Sunday, March 26, 2017

coffee and tea and a final cafe creme

My last day in Warsaw. In many ways it is the most normal of all days here. I do routine things that would keep me busy if I lived here year round. And it begins, predictably, with a lovely and relaxed breakfast...


And I finish tidying the apartment after last night's merrymaking. Normal stuff.

And in between, I meet up with friends.

It's a blustery day, but at least in the morning, there are hints of sunshine. Another friend from university days suggests we have coffee in a place some of us frequented when we were students. (It's called Telimena and it claims to be the oldest cafe in Warsaw, tracing its origins to the 18 century.) It's a lovely walk to it, but I hurry. Up late at night, up early in the morning -- it's tempting to slow down the pace today, but I cannot do that. Not on my last day here.


My sister joins us for the meet up. Boundaries of friendship are loose around the edges. She is always made welcome by all my friends.


Inevitably we step into a review of the political situation in Poland (and, too, in the U.S., but they know about the U.S. in great detail and I know about Poland in less detail, so we concentrate on what's happening in my country of birth). 

Poland, of course, is a younger democracy and you could argue that not everyone there has learned the lessons of how fragile the enterprise may become if you hammer away at the institutions that secure its enduring position in our way of life. But you could also say that those who have lived in post war Poland are especially stunned and disappointed that so much can be tarnished so quickly. Ocean isn't a good place to take up this topic in all its complexity, but I must mention it because all my friends are concerned and preoccupied with it and with good reason.

Back at the apartment I conclude I need yet another coffee. This will be my third! At the farmette, I never need coffee, I just like it. But toward the end of this trip, I'm thinking it's coffee, or a long nap and I don't have time for the latter.


In the later afternoon, my nephew -- one I haven't seen for many years  -- stops by the apartment. He lives away from Warsaw and we do not usually overlap in our visits here but this time we do.

I refrain from having yet another cup of coffee then (hey -- they're espresso cups! Tiny!).

And now it's evening, but I have one more meeting -- with my enduring friend who has woven herself into this week fluidly, patiently, with the dedication that only the most solid of friends can display.

We go just down the block and since I have such an early flight the next day, I dare not have YET ANOTHER cup of coffee and so I switch to herbal tea. We split a cheesecake and an apple cake -- the quintessentially Polish desserts --  and they are both so not good (one is half frozen, the other is warmed unevenly in the microwave), that we have to laugh. What a way to end a delicious week!


And now I've said my good byes. Damn, that's tough. Two worlds: my beloved family and Ed, and these guys. And if you add a third -- my law school friends, also scattered up and down the continent -- well, where is the fairness?  The world is too vast!

I hate to toss the flowers that were such a beautiful addition to my time in Warsaw, but there is no choice. Goodbye sweet bouquets!


At 4:30, which is really 3:30 here, because of course, Europe HAS to take this weekend to institute daylight savings time, I go downstairs and find my cab waiting for me. (I was terrified that my alarm clock, which happens to be my iPhone, would not make the switch to daylight savings promptly enough and so I asked Ed to call me. He slept through his own alarm. Oh, Ed!)


And so that's it for the trip, right? Good bye Warsaw, hello Wisconsin!


Not necessarily.

On a last minute impulse, I check my bag through and so I have no hand luggage other than my small back pack. My Warsaw to Paris flight arrives in good time and the weather here, in France is lovely! A six hour layover... Dare I?

I do hesitate. I'm tired. Even I do not feel peppy when I've slept all of two hours. The thought of that train ride to central Paris, especially if I miss the express and am stuck with the local, is tediously dully. Both ways? For what?

For this!


(To give me credit, I do alight at a different exit of the Luxembourg station and I enter the Gardens at a different gate. I am not in a Gardens rut, I am not!)

(Well, maybe I am. I mean, the chestnuts!)


Parisians take a while to rouse themselves on a Sunday morning and today, that hour deprivation after the time change slows things down even more. It's not quite 10 and the park begins to fill with joggers who run the perimeter of the fence, but few others are out and about.


(On the street again -- a selfie in a mirror.)


I want a light breakfast. An image of eating out on the sidewalk keeps flashing through my mind. But where? You think that's a really dumb problem, don't you? But hey, it's a last croissant, and though the weather is still a tad chilly (getting close to 50F or 10C), it's good enough to sit outside and watch the world go by! But where?

I wander around, determined not to sit down until I spot a croissant on someone's plate that meets my requirements of fresh and honest (and fluffy and long). Finally! On the Boulevard Saint  Germain. In sunshine. With a very satisfying cafe creme.


(I'm not the only one who is hunting down a morning coffee and sunshine...)


And now I turn away from this neighborhood and head toward the river. Yeah, that one. For the crazy dreamers! Head straight, then turn left.


Cross it to the island, amble through the bird and flower market, cross it further toward the right bank... What a gorgeous day!


My final destination is Les Halles -- the old market place on the right bank that had turned into an awful shopping mall, but after a multi year renovation, has been utterly transformed into a thing of great beauty: very modern and luminescent. Here's the entrance to the east.


Dipping toward the entrance to the west...


It's really quite beautiful and very empty on a Sunday morning.

But it's getting close to noon and my flight is just after three. Time to pick up the train and head for the airport.

After the usual passport and security crunch at this very major airport, I'm finally at the proper terminal. Finally. And here I have a small tucked away surprise: there is a very tiny airport museum in this section of the airport (2EM) and this spring it is hosting an exhibit of Picasso art. It's not a large exhibit, but oh my gosh, four beautiful canvases, some ceramic pieces, a good text and of course, it's all completely empty. I mean, who thinks to look for Picasso at CDG airport?


It seems wrong to end this post with Picasso at CDG, so I wont. Instead, I'll roll us back to the Luxembourg Gardens. You've seen this guy many times (including just a few days back), but I think he best shows off the mood of the season. Flowers are blooming, spring is with us. Dance!


And now to Detroit, where I have another set of hours of waiting (this really was possibly the most onerous return!). No matter: I'll be in Madison soon and Ed will be waiting and we'll drive home together to the farmette, where I expect to find at least a few crocuses in full bloom. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mexico comes to my home in Warsaw

You live each day by the principles that have guided you throughout your life and mine surely include a deep appreciation for the mixing of peoples. From my early childhood years at the U.N. International school in New York, to my adulthood movement between cultures, I've come to thrive when those around me are not all of one similar background.

Living in the U.S. now, I admire all that the south-of-the-border Latin culture brings to this country.  The music, food, language, the social habits --I've profited from being exposed to them.

So of course, if I'm to share in Poland a bit of my life in America, it is obvious that I will want to cook up a dinner in Warsaw that has an eye toward Mexico.

Good, Mexican food in Europe is a rare thing. You'd be hard pressed to find a spicy chili sauce in a grocery store of Poland and don't think that's just Poland: you'd be hard pressed to find such sauces (in abundance in every American supermarket) in France. (I finally did find just one in the grand food halls of the Bon Marche, only to have it confiscated at the airport! Damn! I must improvise!)

The plan is simple: cook up a Mexican storm, play good Mexican music, and let the rhythms of the night take hold.

But first thing's first: I wake up to a beautiful spring day in Warsaw. My street is dappled with spring sunlight!


Even before breakfast, I hurry to my local green grocer (who boasts organic foods on the shelf and the freshest of produce in the vicinity) to pick up stuff that I've put off buying until the last moment: beautiful lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes and a crate of berries.

I want to take this store with me back to Wisconsin! I love the care they give to the vegetables. And I love the fact that I only casually asked at the beginning of the week if they'd be getting fresh berries in on Friday (they come from Spain) and the lovely couple put aside the crate that I wanted, just in case I did show up in the morning (I said I'd be shopping then).


Immediately after breakfast, I set to work. The menu is simple -- or, it would be simple if I had my pots and pans and my trusty stove and if I could properly understand the way that my Polish oven functions. I cheated and brought jars of salsa from Whole Foods. The guacamole I can make here. I've been ripening avocados all week.


The main course;  shredded chicken in tomato-chili sauce, with corn tortillas (again, from Madison), rice and beans, and a salad, because I am a nut about salads. The dessert -- a Rick Bayless strawberry tres leches shortcake.

I start with the cake and stumble over combining ingredients -- no, Mr. Bayless, I don't have a paddle attachment to a stand-up mixer here! Indeed, I don't even have a stand-up mixer. I am determined to keep things simple in my apartment. If a Mexican cook can make a tres leches cake without the modern gadgets, so can I!

(A mixture of ingredients -- from Madison and Warsaw...)


On the other hand, I am all about presentation: in the course of the morning, I decide that I cannot hope to serve margaritas without martini glasses. I come up with all sorts of justifications: I will become a mixologist and bring with me a repertoire of interesting cocktails during future visits. I will support the glass making industry in Poland (we are famous for glass products here). I will surely not regret the investment.

Ah, but finding martini glasses in a city where the drink of choice for a long time had been something that can be chilled in a freezer and downed in one gulp -- now that's a challenge!

Instead of concentrating on the meal, I ride the trams and buses of Warsaw, chasing down one lead after the next.


And I find them. And they're beautiful and Polish. And now I am severely behind in my prep plans.

On the upside, it really is a gorgeous day and I have a chance to stick my foot in the park, loaded down with twelve martini glasses (I only need ten, I tell the vendor... another customer intervenes -- Pani kochana, but what if one breaks??). Not yet as green as Paris, but surely giving signs of new life.


(The classic Polish grandma: on a day like this, you see a lot of them.)


A quick coffee break at home (as seen through the new martini glasses)...


And now I get crazy busy and I can only say that if it wasn't for my sister, we may not have ever eaten anything but the guacamole, salsa and the tres leches cake. With margaritas out of very beautiful martini glasses.

My sister is an excellent sous chef. She does everything you ask her and she does it with decades of kitchen experience. And I've had years of practice bossing my daughter around when she helps me cook, so I've become good at giving directions!


I set the table quickly. Things look deceptively ready when a table is ready.


And then the guests arrive -- the usual wonderful crowd of friends and the evening moves to full speed ahead!

The men take over the margarita shaking, salting and pouring (thanks, Rick Bayless, for your terrific "honest to goodness margaritas for a crowd" recipe), the women have their glasses freshly topped on demand.



Come eat now!


And then I put my Sony down because I am just too busy moving between stove and and friends to think photo thoughts.

But, as is so often the case during these evenings, a friend will pick up my camera and take over and so these next pictures are not my own work (notably those where I am present). I'll post just four, under the theme: it was a lively and beautiful  evening!





Perhaps the gaiety goes to our heads (I mean, how can you not laugh when your hostess volunteers to give a demonstration on how to cut a guy's eyebrows -- assuring the victim that she's had lots of experience doing just this task back at the farmette!), but before the evening comes to an end, we are hatching plans for this group of great friends to come visit me en masse in the U.S.!  You never know! (Are you ready, Ed?)

Friday, March 24, 2017

well now

I did not think that anyone could keep me from my writings at the end of a day.  I always deliver. Day ends, post comes out for you.

But today, my friends stumped me.  Our evening was so celebratory, so beautiful and well, so past the witching hour that I cannot sit down to write a post now. Until tomorrow then.

With love!

Thursday, March 23, 2017


The hotel desk clerk asked yesterday, as I was checking in -- are you just arriving, or on your return home?
I hesitated for so long that he wasn't sure I'd understood. He repeated the question in English. Suspendu entre les deux, je suppose (suspended between the two I guess...). Then I thought how well this phrase describes my life. Only "the two" isn't necessarily home and Warsaw or Paris. It's home on the one hand and then -- travel.

On days like this one I alternate between thinking I'm nuts and thinking -- this day is so beautiful!

In fact, it is beautiful (though too,  I'm at least a little bit nuts to be here so briefly)! They said rain, but in Paris, so often the rain is just an idea, a possibility lightly realized. Today I easily could have left my umbrella behind. 

Breakfast first. Unhealthy, as always here. And I was too late for the pain au chocolat, which I suppose it's just as well. Do I really need even more bread product?


And then I have a full day of Paris. My flight leaves after 7 and even under the most cautious scenario, I do not have to cut into my time here until early evening.

I visit no museums. I attend no exhibition. There are many that tempt me ever so lightly, but I'll be back soon enough for that. Today is just for walking.

(If you wanted to enter this man's eyeglass shop, you'd have to step over his dog.)


I do not shop for myself in Paris. I do not need anything (I can see the scowl now on my Italian friend's face). But I do occasionally pop into favorite shops. To look. (Here I consider if the collar is of birds or of penguins...)


And sometimes my arm can be twisted. Rarely, but it happens.


My walk, which is not unusual and has been repeated many times in one version or another, takes me (what a surprise) through the Luxembourg Gardens.


Oh, the flowers!


I know you've seen some of these views...


But, of course, you've seen every view there is to be seen at the farmette. The point is to be refreshed and delighted by the changes, by the emerging evidence of a new season.


And there is so much evidence of spring, that I forgive myself for all these pauses with the camera. I mean, spring! The chestnuts have put forth their leaves. Real spring!


All green, a soothing green that makes you smile again and again.


So what else is blooming at the Gardens? For example, these...


Okay, out on the streets again. Passing too many neighborhood bakeries. 


They're making me very hungry, which is perfectly in order because it is close to two and if I am to eat anything at all today besides bread product, it has to be now, before the lunch period is shut off for the day here.

Very deliberately, I am in the neighborhood of Cafe la Varenne. 

Those who have traveled to Paris with me have all been dragged to Cafe la Varenne for lunch. And on each trip alone to this great big beautiful city, I try to make it there as well. It is my Parisian neighborhood love, even as I no longer stay in its neighborhood.

Oh, maybe it's not perfect. It grabs a lot of the government bureaucrats who work up the street and so the prices are higher than you'd find in a more obscure neighborhood place. But the food (especially the specials of the day) is well prepared and wonderful, and the waiters are superb, and it is always, always crowded, and it is the place where I can sit back and smile at my incredible luck in life at being able to come back for a lunch here again and again.

This time I am sitting next to a mother/son duo (the mom's older than me, so this isn't a youthful pair). He has a lot to tell her and he may be the only Frenchman I've come across who doesn't speak in a restaurant voice when in a restaurant. It allows for terrific listening!


They look angry, or sad, don't they?



Perhaps that's the subtext. But in the end, as she gets up, she gives him the most affectionate rub on his shoulders. 

And there is this couple -- well, I hope they're in love, because they look so good together!


Really, like peas in a pod!


Yes, you study the people here, but you also enjoy the food: an appetizer of white asparagus (with thin slices of ham and slivers of cheese)... 


... a vapeur of plaice (a flatfish that is so common in France) over spinach... mmmm!

And did I mention the waiters? 

As I leave, I tell my waiter, who is part of the fabric of this cafe-restaurant, that I am celebrating my return here. I've reached a very impressive number of visits, considering how far away I live. But more importantly, I expect that my next meal there will again be with my granddaughter.
What's her name? Because believe me, I will remember it! 
Snowdrop! I'll see you both soon.

It's getting dangerously close to early evening. And still, I continue my walk. It's so lovely to window-shop on these streets... Here's a store where the kids' clothes are so delicately pretty!



And no, I can't imagine Snowdrop would really need shoes like these below (matching her mom's?), but still, there's something so sweet about their very unnecessary position in life.


This chocolate shop always has some of the loveliest Easter displays...



Toward the Seine river now. This is the time where there is a slight trickle of rain. You can see the umbrellas going up.



And perhaps because I've had too much of good food and I've had such a beautiful if crazily short spring day here, I can't help but think of that song from the movie. If you know the film, you'll recognize the song, if you don't -- well, no matter. I'll print out a few lyrics.

Leapt without looking
And tumbled into the Seine
The water was freezing
She spent a month sneezing
But said she would do it again...

And here's to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem...

And so Paris comes to a close for me. Perhaps it's fitting that I should leave you with a photo of the set of blocks where I'll be staying when I am next here...


For now, I pick up my bag at the hotel and walk back, the usual way, past the Luxembourg Gardens. Ed always tells me when we hike that it doesn't matter if we have to retrace our steps because the view is always different heading back. Indeed: these are the same flowering trees that I photographed yesterday, upon my arrival. Different now.



I have several post post scriptums. 

First, there is the matter of my photos: I wish I had used my camera more, but the time here was so brief that I had to limit myself. Taking pictures requires pauses, thought, redirection. I couldn't give it that. Too, I love photographing people and this is especially difficult when you're loaded down (I did some shopping for Snowdrop). I have been asked so many times how is it that I feel comfortable photographing strangers. We are a funny lot. Where would we be if we put away cameras when a person stepped out onto the street?

I was never more reminded of this as when I passed the photo display by the Luxembourg Gardens on my way to catch the RER train to the airport. Brilliant photos of the park  from a few decades back! Of people, enjoying this most beautiful Parisian green space (though the photos were in black and white). If you're in Paris these months, I recommend you walk by and take a look.



Secondly -- I'm on the flight back to Warsaw and I mean to write my post but instead I sit next to a Frenchman, who is really a Pole who immigrated to France some decades back and in the course of our very long conversation (which starts out in French until we both realize we're Polish!) I think about how this stranger understands certain aspects of my life that few others can really grasp: what's it like to leave Poland, then, to live elsewhere and come back, though with one, but realistically two feet still elsewhere.

My sister is there, waiting for me at the airport. I don't know the airport without my sister! We take the bus to my apartment and have a drink together and reflect on all this.