Monday, March 21, 2016


in Warsaw

Well, what a surprise! The sun came out this morning and the city faced the prospect of real spring! (Have I used enough exclamation marks to make my point?!)

I arrived in Warsaw very late last night (that strike...). The Air France staff was grumpy, the passengers pushy, but my sister greeted me at the airport and we made out way to her home in good cheer. It was a late night for us -- so much to discuss since my last stopover here! I am, after all, now a (partial) resident of Warsaw. I am back to where I started in life.

[It's hard to reenter the world of the everyday in a country whose everyday you never really knew because you left as a student. And besides, forty some years ago, you paid your bills at the post office and you stuffed extra cash in your mattress. Now -- much of your affairs are conducted on the internet, once you know what to do. Which leads me to the observation that in Poland -- perhaps elsewhere? -- there are those who did not make the leap to the new state of affairs. When my sister and I went to the bank to straighten some old documents that she found in her heaps of papers, we held up the line considerably -- a line of old grandparent type people who still go to the bank on foot to withdraw cash. What are your plans for the day, dear? I'm taking care of our grandchild. And you? I'll go to the bank.]

My sister fed me my standard breakfast...


And immediately after we set out to various bureaus and offices. On the way, we passed a man beating his rug in the parking lot of an apartment complex.


(While flower vendors all over town sold bunches of Poland's favorite early spring bouquet.)


I commented on the rug beating.
That's right, it's Easter week, my sister nodded.
In Poland, the sign of Easter week is that you air your quilts and beat your rugs.
They really do get cleaner that way -- she assured me.

Of course, my grandma had a rug beater, but I thought the habit of spanking the dust out of a carpet died somewhat with the introduction of the vacuum cleaner. No one I know in the States beats their rugs.

After attending to paperwork (what? you misspelled my father's first name? The document has to be redone! When will it be ready? Next week? Well now, I'm not here next week) we take the subway downtown. To the area of my new home.

What if you don't like it?
I don't intend to like it. It's ugly. That's the point.

The apartment is in a place that (I hope) is improving as we speak. It's close to a fashionable and money-ed boulevard, it's also close to the university, and finally, it's close to the riverfront, which some say is the future trendy district in the city. Of course, all this is speculative and rather chancy. Right now in my blocks, there is a Comme des Garcons perfume store, a bike shop, a Lego exchange shop, a chocolate making store and right below my apartment -- a coffee shop. (How convenient, no?) Across the street there is a rather vast building (with empty store fronts) that I'm really hoping is slated for demolition.

Here's the street -- pay attention to the art on the two buildings. On one side, the theme is Chopin. (You can actually see my own building in the photo but I wont tell you just yet which one it is.)


We just take a peek now. We'll be back later in the afternoon. In the meantime, we walk the neighborhood. You'll recognize parts of it -- I've photographed it before. (The building on the left  (below) once housed the Department of Economics at the University -- it was my cerebral but also social home in my post high school years.) 


I want to check my email and generally get my act together and so we pause at a cafe -- it's called Vincent and it is at once intimate and delicious (and the internet is superb).


It'll be a close walk for me...
Everything here is a close walk for you...

the Apartment

And now we are in a hurry. I have an appointment with Pani Karolina in a cafe that is just below my apartment. She will be my remodeling team leader in  Warsaw. I like her immediately and I will grow to like her even more in the course of the day. Karolina is calm. She does not throw her hands up and say -- impossible! She doesn't shake her head, slam the door and run away. When an insurmountable problem is presented to her, she says reassuring things like -- we do have good plumbers in Poland... [This rises to the level of an inside joke: many of Poland's great plumbers have gone to the west where the pay is perhaps four times what they can earn in Poland.]


At first, it is just plain fun. I talk about things I like: light. Brightness. Light. Style.

And then it's time for us to go up to the apartment. I will be meeting with the students (and negotiating their departure) and Karolina will be inspecting the apartment.

At first, I am pleased. The stairwell is modest, but well cared for. The entrance door -- fine.
This is going to be a breeze!


And then we enter the unit. My unit. My project, my investment, my Warsaw home, my hope.

Where do I begin? Well, it's not the pink horror anymore because the students took a paintbrush to it and it is now mildly creamy. Perhaps with a blush, but the pink is definitely of another time.

And there the beauty ends.

Oh, the horror! The pipes, the weirdly elevated shower, the smell, the peeling, the ugliness of it all!

I was prepared of course. I did not purchase it for the looks. But the work will be tremendous.

And so the students win by default. Karolina looks me in the eye and says, calmly, sweetly -- you know how I said I need a month to do the job? In this case, I need two or three. At least.

It's wrong to say that the students will have left a mess. If anything, their cleaning habits seem more than adequate. But the apartment looks like someone threw something together carelessly sixty years ago and so it remained. There is nothing good about it -- not the floors, walls, ceiling. (Did I mention the pipes? Including sewage pipes running from the bathroom of the upstairs neighbor?)

Not to be discouraged! The students stay, Karolina has a good construction team, we are set to go.
I'll sleep on this and let's meet again to talk about specifics -- she tells me.
I hope one specific isn't -- this job sucks and no amount of money will fix the dumb pile of junk you bought.

We shake hands all around. I tell the students I want a private concert when all is said and done. They smile. So agreeable!


I leave then and leave Karolina to more measurement and contemplation (and the students to their music). My sister and I walk the street and find another cafe rather quickly. The skies change from partly cloudy, to tempestuous with sleet and rain, and now they're partly cloudy again.

The cafe is lovely (with a nod to France)...


... and I drink hibiscus tea in a warm and clever industrial-like setting.


I'm lucky, really. Karolina forges ahead (I hope), my sister helps with the paper work -- I am here to merely accept and confront my new status as a temporary (and unwilling) landlord and owner at this moment of a junky but someday lovely (I hope) apartment.

In the evening we eat herring and sauerkraut and dark bread with slabs of very fresh butter.

It is a beautiful day to be in Warsaw.