Animals

We’ve added another animal into our family, and now four or so weeks on, we’re all finally settling into some kind of rhythm of normalcy. Clover is still full of surprises, to be sure, but we know each other much better at this point. We know that if she’s chewing on something she’s not supposed to, it’s usually enough just to give her something designated for chewing. But every now and then, the rhythm skips a beat, we are less than vigilant, and Clover gets a hold on something she’s not supposed to have, like an inflatable rubber ball.

Which she promptly pops with her pin-sharp puppy teeth. And so she has a new chew toy.

Our new openness to new animals might get carried away if we’re not careful, though. We’ve had a black stray cat wandering around our house lately, undoubtedly drawn by our compost. We’ve made friends, then determined that the poor thing is pregnant.

What else can you do but temporarily — “Temporarily, kids!” K and I have both reiterated — adopt the animal. We’ve been feeding her while we confirm that she is indeed a stray. Monday, we take her to the Humane Society. In the meantime, we argue about what to call her for the next couple of days: Midnight or Nightmare.

Infinity

Driving home from Mass today, the Boy and I somehow got into a discussion about infinity. I can’t remember how it came up or even who brought it up, but there we were, discussing one of the great paradoxes of life and math.

To try to explain it to him, I talked about numbers: “You can count on and on and on and on,” I said. But this didn’t seem to support what I said earlier, about infinity having no beginning or ending.

“But it does have a beginning,” he protested from the back. “When I count, I say, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5.’ You start at one.”

I tried dipping into the topic of negative numbers to show him that we really could start anywhere.

“Negative numbers? Like 5, 4, 3, 2, 1?”

Growing with the Pup

Having a puppy is like having a newborn in the house — that’s what we’d heard. There is a certain amount of truth in this: Clover requires a lot of time and attention. And like a baby, she can’t be just left unattended. But the attention is easy to give: she’s such a sweet puppy, always eager to get a belly rub or a scratch behind the ear. Eager to please. Genuinely remorseful-looking when corrected. Or is she just playing us? Probably a bit of both.

And she’s so curious. Those two things combine to torture our cats. Bida tends just to hiss. It’s all it takes after a snoutful of claws a couple of times. But Elsa runs, and so what does Clover do? Chase her, of course. Isn’t she just trying to play? It’s not just Elsa and Bida, and that’s a little worrying. There’s a little black cat that comes around often enough, and Clover tried to make friends with her, to no avail.

She remembers the encounter with Bida that left her with a slightly bloody ear, so she kept her distance.

The Boy is having a bit of trouble with her, too. She’s still trying to herd him, and the herding is getting more intense. She nips at his shoes, chases him when he walks in the room — the tail is always wagging, but like Elsa, the Boy is starting just to avoid her at times.

Unless there’s a toy to play with, like a stick.

Still, despite it all, we’re all pretty much wrapped around her paw.

How could we not be?

Readjusting

I forget about it before every visit, but it’s the one thing I have the most trouble adjusting to when going to Poland in the summer: the sun rises ridiculously early. Part of this is because of how far north Poland is, and part of it is how far east it lies in its time zone.

When we arrived, the sky was turning bright well before four and the sun was shining brightly by a little after four. For someone like me who has great difficulty falling asleep when there’s significant light at all, this sleep blinders or some creative alternative.

This morning, I woke up, saw that there was no light coming through the window, remembered I was back in America, and realized I had no idea what time it was. I was fairly well-rested and didn’t feel as if I’d awakened after a short doze. If I woke up like that in Poland, I would know it was probably two or three in the morning.

I glanced at my watch and seeing that it was six thirty, realized I probably wouldn’t be going back to sleep. For my body, it was noon. Sure, I’d going to bed at something like five in the morning body time, but I guess noon was the latest I could sleep. And the same went for L. And for E. Which meant that it soon enough meant the same for K.

Last Night 2017

We always leave with such mixed feelings. On the one hand, everyone is looking forward to a return to normal rituals in normal places — to a return home, in short. And yet, who really wants to leave Babcia? Who wants to leave a place filled with incredible paths for bike riding and adventures around every corner? Who wants to leave a place that is at the same time comfortably known and yet always new?

The final evening is filled with those bitter-sweet moments. We say goodbye to so many people, and we stand in the cool evening, kids playing, and chat as if it were just a normal evening in a normal summer — nothing out of the ordinary. Just friends and family catching up on old and new times.

We all pretend it’s just another departure, but it never is. A lot can change in two years. The little girl that L began treating like a little sister — playing with her, protecting her, hugging her — will no longer be the little girl she is. She’ll be closer to E’s current age. The neighbor girl L played with will be well into her mid-teens and perhaps not so thrilled about hanging out with a twelve-year-old.

All of this weighs heavy on Babcia, but she doesn’t really say that much. Occasionally she comments on how sad it all is, running off back to the States after such a “short” visit. It’s tough on her, I’m sure, returning to a virtually empty house, with just the regular noclegi guests, but she keeps it mostly to herself.

We go to bed a little worried about connections tomorrow. We arrive in Munich with only and hour and fifteen minutes to make our connection. In the past we had hours. Now, we’re cutting it terribly close. There are certain advantages to that: we don’t have to get up before we go to sleep in order to make the hour-and-a-half drive to Krakow. Yet that buffer — I’m a little worried having kids in tow. Still, if we land on time, we should make it.

A Last Long Ride and Walk

The first fall was nothing to worry about — a simple matter of losing momentum in an area where it’s challenging to regain it. Tall grass, a bit of an incline. I’m not surprised he fell. He cried just a little bit, but he managed to calm himself and ride on anyway.

The second fall was more serious. We were riding in one of the two wide tracks a tractor leaves in the fields of grass when he suddenly hit a small clump of grass that didn’t give way but instead insisted on twisting his front wheel violently to the right. His bike stopped without warning, and his little belly slammed into the stem. This time, there was quite a bit of crying. Still, I managed to calm him with our deep-breath methods.

“Take a deep breath,” I say, and he breathes in through his mouth with a quivering breath, then lets it out. Two or three times and he’s usually calm, usually past the crying.

My question was simple: will he continue riding. We’d already made it to the river and were heading, against his initial wishes, to the small concrete bridge just a bit further up the trail. Here he was, hurt, scared, crying. Would he continue?

He did. He accepted my advice to slow down just a bit and continued on.

“I’m proud of you,” I said, and trying to reorient it to his own point of view, rephrased it, “And you should be proud of yourself.”

The third fall was a bit more serious. We’d made it to a part of the path that was particularly challenging: low-hanging branches, deep ruts filled with mud. I walked my bike across and suggested he do the same. I was both worried and proud when he decided that he would try to ride through the pass.

He made it through the mud, but just barely. He came to a sudden and unexpected halt beside my bike, them promptly fell toward my bike. His upper arm landed perfectly on the largest cog of my crankset. It could have been a lot worse: in the end, he had a little scratch where his arm slid off the crankset with a long streak of grease on his arm — I haven’t exactly cleaned my chain adequately since arriving — and a long crying session.

What impressed me most was that in each and every situation, he got back on the bike and continued riding. Nevermind that the bike is a piece of junk we bought for him used at the jarmark. Nevermind that he was in real pain a couple of times. Nevermind that he’s only five years old. He kept on going, knowing the challenges ahead of him (for this was the second time we rode this path) and fully aware of the pain he was experiencing.

In the evening, I took a walk back up to the high fields to the north of Jablonka. I’ve ridden my bike there a couple of times — and there is a passage that I had to walk due to the steep slope and the size of the gravel (or should I say boulders) that made up the path — but that was always without a real camera. The clouds were just right, and I thought I’d give it a try.

The sun was still too high for soft, embracing light, but I took what I could get.

I reached the summit and noticed in the direction of Lipnica an enormous amount of smoke. Perhaps someone burning the fields? It’s illegal, but people still do it. But in late July? Unlikely.

As I walked toward the smoke, hoping with my super-zoom to figure something out, the siren at the Jablonka fire department began wailing. Shortly after that, the rescue truck seemed to crawl toward Lipnica, and for a moment, I considered jumping in our borrowed car to see what it could be. It wasn’t fields, but the smoke was so white that I wondered what it could be.

On my way back home — which led by a house I’d noticed a couple of weeks ago, with a fountain in the front yard that reminded me of the conclusion of Analyze This — I saw several over the firefighters standing in front of the station. I thought about stopping to ask what had been the emergency, but in the end, I just walked on. After all, the Boy as waiting for a promised game of soccer.

Shopping in Slovakia

It usually happens in the opposite direction: Slovaks come to Poland for the relatively cheap goods here. Twenty years ago, Poles went to Slovkia, but now that has reversed since Slovakia adopted the Euro. However, Babcia likes bucking trends, I think, so today we went, as we always do during our stay her, on a shopping trip to Trstena, the nearest town in Slovakia.

Every time we go into Trstena, Babcia waxes romantic. She goes on and on about how she loves the town, about how there’s so little traffic compared to Jablonka, how there are so few plastic, awful sign attached to every available surface.

It is a unique little town: you can stand in the middle of the town square and just behind a few buildings see the farming fields.

It’s a sliver of town in the middle of vast fields of grains and grasses.

It’s a small town, but there are a couple of churches and several restaurants.

It’s easy to see how a small town could support two churches — at least in the past. But so many restaurants? There can’t possibly really be any industries around here, one thinks. And then one remembers the fields surrounding the town. And who knows — perhaps they are like their neighbors just across the border and go abroad to work.

We started with the shopping. Babcia is convinced that Slovakian flour is better than Polish flour, so we bought an almost unbelievable amount of flower. The next item we bought in large amounts was Slovakian rum. Slovakia is not exactly the first country that comes to mind when thinking of rum, but Babcia swears by it. Finally, we almost emptied the store of the grill rub that makes chicken wings magical for the Girl.

The Past

Every time we come to Poland, I find myself searching for little corners that are just like I remembered them in the mid-90s when I first arrived in Poland. Truth be told, they’re harder and harder to find. Poland has changed so much in the last twenty years that even familiar streets seem somehow new.

This weekend, I went to Nowy Targ to visit with an old friend, probably my oldest friend in Poland. We wandered around NT reminiscing, looking, at my request, for little spots that still look just like they did in 1996. For the most part, what remains are elements. whispers and shapes of the past buried here and there.

The “Dom Handlowy” (“House of Trade” you might translate it literally, but in reality a department store) has received a complete remodel. But it still has traces of its past.

“The sign is the same one, I think,” said my friend. If it’s not, I think they at least recreated it with an almost-identical design.

Some street corners look just like I remember them, or if I don’t remember them, just like I would imagine them to look in 1996.

But other things have disappeared. The nearly-ubiquitous Maluch has all but disappeared from the roads, and only every now and then makes an appearance as a novelty item at a wedding.

Every now and then you stumble — literally — on an old sidewalk, made of concrete squares that over the years have settled unevenly to create something that only in one’s most generous moments could one call a sidewalk.

Tractors are not as common on the town streets of NT as they once were, but every now and then, you see one. I doubt there are any more horse-drawn wagons delivering coal in the winter, but perhaps if you looked diligently enough, you just might find one.

One thing has not changed, though. Not at all. Not in the slightest: the movie theater in NT.

Top to bottom, left to right, it is absolutely the same. The dated architecture, the tired signs with failing neon, the crumbling corners — it’s just like I remember it from 1996.

My friend’s wife explains that it hasn’t been renovated because it used to be a synagogue, and various groups are preventing renovation. But it doesn’t look like a synagogue in any way. At all.

Yet a little searching on the internet reveals this:

Podczas II wojny światowej Niemcy zdewastowali synagogę. Po wojnie zniszczony budynek powrócił w ręce reaktywowanej gminy żydowskiej, jednak wkrótce przejęły go władze i otworzono w nim kino „Tatry”, które działa do dziś. (Source)

And this, from the theater’s own web site: “Nowotarskie Kino Tatry istnieje w zabytkowym, przedwojennym budynku, w którym kiedyś była… żydowska synagoga” (Source).

Certainly if Jews of the early twentieth century came wandering around present day Nowy Targ, they would see even less that they find familiar.