Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday in Warsaw

I'm sitting at a hip (and therefore by definition young) cafe-bakery ("Charlotte") right smack on the austere Plac Zbawiciela ( a church square that is anything but hip or even particularly pretty). I'm wishing I had found a seat even further from the door because when it opens, a gust of cold air sneaks in and comes close enough to remind me what it's like out there. Beata, my B&B host, suggested I try the Charlotte for a light meal when I had asked where I should eat. I'm always curious where people are going to tell Americans to go for food. Beata thinks I'm American. Wait, I am American! Well no, not here. To people here, I'm Polish. So long as I talk Polish at them. (At the B&B, I wrote the first email in English and so that language just stuck).

The young people around me (university age, some as young as high school) are children of postwar parents. For these kids, Poland isn't intensely trying to rebuild, it's trying to catch up to, say, Berlin or Vienna (other central European giants).

Everyone at the tables is very carefully dressed. That hasn't changed. Poles are all about appearance: how you present yourself inside and out matters. Everyone is animated. Loud talk and laughter come at me from all sides.

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Earlier, my plane pierced the layers of haze and cloud and even though it was the lunch hour, it felt like dusk. It gets that way here in December. I took the new train to the city center. It just opened in June! (Making Madison perhaps the only capital without a decent public transport link to the airport. Good goin', Madison.)

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In 25 minutes the little train spits me out right at the foot of the Palace of Culture (Stalin's gift, remember? I mention it now and then when I write from here).

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From here I walk the fifteen minutes or so to my B&B. The Between Us B&B is sort of curious. On the ground level, there is an artsy cafe-club.

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If you exit it in the back, you're out on the building stairwell and if you mount that, you'll find apartments and the occasional lawyer office. One apartment door on the third level opens up to a three guest room B&B. Of a fresh and modern type.

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I dump all my travel packs and go out in search of food and, too, in search of my feelings for this great and complicated city and I do so quickly, before the light totally disappeared on me.

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And now at the Charlotte, I have a chance to look around. At the table next to mine, a young thing is pouting and complaining to her dad (via smart phone) that she needs a new pair of shoes. He tells her  to ask mom, but the young pouting thing informs him she's not speaking to the mother. (For the record, she does not appear to need new shoes. Want and need are not the same thing.)

I eat a small slice of quiche. Good, but it neither fills me up nor warms me from the inside. And now, as I step outside again, it all catches up with me -- the tiredness from the sleepless night, from the weeks of work, from struggling to stay warm. So maybe I should go to the second place Beata recommended and get more substantial food? The kind that warms you to the core.

Curiously, Beata's two eating suggestions are right next to my childhood homes. Charlotte is just around the corner from our tiny apartment overlooking a tram stop (yes, it's windy and lightly snowing now)...

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... and the second place -- Dyspensa -- is just a block away from where I lived in my teens and where my father still lives. I don't drop in on him. He doesn't like that. He prefers an announced, planned visit. That'll happen in a day or so.

The Dyspensa Restaurant is nice, if a tad formal. It has a bourgeois feel to it. Funny, I never use that word in the States. In Poland, it was a common way to distinguish moneyed people, even though none of us knew any moneyed people. Moneyed people were in places like the States. The bourgeois habits of the rich. We didn't aspire to those habits, even though we, none of us, would have minded being slightly more rich.

The staff is young and energetic and within minutes I am eating a delicious mushroom soup and a smoked trout salad and, though it's early, I'm done eating for the day. I walk back to the B&B where I fight falling asleep for a while, just long enough to put up this post.

still traveling

Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, only not for me. I write this from Amsterdam, so you know I'm on the other side of the ocean. And I have a few minutes before my Warsaw flight takes off. But I had a plane load of unhappy people who were on the Saturday flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, except that after ten hours of waiting, it never took off. And now they're a day late. I know the feeling of plans disturbed, schedules disrupted...

So this plane…


… took us all, but there were quite a few unhappy campers among me.

And they were made more unhappy when we couldn't disembark because of some electrical failure causing something or other the stop working. Another hour. For me -- peanuts. I won't miss my flight to Warsaw. I am once more reminded that smooth travel depends mostly on luck and this time I have it and others do not and so I feel like the rich person who was handed fortunes while others just scraped by, if that.

I do have to say that weather-wise, I'm entering the gloom of northern Europe in December. So there's that. But, I'm saturated with the big skies of the Midwest. I can take a touch of the somber.

Alright. I'll continue, if luck holds -- from Warsaw.