Thursday, July 07, 2016

Warsaw, continued

When I came to Warsaw in the winter, I spent many hours seemingly accomplishing not a whole lot. The wheels of agencies and bureaucracies moved slowly. My apartment search was at first futile and then frustrated by my inability to fix the mess that I found until the students moved out. I seemed to be moving forward so incrementally that I may as well have been standing still.

This time, practically speaking, I'm in Warsaw for two days only and yet I furnish an apartment, get to know the neighborhood that is now my own, pick up the final papers establishing my Polish identity and registering my place of residence here (an antiquated requirement that would not be enforceable in a mobile country such as the U.S.). Add to this valuable time with my sister and today with my friends here, and endless walks up and down the streets of Warsaw, and you can tell that I would be feeling rather flush with satisfaction: I not only moved forward, I nearly reached the conclusion of a process that began a handful of years ago.

Some photos from my day (though again, photography has not been a primary focus on this trip. A lot of it is rather incidental):

Breakfast, cooked by my sister.


A walk to some government office or other causes me to pick up the pace, as the sprinkles and the gusts of wind really feel unseasonably cool for July. (They had had a heat wave last week but on my two days here, there truly is a lull to summer.)

(The ubiquitous fruit and veggie stand.)


I actually go inside a small but pleasant mall that abuts the street, both to get coffee (oh! It may as well be Madison! Everyone has a computer/smart phone out) and to keep out of the passing showers.


I pick up a puzzle for Snowdrop at a toy shop where the very chatty clerk tells me what toys her toddler has mastered. I'm not phased. I select something that I know Snowdrop will like for the penguin in it.


There is a stand selling "Polish foods" right in the middle of the mall and I study with some curiosity the honeys on display here. Pani Ela (and her husband, but he's not here) is the beekeeper and she is engaging and also easy to engage. Poles love honey and consume great amounts of it. I am, in that way, very very Polish.

(All honeys, all produced from "ecological" environments, each with a different taste and color to it.)


I'm curious and a tiny bit skeptical about the honey that is made from raspberry flowers.  How do you know the bees collected the pollen from raspberry flowers? -- I ask.
We place the hives in the forest when the wild raspberries are blooming there.

The honey is a bit more expensive and I can see why. There can't be that many opportunities for this kind of harvest.
You don't know the least of it! Pani Ela tells me. She understands the challenges but she has a satisfied-with-life air about her that is admirable. I do so like learning from people who are not easily discouraged. The bees, you know, are dying off and to make matters worse, we have a constant threat of theft. 
Of our bees. Apparently some people think that taking ours is much more economical than paying for their own colony. You should try the raspberry honey. It's probably the sweetest of them. Great over muesli.

I don't want to carry a large jar of honey back to Madison -- it would require sending my suitcase through -- but I realize that I can buy it for my new home here! I ask my sister to hold it for me until the apartment is ready.

And then, at her home, I borrow a backpack, stick all edible and drinkable gifts for friends inside and set out on a circuitous ramble to explore several key neighborhoods in Warsaw.

(I take the metro, always full of the bounce and charm of young people. Walk in pairs! Hold hands!)




I get off at Powisle -- the up and coming neighborhood that borders the Vistula River.

(My apartment is just up a small hill from it. This hill.)


But as long as I am by the river, I should walk over to look at the mermaid here. She is the symbol of Warsaw. She stands by the river in solitude -- there is almost no one here (almost: these two little sisters are enjoying a moment of rest on a nearby bench)...


... even as this monument is known to every child who grew up here. The mermaid is Warsaw to us and I get this catch in my throat when I see it because she looks so proud and sure and yet her history is in a sense quite sad: the monument was erected in April, 1939 and we all know that Warsaw was bombed on September 1 of that year. She survived the hell that followed -- a witness to unexpected cruelty.


You'll see to the right of the photo the contours of the National Stadium. This is where the NATO summit is beginning today. I see the presence of police and the military here and there, but Poland isn't nearly as preoccupied with terrorism as western Europe and so by the markers of the west, the presence of armed forces isn't nearly as obvious. (My friends reassure me later that huge barricades have been constructed around the stadium itself. Where is Obama staying? -- I ask. At the Marriot. As always. One forgets that he's been to Warsaw before. But of course, this isn't a state visit. You could say that it's a multi-state visit.

I cross the river because the views from the bridge are so lovely! Warsaw the new...


And Warsaw the (reconstructed) old...


The street of my Warsaw home flows into this bridge and I return now to the blocks closer to my apartment.

There is a very pleasant, very spacious coffee shop here and I pause for another swig of espresso and a cookie.

(Oh, a mirror!)


(I see chairs that Snowdrop would have liked!)


It's a lovely and calm space and I am sure I'll return to it again and again.

I pass my building -- nice to see people enjoying an ice cream or a coffee right under my windows...


And then it's evening and I turn my attention to my friends. We congregate over dinner at the home of one couple. She cooks for us all frequently when I come to Poland and I really hope to reciprocate more when I move into my own place.

(A first course of traditional fish pate, with shaved raw veggies.)


I catch us in the mirror (I'm in the pink sweater): how many conversations have we had like this in the last forty-five years? Weighty topics, light banter -- we go through it all tonight until the hour is so late that the metros have stopped running.


Well, our get-togethers are not a rare event anymore. I travel here often enough. We make plans for my next arrival in late fall.

(A plate of Polish doughnuts called paczki: don't compare them to the American doughnut. The taste is completely different.)


Again I mostly put away my camera. The visual takes a back seat tonight.

And now I am on my last night at my sister's place. Tomorrow, I leave for a brief overnight in Paris, to return home on Saturday.

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