Friday, December 08, 2006

from Warsaw, fleetingly, then from Krakow, chasing down peasant roots

The airport is expanding, the traffic is worsening, and there is the inevitable construction. [Come to think of it, this would describe Madison as well.]

My sister is waiting at the Warsaw airport. She has made the mental calculation that we could stop at her place on the way from the terminals, eat borscht and gingerbread and quickly scoot to the train station in time for my connection to Krakow.

So my first taste of Polish food comes from her kitchen. Fitting, and entirely memorable and wonderful, except I am so tired that I erase an entire card of photos documenting my earliest minutes rubbing shoulders with my people, so to speak.

A three hour train ride and Ed and I are in Krakow, red-eyed, weary. Still, we push my suitcase and carry my computer and camera bag (Ed travels with no such encumbrances) all the way across the main square…

Poland dec 06 002

…to the hotel, where I open the window to a view:

Poland dec 06 014

The air is warm – upper forties. Can’t complain. I hardly notice the slight misty undertones that have draped the streets with a thin sheath of wetness.

I take Ed to a place that serves Polish peasant food. I’m Polish peasant stock. This is my food!

The place is crowded and so we go for a walk, hoping that eventually a table will open up, preferably before midnight. We pace the main square taking in the crowds – the place is one foot into Christmas and another into the week-end. People, everywhere people, walking through, stopping for a snack. This is street food for the holidays: huts with burly men (mostly men) grilling meats -- food to sustain you between regular meals.

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It’s intense out there under the moonlit sky: the grills are churning out roasted kielbasas and chunks of who knows what, I’m taking in the smells and sounds – yes, I can see myself piling a plate with slabs of meats and sausages and still, I resist. I make do with smoked cheese from the nearby highlands, grilled and smothered with wild cranberries...

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…just so I can make room for the peasant foods back at the restaurant: the potatoes, the mushrooms, pan-fried and drenched in two kilos of melted butter, the herring heaped with sour cream and onion and the pierogi, sprinkled with lardons, oh and don’t let me forget the pickles and cabbage slaw and bread at the side and the tall jug of beer.

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No one ever said peasant stock is raised on light food.