This is not an ordinary foreign travel. I am visiting Poland, the country of my birth and youth, probably for the last time. During my previous visit six years ago I had a sense that the time was approaching for moving on and leaving Poland behind. While I felt, and still do, totally at home in this language and culture, and in the geography of this dynamic city, it became clear during the 2010 visit that Poland was no longer my country and Warsaw was not my city. I am not rooted there, have no aspirations or hopes connected with that place, no daily business of living to attend to. I have mostly memories, old wounds inflicted by my sudden and shocking expulsion in 1968, and deeply set yet unarticulated longings.
I do not know what my expectations for this trip are. But it is clear that this is the last round of my efforts to understand my own life, and those of my parents, in the context of Poland’s history in the twentieth century. My parents are now dead. I must figure things out myself. Oh, I almost forgot: my 50th high school reunion will take place during this visit.
Sunday, September 4
I arrive from glorious Budapest without a jet lag. Wojtek and Danusia wait for me at the airport with their usual warmth.
We drove to their new apartment in Tarchomin. It is a far away location and the apartment is small. Not enough room for me to stay overnight even if I wanted to. Danusia served a Polish dinner of soup and second course and we drove to “my” apartment on Bartoszewicza #1. What a great place! The interior is design by Bartek, Wojtek’s artist son in law. It is a little crazy: cement countertop surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, square deep blue sinks and bathtub, the bathroom floor made of round pebbles embedded in cement that at first were impossible to walk on (I got used the them after a couple of days and actually enjoyed the foot massage they produced), and other artistic features in the brutalist style. But this is a perfect place for a two week stay: a large light-filled living room and a small bedroom/alcove just big enough for a bed, a utilitarian little kitchen and a perfect location, just two blocks away from where Nowy Swiat meets Krakowskie Przedmiescie, the best address in Warsaw.
The apartment is on the second floor and with the windows open I can hear the bits and pieces of conversations of pedestrians walking by.
Monday, September 5
I spent several hours getting organized for the stay in Warsaw: getting a mobile phone, a professional picture, and a senior pass for public transit ($12 for unlimited rides for a year), buying an umbrella, buying some basic groceries in a little shop on my street. Wojtek of course was my guide in all these matters. We walked and walked through the city center: twice around Palac Kultury (the iconic Palace of Culture), by the Philharmonic Hall, on Marszalkowska and Swietokrzyska Streets. I am clearly not as used to city walking as he is. By the time we finished I was tired.
In the meantime I got a glimpse of this prosperous section of Warszawa. Really, lovely. The metro is modern and quiet, public toilets are clean, public services are efficient and friendly. The sidewalks on the most attractive avenues — Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie — have been widened at the expense of the car lanes, and on some arteries there are separated bike lanes. The shopping malls are the usual stuff; exactly the same stores and merchandise as elsewhere around the world. Full of people. Warsaw is an international city, well run. While waiting to pick up my picture I struck a conversation with a bold man about my age who lives in L.A. since 1971. He used to be a manager in Stodola, on my Nowowiejska Street, our most favorite dance club once upon a time. We looked at each other with a look that said: “we were young then.”
Wojtek of course provided me with uninterrupted narrative during this escapade: about the terrible right wing government that is trying to centralize power and governance (like during the Komuna), about the greedy Catholic church that is getting its hands on all real-estate property that can be proven (or not) to have once belonged to it, before the nationalization, about endless claims and litigations by private parties with regard to the ownership of land and buildings, not excluding public parks and schools. Apparently my former high school had to relocate because the Church claimed the land on which it stood. The church will build a skyscraper where my school used to be.
We also caught up on his work and retirement plans, or rather their absence. Wojtek has done well over the decades. His company is providing software services for servicing cash registers to international companies that have retail stores in Poland. He is doing well enough, though in Poland nobody will say outright that he is well-to do. But his software business for the cash registers in retail stores is slow now, maybe for good. The weakness of his business is that he is entirely dependent on the whims of the large foreign companies who seem to be squeezing him for more work for less money. Perhaps if he was producing for the domestic market he would be doing better in today’s Poland. Wojtek told me that his other two partners have given their part of business to their sons and have effectively retired (thought they are still engaged). Wojtek has no “succession” and no desire to retire.
They certainly live modestly in their two room apartment in Tarchomin, to which they moved after first having given the big house to Wojtek’s daughter, and then having given the nice apartment on Saska Kepa to Danusia’ daughter. All four daughters are now all set with their fully owned houses and condos, and the parents are content. To me it seems like a great sacrifice, but not to them.
I made myself lunch I like: cut up cucumbers, tomatoes and radishes, with white cheese and yogurt. These cucumbers taste like cucumbers should. I spend the afternoon resting with a book. It is cool today, after the torrential rain last night. In the early evening I took a walk to my Nowowiejska 10, looked into the windows of our old apartment, and checked out the neighborhood, which has not changed since my last visit 6 years ago. Had a nice bowl of soup in a little bar, and paid for a bowl of soup for a man who asked me for it.
Later that night I turned on TV randomly and came upon TV theater, a play in progress. When it ended I noticed in the credits Andrzej Malejko’s name, years after his death. What a coincidence for me to come upon it.
My neighborhood is really perfect. There is a tiny little shop a few doors down where I can satisfy all my needs; fresh vegetables, fruit, bread, white cheese, ready to eat pierogi and nalesniki. And fabulous raspberries! $2-3 for a kilo of this miracle. This is my idea of life in a city but of course I would never find such a shop in the US, and even this little shop will not survive in Warsaw. There are two Biedronka (which means ladybug)supermarkets within a couple of blocks from here.
I met Basia, my high school best friend, at noon at Plac Na Rozdrozu (Square at the Crossroads). The same Basia as six years ago, just a little older. We walked through Park Ujazdowski, which is lovely, and we talked. Basia started by relating her major events: a liver disease that almost killed her, and is still a great danger to her, and the story of her daughter who in her early 20’s has fallen under the mind controlling influence of this terrible obese man (the man died this spring!). At some point I glanced at my watch and noticed that she talked for a full hour without interruption. Just as I was beginning to think that my turn will never come Basia turned to me and asked: now tell me about yourself. For the next hour, with real interest and careful attention she listened and fully participated in my story, with all the attendant details. This is a vintage Basia.
After we parted I continued on Aleje (Avenue) Ujazdowskie to Lazienki Park. The avenue is as grand as ever, though I noticed that in the process of building a splendid bicycle path they cut a row of ancient trees and replaced them with new ones. Along the way I encountered many posters and information booths by KAD, which translates to Committee to Protect Democracy, a strong political opposition movement. I chatted with a man about their program.
The park, which is called these days Royal Lazienki Park, is breathtaking. Chestnut trees are dropping their fruit, roses are still in bloom, there is a strong aroma of juniper and cut grass, silence and tranquility prevails. Not like NY Central Park these days, so crowded. I walked quite far in the park, around the royal palace, and down the hill toward the other exit on Mysliwiecka Street. Returning back on that low route toward Ujazdowski Park I discovered that the old Ujazdowski Palace has been renovated during the intervening years and now houses Institute for Contemporary Art. They had an exhibit by an artist from Senegal, whose name I did not write down, which I liked well enough but was not moved by it. Then I discovered a very small exhibit called modern life. It consisted of a single room with six large armchairs equipped with earplugs and a computer monitor in front of each. These chairs give an excellent all body massage while soothing images fill the screen and soothing words flow into the ears. I repeated this five-minute cycle three times. There was only on other person in the room with me, plus the caretaker who confessed to using the massage chairs when there are no visitors. Clearly, Warsaw is also feeling the rush of modernity weighing on it.
In the bookstore I found Naomi Klein’s books translated into Polish, including her most recent expose of capitalism. Very appropriate for Warsaw, which is clearly thriving on capitalism and consumerism. Outside the building I discovered hammocks strung up between trees and so I relaxed in one of them. I could already see that my visit will involve a lot of walking. And it is very hot in Warsaw this week.
Today I went to Wroclaw, the city where I was born, for a day with Danusia and Wojtek. We took the 7:30 train and arrived in Wroclaw 3.5 hours later. I slept a little on the train. The center of Wroclaw – the main market place and Ratusz (town hall) — are gorgeous. Everything renovated, restored, well-loved. So is the oldest part of the city, along the river, which Wojtek remembered from his previous trips. Of course I could see in the distance the high-rise buildings of socialist projects, but these scars on the landscape are not my business. I am a tourist looking for beauty in the places I visit. Our day consisted of walking, getting tired, sitting in cafes, walking again, getting tired, and repeating the cycle. It is a very hot day, in the 90s.
One unusual place we visited was a panoramic gigantic painting of the battle of Raclawice in 1794 during the Kosciuszko uprising. This uprising was the last attempt by Poles to prevent the third and final Partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Although the battle was victorious the war was lost (and Poland disappeared from the map in 1795 until 1918). This painting, 114 meters long, was made in by Jan Styka in 1893. It is displays in an in-door circular arena. By some measures it is kitsch, but I really enjoyed the spectacle of slowly walking in the rotunda through the event to the sound of a narrator (the actor Olbrychski) telling us what is happening in the battle minute by minute, who is who, and what they are doing. This low tech way of telling a familiar story is such a pleasant contrast to the modern computerized media creations that it is in and of itself a museal artefact.
On the way back to Warsaw we took one of the modern trains Poland now has, which can put Amtrak to shame. So comfortable, silent, smooth, with a fine chef in the restaurant car. At some point the three of us tried to remember the poem by Tuwim “Lokomotywa”. As we were reciting it to each other in soft voices a man in the next seat joined us. Goodness, people still read these poems in Poland to their children!
I got home at about 11 Pm, tired but glad to have “done” Wroclaw.
After the 15 hour day yesterday I made it a slow morning. Wrote, talked to Philip about the UNEP project, fussed around the house. Then I took bus 503 to Ursynow where Ewa, my best elementary school friend, waited for me at the bus stop. It took less than half an hour. I love this efficient, timely, quiet and not too crowded public transit in Warsaw.
Ursynow is the embodiment of the communist dream of creating a new society through new land development and architecture. Built sometime in the 60s and 70 it is home to somewhere around 200,000 people. From a distance it is just an enormous project built in the middle of nowhere south of the city center. But close up it is actually a nice community, somewhat like Coop City in NY, but with many more little shops and quaint corners. Though there is no escaping the high-rise feeling. We visited briefly Ewa’s apartment, which has been very nicely renovated in recent years, then we picked up her daughter in law Ania with little Henio and went for half a day to Prazmow.
That country house Ewa built in Prazmow is enviably beautiful. It is an original mountain house from Zakopane in Carpathian Mountains, made of logs, which was taken apart and reassembled. The landscaping around it has filled in over the years and looks magnificent: flowers, ripe apples on heavy tree branches, a goldfish in the little pond, aromatic evergreens. Ewa is prosperous in her oldish age. Tadeusz is earning a fine salary and they both collect comfortable social security payment. He does not plan to retire, and being a vice director of his institute he is unlikely to be pushed out of his job.
They just bought a new apartment in Ursynow, very close to their current one, because they cannot grow old in their current 5th floor location without an elevator. The new one will have an elevator, be on a ninth floor, and be smaller. Ewa did all the calculations for me: after buying the new one, mostly from their savings, and selling the old one, there will be enough money to buy a studio apartment for rental income. Another piece of real estate in her possession to rent out and to take care of. I invest in stocks and bonds, she in real estate. In the long run she is probably better off but I do not want the hassle of being a landlord.
I spent a lazy afternoon in the country house on a perfect summer afternoon. I read, ate, lazed about, listened to the sounds of chickens. But somehow I did not feel so great about it. Ania and Ewa of course fussed over little baby Henio and I thought: what am I doing here? It is their family, and where is mine? Some sadness fell over me until we dropped Ania off at around 7 PM at her sister’s apartment and returned to the Ursynow apartment. For a snack and a conversation just the two of us. We talked about growing old and about the children. Ewa’s sons are scattered around the globe: South Africa and the US. Long and expensive travel to see them, to maintain some kind of relationship with the grandchildren. I said to Ewa I have no roots and she said she has no branches, with one son in S.A. and the other in the US. Well, we concluded, we need to hold on to each other.
It was a short conversation but opened an intimacy between us and I felt finally relaxed. We shall see each other next week.
Friday, the day of my 50th high school class reunion.
Wojtek calls me each morning at 9 AM to check out how I am. I planned a quiet day, to be rested for the Reunion, maybe a walk on Stare Miasto (Old Town) and Krakowske Przedmiescie was the extent of my ambitions. Day after day it is hot here, about 30 degrees (upper 80s). My location is as perfect as one can imagine in Warsaw: round the corner is a major theater, Chopin Museum, Music conservatory, and a tiny little urban park. Cafes and restaurants everywhere, food shopping also around the corner, and beauty everywhere. It is a pity that the theater and opera season do not start until the end of September.
My plans must be a temptation for Wojtek in his regular daily existence because he cancelled his day at work and joined me for a walk. Krakowskie Przedmiescie and Stare Miasto are dazzling in this September light. Really beautiful. What a difference with Rotterdam, which was destroyed during the war and never recovered its old character or charm. Poles, on the other hand, lovingly and with surgical precision rebuilt the Old Town, the Royal Palace and the Royal Road (which comprises Aleje Ujazdowskie, Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie). Wojtek introduced me to a friend painter who sells his work on the Rynek (Market Place), and we chatted: about his technique, the art business, the competition, Modigliani. I ventured an opinion, based on the Modigliani exhibition we just saw in Budapest last week, that the painter was static, always the same style, subject, technique. Wojtek’s friend disagreed, emphasizing that the essence of Modigliani is in the emotional, that each painting perfectly expresses emotions. I need to reflect on that observation.
Lunch in a café of zurek soup and pierogi with melted bacon fat on top. Fattening, tasty and irresistible food we both sinfully consumed. Walked back through the campus of the University. Wojtek talks non-stop, and it is all factual stuff, the most arcane pieces of historical or technical information. At time it is too much but mostly I really enjoy it. I noticed that he always picks up handouts from street vendors, whether he has an interest in them or not (mostly not). When asked about it Wojtek told me that these people get paid on the basis of how many flyers they distribute and that we need to help them. This is the essential Wojtek.
The two hour or so walk tired me out more than I expected. When I got home I had only 1.5 hour to rest, change, and call a taxi for my Reunion party at Galeon restaurant on Mokotow. Chatted with the taxi driver who complained about the rat race of life in Warsaw, the endless working days with no overtime compensation. I told him it is the same in the US. He did not look like he believed me.
The evening was really lovely, though without epiphany. Twenty out of around 33 people came. Piotrek, the sage among us, came up immediately to thank me for helping him with chemistry homeworks (I did not remember). Marek thanked me for letting him use my literature essays to write his own. I did not remember that either. Apparently I initially refused to share them as an unfair practice but eventually relented. He told me how impressed he was with my principle, but happier that eventually I worked through it. I must have liked him then because I liked him now. We naturally found each other through the evening and commented with humor on the happenings around us. For example, we had a good laugh noting that three of the women had exactly the same hairstyles as 50 years ago. And that we both thought that one of the women was gay but we must have been wrong because she has a husband and two children.
I was of course a minor celebrity and enjoyed that status. It is very special to be called Halinka by everybody! My moment came when it was my turn to speak for a few minutes about how my life evolved. I could finally tell them about 1968. They listened, and this is what I wanted. Two people came to me at some point afterward to apologize for what happened in 1968. I had nothing to say, just hugged. Jola, as always serious and solid, wanted to know more, much more – about my first steps in America, and of course I was glad to comply. She wanted to know if I experienced antisemitism in Poland during my youth. How do you explain that feeling of shame and these advanced techniques I developed for not hearing when I heard certain comments? I gave her some examples, but felt they were grossly inadequate.
My beloved Wanda looked really good and was the same spacy girl I remembered. I still love her, she is so much my opposite. I will meet her on Monday in Kazimierz Dolny, where she is renovating an inherited family house. I missed Danusia (the unacknowledged Jewess) and the beautiful and stylish Ewa (she is after a stroke).
The rest was just fun. Pictures on the screen, guessing who was who, asking about the fate of those who were absent. I do not know how these five hours went by! What struck me is that I really truly remembered only maybe half the people in the room, and even after I spoke to them and saw their earlier photographs I still did not remember. Those who stood out in my little personal orbit remained that way; others vanished. And there were no great surprises about people’s fates: the girls with average ambitions in school stayed that way. I was struck by how few changes in jobs people made over these years, and how few followed the research-science-academic routes (just me, Ania and this fellow who won the national astronomy olympiad). This was a school for children of the petit bourgeoisies, and they children followed their parents’ route. In that sense I stood out. My school was very different from Heniek’s elite school for the governing and party elites and the intelligencia. I was also struck by the number of comments people made about having chosen the wrong field of studies, the wrong profession.
Jacek gave me a ride home, talking non-stop about his new life with a new fiancé, 6 years after being widowed. And that was it. On Monday Basia and I will drive to Kazimierz to spend some time with Wanda. That will suffice for my reunioning. I smile when I write it. It was a joyful gathering and my cup is full.
Today I spent an entire day in the Jewish Museum Polin. I thought that the word meant Poland in Yiddish but learned that it means rest here (Po Lin) which apparently was the guidance God gave to homeless wandering Jews of Europe. Since Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie are only for pedestrian traffic during the summer weekends I walked across Saski Ogrod (Saski Garden), then took a tram. This park, in a formal French styles, is very different form the romatic English style of Lazienki, but is also beautiful, and like Lazienki, is tranquil.
It is an amazing museum. Architecturally I could not quite grasp it, perhaps because there were many people in the lobby. But the exibit! Oh, the exibit! Amazing!
First, it is enormous. It is located downstairs in a space without windows or any other connection to the outside world. Once you enter, you are totally inside the story being told. This thousand year long story is told through several (I think 8 or 9) separate exhibits that meander in that space. It is a bit like a labyrinth because the signs for visitors for the direction of movement, or the numbering of an exhibits, are very inconspicuous. Sometime a passage from one exhibit to another is partly hidden around a sharp bend of some display, so the result was that several times I felt like I was in a cul-de-sac, not knowing where to go or if altogether to turn around. I do not think that this is a design flaw but rather a purposeful design to entirely gather me in the possessive folds of this incredible history.
The entire exhibit goes to great lengths to be neutral, to simply tell the story factually. Unlike holocaust museums around the world, which focus on the Jewish martyrology and seek to evoke strong emotions, this exhibit tries to tell a story of the two peoples living in one space. I think it succeeds.
I am glad that I read the museum book form Nadia and Jan beforehand, otherwise I would not have been able to take it all in or to pace myself. I am not sure how a non-Pole can absorb the Jewish history without knowing, as I do, the Polish history that sets the stage for it.
In the ancient section I was thinking about Ester, the Jewish mistress of king Kazimierz the Great in 14th century, who gave him 2 sons. If the story is true (it may be a legend only, as it was written down a hundred years after the fact) then probably a lot of Polish nobility descends from Ester.
And during the 17-19 century the economically ambitious Jews were very closely aligned with the Polish economic elites. When the export of Polish grain declined the landed magnates turned to production and sale of alcohol as their primary source of income. Who but Jews did this work for them? The chronic alcoholism of ignorant and exploited feudal Polish peasants was a construct by the Jewish-Christian economic elites but the peasants saw only the Jews, not the Polish aristocrats who lived in great luxury at the very top of this pyramid. Surely this did not produce any love toward the Jews. A complicated history.
The interwar period of Mama’s and Tata’s youth came to life for me: these two intense political movements competing with each other – Bund, which tied its fate to the international struggle by the proletariat for a new social/political system, where social justice and absence of racial prejudices would reign, and Zionism that gave up on the unjust exploitive and anti-Semitic society and sought to build such a paradise in Palestine. They both failed but differently and for different reasons. Communism got terribly corrupt from the start by Leninism and Stalinism while Zionism was built on the shaky foundation of the conquest of the Arabs. And got eventually corrupted by consumerism and affluence. But each preserved some parts of the original dream as well.
The interesting section was the invasion of eastern Poland by the Soviets in September of 1939 and the subsequent enslavement of a quarter of a million Poles, especially the intelligencia, by Stalin. Most of them died in gulags and, for the army officers, in Katyn. Poles could not forgive Jews for being sympathetic to the Soviet invasion as a protection form the Nazis and, as the envoy Jan Karski wrote, just waited for the day when they could revenge themselves. History is so complicated. When I later asked Wojtek and Danusia about that period, they became quite emotional while telling the story of one sister who disappeared, never to be heard from again, and another one who escaped just in time.
Of course I cried my eyes out in the Holocaust section and the 1968 section. I did not see anything in the exhibit about the Jews who survived the WW II in USSR. That is an important oversight.
And I found my own name! The researchers of the post-war Jewish history clearly used the book by Joanna Wyszniewicz “Zycie Przeciete” (Life Cut Through) based on interviews of my emigre cohort, and chose my quote, among several others. So there I was, seeing my name in big letters on the screen.
And then the exhibit ends abruptly in the 1980s. No commentary, no conclusions, just ends. It leaves the conclusions to us. I would love to hear from Polish people who have seen it. I will ask Danusia, who apparently did.
I left the museum feeling curiously calm. I think that the reunion, and the approaching, visit to Poland (and before that Budapest) made me nervous, and now it is all done. I walked home in the beautiful light of the late summer evening, glad to have a quiet time ahead. Skyped with the Chicago kids. Mopped around the apartment. At peace.
Sunday, September 11
Another very hot day. I built it around Chopin. I wrote until noon, then went to the Chopin Museum nearby. The exhibit was confusing and did not tell me much about his persona and even less about his music. It was essentially a collection of artefacts, including his last piano (this was interesting) and letters. One thing caught my attention. They asked if Chopin could have gotten married. And the answer came in the form of a quote from the Polish writer Slonimski: Chopin could not get married because he entered the world of aristocracy and the women who fascinated and pursued him were of very high birth. But being of a lower social class and with no wealth he could not marry any of them. So he was stuck. Dying young solved that problem for Chopin.
I noticed that Chopin is getting commercialized on Poland. The airport is now named after him, and so is the Music Conservatory. The upscale B&B nearby offers daily performances for its guests and other visitors (for a price), and there are Chopin festivals and series. Chopin has become a tourist attraction.
I was done with the museum in an hour. Wojtek called and said that he and Danusia would join me in my plans to go to a Chopin concert in Lazienki Park at 4 PM. I had mixed feelings: always glad to see them, yet I was looking forward to a day to myself. Since the arrival in Poland I have been on a mission to find Polish pastries as I remember them. Not so easy. The pastry shops now carry some American looking concoctions that do not attract me. I found on the web a list of highly recommended pastry shops in my part of town, so the three of us started out on the search. The first stop was the venerable Blikle on Nowy Swiat. Indeed, they had everything I was looking for, so we made a note to stop there in the evening, on the way back.
Then we walked in this unbelievable heat along Mokotowska Street. I never thought much about this street in the old days but it actually is a beautiful street of handsome gracious buildings, all renovated and kept in perfect shape. Dazzlingly white, like many original Warsaw buildings. I found out that some of the richest people in Warsaw live on Mokotowska. One of the buildings, all white and in some kind of Habsburg style, had a pretentious looking high metal fence and ornate gate. Little cafes scattered along the street. We found two of the pastry shops from my list: at number 52 and 45. One actually had the old fashioned Polish pastry but the other was full of mountainous whipped cream creations, not inviting at all. OK, so two pastry shops to my liking!
Before I noticed we arrived at Plac Konstytucji (Consitution Square) and Warynskego Street, my old neighborhood. Wojtek in his usual fashion providing a commentary on every building, its history and current tenants. He is really unbelievable. A walking Google search. By now we were hungry so we stopped in some hipsterish looking small restaurant-bookstore and had some uninteresting vegan dishes in a nice atmosphere. The neighborhood where we used to live – Sniadeckich, Warynskiego, Plac Zbawiciela (Square of the Savior, named after the church that dominates it), are now the center of the hipster culture. Every courtyard and niche features a bar, a club, a café. The restaurants we passed had no empty seats and many require reservations. A new fashion are the reclining canvas beach chairs (lezaki). I also noticed that, just like in Budapest, people do not stare at phone screens; rather they talk to each other. They all have smartphones but in public spaces use them mostly as phones, not computers.
By the time we arrived at Chopin monument the concert was about to start. It was such a splendid thing to lie on the grass and listen to this music. One of the pieces was the prelude-nocturne which I play! The people around me, and this was a large crowd, all looked urbane and cultured. A lot of young people, beautiful young women, long legged and stylishly dressed. Tall, handsome young men. Well-behaved kids running silently among the adults immersed in this music.
After the concert, which was announced in Polish and English, we walked for quite a while through the park. I cannot say enough about the beauty of this park. It is the essence of eighteen and nineteen century English romanticism. Despite it being a hot Sunday afternoon it was not very crowded and there was a sense of peace in the air. There were even some bikers sharing the paths with the walkers. I recognized some places I used to visit with Patrick Derr and David Angel when we did our research in Poland in the late 1990s, back when you could get a royal meal in the Royal Orangery for next to nothing. Those day are over, of course, these are rather pricy and excusive places.
My memories have turned to the pre-1968 times, those countless Sundays when Mama would finish dinner preparations early, get nicely dressed and we all went for a stroll in the park, and to the Chopin concert. Oftentimes we would meet and be joined by another family. This was the kind of life that Mama could not have imagined when she was young, often hungry, working in textile factories since age 14, a survivor of Shoah. We had a very nice apartment in a very nice rebuilt section of Warsaw, access to cultural life and various amenities my father’s executive position provided, mama became a self-educated intellectually sophisticated member of the intelligencia class. She could not have lived that life in Israel or at least she did not believe that was possible. Poland gave her a new start and that part of her that always craved education, ideas, and knowledge, thrived on it. Of course she supported that system!
Eventually we made it to Nowy Swiat and had tea with pastry in Blickle’s café. Exactly as I wanted. The pastry was very good, as I remembered it. The last stretch of the walk toward my house took us through the back alleys of the streets around Nowy Swiat. Every courtyard, every urban nook and cranny has a café, a club, a beer garden. And they are full of people who do not stare at their smartphone. These are the equivalents of Budapest courtyard cafes, with however two important differences: they are not overrun by tourists; and they are very prosperous looking. None of the bohemian look of Budapest’s “ruin bars”, which, during our most recent trip, did not look as authentic to me as they did 6 years ago.
I suddenly realize that this Chopin concert in the park, followed by a stroll through my beloved Lazienki and a pastry in my favorite café, may be the essence of my lifelong longing for city life. Perhaps I have not been so much longing for city life as I have been longing for a life in Warsaw! Well, this I cannot have. This is not my country and not my city anymore, and they do not have Lazienki in Boston or New York or anywhere else I know, certainly not within a walking distance from my home. This I must accept.
Today was my girlfriends day. Basia picked me up this morning and we drove to Kazimierz Dolny, and ancient town on Wisla river, established in the 14th country by king Kazimierz the Great, and once the center of commerce and grain processing and transport. Today Kazimierz is a very charming artist colony with narrow streets, beautifully restored buildings and far too touristy (mostly Polish tourism). It takes only 2.5 hours to get here from Warsaw so the weekends in the summer are crazy busy and many well-to-do Warsovians have vacation homes here. Very expensive land.
This is where Wanda has her house, in the woods, about 3 kilometers from the center. It has been in the family for three generations, it is spacious but quite neglected and under major renovations, now that Wanda (after the premature recent death of her sister) is the sole owner of it. The drive with Basia was a pleasure, sitting together in the car for a long stretch of time, reminiscing about ourselves as high school students. What struck both of us is how separate lives the different groups of kids led. We, the “nice girls” had no idea about the escapades of the guys with alcohol and other forbidden things. And the other girls who were more interested in their looks and social life than their grades also lived in a separate bubble.
Wanda welcomed our arrival with her typical open arms and this innocent earnest kind smile that I have always loved. On the one hand, she is a successful patent lawyer with a solo practice in the center of the city, and on the other hand she is this somewhat airhead-like well-meaning otherworldly girl-woman. How does one accomplish both at the same time? I cannot figure it out but perhaps that has always been the essence of my attraction to her.
We had tea and cake together, including Wanda’s husband Tom, a quiet and very nice man, a talented craftsman of many dimensions. Somehow in the conversation they mentioned the communist period and how people needed to make peace with that system in order to succeed. I think my parents were part of the conversation. I felt compelled to clarify that my parents were not making peace with that system but rather were part of the system, were communists by conviction before the war. I went further to say that my parents were the beneficiaries of the post-war social order which enabled them to rise to the ranks of intelligencia.
It is so damn important to me these days to say it openly, with pride. Just like 25 years ago when I first returned to Poland it was so important for me to say loudly and as soften as I could the word Zyd (Jew), which has caused me so much difficulty. In any case, I think that neither woman heard me, but Tom did, and that was enough for me.
After the tea we went of a walk toward the river. It is quite nice there, woody and tranquil. The view of the river and the lowlands around it from the high point where we stood was arresting. But this is not an especially beautiful river today: low, somewhat muddy and slow. I can easily find more spectacular landscapes and views in Massachusetts, not to mention the land of the US. So I joined their enjoyment of this pretty spot but I was not swept off my feet. Of course, for Wanda this place is very special because she spent all the summers in her youth here, away from the difficult housing conditions she had back in Warsaw.
In our conversations the life in the post-war Poland came up a lot: the fact that the Communists confiscated people’s houses and other real property without compensation or due process, that fact that people were assigned where to live, and in Wanda’s case it involved sharing an apartment and kitchen/bathroom with another family, the Kowalski couple. I listen to it, try to understand the dimensions of these people’s hate of the commies, but I do not say anything. If I did I would have to say that in this is world when a regime changes peoples’ lives change, some for the better (mine) some for the worse (hers), and that Poland was a very poor country, additionally devastated by the war, and in order to find apartments for everybody people had to live for the first 2-3 decades in terrible circumstances. But the point is not to lecture or explain. The point is for me to understand the world in which I once lived and knew very little about: the hate of the dominant system and above all the soviets. And for once, not to be silent when I need to speak up.
In the Jewish Museum I was reminded of the invasion of eastern Poland by USSR in September 1939 and the hundreds of thousands of the members of the Polish intelligencia who perished on the spot or in the gulags. When I yesterday asked Wojtek and Danusia about it, it was like a flood: the stories of their relatives who were arrested and never seen again. Poles had reasons to hate the soviets but the fact remains that for Jews, the soviets were a child game compared with the Nazis. My Polish friends don’t think about it, but I do.
It has become fashionable in Poland to have Jewish roots. Wanda found out that her great-grandfather on the mother’s side was Jewish and converted to Catholicism in order to marry a gentile girl. Wanda is delighted about the discovery. Her beloved grandmother, one of the children of that union, never told her that she was half Jewish. Why not? Nobody can answer that question. She really likes to talk about Jews and the harmony in which the two populations lived in Kazimierz before the war (50% were Jewish) but I cannot tell whether she talks about it so much because she is pandering to me or that Jewishness is so much on her mind. And of course it is naïve to say, as she does, that Jews and Christians lived in Poland in harmony until the Nazis came and disturbed the equilibrium. But it is not my job to mention the murderous pogroms in Jedwabne and Kielce and all the other horrors. I listen. In any case, Wanda clearly likes the Jewish mix in her heritage. And she is so lovably sincere.
We had a splendid meal in the local restaurant, in a garden under a tree, being the three high school girls again. So much fun! Laughing, joking, and reminiscing. And then walked the two miles out of town to the remains of a Jewish cemetary. It is an amazing place. In the woods, with all the trees about the same age (probably 70 years old) some gravestones still standing here and there. The afternoon light was pushing through the tree canopy creating an unworldly atmosphere. It felt like the spirits of these long ago people who died in peace in their own beds surrounded by their loved ones were still present. On the edge of the wood a tall wall, maybe 10 feet high, has been built out of all the gravestones that had been desecrated during the war (used to pave the grounds of the monastery and church, which were used by Germans as offices). In the middle the wall is literally torn apart leaving a fissure several feet wide with jagged edges. It makes quite an impression.
On our walk back to town I asked my other recurrent question I try to understand: why did Poles rise up in 1945, knowing that they could not “win” against the occupying Germans who were basically already defeated and it was only a matter of time to be liberated. It cost them two hundred thousand lives and a ruined city. So why? Well, I pressed a sensitive button because they both became very emotional, talking simultaneously. It was a matter of hatred toward the occupier and a matter of dignity. It was a miscalculation, thinking that the soviets, standing across the river, would join them. It was the ideas that Warsaw would be liberated by Poles themselves, hopefully with military supplies from the Allies (which never came). It was an underestimation of the soviet evil, who let them bleed to death, and only then moved in (which from the soviet perspective was a sensible move). Nobody could even consider that this was a mistake, driven by the self-interest of the government in exile in London. Well, I will ask this question again when I see Ewa and Tadeusz, but this is really a touchy subject. And it is part of the hatred of the soviets.
Now I see that there was never any room for me in this country, and that after the 1989 disintegration of the USSR whatever room might have still been there just disappeared. It was my Jewishness and it was my Commie background. Basia said in the restaurant on Friday that I would had no future in Poland, and she was only thinking about the half of my problem.
So that was my day with the wonderful girlfriends. We drove quietly back and I am glad to be home.
It was a quiet day with Ewa. Another perfect weather day, and somewhat less hot than recently. I met her at the bus stop in Ursynow at 11 and we went straight to her country house in Prazmow. I always admire this beautiful house and its grounds. The idea was to put my feet up and read a book but of course we got into a conversation and that was that for my reading.
A conversation about troubles with sons and daughters in law (and in her case mothers) are much easier with a trusted friend who lives far away, has a genuine interest in my story, and a perspective, but is outside of my immediate circle. So was this conversation. Basically, we know what we do wrong but cannot help ourselves. So in the end of the conversation we try to support each other in mending our ways.
Back in Ursynow apartment I had a long Skype call over the UNEP project, Tadeusz came home and we had another two hour conversation. With Tadeusz we shared our dismay over the declining level of original scholarship in academia and the growing reign of mediocrity. And of course, other threads of the conversation.
The public transportation in Warsaw is a miracle. In this distant Ursynow my bus 503 came in minutes – comfortable, uncrowded and air-conditioned — and less than half an hour later I was home. I call that good life.
It took us 3.5 hours to get to Sandomierz on the secondary and tertiary roads, which is really the only direct route. It would have been faster if it was not for the traffic jams while getting out of Warsaw. The drive took us through the flat country side of Mazowsze (Mazovia), the seed of Polish princes, kings and the nationhood. We passed endless fruit orchards, many bending down under the weight of apples. They are so abundant this year that the price at fruit stands in Warsaw is about $0.25 per pound. And these are not pesticide treated apples: they have uneven sizes and shapes, and those I tasted so far were delicious. I eat apples and wegierki (prune) plums all the time on this trip.
The last hour of the drive became somewhat hilly, just enough to give our trip texture and variety. This is a gentle and green landscape, and none of the towns and village we passed seemed desolate and economically deprived. Not rich but also not impoverished. The houses were cared for and the shops seemed to be open for business. It is actually amazing how the post 1989 local autonomy in Poland seemed to produce this care and relative prosperity. Let’s face it: these towns and villages were rather bleak places in my days as a Pole. I asked Danusia what improved and what got worse since the end of communism, and she could not think of anything that got worse except the current political power structure, with the right wing nationalistic government that has disregard for democracy and the rule of law.
Sandomierz is a gem. The moment we entered this ancient city (established around the 12th century) through the gothic shaped Opatowska gate and tower I felt like we entered a Tuscan town. Although the architecture of buildings is different the gently curving main street, the pastel colored two storied houses – each different and all connected to each other – the multiple spires of churches, the imposing castle, the unhurried movement of pedestrians, and the hilly terrain (seven hills) all added up to a similar atmosphere. The town is especially reminiscent of Toscany when viewed from down below, along Wisla River, as it is tightly perched on the steep hill. Its charm is still preserved because there is no major highway connecting it with Warsaw or Krakow. It will vanish as soon as such a highway is built.
The large market place is dominated by a renaissance town hall. These spacious marketplaces are a signature of every town and village I have encountered in Poland. There were outdoor cafes and restaurants, very tempting on this perfect day of clear air, sunshine, and reasonable temperature of about 80 degrees. We passed groups of tourists here and there, but none of them were foreigners. The international tourist mill has not yet discovered Sandomierz. The city was not damaged during the war so the post-war expansion in the form of the horrible blocks took place outside the old city, farther way, mostly on the other side of Wisla where the industry located. And the current town center is not just an “old City”, to be visited and admired, but a real city of 25,000 inhabitants.
We did our touristic rounds: First, the great 18th century synagogue building on Zydowska street, which currently houses national archives. Of course, locally nobody knows anything about the disappeared Jewish life here. Even the woman in the tourist information office.
Then we visited the remarkable underground cellars which have been connected into a half a kilometer long underground passage through history. Sandomierz was constrained by geography in its physical growth (Wisla river on three sides, high hills on which the city is located), and trade along the river made it a rich city at some point. So merchants stored their goods and their treasures in deep cellars rather than expanding their operations horizontally. The entire city is built on a rock called less. It is strong enough to support heavy buildings, soft enough to allow easily to cut deeply into it underground cellars and tunnels, but its major weakness is that in contact with water it quickly disintegrates into a pile of sand. Over the centuries a huge labyrinth of cellars and tunnels under the entire city has been dug out, tens of kilometers in length, with individual entries through private houses and churches. The cellars were at many different depths, the deepest that we visited today being about 50 feet down, so our half hour walk involved constant ups and downs on stairs. The legend has it that during Tatar invasions and maiden named Halina drew under some pretext the Tatar hordes into some of these very deep cellars and signaled the outside once they were all in by releasing a previously hidden white dove. At that point the defenders of the city buried the cellar with earth, killing the invaders and the patriotic maiden Halina with it.
When the sewage system was introduced in more recent history its leaks triggered the process of disintegration of the rock and houses in Sandomierz started collapsing into deep holes. So much of the underground tunnel system has been sealed through engineering methods and is no longer accessible. Of course there are many stories and legends about the goings on in the reaming parts of this labyrinth.
Our visit included also the house of Jan Dlugosz who in the 15th century was the most important chronicler of Polish history, a truly amazing source of our current knowledge about Poland at the end of the medieval times and into the Renaissance. This city has an amazing number of churches, monasteries, and seminars, being a seat of a bishop or some other catholic official. We walked on the uneven stone surfaces of curvy hilly narrow streets full of flowers hanging from balconies, took a look at the big castle (without going in), took in the view of the river well down below and the fields and forests far away. Wojtek told us that every decade or so the entire low land below the city floods.
We had enough time to sit in a café, and then later in the afternoon to have a meal in an outdoor restaurant. By 4:30 we had to start heading home.
We talked again about the Polish uprising of 1944. He gave an interesting perspective on it. After the murders in Katyn by the soviets were found out and unequivocally proven Polish govern in exile in London broke all diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. Despite the urging by Churchill they did not want to enter into any kind of talks regarding an alliance with the USSR against Hitler, the way Churchill and Roosevelt did. Wojtek attributes the Russian indifference to the bloody sacrifice of the rising Poles to this stubborn and self-defeating behavior of Polish leadership. Poles thought that the Russians would naturally join them but the latter had no self interest in doing so. The same goes for the US and England, who did not come to the aid of the uprising and in fact sold out Poland to the Russians, first in Teheran in 1943 and then in Yalta in 1944. Hmmm, this is an interesting perspective.
The long drive and the non-stop conversation were really too much for one day. I feel very tired. But I will recover over the next day or two. And I will remember Sandomierz.
Late in the evening I took a walk on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, which is so lovely on this full moon night. Near the Bristol Hotel there is an outdoor art installation commemorating the Warsaw Uprising. It consists of maybe a dozen large sandwich boards with enlarged copies of original notes written by the fighters, accompanied by photographs. English translations are included. As I contemplated this exhibit in a leisurely fashion I came upon a one page explanation of the war and the uprising. Just the basic information and dates. And there, right before my eyes, I read that 6 million Polish citizens perished during the war. Not a mention of the fact that half of them were Jews. This is amazing! This is 2016, more than 25 years sicne the fall of communism and the biggest progress in the narrative about the war, Jews and Gentiles has been a replacement of the phrase “6 million Poles” with a more nuanced “6 million Polish citizens.” What the hell is wrong with these people? They still don’t get it!
This two-week visit in Poland seems to be a perfect alignment of the stars shining over me. First, these are the last two months of Wojtek’s access to the apartment on Bartoszewicza; Second, the high school reunion was rescheduled from June to September in order to accommodate my visit; third, the weather has been perfect. Sometimes too hot but not so anymore. And to top it all off the last two days we are having a full moon.
I did some shopping in the morning to replenish the refrigerator, buy some cosmetics, look around. At noon I met Ewa in the Metro at an appointed station and we walked to her childhood apartment to visit her mother. The same place, the same furnishings, only the view is now blocked by high-rise buildings. Mrs. Gurewicz is old and unhappy about it. She is emotionally needy but her needs cannot be fulfilled: her friends are dead and her daughter, who takes incredibly attentive care of her, is emotionally distant, just as Mrs. Gurewicz once was toward her. I of course could easily walk into the role of a nice girl and amuse her with a nice conversation for half an hour. She also told me that a little silvery gray sweater I gave her during my 1991 visit in Poland was the nicest present she ever received, wore it for many years and thought that she should be buried in it but unfortunately cannot find it now. I actually remember that item because I got it on sale in some very high end store and thought that it was lovely.
Ewa fights with her mother a lot and I could see the anatomy of how it escalates. We talked about it afterward, acknowledged Ewa’s mistakes, and then we dropped the subject knowing that nothing can be done. I gave her no advice and she asked for none.
After tea and nice Polish pastry we went to do errands. First, a baby present for Wojtek’s 7th grandchild. The same stuff in the same chain store as in the US. Then we went to a linen store to check the Polish linen that Renia, my cleaning woman, was promoting. It is a company store on Marszalkowska, they can make a set to the US sizes, and prices are quite good. I could not figure out what I wanted so we moved on, this time to the optical shop looking for new frames for Ewa. Our success consisted of narrowing down the options.
Then on to an interesting sex shop for women on Hoza. A small shop in the courtyard (you need to ring a bell to enter), decorated in feminine style, run by a lovely low key young woman. Afterward, walking on Marszalkowska, we talked about our earliest sexual encounters and how they affected our future lives.
We took a tram to the next errand where Eva bought a new suitcase, then to another optical shop to try different frames, and finally, at the splendid Plac Teatralny we set down for a meal under an umbrella. We talked about everything, including our finances for retirement, sustainable consumption and the concept of sufficiency, which her brother practices. Ewa must be the most universal girlfriend I have in terms of the range of conversations we have. And we really do not need to see each other very often to cover the main issues of our lives. And we do not need to complement each other, which neither of us is comfortable with. I tell her of my admiration for her organizational abilities in the lives of her entire extended family and she complements my good looks by telling others, in my presences, how well I look. That I absolutely enough for both of us.
I got home at 6 PM. I will go out again tonight, probably walk to Nowe Miasto where I have not been during this visit, maybe have a glass of wine in a café. Tomorrow is a day entirely for me and Warsaw. I have no specific plans.
Basia and Wanda called to tell me that they will see me off at the airport.
At 9 PM I went for a short walk through Stare Miasto (Old Town) to Nowe Miasto (New Town), to experience them at night. A cool evening, a lot of young people in cafes and on the streets. A joyful atmosphere. In this areas I ran into many foreign tourists. I heard German, Dutch, and some Scandinavian languages. Deep into the streets of Stare Miasto I heard the sound of violin, and followed it until I came upon a young woman on a street corner. So I set down at one of the multitude of outdoor cafes and listened for quite a while over a glass of wine. She played familiar tunes – musicals, movies, operas – and played very well. It was a magic moment on this clear moon-lit night, with very few people still left in the café or on the streets. I missed Philip.
At this moment I was saying goodbye to this kind of urban life that I never fully experienced when I lived in Poland because of the emigration, and never reconciled with losing it. I was saying farewell is to my youth. Tears were running down my face. The vague longings through my adult life was for time that moved on and will never return.
This was a day without a plan but shaped quite busily. In the morning I took bus #111 straight to Jewish Cemetery, which is a separate section of the large Powaski Cemetary. The cemetery was originally part of the Ghetto but later was separated from it. A large section of the ghetto wall, with coils of barbed wire on the top, is still intact. Right outside the wall is a monument marking mass graves where apparently both Jews and Gentiles were executed and buried. Some U.S-based foundation looks over these grounds. I went inside the office of the foundation to learn that their mission is to catalogue and describe all the Jewish Cemeteries in Poland. I asked him, on a whim, about a cemetery in Lask, where Mama’s father Abram was buried in 2015 or 16. The man presented me with a computer printout of a description and the state of the cemetery as well as two websites where I can find more information.
After that I went to the main gate and entered the cemetery. It is an enormous place with 150,000 graves, mostly from the 19th and first half of the 20th century (there is an older Jewish Cemetary on the other side of the river, in Praga, hard to reach, but I had no time to visit it). It is very tightly packed. In the beginning sections I was impressed to see that many graves were clearly cared for. What I could make out was that various charitable foundations claim sections of this area as their responsibility and clear and restore the graves. But as I moved deeper and deeper, the woods became wilder and wilder. Gravestones leaning on each other like old and tired folk, some toppled over, the writings becoming unreadable. Someone once told me that the winter of 1942 was very cold and all the trees at the cemetery were cut down for fuel. Indeed, these trees looked all the same age (I suppose 70). The deeper I went the less penetrable the forest was until I finally had to walk on a barely visible path overgrown with nettles.
The light was streaming through the trees, and I passed a total of 5 people in this huge cemetery. Two of those were young girls from a little village in the Flemish Belgium, barely speaking English, who knew nothing about Poland or Jews but followed their guide book, still planning to go to the Museum. They were so wide eyed and told me that there is a single Jewish family in their town, which goes to Antwerp for religious service. The atmosphere in the cemetery was otherworldly, the spirits of these long forgotten lives and names were hovering around me. I felt like visitor meeting another civilization. And I was pleased for these long ago people that they died in their own beds with dignity and were remembered by the people who erected their graves.
Finally, I had to leave because they close early on Friday. Back on Nowy Swiat a great tiredness enveloped me. I suddenly had definitely enough of this endless walking, day after day, hour after hour. I set down in a street café and ordered one of the sumptuous frozen coffees with icecream and a large mound of whipped cream. Very tasty but it took me hours afterward to digest this rich food. Sitting there I watched people go by. In this part of town there are hardly any overweight people and women dress with care: stylish dresses, jeans, hipster clothes, but all selected with evident care. I felt so tired that I contemplated going home but made one more effort to visit Politechnika. With this new super modern Metro system I was at my destination in 15 minutes. The building of Politechnika is snow white and the area is full of young people. The Chemistry building has not changed at all. Apparently there is another Chemistry building but I had no interest in that.
Going back I took a very brief tour of my immediate neighborhood of Nowowieska. I found the little pastry shop of Wrobel, where Wanda and I used to pool our meager resources and share a pastry. These neighboring streets – Litewska, Noakowskego, Sniadeckich, Polna: I never noticed while living there how many lovely buildings, war survivors, they featured. These buildings were gray in my days and pockmarked with bullet holes, and in any case I did not pay attention to architecture. They were just there. Today these buildings are renovated, gleam in their whiteness or beigeness and show off their fine wrought iron balconies, often rimmed with flowers. A charming neighborhood! Who would have thought that 50 years ago?
When I got home only a little than an hour later I could not wait to take a bath, wash my hair and put my feet up. It was a splendid rest. Then a skype call with John and a quick meal from a health food takeout place. I have not cooked a single meal during these two weeks. Soon after that Wojtek showed up to take me for a very short visit to his daughter Dorota and her three week old little Benedict. I learned that she has a full year of a paid maternity leave (80% of salary). Compared with the US Poland is poor, yet it can afford such a generous maternity leave. People with more than one child also get an extra income per child, regardless of their financial need. A sort of guaranteed citizen-parent income created, paradoxically, by the current right wing government as a handout to its political bases: less educated Poles, deeply religious, who typically have large families. The saying goes that it is the Catholic Church that won the most recent elections.
I always liked Wojtek’s daughers, especially their charm, and so it was a pleasure to see Dorota (now 40 years old). I brought a present for the baby. Short and warm visit it was, her 9 year daughter Matilde is charming in her beauty and innocence, working on an assignment about Janusz Korczak and doing flips on two rings hanging in the living room form the ceiling. Since 1991 this beautiful big house has always been my home while visiting Poland. My Steven a nd Laura stayed there, and even my Clark colleague Patrick was a guest here. Now the house belongs to Dorota. I suppose I could stay here if need be, there is certainly plenty of room, and this family is very relaxed. This family has its priorities straight: there are few signs of home decorating zeal I often see among these young home owners.
After briefly meeting Dorota’s son and saying hello to husband Bartek we left them to their own lives.
And…if that was not enough of activities for one day we decided to stop briefly in Lazienki Park at night. This month is dedicated to the celebration of China’s history in Warsaw and so all the main avenues in the park are lined up with hanging red lanterns. The view is striking because there are no other sources of light. We walked for a bit, set in little gazeboes illuminated with lanterns where a woman was talking about Chinese legends to a sympathetic audience, and altogether this was a once in a lifetime experience.
Wojtek and Danusia dropped me of at home at 9 PM, and this is the end of my last full day in Warsaw.
The last stroll in the neighborhood, I went down Nowy Swiat then left on Smolna until the sharp drop of the land toward the river, and returned via interconnected back yards. I rested in a small little park, looked at the enormous monastery down below, with large terraces. A cappuccino in a café, a stop at a drugstore for some cosmetics, back home. Wojtek arrived at noon sharp, we drove by my old high school, Hofmanowa, an empty building now, looking differently than I remember it, and then to the airport. We said goodbye at the curb.
And right after I checked in my luggage Basia, then Wanda, showed up. When we are together we get transported to our high school days: talk over each other, interrupt, laugh, make fun of people and situations. Yesterday John suggested that I write a short Opinion piece about Poland in the perspective of growth and consumption and I realized that I did not take the opportunity this trip provided to investigate this topic beyond just superficial observations. I was going to contact this doctoral student in Bialystok, and a researcher in Katowice, but I did not. I am sure that I could have talked to someone in the Warsaw economic development office (Tadeusz could use his influence) but I did not. This was entirely a personal trip. But it was rich and unforgettable.
The three of us had tea in a café, then of course the obligatory picture together, exchange of small mementos, the last wave when I entered the security area. These women made me feel happy. Good bye, Poland, for good. I am moving on.