Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Refleksji o Polsce

[ Reflections on Poland ]

Here I am now, sitting in the first class booth on a Deutsche Bahn ICE train [my ticket to Poland was part of a coincidental special ticket package from DB!] trying to tie the loose strings on my writings about Poland, constantly refering back to the great photos that I took with everyone to remind me of my great time there.

Departing from Kraków Głowny, I was sent off after some big hugs with waves from Kaśka and Ania. They stayed until the train pulled away, and Kaśka rubbed a smudged smiley face onto the window before the train started up. My time spent with them was really exceptional.

Writing about Poland was hard. The weight that the trip carried was immense, and the posts that show for it are lackluster at best. Going to Poland, as I had mentioned before, has been something that I have wanted to do my entire life – and just like Paris, you get off the bus/train and you think… “what the heck… I am really here?” as if it isn’t true from the spur of the moment decision to travel there.

Similarly on a whim with my fortunate college scheduling, I was able to go to Kraków much like Paris – no planning, just going and we’ll see how things happen. I didn’t want to write about Poland like Paris however – In Paris I was a definite tourist and I observed and wrote like one – In Poland I was living with family, exploring my roots, ultimately being escorted around and checking out the city like a tourist, but I didn’t want to reflect like one. I really wanted to see Poland and learn about the life, and analyze the history and the people, and where my family’s history fit in … and in essence do exactly what I am doing in Germany now.

[ Blessed natural water for drinking, with minerals. It tasted like scrambled eggs... so much sulfur. I guess it was healthy though, thats what the sign said ]

I had to admit to myself that the short trip may have introduced so much to me – and I would actually toss in bed thinking about what I wanted to compare next, but I held back. It just didn’t fit – not yet at least. I wasn’t there long enough and I wasn’t living on my own. There are still many stories or cultural mishaps that I wasn’t able to share –

One of which was with Wujek’s mother, the other Babcia of Michał, Kaśka and Ania, who may not be blood related with me – but heck, with all the family that I met in one rapid weekend, she might as well be. Well, at the door, I was introduced as Zosia Partynska’s grandson from the states and she knew where I fell then in the family tree and I reached back into the think tank and greeted her with a polite “Bardzo mi miło pana poznać” … only that is the greeting for a man – nice to meet you sir… I needed to say panią.

And it is little quirks like this, or observations from TV or people in the street that I wanted to note, but my trip was too short and the observations still too premature. There have been scholarship opportunities to study at Jagelloński University in Kraków, and I really would like to work hard, study for some decent Polish skills and experience a year in the great city.

But maybe I am ahead of myself – what else is new – I have an internship in Germany to find, my first political science lecture auf Deutsch this week, as well as a night course for Japanese language ... with Grammar taught in German, go figure. One step at a time.

Seeing so much of Poland, however, in such a short time really was like jumping in two feet first. I was surrounded by the language – my listening improved quickly, my speaking not so much from my cowardice to refrain from grammatical mistakes – but I gained a little more confidence that I could one day actually pick the language up if I really tried.

Poland has so much culture and things to see, from the performers in the street, to the great museums [ and surprising ones like Manggha]. The history really captures my thoughts of what government, law and politics really are at their roots and theory, and I feel would be very beneficial to learn from. The people are extremely hospitable, and really just like my family back home, which was something I was so happy and humbled to find. It is a great feeling to know that you have these kinds of roots to discover and so much to learn if I just work to understand it.

[ Lots to discover - Kinda looks like the DaVinci Code, yeah? ]

I have many goals and desires – like seeing Poland from a new perspective side by side with my Babcia, or seeing Poland and being introduced to things with my Mom who has never been – but speaks fluent Polish. Someday I can learn the complex, but beautiful language, possibly take some courses at Jagelloński, document my family’s story, see more pictures, write down more recipes, explore the great night atmosphere and wrap up the information-packed days getting a kiełbasa at 2 am from one of the friendly vendors creating makeshift coal-fire grills on the street corners as everyone heads back [or out from] home.

From hundreds of meters above overlooking Zakopane, to hundreds of meters below Welicka, I really went all over with Kaśka, Michał and Ania and I am really so fortunate to have them as cousins, to have gotten along with them so great, and I really can’t say thank you to them enough. Like Michał said – it was nice to meet you – all of you, and I am looking forward to being in very close touch in the future. A new close bond in the family has been bridged and I hope it will lead to many other great gatherings in the future!

Pulling into Berlin, I had a bit of a shock that I was back in the German speaking world – and I had to brush up again with my entschuldigung’s and Danke Schön’s , since even after a few days, now, Przepraszam and Dziękuję want to slip off my tongue. I start classes tomorrow so I need to get that dictionary back out and get back to work. Sitting in the train, I still have that smudged smiley face from Kaśka grinning at me as a reminder to just enjoy it as it goes.

gorąca czekolada

[ Hot Chocolate ]

My last full day in Poland was just Kaśka and me. Unfortunately Michał had appointments he needed to go to in Tarnów, so we said our goodbyes the evening before – it was kind of funny, because after we said goodbye, he said “it was nice to meet you,” which was technically appropriate since just days before we really did meet each other for the first time, but the period that I was with him in Poland didn’t feel like that at all. We had a lot of fun together and I am sure we will see each other again soon – next time I hope he comes to America.

Kaśka had so many ideas for our last day that I had to slow her down but the great thing was that I think she was having as much fun as I was – for many of the things, they were just as new to her as they were for me since she never got around to seeing them.

I wanted to venture around the market square again and see things some more, so that is where we headed to first on the scooter. From there we didn’t know what to do – I was honestly very content enjoying the atmosphere of the bustling square. There were so many people out and about, young, old, some singing and dancing – why, I don’t know – but everything seemed festive for the weekend. Then, something caught my eye and I just pointed in disbelief –

A HUGE bubble.

Really Huge!

There was a performer in front of a statue in the square with some rope contraption he had made and a bucket of soap and he was carefully waving the ropes to produce gigantic bubbles bigger than humans.

It was very cold outside, so I don’t know if that had anything to do with the production of the bubbles, but they lasted for several dozens of seconds being chased by little kids, or blowing up to seem like translucent clouds hanging around the church skyline. After a while *PoP* they would bust and collect in the streaming suds that foamed on the cobblestones.

There were many performers on the market square – from accordion players , to singers , to bubble makers – the entire scene was great and I forgot just how cold it was just enjoying myself.

Then Kaśka had an idea – and a reallllly good one that I couldn’t pass up.

gorąca czekolada

Hot Chocolate.

Not just any hot chocolate though – I am talking Maria-Komasara-Certified-Drinkable-Melted E.Wedel Choc-o-late in a mug!

I did not know, but there is an entire two floor restaurant dedicated to the E.Wedel Polish chocolate confectioner. The place was absolutely packed – everyone at the tables sipping [even spooning] thick melted chocolate out of glass mugs.

I could have hugged Kaśka right there – we were cold AND I had been searching for some real hot chocolate here in Europe these first few months and finally stumbled into the right place – and here it was the specialty of the house by far.

The menu was pages long of milk chocolates, dark , white, with raspberries, oranges, mint, hazelnuts, rum, coffee … the pages went on – so many different combonations.

I got the classic dark with hazelnuts and Kaśka got white chocolate with raspberry.

We both sat back, took in the atmosphere and the sights of trays of cakes and chocolates passing us by.

Finally our mugs came to our table of our melted chocolate – rippling with different colors of cream and browns.

At first bite I understood all the blog comments over the past two months urging me to track down some drinking hot chocolate – this stuff was amazing.

Warm and completely euphoric after our Willy Wonka experience in the classy second story of the E.Wedel shop, Kaśka and I decided to do one other thing that we mentioned to see over our visit together – attend church at the Wawel Castle Cathedral – something that even Kaśka had never done yet.

I had seen the Cathedral briefly with Michał when first observing the Castle grounds, but then it was absolutely full of student groups and tourists – for the mass, especially on a Saturday afternoon – it was strictly for churchgoers. The echoing sounds of the music and the hymns of the Priest were beautiful – The mass in Polish was almost identical to the sounds I heard growing up attending Our Lady of Częstochowa in Michigan and now it was just in the most important Cathedral in all of Poland!

That evening Kaśka had some friends over and she made Lasagna, and we all gathered around and watched Mam Talent – literally “I have Talent” – which is Poland’s answer to Britain’s got Talent. The entire day was awesome, and before bed Kaśka and I had one last chance to reminisce about the great time that we had together the entire visit. In the morning I had my 12 hour train back to Göttingen just in time for the first day of classes on Monday.

Kaplica św. Kingi

[ Weliczka's Underground Cathedral ]

Every day in Poland had something to fascinate me, and I was already amazed by the vastness of the underground Weliczka saltmines. As we went deeper into the mines there were more and more beautiful sculptures and rooms to see. There was another small chapel that had wooden sculptures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary dating back 3 and 4 centuries respectively. They were so well preserved because the salt in the mines keeps the wood at a perfect condition for preservation. The small salt statues next to the crucifix didn’t last so well because of the moisture content underground before special doors were set up to regulate the ventilation in the mines in modern times.

The tour guide then told us to take a special look at the floor, since the tiles were also made of salt, but each tile was an individual piece then laid into the ground – she told us to compare this style with the room that we were about to witness next.

Through the next corridor was something that trumped everything that came before it - and that is notable for a place as incredible as the Weliczka salt mines. There, looking down stood a massive open-space that looked like a beautiful ornate ballroom.

This was actually the main cathedral of the entire mines and was the deepest church in the world. What was also fascinating was all the details in the chapel – everything of which was carved by three men [and not at the same time- one took the other’s place when they past away]. The beauty of the chapel can only be appreciated more when you learn that everything is made of salt in the carvings, and that the men that carved the beautiful art were amateurs.

Going along with the lead-up with the tile floors, this floor was one solid piece of salt that was etched into instead of separate pieces.

It was really remarkable to walk around and see the entire chapel as one entire sculpture piece – because in reality, the entire cavity was once completely packed with dense salt that was excavated!

There were carved stories from the bible, including the birth of Jesus Christ [ orange from a special type of impure sodium from other mines in Poland ] as well as the last supper, and an impressive altar.

What impressed Kaśka the most was the fact that there was still mass in the chapel every Sunday, and she definitely wants to go. Next time I am back in Poland, I will be there with her for sure myself. Overall, Weliczka was a maze of so much to see and observe. There was so much history, and many fascinating and beautiful rooms - and it is incredible to believe that the 3 hour tour is less that 1% of all the tunnels in the mine itself!