testament to the composer's enormous popularity in Asia), followed by a Warsaw concert where the headline act was a performance by Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The celebration will end on New Year's Eve in Warsaw, with a performance of Chopin's favorite operas.

Around the world more than 40 committees have sprung up, planning their own events often with no intervention from Warsaw.

“A lot of them were based on local initiatives, and in every case when we asked prominent people to take part and everyone accepted,” Dabrowski said.

Even Poland's infamous lack of organization, which plagues the country's efforts to build infrastructure or plan large-scale events, has not derailed the Chopin celebrations. There has been some overlapping of jurisdictions – one chocolate maker marvels that the foreign ministry, the tourist agency and other bodies all had their own logos and their owns designs for commemorative chocolates, forcing him to make separate production runs – but generally the organization of the year has gone well.

The Hungarians have even been by to take a look, hoping to get pointers for when they they organize the 2011 anniversary of their great composer, Franz Liszt.