Friday, August 25, 2017

Warsaw, continued

Well, I feel truly domesticated right now. I get up, struggle once more with understanding how to operate the washer/dryer (one small machine does both!), then wash the floor. About time, no?

And that's not all: continuing on the theme of domesticity, I dash out to my favorite green grocer to pick up some fruits and garlic for tonight. At the last minute, I send out an invitation to my friends for a light supper and though I have much of what I need -- cheese, prosciutto, shrimp (here and in Madison, I keep shrimp in the freezer, just in case...) -- I want to add fresh fruit. My grocer guy is holding a few baskets of strawberries for me.


I need bread, too. Poles are not tied to a baguette like the French, but they are huge bread eaters nonetheless and predictably, the line at the bread bakery is long.


Finally, time for breakfast.


My sister drops off dessert for tonight. She has stuff to do today so I'll be strolling  on my own, like in Paris, contemplating life in ways that you do when you wander the streets of Warsaw.

I left Poland during my university years, and so I have no recent memories here. Indeed, unlike those of my friends, mine are getting mighty old and dusty!

Of course, Warsaw begs you to go back in time. No person who lives here or who visits, is left without some impression of the the war's impact on the city. And of course, of the years that followed.

Let's stroll a little bit together: to the Old Town, the New Town (a neighborhood dating back to the 15th century, so not so new!) and back again.

(Hip young women...)


(Copernicus... and one of the many churches, this one right next to the university building where I studied econometrics for 2.5 years before leaving for the U.S.)


(A Polish grandma is good for wiping a face of ice cream...)


(And now I'm nearing the Old Town.)


It feels especially touristy today. So I walk quickly, pausing only for a moment on the square...


I continue beyond the fortifications, to the New Town and I walk up to the little museum commemorating the life of Marie Curie. I always acknowledge it, but I've never been inside. Today, I go inside.


She was born here. Her mother ran a boarding school for girls at this address and Marie lived here briefly with all her siblings.


It's odd how this last week has put me in front of Marie Curie's grave and now her birth place. Am I on the prowl of coincidence on this trip?

I continue through the New Town, then turn back...


(So many reminders of the war in this city! Do they have an impact on generations that didn't live in those decades?)


Here's Warsaw for you: something old, something new, something sad, something blue.... The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the center of a vast square.


Evening. It's special tonight. A small group (thanks to the brilliant and far sighted organizational talents of one member), is going to attend a concert at the National Philharmonic. We're in the midst of a festival of music (in its 13th year) celebrating Chopin, but not only (reminding me a little of the Mostly Mozart Festival that I used to be a fan of when in New York). The title of it is  "Chopin and his Europe" -- with the subtitle -- "from Bach to Chopin."


Tonight's guest artist is Garrick Ohlsson.

If you're a calssical music enthusiast, you'll have heard of him. But for me, he's not just a great pianist. 47 years ago, during the Chopin Piano Competition (which takes place every five years in Warsaw), Ohlsson was a finalist and I was dumbstruck by the passion of his music. I was impressionable. A young 17 year old who felt everything deeply and excessively. I was in my second year of university studies (I was a very young student) and I skipped classes so that I could attend the various stages of the competition, listening to many contestants, feeling the music with every bit of my soul and heart.

In the end, Ohlsson won (he was a wild haired 22 year old then) - the first American to ever win the Chopin competition. He was a tremendous pianist!

And he was tremendous tonight! You could only cry (and I did) and then applaud thunderously (he surely gets the best reception in Poland and he splendidly learned a few words of Polish, which just brings down the house).

47 years had gone by since I was last at that concert hall listening to Ohlsson play. 47 years of decisions made, children raised, life lived. Where was my head then? (Oh dear, I remember where it was then!) Where is it now?

Afterwards, I linger, watching as Ohlsson makes his way to a CD signing...


I would have liked to stay, to convey words that would have had some small meaning, but the line is long and my friends are waiting. Besides, I think people who are that famous cease to really listen to praise. I remember reading last week in the NYTimes about how Alice Waters just doesn't care anymore if people are inspired by her or love her or hate her. Perhaps fame does that to you: after a while, it's just like the old carpet you've had in the living room for ages -- you don't even notice how tattered or beautiful it really is.

My friends came over for a light supper and it is a memorable evening...


... in that aside from the usual wonderful stories and commentary and advice giving on, for example, how to deal with a sore back...


... or a stiff neck...


... we also disagree. The topic? Oh, irrelevant. Perhaps nothing more than a late evening, where cultures collide. But for a moment, I feel once more suspended between two continents, two worlds, two lives. It is not new. I've felt it many times before.

Still, these guys are friends for life and then some!


But I do admit to being very grateful for skype and for Ed's terrific ability to see beyond the detail and shrug off my worries when I call full of cultural angst!

It's late. The dishes are stacked but not washed. The sheets are dry, but not yet on the bed. And tomorrow is the wedding. It will be a busy set of hours!