Sunday, December 09, 2018

from Warsaw to Mareil-Marly

On my last morning in Warsaw I wake up to sunshine. It turns out to be a momentary thing: by mid morning rains will return to the city. Still, as I look out my bedroom window, toward the abbey and the apartment buildings beyond, I am happy to see those rays poking through.


On the other side of the apartment, the living-dining-cooking-everything-but-sleeping room is made bright by it too. The tall windows may be hard to keep clean, but they ensure that the place has plenty of natural light.


Breakfast. One last time.


I move slowly today. I have a 1 pm flight which doesn't give me time to do much of anything, yet allows me to not rush and for the final time admire my surroundings. I never tire of appreciating what Karolina, the architect, did to this tiny unremarkable space. I've tidied it until it sparkles. It's ready for my return.

By the time I drag my suitcase to the bus stop, the drizzle is pronounced. No matter: it's a short walk.

Say, what's this? The street is closed to traffic again? I get it -- it's a celebration of holiday lights. But the lights aren't on. Strings of them crisscrossing the street look as gray as the skies above. Well, it's still pretty.


But I have to readjust my travel to the airport. No buses here today. I go to the metro.

Warsaw's metro is possibly the cleanest, most efficient metro system I've seen. It's new-ish and, too, I think people here are tremendously proud of it. For decades, it was just a dream: an expensive, unfunded project. And now, look at it! (And especially look at it as of this week, all decked out for St. Nick's!)


As always, I study the people riding with me. People who use public transportation are, to me, the face of a city. Here, I'll always find that look of Polishness that I never see anywhere else. For example, this woman -- her face, I think, is uber-Polish! And that side braid? In the half century that I have lived in the U.S., I don't think I have ever seen this hairstyle there. In Poland? Common. She has a winter cap of course, which she takes off for now, but will immediately put on outside (it's in the low 40sF).


Polish women take care of head warmth and ankle warmth. Several of my friends asked me with concern if my ankles weren't cold (on this trip I left my boots behind in favor of regular mary janes).

I alight by the Engineering School. This is the neighborhood of my childhood, though much has changed since those years. But, I can recognize that old church tower anywhere: it's ten steps away from my family's apartment (which, at two small rooms and a kitchen, was not a lot bigger than my current Tamka place).


What last image of Poland can I leave you with? The little things I picked up for the grandkids at the Warsaw airport? Nah... They're Christmas surprises. What if they read Ocean?!

How about this: the cucumber soup I ate just before my flight. I couldn't resist. I've never seen this soup anywhere except in Poland where it is almost as common as borscht. It's made of shredded pickles and though it looks vegetarian, what with those pickles, celery, onion, carrots, potatoes, Poles base nearly every soup on stock made with a ham bone. And they finish it off with cream. Never forget the cream! And bread: grainy or rye. With butter. (I passed on the butter: I can only take so many steps away from my usual olive oil based diet.)


One more thing -- I finish my light meal with a coffee and a heart shaped Polish ginger cookie.


A simple two hour flight and I am in Paris. Except, I'm not staying in Paris. Not yet anyway. I make my way first to Mareil-Marly.

What's in Mareil-Marly? Well, I'm not sure. At the very least, there is this lovely inn, (Le Clos Tellier) located outside the buzz of Paris. I love Paris, but I'm always looking for easily accessible places that offer more of a respite, at least for a brief moment, so that I can ease my way from the pace of Warsaw to the demands of Paris. You can readily get to Mareil-Marly by the RER commuter train. Just take line A to the last stop -- St-Germain-en-Laye, a prosperous little burb...


... but perhaps more known for its imposing chateau. Here, you can see a corner of it as you leave the RER station:


Many of the kings of France lived here, including Louis the XIV, who was born here and stayed. Well, at least for a couple of decades. The exiled James II of England and Scotland galloped down to St-Germain-en-Laye as well and later, Napoleon I set up shop in the chateau for his cavalry school. Even later, the Treaty of St Germain, breaking up the Hapsburg Empire in 1919 (and recognizing the independence of Poland!) was signed here. Less ignobly, during the occupation of France (World War II), the German Army chose this place its headquarters. So -- rich in history. And a couple of kilometers down winding and hilly roads, you'll find Mareil-Marly. A village. A suburb of the St-Germain-en-Laye suburb.

If I hadn't a suitcase, I suppose I could have walked the 35 minutes from the station to the inn. But, Emma, the innkeeper, offered to pick me up and since it's getting dark and I don't know the roads, I took her up on it.

Le Clos Tellier is the family home of Emmanuelle ("Emma") and Xavier, their two dogs and a cat.

It's old, dignified, and lovely. They've only been accepting guests for two years. Shockingly, they still love it.
When we travel, we never meet the locals, really. But when people come to us from far away places, we pick up so much about their countries, their homes.

They offer a dinner if you ask in advance. I did: it allows me to stay put and, too, to get more fluent in French. Once you reveal that you can understand the language (well, much of it anyway), they are happy as clams to talk to you about their lives. It would not be wrong to say that French inn keepers are probably the group of French men and women I know best. Their stories give me at least some clues as to how it is to live in France now.

Emma asks me about the timing of dinner -- we want to go to mass now, so maybe after? Say at 8 or 8:30? You can use the living room while we're gone. Or, you can come to Mass with us!

Oh, those French! They push that meal time to an hour that most Americans my age would consider terribly late. But, I'm agreeable. To the dinner hour, not the church service. I'm all for picking up local flavor, but listening to a mass in French for an hour while the tummy rumbles is probably not the best plan.

I think nothing sounds better than... doing nothing! But first, we inspect my grand room...


And then I get brave: Sorry, Emma, but before you go off to church, can I ask for a tiny snack? (The cucumber soup was so long ago...)
She processes this. She wants to be kind, but... a snack, before dinner is not a French habit. She repeats my request, perhaps wanting to make sure if she understood my French well.
I nod sheepishly. Anything. A few nuts. A piece of cheese. Anything.

And of course, being so wonderfully hospitable, she delivers a terrific "snack" of prosciutto, cheese, bread and fruits. She throws logs into the fire place and she Xavier set off, leaving me to keep an eye on the house. And the dogs.

("Do you want my pet turtle?")


("Me, I'm just going to look at the fire with that strange woman who is nibbling on that wonderful prosciutto which, because I am a well behaved French dog, I cannot touch.")


("You two are no fun!")


The "snack:"


In the late evening, I join Emma, Xavier and their youngest daughter for dinner. Squash soup, salmon, wine, dessert.


This is the time to talk a bit about politics and I do, switching to English, so that I can fully understand the nuance. France's current political crisis is difficult to decipher just from reading news stories. Listening to French people talk about it (intelligently, rather than emotionally) helps.

It's a beautiful way to ease out of acute excitement and settle into a good rhythm. I'll explore the town tomorrow morning and then head back to Paris.