Wednesday, September 28, 2016

to be Polish

It's not often that I write about being Polish. Some would say that I've assimilated here, that I don't think too much about being once so exclusively Polish, that I've turned my back on it all. I suppose it is true that I've turned my back on feeling that any one country is more beautiful or important than another. Despite the seemingly global drive toward the stubborn insistence that nationhood is defining and deserves boundaries, I run from that kind of vision of our world.

I think it's telling that I never wanted to teach Polishness to my daughters (which is not the same as teaching the Polish language, though I avoided that as well). I don't believe in imposing belonging. My childhood memories are of Poland, but their memories are completely American. Let me not push them toward something that truthfully is more mine than theirs.

In being rather quiet about my Polishness (with others, on Ocean...) I'm sure the announcement that I was buying an apartment in Warsaw seemed rather out of the blue. Oh, tax reasons. That must be it!

Well no, that's not the whole story. I want to spend more time thinking about that other side of me. I want more of those times when I am with people who share the world that I inhabited before I became so totally American.

But even when I am here, in Madison, I spend time thinking about the familiar stuff over there. For example, late last night, well after posting here on Ocean, I searched youtube for some Polish pop music from the 60s and early 70s and I listened to it and read the comments of people who, too, felt a connection to the artists and their lyrics and tunes.

This retreat into Polishness was prompted by an email from my architect/designer who is this week finishing work on my Polish apartment. She included a brief reference to something taking place in her world right now and the immediate thing that struck me was how very Polish was her choice of words. Three sentences spoken (or rather written) like a true Pole -- like you'd never hear in the U.S.

I love words, of course, and I was suddenly so aware of how much language play I'd lost by switching over so completely to English (gaining, of course, what English has to offer, but last night, I was feeling the loss).

But here's a funny twist on culture and Polishness and ultimately the mix that really defines us (rather than any one nation or community): there is one very beautiful Polish song that sets to music a poem by Julian Tuwim.

[Tuwim was a beloved Polish writer. Born to a Jewish family in Lodz in the 1890's, he immigrated to the U.S. during the Nazi occupation. In America, he supported the International Workers' Organization (and in that capacity he met my grandfather who was very active in the IWO). He returned to Poland after the war. He died in 1953, the year I was born. Here's a photo taken in 1944 of an IWO ceremony. My grandparents are both to the far right, top and bottom. Julian Tuwim and his wife are in the front center.}

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The song I listened to is called Wspomnienie and you can hear it here:

Everyone my age knows the famous lyrics:
Autumn begins with the flowering of mimosas... (wrote Tuwim).

In truth, autumn in Poland does not begin with the flowering of mimosas. Tuwim mistakenly identified the goldenrod that covers the hills of southern Poland in early fall as a mimosa plant. And so many of us sang those lyrics and loved those images! And those of you who think that the goldenrod is a very American flower -- well it is. It's not truly Polish. It jumped to the Polish mountains in the way invasives often jump -- unexpectedly, forcefully, expansively.

Polishness! What does that word mean? Tuwim disliked nationalism in much the same way that I dislike it. Perhaps it means caring who Tuwim was and what songs we listened to in that country in our youth.

So I sing along as Ed dozes on the couch next to me and then this morning I go back to being quiet about Polishness. Except for this brief foray into that world here, on Ocean.

Morning. Breakfast of course.

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And at around noon, I bring Snowdrop to the farmette. She has a brief conversation with Scotch.

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But has little interest in staying out right now. She marches to the farmhouse and to her favorite play corner.

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It's cold enough that the slippers seem actually useful.

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She hops and skips and indeed, insists on taking her nap in them.

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We read (a book about a grandma who just cannot wait to spend time with her grandchild) and then she naps.

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Post nap? A snack of course. At the table.

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She wants to go out then and we do go out, on the strangest of walks. She wants the stroller. I'm agreeable. But she doesn't want to be in the stroller. She wants to go on a joint stroller pushing adventure with me.

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Ed hasn't mowed the lawn in weeks and so it's tough going. Eventually Snowdrop gives in to being a stroller child and I huff and puff pushing my way across the farmette land, then out along the rural road. Our skies are dramatic, but they're clearing and that's such a good thing!

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It's hard to convince her to come inside but the girl never holds on to her seemingly intense wishes and once in, she is a whirlwind of happiness.

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Ed joins us then and we spend a wonderful set of minutes working the puzzles of this big box of activities.

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As I said yesterday, happiness is having us all around a table doing something together.

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Oh! Is that a Polish thing?!?

Just kidding.