Thursday, December 15, 2011

leaving Warsaw

At some point I have to shut down this feeling of having returned,  of being back in Poland and push it off to the side. And, I have to admit it, I relax then. I sleep better. Warsaw is behind me. I can return to a gentler beat.

The last morning in Warsaw. Bags packed, downstairs, waiting for the preset hour of departure. I have a few minutes for a stroll, just around the residential blocks by the hotel. There’s a café, I go inside. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. An espresso would be good. I look around...

DSC01375 - Version 2

DSC01370 reminds me a little of something I’d find in an artsy district of an American city. With a Polish twist, sure. The napkins are tucked into holders on each table, the cookies are different, all that. Still, I order my coffee thinking that it’s right for this place -- more fitting than having tea with lemon.

DSC01372 - Version 2

One foot into the door of an impending return.

We’re in a cab, on our way to the airport. I’ve stopped speaking Polish for good. What for. I’m chatting with my friends about being on the early side. Our driver chimes in, in English and tells how bad the traffic was just a half hour ago. Be glad you’re early. You never know.

He talks about his own recent travels – delays due to the volcanic issues in Iceland last spring. His English is rocky and for a minute I’m sorry I’m making it harder for him but I don’t want to end the camouflage so late into the ride. But he is bold and happy to keep going.
We were traveling back from a trip my wife and I took and just before our flight took off for Warsaw, they shut down the airport and all of Europe! We had to stay an extra week, my mother had to take time off from work to come over and walk our dog, it was a mess!

I smile at his stories. Then I ask -- So, where did you learn English? It's always interesting to find out where someone's language skills come from.   It tells you a lot about a person’s life. Indeed:
Ha! In London!
You lived there?
Well yes, for eight years! I go there to visit a friend for four days. Four days! Then, my friend breaks his foot and asks me to stay and help him for a few months with his job, you know, until his foot heals. I said ok. I call my family and tell them – four more months. And that turned into eight years!

But he returned. My own adult trip to the US began with a summer in Connecticut and eventually turned into a lifetime away. I became an immigrant without at least initially intending to be that, even as I could not imagine returning to Poland again once I’d settled into a life on the American side of the ocean.

DSC01377 - Version 2

DSC01378 - Version 2

I leave Poland. Good bye Poland. I’ll think about you again when I write my book this summer. Probably not a whole lot before. Not intensely anyway. I’m leaving that intensity behind, sort of like leaving a spare set of clothing behind so that you don’t have to pack new stuff for your future returns.


Parks are for friends and lovers. For solo contemplative strolls. For families on Sundays just before or after the big meal. For groups of school children taking their Phy Ed class there, walking hand in hand in some loose formation. For grandmas with strollers. Everyone knows that.

When I lived in Warsaw not many days would pass before I'd make my way to Lazienki – the most beautiful park of them all. It’s what you do. Sort of like pouring yourself coffee in the morning. A routine, a habit. (In the west -- say in Central Park or the Parisian Luxembourg Gardens, you must add to this list of park habitués the jogger. In Poland we know better. You shouldn't rush the moment. Contemplation and good conversation require a slower pace.)

Morning in Warsaw. I pull open the familiar heavy Polish window and look out. Another nice day -- gray clouds are floating in, but it's not too cold.


After breakfast, Diane and I set out for the parks. We pick up the Royal Way where we left off yesterday and we enter Ujazdowski -- the first in a string of green spaces. I call this one the lesser park because, nice as it is, it pales in size and presentation compared to Lazienki. But, as a kid I loved this one exactly because of its compact size. It has a pond, a small playground and gorgeous chestnut trees just along its border. You could pick up fallen chestnuts in autumn and make stick animals from them with toothpicks.

Today things look rather bare in a pretty sort of way. Just a handful of people strolling, feeding birds.

DSC01282 - Version 2


Ujazdowski Park checked off. Now onto Lazienki.

DSC01288 - Version 2

We begin with a nod to Chopin. In warm months, many people come to sit on the benches here, liking to conduct a quite conversation in the presence of this great Polish hero. Or they’ll bring the newspaper and read it in the calm of the rose garden, covered now for the winter with boughs of balsam fir.


DSC01294 - Version 2

But the grandest section of the park is down the hill toward the lake and summer palace.

Here’s where our red squirrels play...


And they come to you if you extend your hand and hold out a hazelnut. I brought some rolls of bread from breakfast. The squirrel came up, scampered up my leg (the bold ones do this) thinking he may be in luck, then, finding only bread, ran away pouting, like a kid who was promised an ice cream and is given a bagel instead. Thanks but no thanks.

The birds, on the other hand, do love the bread. Not the peacocks. They nibble it almost reluctantly. In an “oh, alright, if I must” kind of way.

DSC01327 - Version 2

But the ducks and gulls! They squawk and fight aggressively for every last crumb. I typically take this serene photo of the summer palace across the pond, but this time, as I throw pieces of bread toward the pond, suddenly I am left with a photo of the great bird migration.


DSC01337 - Version 2

And there you have it – a stroll through the park. A last breath of city air in a stately environment of trees and crisscrossing paths.

DSC01340 - Version 2

DSC01342 - Version 2

Outside, on Marszalkowska Street, we find a café and Diane sips espresso and I sip tea with lemon. How quickly I fall into that habit here! Paul at the café back home would be shocked that a milky espresso has been so quickly forgotten, replaced by a brew that is weakened by the presence of lemon. Fickle hearts.

I walk Diane back to the hotel, then come right out again for a whirlwind of last minutes. Cross Plac Konstytucji (Constitution Square)  and their small Christmas market (with kielbasy, of course)...

 DSC01354 see my father. A quick look at the familiar view outside his apartment window.


...then onto a nearby café to meet up with a friend (tea with lemon!),  with a stop to pick up a duffel bag, to run this way and that so that by the time Diane, Ernest and I sit down to dinner at a lovely place just up the street from our hotel...

 DSC01363 - Version 2

... I am spent. As I have said many times, after Warsaw, I’m always in need of a vacation.