Wednesday, November 4, 2009


15 October 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt as alone as I did last weekend. No Skype to make my weekend calls to my sister and friends at random, no Minnesota Public Radio to keep me informed, no Mark Harmon (NCIS) or even any House to take my mind off the dreary days and earlier and earlier sunsets. My hard drive crashed and it was all Ally McBeal’s fault.

A week ago I was browsing my Podcast downloads to sync my iPod when I decide to troll through the iTunes Store to see what was new, perhaps download a funny movie for a dreary weekend. The weather forecast said snow this week, which meant ever lower temps during the intervening days and nights. And Thursday is aerobics evening, not swimming morning, so I had more time to linger over my coffee. And what did I find under ‘new items’ -- Season 1 of Ally McBeal, an old favorite guaranteed to lighten a wintry night. With a click, click, click, I bought the season and downloading, slow as it is here, started.

One Ally episode was, according to the pop-up message, corrupted, and despite my following instructions, would not download. Others continued. However, from thence, virtually every time I tried to do something on the laptop, the little rainbow ball signaling ‘computer not responding’ popped up and spun and spun and spun. Eventually I’d have to use the on/off button to re-boot; Force Quit didn’t work. In a sudden fit of something rational, I burned CDs of the most important folders, put an auto message on my online account to alert writers of my plight and prayed that my online Mobile Me back up was working.

Three different Skype calls to Apple Tech Support got me helpful people who were cut off after a couple of minutes when the spinning rainbow ball appeared and the calls were disconnected. When I re-booted after the third, only a partial desk top appeared. Terror and panic are too mild to describe how I felt. A quick call to the Center assured me that Hala would be there, so I could use a landline to call Apple. Diana at ATS was fantastic, leading me through a series of re-boot exercises, none of which worked. Since I didn’t have my install disk, we couldn’t try the final two -- archive/install and the ultimate, erase and re-install. In my utter terror at what was happening with the laptop, I hadn’t thought to take the start-up disks along. Never thought my panic would be useful.

The weekend was as forecast -- overcast, windy, cold and occasionally drizzly -- and it’s only early October! I shopped for a gift for a friend’s wife and had lunch at a new cafe (hurray!) with Halinka from the Center, did some laundry and ironed a long-sitting pile of summer things to be stored, tried to call the iSpot in Warsaw (no answer) and packed for a day or two in Warsaw. I took the 9:45 am bus on Sunday.

I’d arranged to stay with Assia, a colleague that I met when we were both working in Belgrade. Newly moved to Warsaw, she lives in the center on the same street as my old office. We’d gotten together with another Belgrade friend the weekend before, and she offered me use of her spare bedroom for coming trips to the capital.

Add down-pouring rain to the weather mix. I dropped my suitcase at the Marriott and walked to an Internet cafe to check emails while Assia had brunch with other friends. As promised, there was Diana’s email with instructions for the final two procedures -- ‘major surgery’ and ‘life-giving surgery.’ Now I just had to endure the time until 10 am Monday when iSpot opened. Gabbing with Assia for hours and dinner in a small but lovely Italian restaurant around the corner filled the time nicely. Sleep was non-existent.

The staff at iSpot have helped me several times before. Their English and customer service skills rate excellent, and they never make me feel dumb. After my recitation of what had happened, been done and was prescribed, I turned my laptop over to Tomek. He attempted to save files through various methods, some recommended by Piotrek who came in later in the day and took over. I browsed external hard drives and decided on one that has 1 terabyte of space, way more than I need but then I won’t ever have to worry about space. I’d been considering an upgrade to Snow Leopard and decided to go ahead. I went off to buy long-sleeved dressy tee-shirts for Hala, trashing mysteries for me and eat something. At day’s end, we re-convened. No success. On Tuesday they would try transferring files to another laptop before erasing and re-installing. I identified the key folders to try to transfer. Another sleepless night.

Tuesday morning I checked in with Piotrek who said he’d be done by 8 pm. So I had lunch and returned to Assia’s where her shipment from Serbia had finally arrived. Helping her unpack boxes was great therapy and kept the panic at bay. After dinner, I returned to iSpot bearing bakery cookies. Mac was like new ... and the files I requested had been transferred, everything was backed up on the external drive, the upgrade was installed. Back at Assia’s, I arranged to stop at Marta’s before the Wednesday morning bus; I wanted to download a file I needed to run Quick Time. (I sometimes watch a movie on the laptop on the bus.)

On Wednesday morning what to my wondering eyes should appear than snow, lots of big fluffy flakes blowing in the wind down Hoza Street and all over Warsaw. In the taxi to Marta’s, I could tell it had been snowing for some time ... accumulated slush on sidewalks and street sides. And it looked to continue.

I was able to re-connect with Marta’s secure wi-fi easily and set up my email to download 65 messages from Earthlink, and google and start the Flash Player download. Then, another panic -- to save the download required a password to my hard drive, and neither of the two I had given Tomek and Piotrek worked. Left a message on Piotrek’s voice mail, got a cab and returned to iSpot through ever-worsening snowfall. Tomek made a call, then tried ‘aaa’ as the password and it worked.

Having missed the early bus, I alerted everyone that I’d catch the 4:45 and Halinka offered to pick me up. Yes, it was snowing in Sandomierz too ... and when I arrived at 9:45, several inches had piled onto lawns and sidewalks and puddles in the streets were inches deep in cold melted snow. But I had watched a couple of House episodes en route and slept the night in my own bed like the proverbial baby.

This weekend I’ll fill you in on the start of the month and provide previews of coming attractions.

21 October, Warsaw

One of my less endearing traits has kicked in -- procrastination. Every day I think about adding to this journal, draft a few ‘grafs in my head and put off the actual typing. Well, tonight I’ll at least get started. The remainder of the month will be hectic.

The snow is gone but not the blowing cold. It rained last weekend and that obliterated all remnants of our first snowfall. And it’s drizzled off and on almost every day.

My first weekend after the laptop crash I hunkered down at home and started the tedious chore of resurrecting my lost address book, ensuring my external back up was working and monitoring 150+ iTunes downloads. Yes, that’s right. I was able to get all of the television programs that I’d bought and needed to re-download them. The process finally was completed early this morning. It can take three to six hours to download one 45 minutes episode because the Internet is so slow. Mostly I let the laptop download overnight; it goes faster. Thanks to Ed, another Mac user, I was able to access my address book on MobileMe, Apple’s online storage back up. It has limitd capacity at my basic level, so I wasn’t sure if I had included the address book in my back ups nor how to retrieve it. But I had and with Ed’s easy instructions, I did.

My cleaning lady is still on sick leave with her sprained foot. So I also changed the bed, did piles of laundry and ironing, and swept and scrubbed and dusted. I wanted to get a head start of sprucing up the place as I have several guests over the next three weeks. So, after four or so months of basically getting up in the morning and deciding what I want to do that day, I actually have to pay attention. As I said to Hala yesterday, I’m not used to having a schedule. I feel a little like that old Ann-Margaret movie, “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Paris.”

I am not complaining. Few people are willing to venture to the parts of the world where I live/work. The locations are “exotic” or “primitive” or just too far off the beaten tourist trail. So I’m always incredibly happy when someone says she or he wants to visit. It was just a freak of timing that everyone is arriving one after the other. Sue, a friend form my corporate days, arrives for a long weekend that begins tomorrow. She came from St. Paul to a board meeting today in Dublin. Wonderful person that she is, she’‘s not only making the trek to Warsaw but bringing my winter coat, boots and a few other items that my sister packed for me. We’re going to celebrate my birthday at my favorite restaurant in Warsaw the night before she leaves.

I’ll stay in Warsaw all next week and plan to see Kim, a Peace Corps friend who’s back for a visit; catch up with my former business partner Lynn, who’s back here with her family; and attend a business women’s luncheon that Gina is organizing.

All Saint’s Day -- 1 November -- is a big holiday here. People prepare their family cemetery plots for weeks in advance, cleaning up the sites, adding numerous candles and flowers. Lots of travel at this time because they return to where their family members are buried. When I was in Nowy Sacz as a PCV, my Polish counterpart Krzysztof took several of us to the cemetery 1 Nov. evening. From blocks away we could see an orange glow that halo’d the cemetery location. And instead of the staid quietness of a funeral, we encountered a quietly lively gathering of people meeting and greeting. Some even had refreshments.

Bob arrives from Afghanistan on 1 Nov., and I’m thinking that we’ll find a cemetery to visit if he hasn’t had this experience. Bob is a friend from my Macedonia project days and is en route to an assignment with my former project in Kosovo. We’ll stay overnight in Warsaw to miss some of the travel traffic (I’ve already bought the tickets), then go to Sandomierz and Krakow where I’ll play tour guide for a few days in each. After seeing Bob off to Pristina at the Warsaw airport, I’ll take the train back to Krakow to visit friends and see Violane and her husband Stephen who are coming in from Pristina. See what I mean? Not my typical weekly schedule!

27 October Warsaw

Well, it’s been a great birthday so far (I celebrate for about a month). I got a great “birthday present” -- my housekeeper is back at work. She cleaned last Friday for the first time in a couple of months. And while I’ve stayed ahead of the big stuff, it’s nice to know the wood and floors have been properly cleaned and not just haphazardly dusted.

I picked Sue up at the airport as planned on Thursday, and although she was pretty exhausted from her many travels, I got to play tour guide in Warsaw and then Sandomierz. We had dinner with Hala and her family at the farm on Saturday, followed after dark by an ognisko (bonfire) where we roasted kielbasa (Polish sausages). Hala made a beautiful and delicious birthday dessert, and I was given two boxes of Polish candies and a bottle from Michal’s latest batch of wisniowka (cherry cordial).

On my big day, Sunday, Sue and I drove back to Warsaw through the morning drizzle. While we still had the car, I showed her the Warsaw Ghetto memorials and other sights that we could drive to. That evening Hala’s daughter Marta joined us for dinner at my favorite restaurant, Restauracja Polska Tradycja. I had something I love but rarely eat and never cook -- calves’ liver and onions. I know, I know. It sounds awful and most of you probably don’t like liver of any kind. But for whatever reason, I do ... I just can’t cook it and I’m picky about where I’ll order. This restaurant is one of them. This restaurant also has a dessert to diet for -- an awesome pavlova, which I also enjoyed on my birthday.

Aside on the restaurant. Years ago when I lived in Warsaw, a tourism promo magazine had an article about two women, both named Katarzyna (Kathryn), who had opened a charming restaurant in the same building as an art gallery. Also being women in business, Lynn (my partner in Fiesta Consultants) and I decided to try this Restauracja Polska. Although it wasn’t easy to find, once there we found the atmosphere, food, service all to be tops. The dining room was decorated like a home with jars of home-canned fruits and utensils on breakfronts. The tables were assorted dining room sets complete with starched Polish linen cloths and napkins, and the ladies’ room was exquisitely decorated with antiques. The food was elegant Polish emphasizing game as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables. We and our friend Maura celebrated a joint birthday (our birthdays are just a few weeks apart) and took important clients there. Later the two Katarzynas opened another restaurant ... and apparently some time after I left for the US, opened two more ... later yet, they split, each taking two restaurants.

Located in a large house, Restauracja Polska Tradycja continues the charm and quality of the first. And gauging by the need for a reservation, I’d say others agree.

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