Sunday, March 19, 2017

travel, continued

[Over the Atlantic]

I always forget to pack some trivial thing. I don't write things down and so the mind moves elsewhere and one or two items are left behind. This time I omitted a stack of New Yorker magazines, which is a shame because they are perfect for long flights.

Still, every mistake is also an invitation to live your life differently and so on this trip, I find myself reading very carefully the magazine Holland Herald -- it's free and it's stuck in your seat on I assume all KLM flights.

Let me quote from one wee story (with a photo of Amsterdam canal houses at night -- lights on, curtains pulled aside):

Ever wonder why Dutch people tend to leave their curtains open, giving passers-by a full display of their interior and indoor activities? Well, the common explanation... lies in the country's Calvinistic history. Apparently, leaving your curtains open shows you have nothing to hide and lead a modest life.

Another possible reason might be the lack of sunshine in the country, especially during winter. And the locals would like to catch as much light as they can. So, they are actually not welcoming you in, only the sunshine.

I smiled at that because in fact, Ed and I do not use curtains. True, we live in the country, but even when I lived in my Madison condo and prior to that -- my downtown apartment, I never closed off the outside world. Oh, do let go of your naughty thoughts: the very private activities were not/are not on display!  Still, people who visit are somewhat incredulous. You never draw the curtains? And then I will admit that in the summer time, the sun streaming in through the skylight is so bright in the morning that I have draped a cover to that window, so that we can sleep in late if we wish and not be blinded. Otherwise -- no.

And though we have no Calvinist heritage, Ed and I do feel pride in the modest nature of our interior. There is absolutely nothing of value in the farmhouse. Old cheap furniture and kid toys. We have nothing to conceal. And, perhaps equally importantly, we love the outdoor light!

After reading every last bit of the magazine I turn to the inflight movies. I finally work up the nerve to watch Manchester by the Sea which is so terribly tragic that I almost cannot sleep because of it (I say "almost ... because of it" since it's never clear to me why I cannot sleep flying eastward, even as Ed tells me I only think I'm not sleeping.)

I then watch La La Land (again!) to lull myself into another world and shortly after I am in Amsterdam, where I eat my mostly unhealthy breakfast.


At the gate I shut out that conversation around me and try to figure out (by looking rather than listening) if I can spot the Poles and the Americans in the waiting area. It's a game that a lot of us displaced and/or transplanted people play. It helps us feel connected to our knowledge base and the culture in which we once lived. Here's a couple who gave me not the slightest bit of doubt:


Having bypassed the whole Paris mess, I easily connect to my Amsterdam - Warsaw flight and suddenly travel is methodical and calm again. Rocky beginnings do not foretell continued chaos.

[Finally, Warsaw...]

I arrive tired but grateful. Just a little bit late, just a little bit windswept (strong gusts up and down the face of Europe) but glad to be here. In my apartment. Where everything still smells fresh and feels very welcoming.


I don't linger at home though. My sister is with me and she has a music lesson and I walk her to it, and I have a long grocery shopping list and she walks me to it, and so the rest of the day passes very briskly: one two three -- it's done.

I'll leave you with two photos. In the first, I am hurrying toward the riverside metro stop. It's windy and as I have already mentioned -- not that warm. But it's also Sunday and so I am not surprised to see many groups of people -- families, mostly families -- out for a walk.


It thrills me that this most enduring habit hasn't disappeared.

And I also leave you with a pic of a small flower shop. When my sister and I go to the big grocery store across the river, we pass it and inevitably we pause. Today I had a tough time deciding which pinks and reds should come back with me to the apartment.


Can't you tell me which will last the week? -- I ask the person who sells flowers.
No, I cannot -- she answers bluntly.

By now, I'm beginning to remember the layout of the grocery store. And I've also come to remember this particular flower shopkeeper: she is the kind of person who will not meet your sweet inquiries with sweet responses, but when you purchase your flowers, she'll throw in a little bit of this and a little bit of that and arrange it all beautifully for you. Her goodness comes through if you just pause and, without rushing, purchase a small spray of flowers.