“He said it. I can show you a video!”
For a couple of days and the night between, we have a house full of girls. Four girls, five if we count Babcia, who’s always going to be a girl at heart, I think.
At first, it starts out as something of a perfect storm of a day. It’s freezing cold — 12 celsius, 53 Fahrenheit — and raining. The girls, it appears, will have to find entertainment indoors. First entertainment: dish washing. Eight hands, one sink, though — it won’t work for everyone. Division of labor: the older girls wash, the younger girls, well, play.
“That’s not fair.” My own kids can almost immediately predict my response: life seldom is. As for the others — they reply similarly. Must be a parenting thing.
Finally it warms up a bit and, more importantly, the sun comes out.
We all head out for some fun.
L gets busy trying to make the arrows K bought for her at odpust useable. They mysteriously have a dangerously sharp arrowhead but completely lack any nock. The girls get the sharp arrowheads taken care of but have a bit of difficulty adding the nocks. In the end, they test fire one, decide it’s not worth it, and go off to look for other things to entertain them.
They find it soon enough.
An enormous dragon fly. We immediately get into a discussion as to whether dragon flies can bite or sting or not.
One thing that can sting, of late, is E’s socker kick. He’s really grown to love the sport while here in Pland — he sees all the boys playing it everywhere and he’s decided to give soccer another chance in the autumn. Babcia’s kick is nothing to joke about either. At oen point she kicks it powerfully into the bottom of the balcony and sends bits of plaster flying.
After dinner, a walk into areas of Jablonka I’d never been to until recently. They’re certainly not new areas: some of the houses have the evidence of the village’s growth: old house numbers when it was enough to write “Jablonka” and a number on an envelope to get mail to a resident.
And like every village, I would imagine, mysteries, like a gate without a fence. Did it fall? was it simply the wire fence just behind it?
And there are other mysteries, but more in the sense that the Catholic Church uses the word: things that seem impossible and are in fact reality even though the exact mechanisms might not be known. For example, an abandoned barn in the middle of a field.
One corner of the foundation was surrendering, letting the whole structure sag toward that weakened point. Yet it’s likely not as old as one might think. The shingles are the same asbestos-based shingles that Babcia and Dziadek had on their house, built in the eighties, until just a few years ago.
Finally, a modern rural Polish mystery — again, in the Catholic sense. Here’s a building that’s erected just in front of the old barn. In the front half, there’s a clothing store called Ela, which is a “fashion and style” shop. In the back half, a shop selling “windows, doors, gates, and blinds.” The owner of the barn opened two shops? Opened one shop? Built the building and rented the space?
It’s probably only a mystery to me, an outsider.
The Girl is in Spytkowice, a village about twenty minutes up the road. (That’s the American in me, giving distances in time and not kilometers, in this case.) That means no jarmark unless the Boy and I want to go. And we really don’t want to go. We want to sleep. Since K has headed back home, he’s been sleeping in my bed. “He kicks all night!” L explained many times and then begged me to take over the evening duties. So now he sleeps with me. And that somehow that helps him sleep a bit longer than he might normally.
When we get up about half an hour later than usual, it’s time to help Babcia gather the raspberries in the garden. The Boy willingly wiggles into the spots that are just his size.
Afterward, we take a ride to the river. We’ve walked there many times, during this visit and past visits, but we’ve spoken several times about riding our bikes there, but it was only today that we manage it. In the end, we ride a little over five kilometers and get some fantastic views along the way.
But riding with the Boy, no matter how much I enjoy it, is not much exercise, so when we get back to Babcia’s house, I head out for another ride. This time, I head back to the Lipnica area, cutting through fields and following the ruts worn by years of tractor traffic.
There are a few impressive views along this ride, too. So much has changed, though, and yet nothing has changed. I make my way up Lipnica Mala at a leisurely 22 kilometers per hour. Years ago, I used to roll up the same road at around 28 kilometers per hour. Or at least I think so. It sounds good at least to say that.
At eleven years old, cousin S jumped on a bus at ten in the morning and rode half an hour to Jablonka to spend the day with L. And what did they do? Sew. Sort of.
At times, it was a bit of a mystery what exactly they were doing, other than enjoying a rainy, gray morning.
After lunch we headed to Lipnica, my home seven years and K’s home for one. It’s now twenty-one years since I first arrived in that eighteen-kilometer village, and some things have changed beyond recognition and something are exactly as they were in 1996, or even 1986, or perhaps 1976.
The school in which I taught, which was so very new when I arrived (it was only a year old and not even completed) now is beginning to show its age. It looks old, to be honest. It looks a little neglected. It looks like every little has been done to the outside since being built. Somehow that seems about right and out of place at the same time. Poland is in such a state of development — so many new buildings and such — and yet, buildings built in the mid-90’s? They seem somehow to have fallen into disrepair. They look like, in a few years, they’ll look like the buildings I became so accustomed to when I arrived 20+ years ago. Tired, out of date, yet still functional and functioning.
And some things have not changed at all. This house looks exactly like it did four years ago, exactly like it did in 1996, and that was probably how it looked in 1986, and it might have even looked like that before then. It’s eternally surowy, raw, unfinished.
Other things — I never noticed.
What are these ruins? What was here before? Were they always like this? It’s right beside the school where I taught for seven years, but I saw it for the first time today.
It’s a century-old house (at least) but it looks like someone tried to renovate it — clearly didn’t know what they were doing. Or perhaps I’m totally wrong. Still, I don’t remember it. And what does that mean? Very little, I’m sure. But we always place such a premium on what we remember…
This I remember. But the roof — it’s been renovated. Gone are the asbestos-based shingles that had probably been there, what? Thirty years? Forty? K’s parents replaced their asbestos-based roof more than ten years ago — what took them so long? After all, this was the GS-owski shop. Things have simply changed — that’s all.
All except for children and their willingness to be silly.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but more obvious is the fact that there are no strangers in foxholes. I’ve read that in high tension battle situations, soldiers are not fighting for any sort of grand patriotic notion but simple to protect the men beside them. Challenges bring people together, in short.
I saw that myself a week or so ago when L and I together went through the toughest course at the local line park. We bonded in a way we hadn’t ever really done before.
Today, though, instead of experiencing it, I witnessed it. We went back to the line park with S, L’s and K’s cousin, who was a little hesitant at first about the whole idea. S is not really like L, who will dive into some things without thinking. S is a bit more hesitant. So when I suggested this morning that we might go to a line park after lunch — if it stopped raining — her first reaction, other than, “What’s a line park,” was hesitant. When L and I explained what it was, her reached changed just a little — up went the eyebrows.
“Maybe…” was all we got.
In the end, she agreed, and in the end, she loved it. And in the final count of things, shen agreed that it would be fun to try it again.
The Boy, though, is not big enough to go on any of the courses except the “Junior Course.”
But there were a couple of things that everyone was eligible to do.
First, the Boy decided he wanted to help Babcia with the rosol. After making the broth of chicken, duck, and beef, she adds vegetables, and the Boy always loves helping in the kitchen.
“Babcia, do you have a cutting board?” he asked, and before she knew it, he was carefully cutting the bits of rejected cabbage and other veggies.
Afterwards came the walk — but first, the Boy had to open Babcia’s tricky back gate.
Out on the walk, I decided we needed to change things up. Instead of heading straight to the river, we turned left where we normally continue straight. I had a feeling we would end up on the other side of the river, but E was lost. Until we saw the river a little bit later. Then crossed a bridge over the river. Then saw the spot at the river we normally visit — only from the other side.
The dog of course enjoyed all the puddles
A clothes drier is a standard item in the States. I don’t know anyone who, having a washing machine, doesn’t have a drier. That’s simple enough to understand: electricity and gas are both cheap in the States, and driers are almost always packaged with washers. In Poland, though, it’s a different story. In much of rural Poland, gas lines simple don’t exist: all gas products use propane tanks. And as far as electricity goes — forget it. It’s ridiculously expensive compared to what we pay in the States. Bottom line: Babcia doesn’t has a drier, and that means one thing — there’s a lot more ironing going on in Babcia’s house than in our house. Everything — jeans, tee-shirts, underwear (and I’m not joking here; some people do iron their underwear), bed clothes, everything — gets ironed.
With all the additional clothes, that would be a ridiculous amount if work, so we try to iron as much as we can. (I say “try” because Babcia is liable sometimes to pull everything off the lines and iron it all while we’re out hiking or some similar silliness.)
Today, E learned to iron. L insisted that she knew how to already, and when she began ironing her own clothes, it seemed that she did indeed know how to. The Boy, though, needed lots of instruction. They both need a lot of work with folding, though.
The outcome: after a few minutes, they were fussing and arguing over who got to iron.
A fourth (or is it fifth? or third?) visit to Oravsky Hrad. This time, a few changes. A simplified camera set up to accompany a simplified tour due to the ages of our tourist. And a few random thoughts that unwound along the way.
In the crypt of the chapel at Orava Castle there are three coffins, two small ones and a large one. The tour being in Slovak and only partially comprehensible to me, I’m not sure if I understood it all, but I believe the two coffins are those of one owner’s children, an eight month old and a four year old. I had one of those moments: I remember what family life used to be, even for the riches and most fortunate. Infant mortality was unbelievably high (compared to now), and even living past five or six was not assumed. Having children might mean burying them before they were a year old, and it might mean burying multiple children. They could have died for any number of diseases that have now been virtually eradicated through improved hygiene, a better understanding of disease and its transmission, and effective vaccines. Yet for them, each child’s death was something of a mystery. Sure, they recognized and categorized diseases based on symptoms, but the actual cause was a mystery, as was any possible prevention.
And so I am grateful that I live in a time when protecting my children against measles, for example — a potentially fatal disease that, according to the WHO, would have resulted in “an estimated 20.3 million deaths” between 2000-2015. I’m grateful that I live in a time when I can take my child to the doctor and get a diagnosis and medication to help the child. I’m grateful that I’ve never once wondered whether my children will die of measles or small pox before they turn five. As I looked at the smallest casket, I felt fairly sure that her parents would have given almost anything to have that kind of security.
Orava Castle was the set for Nosferatu, a 1922 film adaptation of Dracula. I remember hearing that the idea of a blood sucking tyrant came from Vlad the Impaler. Here was a man who could do just about anything to just about anyone and became famous for a particularly brutal way of killing. He seems to be the exact opposite of what we have in most countries in the Western world today, where the rule of law treats everyone — theoretically — the same. Anyone from a homeless person to the President of the United States can be subject to the same law.
Yet what is most surprising about Vlad is that he was a real law-and-order guy. While there were plenty of people who were killed for arbitrary things, a great number were killed due to transgressions of Vlad’s severe moral code.
Further, Vlad was involved in fighting the Turks and preventing the spread of Islam in Europe. Despite his brutality, he was considered an orthodox Christian, and the Pope had little to nothing to say about his viciousness. He was, after all, fighting the Turks — the rest is insignificant, right?
When the Turks’ invasion began overwhelming Vlad’s forces, he began a scorched-Earth policy, destroying villages on both sides of the Danube to slow the Turks’ progress. This meant destroying his own people in vast numbers.
And so I began thinking about how we take this for granted today. We don’t raise our children wondering whether or not our own leader is going to slaughter them trying to save his own power. We don’t have to fear our rulers’ whims because they are subject to the same laws we are.
I’ve often mentioned how we tend to repeat things during our visits to Poland. The island in Slovakia that we visited yesterday–countless times. The castle we might head to tomorrow if weather turns bad–many, many visits. The line park in Zubrzyca Gorna–who knows! In some cases, like the line park, it’s just because we like it. Or rather, our kids like it. Sometimes it’s because of taking various visitors to certain sites. And sometimes, it’s just because we think it might be good for our kids to experience it once again at an older age.
Today’s adventures included all the above.
We went back to Dolina Chochołowska, a valley that runs through the Polish Tatras just at the border of Slovakia. It’s a place where you can see some incredible views, soak your feet in some frigid mountain water, and get enough exercise to exhaust almost anyone.
In short, we did ten miles today. The “we” consisted of two grown men, two five-year-olds, an eight-year-old, and a ten-year-old. The two youngest trekkers made the vast majority of the trip on their own. E rode one my shoulders for perhaps half a mile, maybe a little less, perhaps a bit more. But the vast majority of it, his little five-year-old, short legs carried him. Willingly. Without fussing.
The Girl was a fussing mess the last time we hiked Dolina Chochołowska four years ago. Today, the only worries came when, during a break, she slipped off the rocks where she was playing and got her shoes wet. But even that was only a momentary set-back. She took her socks off and continued the rest of the way (probably four more miles) in wet sneakers with very little complaining.
As usual, click on the pictures for a larger version:
The Girl didn’t make it the first time around. She reached the penultimate obstacle — an incredibly long zip line — and she quit. Did she reach her limit or did she give up? I don’t really know, given today.
This afternoon, we headed back to the same location, and I put on my tennis shoes and tackled the same course with her.
I think it’s the most fun I’ve had with my daughter in years.
To begin with, she was incredibly helpful. With each obstacle, she explained what was challenging about it and how things went the last time.
“Daddy, this one is really hard — you might want to use the zip line like I do.” I refused, and within a few moments, thought, “That young lady had a good idea after all.” The two obstacles that she suggested this for were so muscle-screamingly exhausting that I realized if there were more like that, I might not make it myself.
At the end of each obstacle, she was there to offer a hand.
“I’ll hold this last one for you, Daddy, to keep it still.”
More importantly, though, she was a different young lady. I don’t know if it was my presence or the fact that she was tackling the course for the second time, but she was incredibly confident. The portions of the course that gave her so much pause last time warranted only a quick caution and explanation.
A few hugs along the way helped as well, I’m sure.
No photos — for the first time, the camera stayed in the car the whole afternoon — but a friend shot some footage for later use.
What did I use the camera for, though? The jarmark, of course.
There’s a funny scene in Miś, my favorite Polish film, in which a broken down tram line turns into an occasion for entertainment — literally. A program of singing and such prepared before the breakdown in the event of a break down.
It was, I think, a parody of the ruling party’s ability to turn anything into a “celebration.” That continues today, I think, with Miś-like similarities. When K left yesterday, there was a band, priests, politicians, news reporters, photographers, various people in formal dress, all for the occasion of K’s flight’s departure. The first direct flight from Krakow to Chicago in some time — maybe ever. I don’t really know. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it was a big deal for some people.
While waiting in line to check in, K was interviewed. “Watch the news,” she told her mother later, “I might be there.”
What an occasion!
Except that the depature was delayed over an hour. And that deal cost K (and her traveling companion, U) their connection in Chicago. Which meant a wait over almost eighteen-hours for the next flight.
“See?! I told you guys not to fly LOT,” proclaimed B. perhaps she’s right.
K’s stay is coming to an end. On Monday, she flies back to the States with U, her best friend’s daughter, and we stick around for another three weeks. Today, though, was her last full day here in Jablonka, and as usual, she tried to accomplish a million and one things.
Lunch was easy — a trip to what was fifteen years ago the only real restaurant in Jablonka. Then a short visit to the appliance shop down the street.
Changes are everywhere in Poland. It’s like not seeing your friend’s child for two years and then being surprised at how much bigger she is (which is a common occurence during each visit here, for both us and our local friends).
Nowy Targ, for example, was not a city that would immediately come to mind as an answer to the question, “Where is the nearest nice park?” I went there a lot while I lived there, as it was the nearest city and another American lived there with whom I became good friends. If I wanted to get contact solution, I had to go to Nowy Targ. If I wanted to speak English without worrying about what vocabulary I was using, I had to go to Nowy Targ. If I wanted to watch a movie or eat in a restaurant, I had to go to Nowy Targ. If I wanted to commiserate with someone about this or that apparent Polish absurdity (I complained a lot in my twenties. I still do, but not nearly as much…), I had to go to Nowy Targ. But it was not a place that would make sense to say, “Hey, let’s take the kids to that great park in Nowy Targ.” And now it is.
A lovely park with pedal-cart rentals for the kids, nice benches for tired adults, workout-stations for more energetic adults, giant chess boards for chess lovers, shade, sunshine, flowers, trees — just about everything a little park in a little city might need.
Later, talking to a friend, I mentioned that I don’t remember it being there at all.
“That’s because it wasn’t, at least nothing worth mentioning.” But thanks to some European Union funding (I’m guessing here, but it’s a likely source), there’s a nice park by the river just beside the ice rink in Nowy Targ. Who would have thought?
But even twenty years ago, Nowy Targ had the best ice cream on the planet. And they had a market square, but without the fountains for kids to play with and all the open spaces. Just a big parking lot, more or less. EU funding again? Most likely.
The main purpose of the NT trip was to see C, with whom I played more pool and watched more movies and chatted more hours than just about anyone in Poland — certainly during the 1996-1999 stint.
But more on that later…