Saturday, September 15, 2018

the next day

It was an easy decision: the water was shut off in my building at 2:30 a.m. (we were given notice) and so cleaning the post dinner piles of dishes had to stop and I retired for the night. Or, what was left of the night. It is remarkable how little sleep I get when I travel across the ocean. There is too much to do. (You will argue with me that my trips are too short. Perhaps. But I have found that even if I throw in extra days, they fill quickly and completely. Taking things slowly is not something that I can do here.) Did I at least sleep late? No. My neighbor below me, discovering the return of water at 6:30 in the morning, celebrated with a rowdy viewing of his favorite Saturday cartoons on TV. Well, I don't know if it was cartoons or a news show. I was too tired to focus on more than the fact of a TV going off at this early weekend hour.

I had a morning breakfast date with my friend. It is a ritual for us -- one that is so very important to me. As important as nearly anything that I do here.

First, though, I make inroads cleaning the apartment. And I sit down to a bowl of fruit. You know, one with peaches and plums. One with raspberries.


We meet at Kafka -- a cafe that is just a 6 minute walk from my apartment. It's a beautiful cafe/bookstore, on a quiet winding street that leads up to the university. My friend isn't looking for food this morning, but I am! Especially when they tempt me with Polish scrambled eggs and mushrooms. You could say that Poles are to mushrooms as the French are to their cheeses.


And then we walk. Oh, how sublime these strolls are! We pause under a chestnut tree. Like in France, Polish chestnuts are suffering from an infestation that is destroying many of them. But oddly enough, they still produce a hefty amount of plump, smooth, beautiful chestnuts. We pick some, even as I know I wont carry these home. You can't bring in plant life from Europe to the US (and vice versa).


She steers me then to our beautiful university. Here's the grand administrative center of the campus.


Notice the umbrellas? The irony! Poland has had an unusual summer: gorgeous, sunny, warm. But on the two days I am here (and only on these two days), we get a swing of cool air and that occasional shower of rain. As if Warsaw is speaking to me: how dare you come for such a short time!

We ignore the threat of rain and walk over to the side building, where many of our big lectures took place. We try the doors, but everything is closed. No surprise there. The European university academic year doesn't start until October 1st.

You know, perhaps it's time for me to throw out a song for you, one that was written during my high school years (late 1960s). It's called W Zoltych Plomieniach Lisci (in the golden flame of leaves)

It's pretty, no? Most people think it's about fading relationships that come and go... Like the seasons... Note the phrase: Żegnałam i powracałam już nie taka (I said goodbye and I came back, not the same). I have to think... is it about people who leave Poland? Is it??

Yes, it appears that it is. In 1968 there was a crisis in my country. The few Jews who had survived the war were now leaving Poland because of discrimination and hostility toward them -- a government effort to solidify its own power base by scapegoating a minority population. All this just two dozen years after a horrific war, where 6 million European Jews were killed.

The song is about the departing Jews (Agnieszka Osiecka wrote the lyrics). But the censors didn't catch on. You know -- it just seemed so ordinary.  Almost romantic. Autumn, geese that fly south... seasons that change, feelings of sadness for all that has transpired.

My friend points to someone's big sign in the windows: Constitution. In Poland, this is the word of protest today. With good reason. Call the free press unpatriotic. Teach kids about the "right way" to interpret history. Punish those who challenge it. No wonder some feel compelled to shout out -- but, but, but CONSTITUTION!


It is drizzling now and so we head to my friend's house. For tea. For more talk, because at the end of the day, this is what we have.

(And we take photos. It's a must.)


They walk me to the metro then. Well, actually they ride me to the metro, taking the tram car, making sure I got off where I should get off. Sometimes, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, I just get so lost in this country!

(Goodbye. You're good to go now.)


My sister is waiting for me in my apartment. So very sweetly, she has finished tidying up the dinner mess, so that when I show up, we are ready to go for our walk, which, too, is traditional: we go to the parks.

Past the Square of Three Crosses...


... to the Ujazdowski Gardens, with the chestnuts of our childhood...


And then onto Lazienki Park.



And now we are heading home, my home, sort of home, or at least part time home. A Warsaw post would not be complete without a photo of Nowy Swiat Street, right? But do note the "Warszawa" signs on lamposts. Warsaw, capital of freedom. I know this about my city: it is on the right side of history.


Tomorrow I leave. At some point, I always do have to leave.