Friday, August 18, 2017

a Friday in the country

I finish writing and glance at the clock. 11 p.m. I must sleep.

But the sound of men talking in the two rooms next to mine is feeding my restlessness. The voices are intermittent and loud. I open the door and see that the desk clerk is already knocking on theirs with a reprimand. Things go quiet, but only for a minute. Then they're at it again.

It's no use. I'm a light sleeper in the best of times. These are not the best of times. I go out and ask for a room change.

The clerk is apologetic. We've had them here before and it's not been a problem. This time they're impossible. We wont be hosting them here again!
Are they here for the weekend? It's still hard for me to comprehend who would come to Łochów.
These guys are workers. They're in town on a project.

Ah, so the Łochów Palace continues to be home to laborers, just like in postwar times! It is, in fact, the only hotel for miles. It's a "weekend getaway" (so the staff tells me), but too, it's a place to stay if you have to pass through this way for whatever reason.

Breakfast. So Polish! Let me count the ways: dark bread and white farmers cheese. Cucumbers and tomatoes. Scrambled eggs, swimming in butter. Mushrooms, swimming in butter. Yellow cheese, yogurt. I passed on the kielbaski, the hams, the deviled eggs.


My sister arrives and we head out to Łochów's commercial heart. Here it is:


Perhaps you think this is a very small heart, but in fact, in these few blocks, there are two bakeries! Indeed, my sister loves one of them to pieces. She is not a big cake eater, but when in Łochów, she always stops by and picks up a half a dozen of the cheese babeczki (to the right).


Today, we add to them a jagodowka -- a very traditional Polish yeast bun stuffed with blueberries.


We stop, too, at the produce tent.


She picks through plums, I admire the Polish essentials of August: cucumbers for pickling, sunflower heads for nibbling.


(Local berries...)


And now we finally make our way along the familiar roads to Gniazdowo and our old village home.


My sister has repurchased it from a woman who had acquired it when my grandparents could no longer live here. The house is in a moderate state of disrepair. My sister is slowly making improvements, though it's still not habitable in the cold seasons. But what she has done inside follows my grandfather's vision: natural materials, simplicity, good design. And my grandmother's vision: simple, fresh, clean.

This is the verandah, where we ate all our meals in the warm months.


On the wall, there is a photo of my grandparents, taken some fifty years ago. Above it is a sketch of the house that my sister made when she was a teen.


How familiar it all is!

We go for a walk to the forest down the road. It's a beautiful pine forest, with plenty of moss at the base and great mushroom picking opportunities after a rain...


Of course, in half a century, the landscape will change on you. Nowhere are the changes more evident than by the river. The banks are quite overgrown and the vegetation isn't what we remember from our childhood years. And the river follows a slightly different course. We suspect that attempts to regulate the flow of it by heavy planting along the meadows and river edges really confused the topography. There are far fewer access points to the water and, too, far fewer sandy strips.

But here's an easy river access. I look at the clear water and the sandy bottom. Regulation has helped clean up a river that cycled through clean (in my childhood), to very polluted (in my young adulthood), to pretty clean again.

She wades a little. I watch...


We walk on. Past a few farmsteads (though the number of farmers here is dwindling and the number of dairy farmers is plummeting).


... and onto a dirt road (this is how all roads looked as I was growing up).


It leads to a farmer who was my grandma's favorite for cheese and butter. The kids and grandkids have taken over now and they still grow potatoes, but the cows are long gone.


(Hay, stacked the old way and a beautiful meadow of wildflowers...)


(In many gardens, you'll find sunflowers. Not for show, but for consumption.)


And in many villages you'll find crosses at the entry point. This cross was placed here at the beginning of the 20th century.


One family of farmers has completely transformed their farmstead. From dairy, they have moved on to goats.


Beautiful goats.


Here, too, you can walk down to the river's edge.

I tell my sister that if I come back next week, I'll walk with her upstream or downstream. In one end, and out the other.


We're back at the village house and once more I take a look around me. This was my grandparents' room. I'd run to my grandma's bed when the storm outside was too loud and violent.


The kitchen was redone by the previous owner and it is not an improvement. Sure, the coal stove is gone and the stairs look freshly pretty (as painted by my nephew), but there are huge structural problems that would need attention if someone really wanted to live here for more than short bursts of time.


We eat our cakes, drink our tea...


And then we walk to the station, where I catch my train back to Warsaw. And if yesterday's train was spiffy, today's is even spiffier inside: air conditioning and WiFi. Unbelievable!

(Here's a grandma and an aunt, returning the kid back to mom in Warsaw.)


I hop on the metro, get off by the river (changes: classy glassy metro stations and bicycle lanes; the same: nuns in habit everywhere, though not as many as you'll find in Krakow)...


... and on this last of the sizzling days (can't you just feel it?), I walk up my street, pick up some foods and wines for tonight's festivities and return to my wonderfully cool apartment.


There is more to this day, but it moves in a wildly different direction. I'll post this now and continue with the rest tomorrow.