Monday, August 2, 2010

Home Again

1 July 2010, Warsaw Poland

How funny is this -- yesterday I sent a ‘happy birthday’ wish to a friend who has been teaching English in Korea for the last three years or so. I met Aaron through my son Peter; they were snowboard pals. When he died, Peter left Aaron his truck, and I took Aaron to take the test to get his first driver’s license. He passed on the first try. Anyway, Aaron’s birthday is actually today, but it was nearly ‘today’ in Korea when I sent the message yesterday. And I got an email from Aaron today. He’s in Skopje, Macedonia! Apparently doing a bit of summer-break travel and seeing the Balkans among other places. He’s en route to either Belgrade or Sofia today. Since my short time in Warsaw is pretty well booked with seeing friends here that I haven’t seen since last year, we agreed to catch up when he swings through MN later.

3 July, Warsaw

Got lots of exercise tramping around Warsaw on Thursday and Friday. And I got a striped suntan on my feet from the straps of my sandals. Well, at least I know I’m getting some sun. I’ve never been good at sunbathing; mostly it makes me sleepy to lay in the sun or even the shade on a sunny day.

Thursday I had dinner and spent the evening with my old friend and former Polish teacher Dorota, her toddler son Franiu and his father Jacek. Franiu took a while to warm up to me; he only sees me once a year. But before I left, he’d decided to entertain me my jumping naked on his bed, an expression of pure joy on his face as he bounced away from his mother and PJs.

Lots of sales so on Friday I went shopping and bought a few things. Don’t tell Hala; she thinks I spend too much money. Replaced two colorful teeshirts that I bought at Marks & Spencer in London five years ago with two more, equally inexpensive and durable from the same company in Warsaw. I wear them all the time. Marta, my friend and Hala’s daughter, her boyfriend Lukas and I had dinner at the apartment, then they went out to celebrate while I organized for the weekend. Lukas has passed a test and is now a ‘certified ethical hacker.’ Now is that an oxymoron or what?

4th of July, my brother’s birthday, US Independence Day, Election Day in Poland,


And I hope, a good day is had by all. I sent my brother an early greeting since I knew the Internet is poor where I am. Since I’m in the suburbs, I’m not attending the annual American Chamber in Warsaw 4th of July picnic. And I hope all my friends got out to vote for their candidate, Komorowski, as it looks like a tight election. To a person, everyone I know says the same thing, and tells the same bad jokes, about Kaczynski.

Yesterday I took the kolejka to Komorow, west of Warsaw, to see Danny, a Peace Corps colleague. The kolejka is a unique local train with only two final destinations but lots of stops in between, including Podkowa Lesna, where our Peace Corps training took place. So it’s an old friend but with new paint and upgraded waiting platforms. The last time I saw Danny was 12 years ago when he, his wife Justyna and their older son Bobby had just moved into their house. Bobby, now 14, is taller than Danny and has a brother Patrick, 10. It was great to see Danny and Justyna and catch up. We went to a barbecue at Justyna’s parents where lots of their friends and family were gathering. Sunny, warm, slight breeze -- perfect picnic weather -- plus lots of good picnic good. What more could I ask?

In the early evening I took the kolejka to the end of the line to spend the rest of the weekend with my friend Maryla, her husband Stas and son Tomek. I’ll ride back into town with them Monday morning when Maryla goes to work. I’ve known Maryla almost as long as I’ve known Dorota -- just under 20 years, a lifetime. She’d just gotten a promotion at the Marriott and later would be a speaker on customer service for a regional tourism conference that my PC counterpart and I organized. Stas is an amazing sculptor who started teaching at the fine arts faculty a few years ago. He also works on commissions and was recently asked by the Sejm (Parliament) to prepare two memorials for those skilled in the Smolensk airplane crash. I’ve seen some of Stas’ incredible work and was so pleased that he got the recognition of that commission. Tomek is a new college grad in his first job.

Years ago Maryla, Stas, Tomek and I went to Tunisia together on vacation. We had a wonderful time and lots of good stories and photos to bring back. Somewhere in my storage are photos of me riding a camel. Then there was Maryla being chased through the souk (old market) by a salesman who kept lowering the price on a dress she’d looked at; she finally bought it for $5. And the two of us walking down a street piled high with watermelons. Maryla wanted to buy a watermelon for Tomek but made no move to check out any of those around us. Finally I asked if she’d changed her mind as time was short. No, she hadn’t but she didn’t see any! When I pointed out that we were surrounded by them, she said, “Those are watermelons?” That’s when I remembered that the only watermelons I’d ever seen in Poland were the dark green skinned sugar babies ... these were the lighter green, giant football shaped ones more common in the US.

Now this weekend I sit in my room at the old manor house they’ve been renovating almost as long as I’ve known them and gaze out at a yard so lush with green that you can barely see the neighbors. This beautiful house had been many things under the former Communist regime, most recently a manufacturer of some kind that left behind a lot of dirt and years of its paper records. The restoration is returning the house to its previous magnificence.

5 July, Warsaw

Well, Bronislaw Komorowski was elected president of Poland so all of my friends will be happy; none was supporting Jaroslaw Kaczynski, brother of the former president who was killed in a plane crash. Lech Kaczynski had not been expected to win and until he died, his brother had no interest in running. He had been a prime minister who left office after a vote of no confidence. (And one of the two chipmunks on the old ‘Polski Zoo’ satire program on Polish television in 1991.)

What I find so intriguing about the whole process (bad Kaczynski jokes notwithstanding) is that TVP1, a state-owned station, predicted and announced the outcome of the election based on exit polls about a minute after the voting polls closed at 8 pm last night. And Kaczynski conceded! I understand that not long after midnight, he was actually ahead, but in the end, the TV station was within a couple of percentage points of the actual result.

8 July, Minneapolis MN USA

Home at last! And it’s hot as #$%^4%^UIO. Humid too. Thankfully we have air conditioning. I’m at my friends’ house while I get a few things, like a bed, organized in my condo.

Had a final ‘Poland adventure’ in Amsterdam on Tuesday. Having cleared all the security hoops, I was sitting in the final lounge reading when I heard my name paged. A bit unsettling, to say the least. Had I forgotten something? What was wrong? I worked my way back to the security site and told them I’d been paged. The security person identified me to the others, so I wouldn’t have to go through that again, then took me to a man who said they’d noticed I came in on the Warsaw flight. Yeees. Did I happen to speak Polish because they have a passenger who doesn’t speak English, German, Dutch, etc. and no translator. I told him that my language skills should be good enough to help. And that’s how I met Barbara from Rudnik, which ironically happens to be about 30 km from Sandomierz. I translated the security questions for her and her answers for the Dutchman, got her through the scanners and talked with her while we waited to board. Once she was settled in her seat, I found a flight attendant and explained the language issue and told her where I was in case they needed me. In Minneapolis, I went through ‘Visitors’ to translate for the Immigration agent who kindly stamped my passport too. After we found our luggage, we worked our way to the outside world where Barbara’s Minneapolis aunt and cousins awaited her arrival. After a few words in Polish, I was on my way to the ‘usual location’ to await my ride.

Had lunch with Marilou yesterday, and she seems so ready for her surgery on Monday. Always the consummate organizer, she remains that ... making lists for the pet sitter, for friends etc.

10 July, Minneapolis

I am in awe at my good fortune in friends, friends of both sexes but especially women friends. I’ve realized this many times in the past, during my son Peter’s illness and death, for example. And I was reminded of that again last night. A small group of ‘old girls’ from the insurance company where I worked for 12 years pre-Peace Corps got together for dinner at the home of one of our number because another was in town. We talked for hours and hours, sharing good food and wine as well as what we’d been up to, supporting each other’s dreams and trials.

During the day, I’d gone to look at a car. I was feeling a bit of panic and hysteria because wheels really are a necessity in this part of the world, yet I would really love not to buy a car. I had planned not to buy a car, or at least to wait until January. But it’s hard to shop in this sprawling place without a car. I’ve been using one of Janet and Ed’s cars, but soon I’ll be back in my condo and that will be a more difficult option.

So after my dentist appointment, I visited a used car dealer that came highly recommended by my several people, including my dentist. And I found a used Honda Civic that I liked and that seemed reasonably priced but which has a navigation system, which I didn’t like and don’t need. Janet and I test drove the car, and it ran smoothly and well. I wrote to my brother-in-law Steve to seek his advice on the price etc. And got back the funniest email about how car price negotiations are supposed to fun fun! I took the flyer about the car to my ‘St. Paul Old Girls’ dinner to talk with Sue, who’s more of a car person than I’ll ever be. She immediately reminded me that I could buy a new Honda Fit (the car I originally said I wanted) for the same price as this ... and that I shouldn’t buy a car in a panic ... and that she and her partner have four cars and will be out of town for a month. So now I’m driving a snazzy, sexy two-seater Nissan convertible for the next month. See what I mean about my friends?

19 July, Minneapolis

No Internet, no radio, no TV. So there I was on Saturday night, laying on my new bed watching a movie on my laptop, and bad weather was coming in quickly. The sky was black. A siren started to blare, and I realized I had no idea what it meant -- severe thunder storm, tornado? Since I live a block from downtown, I didn’t feel at risk for the latter. I watched my movie and eventually fell asleep. Sunday my sister mentioned that last year a tornado came within a couple of blocks of my condo. I think I’m glad I got the Internet and cable connected yesterday. (Yes, on a Sunday.)

I’ve spent the last week unpacking, sorting, stashing and tossing the first two loads of boxes from storage with a lot of help and support from friends and family. I couldn’t get through this without them. Started the furniture shopping, and I found the dresser that I picked out last spring at the store’s warehouse for half price, and a headboard for the bed at Macy’s furniture sale. Still need to look for living room furniture and a day bed or sofa bed for the second bedroom. My friend Marilyn has great ideas and taste and has been going with me to look at furniture sales.

26 July, Minneapolis

Signed up for Medicare today. Guess that means I am officially ‘old.’ It will take affect in October, the month of my 65th birthday. In the meantime, I have appointments with a few insurance agents about the additional coverage that’s needed since Medicare doesn’t cover everything. Social security comes next. I have an appointment next week with the Social Security office, then I’ll decide if I’m going to sign up for my retirement benefit early.

So of course today I had an inquiry about taking part in a proposal for the Caucasus. I’ll explore it and see if it’s exciting enough to give up retirement for a while. The project wouldn’t start before January anyway, but I might need to participate in the proposal development.

I also joined the YMCA today and meet with a personal trainer next week to figure out what exercise program I should follow. The Ys have swimming pools, and I hope to return to regular swimming, plus maybe pilates and water aerobics too.

31 July, Minneapolis

What a week! Had the Caucasus interview, and it may start in fall. Didn’t say ‘no’ but am not interested in starting that soon on anything. Monday I have an interview for a Peace Corps country director position, country TBD, that would start in January at the earliest. Since PC is one of my passions, this one I will pursue.

In other news, when I signed on on line for Medicare, the local rep cancelled my appointment. So I made another to discuss social security for later in August. But my Medicare card is in the mail, and I’m almost done researching additional coverage providers.

Making the condo a home continues. I have almost finished my bedroom, a lovely oasis in the madness of moving and redecorating. But the living room is back to being a disaster area again. I sorted and tossed another quarter of my storage, and have piles for garage sale, relatives, the local scavengers and trash.

Funny thing happened during furniture shopping. For the heck of it, I stopped at the Goodwill Industries store (for my non-US readers, that’s a charitable re-sale store); I was in the neighborhood anyway. Well, I found a love seat and it was upholstered in exactly the same fabric as a chair that I bought for my ex for Father’s Day in the early 80s! Went back the next day, checked it over thoroughly and bought it. The ‘guts’ looked good, so I’ll have it re-upholstered. And then I’ll be able to find a fabric I really love, which has been a challenge no matter which store I visit.

In the meantime, I have test driven several cars. Today I will go try a Ford Focus with five-speed shift, my preference. The salesperson says he can get me a red SEL, which is what I’d like. I may also go to a Honda dealer and try out a Civic, but it has far fewer ‘extras’ than the Focus and the price is higher. Plus no one seems to have a five speed Civic. I am hoping to make a decision this weekend since it’ll undoubtedly take a bit to take delivery. I have taken my brother-in-law’s advice that it’s supposed to be fun. I am preparing myself to ‘walk away’ if I don’t get what I want.

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