Thursday, August 13, 2015

in Warsaw

What would you do with eighteen hours in Warsaw (some of them falling into the dark hours of the night)? What's the point of having such a brief stopover?

Initially, I had intended to be here to sign some documents. But last week, matters clarified themselves (as much in my head as in the solid realm of a Polish bureaucracy) and it became clear that I do not need to sign anything. Not this week, anyway.

I had purchased a round trip ticket from Helsinki to Warsaw (via Paris -- see previous post) and though I would have lost some money, it was refundable.

But I didn't want to refund it. My entire being was set on having those eighteen hours in the city of my childhood (and forays into adulthood).

So what do I do in my time here?

Well, I arrive! That is some sort of miracle in its own right. One late connection and the entire structure may have collapsed. Rarely have I had a trip depend so much on flights being on time. The airlines did not fail me.

My sister meets me at the airport -- she is so sweet that way -- always there, among the faces greeting the arrivals. We take the bus to her place, where we munch on sour cabbage and pickles made by her, and Polish berries, cherries and apricots...


We talk late into the night, all through that daze of no sleep and a terribly out of whack internal clock within me. 

You'd think I would, therefore, sleep well tonight... No, it's never like that.

And then, the next morning -- this Thursday morning now -- we have breakfast together. Oatmeal and fruit! It's in our genes.


With a few free hours in my pocket, we take the metro to the city center.

Warsaw is experiencing a summer heat wave. Temperatures are reaching the nineties, which is so rare here that of course, no one even contemplates air conditioning. Buses, stores, apartments are warm, but it's a nice warm -- in northern Europe, it is a rare treat to leave the sweater behind.

I don't much pay attention to my camera. Something happens to me here -- I get hyper critical of what I convey through my camera work. What I see through the lens isn't what I want to convey from my heart and so I mostly opt for the conventional postcard shots or no shots at all. But a longtime resident of Warsaw would recognize the changes that even these few pics convey: for example, Constitution Square, without the clutter of ads, with cleaned up buildings ...


The Palace of Culture, still standing, though no longer as the tallest of them all...


Our walk takes us through block after block of rather new cafes and eateries. So many eateries! Poles were not known for taking their meals in restaurants when I was growing up here. But they surely must have changed their ways.


If you walk through Warsaw in August, unlike in most European cities, you wont be overwhelmed by tourists. Warsaw is a city that will always remain beloved to Varsovians, much more so than to visitors from the outside (who flock to Krakow instead). As if there is a private affection that we all know and share. As if you had to grow up here to understand her beauty.

We detour toward New World Street (a favorite of many, including me)...


...and toward the university, where a girl rides circles around Copernicus.


I stop off at Tatuum -- a clothing store -- sort of like Crew, only Polish. I buy a pair of pink pants. Me who wants to travel light, me who doesn't buy clothing spontaneously, or even not spontaneously, with my sister by my side, I reach for the pink pants.

We walk, walk, past the blocks of our former homes, to the park, the small park, the lesser park that is, in fact, far nicer than any other city park I know on the other side of the ocean.

(a grandma with her grandchild)

And finally, after hours of this, we pause by a cafe, where I part with my sister (well, after I get someone to take our photo)...


... and go inside.

I had written to my closest Polish friend asking if she would meet me for coffee. Caveat: only on this day, at this hour, near that metro stop! She made it happen and we spend a very wonderful hour or two here, talking about all the things I'd talk about on a regular basis, were she my neighbor, as opposed to a friend who happens to live thousands of miles away.

(she's glancing over at the art, on our way out...)

Sort of coincidentally, but maybe not, we had picked a cafe that is within a block of the apartment house of my early childhood and three blocks from the apartment of my adolescence. This, then is my neighborhood, where much of the tumult that takes place in a young head transpired.

In so many ways, it all feels like home, even though tomorrow, it wont feel like home anymore.

It's getting close to my departure time. I take the metro to my sister's place...

(reflections on another grandma, with two young ones)

... and she feeds me sour cabbage and brown bread with farmer's cheese and honey. We can't think of any other country where you can get this wonderful farmer's cheese that is known to every Pole who grew up here.


I end my visit with this very Polish meal. I'm tired but satiated. In all ways.

The flight is on time. I sit next to a woman with a dog who yaps all the way to Paris.

At the airport there, I have just a few minutes to run, run for my Helsinki flight.

And now I am in the city that was to be my first European stopover, only it wasn't. I take the bus to the center of town. It's nearly midnight. The night it cool -- maybe 40 degrees cooler than Warsaw. What a difference the Baltic Sea makes! (Helsinki is about 550 miles due north of Warsaw.)

I walk the twenty minutes or so to the hotel (Hotel Fabian, very modern, with slick lines -- it definitely has a Finnish feel to it -- that is only my impression, but it is a strong one).


I collapse on the bed and think about the day behind me and the days ahead.