Friday, February 28, 2014


I have heard that when you return to your childhood home as an adult, a part of you slips right into a pattern of thought and feeling that you had while living there. You are, to a degree, a kid again.

Well it's the same for cities, no? If you grew up in Milwaukee and then move elsewhere, surely a return will put you right back into your childhood shoes?

I feel that way about Warsaw. Each time I come back, it's as if I am a teen again, with all the angst and worry and rush that is so characteristic of being, say, fifteen. Because Warsaw is for me my coming of age. My eye opener. My adolescence.

And here's another complicated element to this: Polish people love their Poland. I've said this before: even when they leave, they come back. Again and again They can't let go. The saying goes -- you leave to earn your money elsewhere, you come back to spend it in Poland.

I didn't do that: I never really came back (even though, arguably, I keep returning, but as my sister will point out -- for very very brief spurts). And yet, I am no different. I am, for better, for worse, as deeply rooted in this place as all those who flock back to make their home here again.

Breakfast. Oatmeal! Kefir! Honey! It must be in our genes to like this stuff day in and day out.


Then a morning of walking. Our legal matters aren't until the afternoon. So my sister and I take the metro to city center -- the neighborhood where we grew up -- and we walk. (To the commenter who is, not surprisingly confused -- my sister lives in Poland and in Sweden. Same sister. A year older than me.)

We're not without destination. We have our favorite places -- ones that are so familiar that they scream childhood! at every step. It's a cold morning: misty and damp, just above freezing, but as always -- much colder if you take the perspective of how your bones are taking it in. So very soon, as soon as we get to this short block...


...I suggest a pause for coffee (and apple raspberry cake!).


What's so special about the block? To you -- nothing. But know this -- it's one of the few untouched by the new wave of construction. The cafe guy, half our age...


...tells us -- it's authentically from right after the war! And we smile at that. Meaning from our era. Because we are authentically from right after the war.

The block has a new set of shops and cafes opening and they're all young, in their age and in their scope. They aren't the old Poland, not even the newer old Poland (our Poland). They want something more than just another handful of western imitations. They want it to be edgy. A statement of a Warsaw neighborhood. Of community. A gathering place, the whole block long.

It will help when they make this block totally pedestrian.
They're doing that? -- we ask, surprised. It's rare to have traffic banned on the streets of central Warsaw.
Yes! It turned out a resident here was school friends with the wife of the president and she was complaining that this lovely block is so dead, so in need of revitalization and boom! Next thing we hear is that they're going to do improvements. No more cars, just a space for people!

We continue on our walk. Each block triggers a comment. A comparison. A memory. Take this poster: an English add -- "we love fashion!" -- with a reference to a favorite square (Plac Unii).


And speaking of favorite squares in central Warsaw: this one! Why? Well, it's equidistant (two blocks) from where I lived as a preschooler and where I lived as a high-schooler. Besides, the bold, brazen statement is somehow comforting. This is Warsaw. We can be big. We can grow from ruins.


It continues to be misty cold, but by the time we reach the Stalinist era Palace of Culture, the sun is just beginning to throw us a bit of pale light. Do note the modern stuff that has sprung up, as if to overpower this monument to a not so distant past. My sister tells me there's too little urban planning in Warsaw. I have to say, it surely looks like that here. Go ahead and like the Palace of Culture, or hate it, bulldoze it, leave it, but if you leave it, incorporate it into an entirety! Don't pretend it can stand in the shadows of towering office buildings. It can't. It's not a building that can stand in the shadow of anything. Perhaps Stalin new that when he gifted it to our city.


We have our hearing now and it goes according to plan and now we can check off one more box and get set to face the next one and the one after -- all in an effort to really undo years of neglect with respect to me, my Polishness and my current desire to remain a resident of my second home country -- the States.

But for now -- done. And so we walk to New Town slash Old Town and I wont give you the history of these streets because each time I'm in Warsaw I come here and I give you some history and by now this surely is becoming repetitive and so just relax and think of it as an exceptionally beautiful part of Warsaw, because it is that.


Especially in the fast approaching dusk and especially as you come close to Castle Square.


Further into the belly of the Old Town, on the Market Square we find a winter ice rink! No no no! I do not rent skates! Done that, with poor consequences. This time I just watch.


There's a special folk craft store on the Square that I especially like. I don't buy anything. I just like to look. I'll show you just two  things of note: the Polish folk costume and one of the many many wooden carvings for purchase (hi Isis!).



And now it's getting darker and, therefore, colder. Just at freezing, but it feels like maybe it's more wintry than that. Despite the fact that it is, after all, the last day of February.


We take the subway to my sister's neighborhood and there we stop at a jazz bar with food. It'll be the one day I eat pierogi. With sauerkraut and mushroom, covered in chanterelles and cream. I know. Honestly Polish.


We come home and I plug in her Internet -- on and off, on and off (it's a portable device and I try to use it sparingly). Load photos. Write post. Load post. All the time chatting with my sister about the Warsaw of now. The creative young talent here -- so abundant, more visible than perhaps in other European city. It can't be that Poles are born thinking edgy artsy thoughts. It surely has more to do with the fact that for hundreds of years we have been a history of forced adaptation. Radical change, invasion, destruction, rebirth, destruction, rebirth, rebirth, about face... You can't grow complacent in life when you're forced to recreate life for yourself, your loved ones again and again and again.

I'm tired. Worn out from little sleep and from all the walking, the jumping back and forth between then and now. But it's a healthy tired. Not the tired that comes from standing still --  rather, the one that comes with movement. The one that will surely keep me awake again tonight.


  1. So rich and full of you, your family, your life in Poland. Thanks so very much for sharing this very personal journey with us. The photos are, of course, stunning. ox

  2. I love your musings about the "creative young talent" in Warsaw. On my first trip there, in 1967, I was delighted by the vibrant posters and book jackets, showing such humor and life and color — a great contrast to everything else that struck me then as all gray and somber.

  3. This was a beautiful, honest, wonderful post. Thank you.

  4. Pierogies, yum! Although my mother's grandparents were from Prague, we grew up enjoying all of the Eastern European treats. Even now, anything with sauerkraut is comfort food to me.
    Castle Square is indeed lovely in the slanting rays of the late day sun. How good to have this time with your sister.

  5. Such a wonderfully beautiful and colorful city. I wish I could see it in my lifetime...

  6. Not a single picture of Poland posted by Nina Camic shows a single blade of grass or any growing thing. From an American viewpoint the pictures of Poland are ugly. Milwaukee has its ugliness, but it has its lake and its lake shore.

    I spent 20 years in Wisconsin and a son attended UW-Milwaukee. Milwaukee is smaller and more compact than the ancient city of Warsaw, Poland.

    But don't get me wrong. I like Warsaw - the one in Indiana. Sorry, I just don't understand the people in Warsaw, Poland - if you get my drift.

  7. I was interested in your comment about the edginess of parts of Warsaw and what the young are doing with it. I haven't been there but recently returned to Manchester where I lived in the 70s and loved the gritty glamour, the way it was hopping with energy. The uglier places, the cheaper places attract the young ancvtge artists and end up far more interesting than the beautiful ones, don't you think? Though I will often choose a beautiful place to rest and wander. Jean

  8. Proof that there are beautiful women and ugly architecture in lots and lots and lots of places.

    I do enjoy your travel posts.

  9. Bex said...
    Such a wonderfully beautiful and colorful city. I wish I could see it in my lifetime...

    It's the only chance you are going to get. Move, babe.

  10. gadfly,

    Nina is welcome to her remembrances and this posting.

    While I also well know and like Warsaw, IN, your comment is as churlish as it is unnecessary.

  11. Churlish is precisely the right word.

    I saw cheerful yellow tulips on the cafe tables.

    I saw a street lined with trees, but alas they were bare...because it is WINTER, friend.

  12. Gadfly, nothing about that makes any sense. I don't usually even read the comments on my mom's blog, but this one caught my eye b/c what? Things don't grow in Poland? Poland has less lakefront than Milwaukee? Polish people are incomprehensible? Wtf??

  13. Just catching up on comments. I can't believe Nina has a troll. Silly comment, and I do so love the perfect word "churlish." (Susannah's a keeper, eh?.)


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