Thursday, October 02, 2014


For having such a monolithic demographic, Poland surely offers wildly conflicting perspectives! There are the social progressives, then there are the religious conservatives (and then there are those who belong to neither subset). There is my generation (living in such different times!)...


...then there is the next generation, who knows nothing of postwar Poland.


You'll find those with an eager desire to please (yes, of course, sit anywhere... you want a stronger coffee? how about if I make you one with a double shot, but with the cappuccino milk? Sit down, sit down! We'll bring you that slice of hazelnut cheesecake!)...


...and then there'll be the vendors who are of the old school -- defensive and grumpy (I tell you it's not a blueberry! Can I taste it? Fine. It tastes like a blueberry... It's not! Okay, okay, now, where are those mushrooms from? Glare. The mountains. More glare.).


(Clarification: my sister explains: if the berries, which surely are, according to me, blueberries, don't grow in the wild, they're not called blueberries in Poland, they're called American borowka. Meaning American blueberries are so unlike the true blueberry here that they cannot bear the name of the real blueberry.)

So many juxtapositions!

My sister was at the airport to greet me last night. The flight had been late, leaving Paris on a splendid, clear October night...


...landing in Warsaw with a dire sounding weather prediction from the cockpit: it's cold and wet as we begin to land.

It was neither wet nor especially cold and I wondered at the unwarranted pessimism of my Air France pilot. Come on, guys, you just came off of a two week strike, emerging more or less victorious, let's see some cheer from you now!

My sister and I talked late into the night and she fed me snacks that I surely recall from my past.


She, like our mother and grandmother before us, is extremely generous toward her family. And so I nibbled, thinking -- how is it that raspberries and sunflower seeds taste so different here?


In the morning, after a quick breakfast, we run a few errands and then she goes off to attend to her stuff and I take the metro to the center of town.

You wont get photos today of the pretty Warsaw: the Old Town, the Royal Way -- all so beautiful, but I am here for only two days and I have other agendas. At least for today. [Besides, you can always click on the Warsaw tab here on Ocean -- there are plenty of pretty Warsaw photos there!]

If you go back to your childhood town or city, where do you head first? Me, I seem to always check in with my very first Warsaw home. To see if it is still standing! I lived here until I was seven and I have to say, the apartment building hasn't changed much since those years!


I'm right by the recent hipster hangout -- Plac Zbawiciela, where the cool people (meaning young and a touch avant garde) hang out.




I'm surely not one of them, but I like one of the cafes here and I pause to get my cappuccino.


After that? -- well, on this most beautiful sunny day, when the temperatures climb well into the sixties, there is only one place to go: to the park. Lazienki Park. My favorite park, hands down. It has no equal.

(Chopin, in the rose garden)

(when the weather drops below 80, every Polish child must wear a hat; here: fussing grandparents)




Outside the park, I see a group of teens and I am reminded of how my high school class would often, on a beautiful day like this, take the Physical Education hour in the park -- just walk, the teacher would say. I look carefully at the kids. Gone are the uniforms of the 1960s.


And what's this -- one is wearing a sweatshirt. From her high school. Hey, that's my high school! Zmichowska Lycee No. XV! (Though we did not have sweatshirts in those years.) So there they are, replicating my history, only in an entirely new way! With smart phones, no less!


In the second park, the one right next door (Ujazdowski), the chestnuts are brilliantly autumnal.


The two older women are collecting a few brown nuts to take home. Yes, I once did that too...


There are a few things that I need to check, pass by, examine and I do that, all within the blocks of my childhood home. It leaves me satisfied. As if my story is complete. As if it all fits with what I recall and keep with me even when I am on the other side of the ocean.

This evening will be spent with friends. My sister and I will join 13 of them - in an evening of food and banter and I surely cannot post after that, so I will publish now and go on to get ready. You have to get ready when you reunite with friends made 45 years back. Your own personal history is on display: you cannot pretend that nothing has changed, even as you want to let your friends know that they have been good changes.

Because they have been good changes.