Clover

It took them a while, but eventually they wore me down. I knew they would. When everyone in your family wants a dog but you, you realize that you can only resist for so long. I had one criterion: it must be a smart dog. A really smart dog. That, for me, ruled out mutts: there’s no telling what kind of genes they’ve got. So if you’re going to get a dog with the criterion of it being smart, why not just move to the top of the hierarchy and get a Border Collie?

K began the process while the kids and I were still in Poland. She looked about on Craig’s List for something, and while she was able to find Pit bulls by the dozen, BCs were almost non-existent. A colleague at work has BCs and put K in contact with the woman from whom she’d gotten her dogs.

“Do you happen to have a litter now?”

As a matter of fact, five puppies were available. Then four. Then three. So yesterday we drove three hours to meet the BC lady and her husband and picked out a lovely little girl with an asymmetrical strip down her face and the sweetest eyes ever seen on a dog.

Bringing her home was like bringing home E or L as a newborn: there was not a lot of sleeping in the house. Clover — and it’s a minor miracle we all agreed on a name — was traumatized, having lost her mother and all her siblings as well as her known, comfortable environment and owners in one instant. There was a lot of whimpering and cowering. But the sun eventually rose and we were soon all outside with the dog, laughing at her silliness.

The changes in the last twenty-four hours have been more significant than I would have ever expected. I, for one, have gone from being a lukewarm participant in the process to an enthusiastic dog owner willing to show off our little darling to whomever we can. The Girl got up at six on a Sunday morning in order to take Clover out.

And our house is developing the unmistakable scent of dog.

Chapter 29, In Which the Girls Arrive

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.

Support

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.

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“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.”

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But there were a couple of things that everyone was eligible to do.

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Life at Babcia’s

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.

Oravsky Hrad — Redux

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.

Thought One

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.

Thought Two

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.

Previous Visits

Tour Guide

Oravský Hrad

Ten Miles

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:

Rematch

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.

Zab 2017

It must be a late-June/early-July weather acclimation thing. Or maybe it’s halny. Or maybe — likely — it’s just coincidence. At any rate, it’s late June, and we’re in Poland, so that means we head to Babcia’s ancestral village, Zab.

In 2008, it was July 9.

Tooth

In 2010, it was June 28.

Z?b

In 2013, it was July 1.

Visiting Z?b

In 2015, it was June 28.

Z?b 2015

And in 2017, it was Jue 29.

Out of our five visits, then, there’s one outlier, and only by a week. Whatever the coincidence, it’s always an enjoyable highlight of the visit to Poland. But the day didn’t quite start out as auspiciously as it ended. It began like you might expect a day in the village to begin: with a lot of work.

When we arrived last night, we discovered that Babcia had taken delivery of enough kindling for, as she explained, three or four years. And at least a quarter of it was lying in the road because the tractor that delivered it couldn’t manuever any closer. So we got to work segregating and hauling various pieces of wood from a woodworking shop, wood of so many sizes and shapes that it was almost overwhelming. This morning, we got to work cleaning up the final bits.

(Click on images for larger view.)

We all pitched in. E was in heaven, for he loves doing anything work related. L has always been less excited about work, but she helped like the rest of us with no fussing, no concerns but one: “What will Babcia the next time she gets wood and we’re not here?” Growing up in more ways than one, that girl.

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The trip to Zab itself was as it always is. We stop by the most beautiful cemetery in the world to clean up Babcia’s mother’s and father’s grave and pay our respect, head to her sister’s house for incredible cooking and even more amazing conversation, walk across the street to her brother’s house for a second helping of everything, and end at Furmanowa, where one can undoubtedly find the best views in Poland.

(Click on images for larger view.)

There’s nothing more to say because I’ve already said it several times over, and therein lies the perfection.

Nowy Targ Day

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…

Overcoming

“I did give up.”

The Girl was upset with ourself for not having completed the line course she had begged — absolutely begged — to complete. The longest. The most challenging.

K tried to talk her out of it, and the whole time the Girl was on the course, she was like this:

Of course there was no real risk: tourists are secured at all times on a security line with not one but two safety ropes. Still, both the Girl and her mother were somewhat frightened by the whole thing. And then there was the exhaustion: K tried this course some years ago and was unable to complete it. Her arms and hands gave out. She was hesitant to continue after the first obstacle, but went on anyway. L had exactly the same experience. Then came an especially challenging rope section, and K’s arms just gave out. But L kept on going, with much encouragement.

The last two obstacles seemed hardly to be obstacles to me: two long zip lines. And it was there that the Girl just gave out.

Afterward, the conversation: I tried to express how proud I was of her, how proud she should be of herself, that she completed so much of the course.

“You wanted to stop, but you didn’t. You kept going, when you were tired, when you were scared. You didn’t give up.”

“I did give up.”

Can you give up and not give up at the same time? I think so. Somehow the Girl exposed a truth about giving up and going on. It’s a step-by-step basis. It’s a step-by-step battle. And every step that overcomes fear or exhaustion is itself a victory.

The Boy had his own adventures.

The Day After

A typical day in the country can be positively relaxing after such a fast-paced trip. The morning might include a store or two, and everything always seems to orbit the kitchen.

There’s a lot of snakcing, of course, because there’s always something to eat, something tempting like fresh cherries and strawberries or miodownik.

By lunch time, I’d only made it to 1,300 steps, which was about the same number I took every morning to walk to our beloved bakery in Warsaw for breakfast pasteries.

After lunch, the Boy went out to help Babcia around the yard with a bit of digging, a bit of sawing. He dug a big hole at the end of Babcia’s flower bed and explained, “When it rains, all the water will go there, and that will help the flowers. I don’t know how, but it will.”

Babcia got to chopping wood to start the evening’s fire for hot water, I lugged about 150 kg of coal toward the same goal (though my coal was for several days or even weeks of water), and the Boy continued digging.

And where was the Girl? She’d gone to reunite with a friend from two years ago. This upset the Boy, but he refused to go when Babcia had taken L for the the visit despite the fact that there would be a boy his age there. He’s always been a little shy at first, and we might have to wait a week or two before he’s willing to go play with strangers. Or maybe not: he’s always doing something unexpected, socially speaking.

When it was time to retrieve the Girl, we all headed out for a walk. The Girl, it turned out, wasn’t there. “They’ve gone out for a bike ride,” the big sister told us.

We headed out without her, only to meet her returning.

“Where are you girls going?”

“To Babcia’s, to make slime.” We brought Elmer’s glue just for that aim. Like fidget spinners, it’s the rage among L’s friends. “Here too,” A told us when she visited us our first night in Warsaw. And there’s a small change: things happen here and there at the same time. It used to be that it took some time for a fad to cross the ocean, but the internet has shrunk the world.

The Girls headed off to make slime; we continued to the river.

It didn’t take much of a commitment to make today a rest day, by and large.

Neighbors

Every trip to Poland, the kids get crazy about some cartoon series or other. One year it was the Russian cartoon series “Nu Pogodi.” This trip, it’s the old Czechoslovakian stop-motion series called “Sasiedzi” (“Neighbors”) in Poland. Good stuff.

W-wa Day Five

We’ve had a couple of lazy days now, but our last day we were determined to pack as much into it as possible. That’s how it seems looking back over the pictures of the day, but in fact, we really only had one major item — the Warsaw Uprising Museum — and the rest was just improvisation. I’ve learned during our time in Warsaw, though, that if there’s any city open to improvisatorial sightseeing, it’s this one.

Uprising Museum

Was it worth it? A last-ditch effort to overthrow the grip of a brutal dictator from the West encouraged by the vague promises of an equally brutal dictator from the East — in hindsight, wasn’t it destined to fail? Surely the Poles knew that they couldn’t trust anything Stalin said. Certainly the Poles didn’t think the Germans would let such violent insubordination just disappear as a footnote in history. So why do it?

That’s hindsight. In reality, it was probably at the same time simpler and more complicated for that. For the individual “soldiers” fighting for Poland in the Uprising — and I use quotes certainly not in any negative sense — it was a chance to level the game. Death had touch everyone by then, and it probably didn’t take a lot of convincing to get the average male Pole to take up arms. There were many likely thinking, “We’re all going to die from this occupation anyway. We might as well take some Germans down with us.”

A snack in a pre-war cafe replica

But those ultimately calling the shots in London, the government in exile — did they have a hard time making that decision? Did they honestly think that anything could come of it? Were they blinded by patriotic war-time zeal for revenge? Or was it something more? Or less? I really don’t know enough about the Uprising to do more than raise those questions, and the museum does a good job of raising those questions. But I’m not quite sure that was its goal.

There was one portion of the museum that left me a little frustrated. In a passage leading from one portion to the other were exhibits of the modern Polish army, with video footage of men disassembling and assembling various weapons, taking part in exercises, discussing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It really felt like an advertisement for the army. I’ve nothing against that, but it seemed a little out-of-place there in a museum about the Uprising. Perhaps it was a not-so-subtle statement that something like that won’t happen again.

One would hope not.

Dom Sierota

K and L recently listened to a Polish kids book about Korczak and his orphanage. It really didn’t go into any details about the tragic yet in some ways beautiful ending of the story; instead, it just went over the revolutionary way Korczak ran his home, with kids making the rules, meting out punishments, cooking and cleaning.

The fact that he marched with his kids to the trains that took them to their deaths in Treblinka was left out, I think. It’s not a topic for a kids book, the author must have thought. Yet there’s a beauty in that: he had several opportunities to escape. People tried to convince him to go into hiding. Yet he refused.

Much to our surprise, the site is still an active orphanage. It turned out to be quite close to the museum, so before lunch, we headed over to find it.

It was haunting to watch my children play on the grounds of that orphanage. Every time E is scared, I ask him, “What’s my job?”

“To protect me,” he replies without hesitation.

Can I always do that? In pre-war Poland, was that possible? What if I was overcome with consumption and K, too? How could we then protect our children? What if we were imprisoned by an occupying power because of our religion or ethnicity and then systematically murdered? How could we then protect our children? It made me wonder if that’s a bit of a lie. A well-meaning lie, a statement that we have every intention of preventing from slipping into falsehood, but ultimately a lie all the same?

Naturally, one can’t function thinking that way, and we all live our lives as if nothing tragic is going to happen to us.

Lunch

We had to eat at one of those ulta-hip, ultra-modern restaurants while in Warsaw, where you really pay a ridiculous amount of money for a ridiculous amount of food.

“We’re going into a restaurant that’s little more, well, everything than where we normally go,” I explained to the kids.

They got it.

Mostly.

University of Warsaw Library

After lunch, we headed back toward the river so we could try the University of Warsaw Library again.

Two things were different this time: first, the wicker basket swing — for lack of a better term — was unoccupied, so the kids headed straight for it.

(E yesterday said, “That looks like a bee hive.” All the adults looked at it, thought for a moment, and agreed.)

The second: we could go onto the rooftop garden.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the best thing about ‘New Warsaw,'” K proclaimed. Some interesting ideas, for sure. The vines growing along the sides will eventually cover the whole structure, and I’m assuming this will serve to keep the hot sun out in the summer. Perhaps it will even have an effect in the winter. And it looks modern and fantastic (as in the adjectival form of “fantasy”) and all that, but I was honestly left just a little cold. Maybe that was a microclimate all the green produces…

Holy Cross Church

“Want to go see where Chopin’s heart was buried?” Not the most inviting notion for a five- and ten-year-old, but still, historic all the same.

Visiting churches in Poland used to be such a stressful experience for me. As a non-Catholic, I always felt like I should perhaps be there. I felt like I was intruding somehow. The fact that Polish churches are rarely if ever devoid of penitent worshipers in prayer regardless of whether or not there is a Mass being celebrated didn’t do much to ease the sense that I was barging into some place I had no business being.

Now, I go in and behave like I’d normally behave if I were going to Mass. I make the sign of the cross after dipping my fingers into the holy water fonts at the entrance. I find a quite spot and pray for a few moments. (With the Boy joining me, we whisper an “Our Father” together at some little side altar.) I feel like I belong. Mostly.

Ghetto Wall

If I hadn’t been really looking for it, if I hadn’t had my phone in my hand with Google Maps showing me theoretically where it was, and if I couldn’t read Polish, I wouldn’t have found it. I wandered around the block, looking here and there, following every little alley to its end.

It all started with a hunt for a beer. Not just any beer: Ciechan Pszeniczne Wędzone. Wheat beer made from wheat that had been smoke cured?! It sounded like heaven. The friend who recommended it told me where I could find it, which was quite near to our apartment, so after dinner, off I went. I found the location, but unfortunately, it wasn’t shop; it was a bar. I wasn’t really willing to go in and have a drink by myself — though in hindsight, why not? who says I had to enjoy it slowly, or even drink it all? — so I accepted my self-imposed fate and started back. Then I remembered: before we left the States, K and I had made a list of all the places we wanted to visit in Warsaw, and one of my additions was the Warsaw ghetto wall, or at least a marker. And I remembered looking at that map just a couple of evenings ago and realizing how close it was to our apartment. And I realized I was standing in that general area. So out came the phone and off I went.

At first, I thought this was it.

It was about the right height. It looked old, tired, worn.

“Surely,” I thought, “there would be some kind of sign, some kind of indication that this is the only remaining portion of the Warsaw ghetto wall.”

I kept looking. Between two blocks of apartments there was a courtyard. All the entries from one street were closed. “Perhaps from the other side.”

And then I finally found it. “Memorial Location” in Polish with an arrow leading down a dark corridor.

At the end, another sign. I went right first and found a wall higher than I ever imagined.

Bricks were missing, which had been taken to Holocaust museums in Melbourne, Houston, and most significantly, the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem in Israel.

What as most striking was the fact that it still stands between to apartment blocks.

One could look out of one’s kitchen window (literally: one of the apartments was fully lit and I saw that these rooms are the kitchens) and see one of histories most brutal episodes. There were a couple of plaques, but nothing else. It was all so tucked away that you would have to be looking for it to find it.

The second segment of the way was a little more like I would have imagined it, except for the poorly translated yellow sign announcing “Night rest” from 22:00 to 10:00. Apparently, someone — or several someones — had visited the wall and raised a commotion late at night. Hard for me to imagine how that’s possible, but there it was: “Night rest.”

Final Thoughts

I came to Warsaw last week with certain expectations. I’d always been a Krakow fan myself. After all, everything there is old, not just rebuilt to look old. Warsaw was a city of gray, a city that was sad and perhaps tired. Maybe that was the Warsaw I first met in the mid-1990’s, but it’s certainly not the Warsaw of today.

For one thing, there are tourists now. There have been times as we walk down the street that I’ve heard everything but Polish from all the people we pass. The Italian restaurant just outside our apartment complex is always fluttering with Spanish, English, and other languages, and they seem to have a whole community of Indians to deliver food by bike via Uber EATS. When I first arrived in Poland in 1996, the sight of a non-white would send me in to paroxysms of excitement, and it was all I could do to keep from sprinting to them, hugging them, and declaring, “My God! Someone who doesn’t look like me!” (In the States, I think we tend to take diversity for granted.) Now, it’s no big deal.

Another difference: the metro. We have used it so much that I can’t imagine what we would have done without it. Well, we would have ridden busses and trams, but they’re such a pain to figure out, route- and scehdule-wise. A subway is simple: get on, wait, get off. When I first visited Warsaw, the subway was a newborn, with barely four or five stops. Now it’s a little toddler, with a full, long main line (a lovely blue line) and a second, growing, red, M2 line. Will it ever catch up to NYC, London, or Berlin? No way. But I don’t think that will keep it from trying.

A third difference: I don’t know that, other than Amsterdam and perhaps Berlin, I’ve seen a more bike-friendly city. Dedicated bike lanes everywhere (well, almost), and bike rental points all over the place.

Bottom line: if someone told me, “You have to move to Warsaw,” if someone held a gun to my head, I would not blink, I would not worry, and I’d grow to love this city as my own.

We will definitely be back.

Step Totals

Step totals (though not necessarily for the whole family) :

  • Saturday 20,342
  • Sunday 10,524
  • Monday 25,304
  • Tuesday 18,552
  • Wednesday 22,799

We never tried to maximize steps, and we used the public transportation system quite a bit. All told, that’s just about 42 miles of walking according to FitBit.

W-Wa Day Four

We are a family of locomotives that are slowly running out of steam. Day four in Warsaw was like day three: one big thing, and then the rest — well, let’s just survive. Or so it seemed. It depends on how you define “event.” We’re not in Warsaw just to see the sights and tick this and that off our list. Above all, just like any good trip, we’re here for people. K has family and friends here that we’ve been keen on seeing; I have a friend here (sounds so lonely) I wanted to see and another friend from Warsaw whom I will see but not in Warsaw. (More on that in coming weeks.)

Today, we headed south, to Sadyba, where K’s uncle lives. Uncle M is out of the country with his wife, in Taiwan, so we meet with cousin N, who was such a little girl at our wedding and is now a college graduate, making her way through the world by teaching Chinese and helping run Uncle M’s record shop. We have coffee and cake, catch up on this, that, and the other, and then head back to the bus stop to head further south, to the Wilanow Palace. It wasn’t originally in our plans at all, but everything is closed on or all but Tuesday. The museum of Jewish history, closed. The Warsaw Uprising Museum — closed. The Kopernicus Science Center — no tickets available. So we head to another palace.

For the Boy, though, it’s all about the journey. He is in love with Warsaw because of all the different modes of transportation we’ve been using: subway, trams, buses, and in a way, his favorite: feet. He is a non-stop chatterbox as we walk along. “Daddy, there’s a bunch of cigarettes on the ground there.” “Daddy, there are three trams in a row!” “Daddy, there’s a man sleeping on that bench!” “Daddy, look at that tall building!” “Daddy, what are these bumps on the ground for?” I explain to him why, for example, there are raised “bumps” (as he calls them) along the subway platform. “It’s so that you know, even if you’re not looking, that you’re getting too close to the edge.” I explain it, and then a few minutes later, he heads to K to explain it to her. “Mommy, do you know why … ?”

Wilanow Palace is as you might expect any Baroque palace to be: huge, ornate, and overwhelming. You walk around this place that was only a summer residence to get away from the hustle and bustle of Warsaw (the city has since swallowed the village), and it’s hard to comprehend what types of worries the owners might have had. Such a different type of life, such a foreign way of thinking — at times, it’s almost as if you’re visiting a relic of some alien civilization that left long before you were born. You have dressing rooms that are bigger than your friends’ apartment in Warsaw, and it’s hard to connect to such people, almost impossible to feel any sympathy for the people.

After our visit, we stop for some ice cream (the second of the day), then head back toward the center of town to meet cousin N and cousin N — a different N; lots of N’s in the family — for a late lunch/early dinner. We end with a walk to the University of Warsaw Library, a building that is so unlike any other building in Warsaw that visitors just have to go see it for themselves. Except when the Minister of Education is visiting and the whole library, from top to bottom, inside and out, is closed.

It’s a little frustrating, but at least the Polish Minister of Education has some first-hand experience with public eduction, which cannot be said of our American equivalent.

And of course, there’s all the people watching to do…

Today’s Travels

W-wa Day Three: Palac Kultury

Kids can only go so fast for so long and then they break down. Yesterday, L broke down. Today, therefore, became an unplanned rest day. The girls headed off to find a doctor to clear up a thing or two about L’s cough; the Boys headed back to the Old Town to wander about a bit.

We walked along the river before cutting back into the main Old Town area when we discovered this contraption.

“Is that the real engine, Daddy?”

We were able to see the changing of the guard.

“Are they practicing for war when there’s not even a war, Daddy?”

We got to see the monument to the victims of the Smolensk crash, which has evolved into the Polish equivalent of the grassy knoll among conspiracy-minded Poles.

We got to go into a church that had the Most Holy Sacrament on display for adoration without a soul in sight actually adoring it.

It was a nice morning for the Boys. The Girls? Well, probably better not to ask: looking for a doctor while on vacation can’t possibly be pleasant at all, even in a city like Warsaw.

Afternoon — lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. He’s been in Poland since 1994, I think, and in Warsaw since 1996, I think. Give or take a year. He’s got his own company, a wife and two kids, a house — the American dream has come to Poland. But was it ever really just the American dream?

Late afternoon, we head to the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from Stalin in the fifties. The story goes that Stalin offered Warsaw either the Palace or a subway. Varsovians chose the subway; Stalin gave them this.

That’s the story I’ve heard. I don’t think it’s true, but it’s a good story, and knowing the little bit I know about the Stalinist Soviet Union, it still has the ring of authenticity. What I do know is that it was begun at a time, in the early 1950’s, when most of Warsaw was still in ruins. It seems the height of arrogance to build such a colossus when the rest of Warsaw was in the state it was in, but Stalinism was never really about subtlety.

The views from the observation deck on the thirtieth floor are great. Varsovians have an old joke: the best place to view Warsaw is from the Palace, because that’s the only place you can see the Palace, but the truth it, it’s so centrally located that it just makes for great viewing whether or not it itself is visible.

And finally, I got to relive a scene from my favorite Polish movie of all time, Mis.

“A teraz, Pan ma relaks…”