Saturday, August 19, 2017

an evening of celebration, a day of Warsaw strolls

A post in three parts.

Part I

If the first half of Friday was spent in the bucolic embrace of the Polish countryside, the second half belonged to a different kind of embrace: that among friends.

I barely have time to do a quick shop (for my contribution to the evening's event), throw things down in the apartment, wipe my brow from the heat of the day, put on something sweeping and celebratory and come down to the waiting taxi, which is to take me and more importantly, my neighbor and friend -- this woman:


... to the celebration of her wedding next week. I suppose you could call it a bachelorette party, but in a way, it is a different kind of party. It groups her best friends, her daughters and daughter in law in spe, and the best friends of her future husband. A dozen women of various ages.

And if you think this next photo carries the mark of my Aperol Spritz obsession this summer, well -- you'd be right!


The evening unfolds with an activity. An enterprising soul has set up a business where she introduces small groups to the art of soap making -- using nature's best products, scents, flowers, herbs and spices.

We're on it!


After, there's plenty of good food, brought over by the various participants. And it is all wonderful and all very heart warming and of course fun, but I especially enjoy seeing the bride in the larger context of the people -- women -- in her life. Here's one daughter...


... and there is the other. And because this is Poland, your childhood friends are your friends for life. You see those, too, in the photo.


An evening like this is inevitably light hearted and jovial. It is a good time for me to mention an article I recently read in the NYTimes comparing the sexual lives of women under socialism with those living under capitalism.
The reaction here is instant and telling: what, are you saying, that American women had better sex?
On the contrary. The article claims that sex was better for women under socialism.
That doesn't sound right either. Is the study flawed?
My feeling is that there is a deeper point to be made on the subject of social relations under the two systems, but we put off further discussion until I forward them the article.

Meanwhile, we're making face scrubs. Remember, Polish women take good care of their complexions -- how's that for a generalization!

(These two, along with me, have been friends of the groom for more than forty-five years...)


One other interesting topic of conversation: provocatively, I say that this dessert -- the one to the left, Beza, a favorite of mine and of many other Poles -- is unknown in America. (It's a cake of meringue, mascarpone cream and fruits.) The statement is met with shock and consternation!
Couldn't be!
Ah, but it is true...


Speaking of custom, here's one that's decidedly not Polish, or even executed in Poland (you can tell, because the letters, printed across the ocean, lack the needed Polish accent) -- a commemorative t-shirt for the bride!


And so ends a beautiful evening where love and friendship triumph, excitement builds and the women go home possibly thinking about sex under socialism, but most likely planning their weekend escapes from the demands of the workplace. We are, here, functioning under a market economy after all.

Part II

Oh, did I sleep well this night! My sister claims long walks in the country are restorative. After two consecutive low-sleep nights, I am indeed restored.

I have a late morning meeting with my goodest of good friends. But before I set out to meet her, I need to (finally) set my home in order. What do I need for breakfast? There's oatmeal in the cupboard, honey on the shelf... milk! I need milk for coffee! And kefir for the fruits!

And as long as I am out and about, I most definitely need to visit my favorite flower lady.

She's there! Yes, she is reliably there, with her multitude of flowers...


The tough part about being in the city during the summer is that I am away from gardens. And so I pick not one, but two (or three) bunches for the apartment. I buy the freesia, the Polish heather, and a large bouquet of prairie gentians -- aka lisianthus, which properly belongs in North America, but hey, why not mix up the two worlds for once?!

My flower person is a lovely woman who has been selling flowers from a stand for more than twenty years.
You could say that I gave up my youth to flowers. Or, I faded with the fading blooms! She is a cheerful person with a wonderful sense of humor -- this despite the fact that she has to get up each morning to go to the flower guild (wholesale market) at 3 or 4 each morning to pick out her flowers.
You go later, everything's gone -- mostly for shipment to other countries, including across the ocean -- she tells me.

She wants to arrange my purchased flowers just so. I want to say -- no, skip it, I'll do it myself, I'm in a hurry. But I stay quiet. She takes pride in her work. She wants to show off her talents here and I don't blame her, because she really is good  with flowers.

I am rewarded. By lingering, I get to witness not one, but two people coming by to ask her for street and public transportation directions.
No, no buses run this way all weekend. You have to walk a few more blocks. They're diverted traffic for the summer months...

Who knew! I would have wasted time tomorrow waiting for my airport bus that would never come!

Thank you, flower lady!


She will be here I'm sure when I'm next in Warsaw (in December). What different weather we'll have then! Whereas I grouse about walking in the winter sleet and biting cold, she tells me -- I do love summer. It's hot. People complain. How do you stand it here all day long? I just pull out my chair and enjoy it, I tell them. And in the winter -- well, that's the season! Of course it's cold! Of course! So what?

Some people find the inconveniences in life terribly irritating. They are never satisfied.

 She is not one of them.

It's getting late, but I stop one more time, by the side of a building, to buy raspberries from this woman who has only a handful of food items (perhaps from the guild?) to offer you.


And of course now I know I will be late, even if I skip the oatmeal and just have my fruits, my kefir and my honey. And coffee! I do need that coffee!


I rush to meet my friend. My it's warm once more! This morning is Warsaw's last hurrah, last look at a true summer day.


My sweet good friend is indeed waiting for me. I entrust myself to her: she's a Warsaw girl and she knows exactly where you can find what.

We pass through this lovely park where, as always, little tykes are splashing in the fountain (Snowdrop would love this!)...


And eventually, we make our way to what is called a "breakfast bazaar." The deal is that vendors come with foods that you might consider for breakfast (and beyond, but principally for breakfast). There are picnic tables and too, grassy knolls where you can spread out your blanket. It's a fantastic idea! (I'm sure it would be a tremendous hit in Madison... Hey, Mayor, are you listening?)

I like how the world "truck" has been incorporated into the Polish vernacular. His business is called "Ryba Truck." Fish truck. Because he sells fish. Smoked fish, for your breakfast appetite.


Sure, you can buy fruits (from the vendor below). But as long as you're here, you'll of course want his pickles and sour cabbage. (I tell my sister that it's ironic that sour pickles and cabbage remain so intensely popular in Poland... Dare I say it -- even more popular than where you could get little else! She responds correctly, I think: it's fashionable to eat "sour" things now. So before, the country was driven by necessity and now -- by fashion!) Note, too, the ever wonderful chanterelle mushrooms -- an American luxury, a Polish staple.


Now comes what for us is the piece de resistance -- the yeasty, beautiful, fragrant blueberry buns. Jagodzianki. Remember them from Łochów? (You can, in the alternative, pick up a plum yeast roll. But so long as the blueberries last, we'll stick with the jagodzianki!)


My friend and I walk then along a band of dense greenery, bordering military ramparts that were built in the years of Tsarist rule.


And eventually we're at the river.


This is the northern most end of the great riverwalk -- Warsaw's fantastic project to make something of the city's natural landscape.

My friend and I sit down. It's quiet at this end of the walk. Contemplative. Serene.


We talk, review, catch up -- call it what you want. There is no good name for great moments like this.

We also watch the river present itself to us: ducks, kayakers,  goldenrod.


We walk on. Here's the more lively part: despite the threat of storms, people are enjoying the food options. There are so many!


The  mayor of Warsaw called this most beautiful urban riverwalk in the world. Yes, it is. To the front -- the river. Along the walkway -- a bike path, kids' play areas, restaurants. In the background -- the Old Town skyline.


We turn in toward the city streets. It's starting to rain.


My friend catches the bus home, I work my umbrella to its death as I struggle to get back to my apartment. (Yes, I pop into a store to purchase a new umbrella for my stays here.)


Part III

My sister comes in from the village and we have a beautiful early evening walk, this despite the weather which has turned cool and wet.

We pass the National Philharmonic -- a place I will be returning to next week... (Do you see the tail end of an American flag? It's there because an American pianist will be performing here soon.)


And we make our way to the Koszyki food halls, where you really can find the best crepes (a Polish favorite). I cannot resist -- I order the buckwheat crepes with tons of chanterelles in a cream sauce and a salad sprinkled liberally throughout.


It really is too wet to continue our walk and so we postpone it 'til next week. She catches the metro to her apartment, I catch the metro to my apartment.

Well, with a detour. I am on this trip in love with the delicious yeasty pastries. At Blikle -- one of Warsaw's oldest bakeries -- I choose among there:


... picking out a little babeczka, a crescent with white poppyseed, and of course -- a jagodzinaka. Surely I do not have to translate it for you by now!

The skies momentarily turn a lovely pink and only partly cloudy.


It is a beautiful evening to be in Warsaw, Poland.