Monday, March 20, 2017


Oh, but I love this season! It's rarely off to a good start in the regions where I live, but it progresses toward a rhapsodic view of life blossoming, of renewal and growth, and it's done with such flair and beauty that it takes your breath away!

And today it all begins.

I'm in Warsaw and I have all the stuff that I need for a good breakfast.

I spread out a tea towel that I brought with me, not because one ought to use a tea towel as a place mat, but because it has that lovely combination of images that define this week: in the corner it boasts in French that it is Le Printemps (spring! and yes, there will be something French for me this week) and then it moves to sketches that speak to my childhood in Poland -- lillies of the valley, plump cherries ripening on village farmsteads, swallows darting to catch this bug then that...


On the table, you'll notice the pitcher of flowers and you may remember that there was much debate and little resolution as to which flower may last the week, but perhaps it's not the blossoms that matter (though they are pretty) -- to me, it's the pussy willow twigs which always made it to jars at home in my younger years of a Warsaw spring.


Welcome, spring! Welcome indeed!

Still, it is on the cool side today. A high of 50F (10C). And it's not there yet as I set out toward my sister's neighborhood where we are to do some shopping, not for me this time, but for her.

On my way out, I walk down the stairwell of my apartment building. It's got a few chips and dents, but it's clean and ... homey. My neighbor downstairs occasionally pokes out to see who is passing through. Another neighbor's pup yaps at us all.  Outside the window, you can catch a glimpse of the monastery that's located just to the back of our building, behind firmly locked gates. Here's a nun pacing outside the high walls, talking earnestly on her cell phone...


In Warsaw, I believe all apartments are heated by radiators. (I've never seen another form of heating here.) The stairwell has radiators too and that's grand: toasty warm when you enter. On the radiator that's right next to our mailboxes someone put out three books. I look at the titles: War and Peace, The Politics of John the XXIII and Paul the VI, and finally The Essential Guide for Senior Citizens. I pick the last one up and look at the index. Everything you need to know! From why and how you should make up a will, to where you may look for services, to your rights to stay in your home even if you do not own it. I put the book back. (By afternoon it's gone.)


I take a meandering route to the metro. There's no hurry. And I want to take in Warsaw. You know, to make that correction to whatever images of it I have thus far.

In the course of my walk I pass dozens of flower stands. Poles love their flowers. Hmmm... is it something that I took back with me to the U.S.? Did it originate here? Because surely I remember dozens of flower vendors from my childhood as well. Spring meant posies of violets and English daisies. Forget-me-nots and lilies of the valley. These days the flowers aren't necessarily from riverside meadows. But still, they are an essential element of your home's decor: they announce a well lived life.


I stop at a bookstore. I am intrigued by the big children's book in the window -- the one that says "Spring on Cherry Street" -- in Polish of course.


I go inside. I like the book. It has large, complex pictures of scenes from a spring day in some hypothetical town. There are few words and yet the book feels remarkably Polish. Maybe it's the three nuns that are like three Waldos on each page. (One task might be to "find the nuns," though perhaps that's strange to a child who, being raised in the U.S., has never seen a nun in her life.)

As I resume my walk, I notice how many older couples walk arm in arm, or sometimes even hand in hand. (Here's a humorous sign outside a coffee shop: Good Warm Coffee (arrow points inside), Cold, Awful World (arrow points outside.))


Habits. Culturally ingrained and maintained. Impossible sometimes to let go of them. I come to an intersection. A small street, completely empty. Light is red. I cannot just stand there. It goes against the grain of where I learned to cross streets (in New York). I mean -- ridiculous. There's not a car in sight. I shrug my shoulders and cross on the red light.
A policeman saunters over to me: what do you think you're doing? You want to cause an accident?
I decide to forego pointing out that there are no cars.
Sorry... I was in a hurry.
Well now, you think you can just ignore the lights?
No... Sorry!
My sister later tells me I was lucky: she was zapped with a hefty fine. She said they've moved from giving verbal warnings to handing out tickets. In any case, on the next light I wait with the rest. But there are no cars! My feet itch to cross!

I hold back.

Most often, I pull out my camera when I think something is so... I don't know, typical! And I especially think in those terms when I see someone my age. There is something of the soul of Warsaw in these people who grew up to see the changes here in the same way I did.


On the subway (which I now take because I'm running so late) the new generation is plugged in. The old generation reflects.


My sister and I shop in a row of shops close to where she lives (the southern most tip of the city). Ha! I see a Snowdrop type!


But equally fascinating are the shops. You cannot say that we are in an exclusive area of town. It's comfortably middle class (for Poland; less so for those of you on the other side of the ocean). But the food stores -- they're wonderful!

I'm impressed with all of them, though I'll mention only a few: the meat shop, with its abundance of everything, including these lovely homemade pates.


The bread bakery -- well that's a given. Poles, like the French, love their bread and they love it fresh!


The fish store has a dozen beautiful herring salads, and the grocery store!! Oh, the grocery store!  This perhaps is the best of the lot. The vendor has everything: not just local (though come summer, he veers toward homegrown), but EU and in rare instances beyond. And all of it of such beautiful quality! The apples, the dill! The strawberries from Spain (we get them daily now, he tells me), the endive, beans, oh, just everything! Add to this barrels of sauerkraut: several types!

It seemed to be a family affair and they do know their product, their suppliers and obviously their customers.


Why do we not have green grocers in the U.S. anymore? They are ubiquitous in France of course, but I always thought that it's because the French are a bit gaga about food. I see that they're ubiquitous in Warsaw as well. Imagine having your own neighborhood grocer! Someone who knows you, picks out the good apples for you, and tells you when the next shipment of berries will be delivered. It's no secret that I dislike most produce sections of major supermarkets. I shop at Whole Foods in large part because of the produce section there: it's better than the rest. But it's not the same as these small shops. And so Warsaw has flipped: it used to be far far far worse in terms of food than the U.S.. Now, dare I say it?  I think it may be better. With prices that are less than half those in the west.

I think about all this as I get back on the metro. I'm loaded down after all. Couldn't pass up the sauerkraut...

As I climb the steps to the street, I hear music. I pause to watch.


I know where they're from  -- Romania. To the westerner, Poland is inexpensive and wages are low. To those in the east and south -- this country is a place where you can find work and decent pay. Economically speaking, Poland is many steps up from most other countries of the so-called Eastern Bloc.

(Looking down the street that I always cross on my way home...)


(Another photo of a person my age -- someone who looks so much like the older women of my childhood... Oh, the hat and bag may be finer, but essentially, she is as she would have been then...)


I pause to pick up some tulips at one of those flower stalls not too far from my apartment. I tell the vendor -- no, don't bother with the ribbon. It's just for home.
She is a bit aghast and ignores my directive. So what! You want to carry something pretty, dont you?

She reminds me of my Italian friend who was equally aghast when I had told her I don't care how I dress on days when I don't have social engagements. Don't you care for yourself?!?
It was the same admonition.

The flower person hands me my bouquet and I say thank you and good bye and she says thank you and good bye and then adds -- I wish you a very nice day ("zycze milego dnia!"). It is the third time I hear this from a vendor today! It's completely new and it sounds so foreign here! Did they all read in the paper that with a market economy you wish people nice days when they finish doing business with you?

Oh, the changing face of Poland!

At home, I mix up my cultures a bit: flowers from here, a little cup from Paris, chocolate covered ginger bread hearts with sour cherry filling  -- oh, so very much from here!


Evening. If at the farmette I am socially quiet for long stretches of time (except for events that center around family), in Warsaw, there aren't enough days to do all that I want to do with friends here.

Tonight, I am a guest at my architect's home. Karolina and her husband invite me over for supper with their wonderful two children. I take my time getting there. It's always so interesting to walk a city at dusk. Here's a dad taking his two out for an evening stroll while presumably the mom fixes supper.


Finally I am at Karolina's place. The food is grand, and spending an evening with them is just lovely,  and the kids are awesome, though unfortunately their little girl reminds me a bit of Snowdrop, so there is that nostalgia at work again.


(The ever yummy desserts of Warsaw...)


I leave when it surely is way past their kids' bedtime. I note the park across the street and I think -- why does it feel so Polish to me?


Perhaps because it is. Just that.

1 comment:

  1. So will Warsaw Snowdrop and Madison Snowdrop meet someday? That would be exciting to watch even from this distance!


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