“Don’t make plans before ...”
5 May, Czermin village near Sandomierz, 200 miles southeast of Warsaw, Poland
“W domu jestem.” That’s what I said to Michal, Hala’s husband, at 5:30 this morning as he assembled lettuce, tomatoes, garlic and other fresh garden goodies for our breakfast salad. “I’m home.”
Michal replied in Polish, “Yes, yesterday.” But I said, “No, this morning,” and he smiled. This typical breakfast and his and Hala’s farm feels as much like being home as my oatmeal, yoghurt and fruit breakfast in Minneapolis.
Yesterday when I arrived in Warsaw, the weather was beautiful: coolish but not cold, partly cloudy with a bit of sun, spring at last. Perfect for a nap as the driver brought me to Sandomierz; he sometimes drives too fast for me so sleep is a nice avoider. And I actually did fall asleep for about two hours ... I’d been awake for more than 24. Unfortunately I awoke very early on the day I left Minneapolis and couldn’t fall back to sleep since I knew the alarm would jar me awake at 5 am. I’d promised to take my nephew Christopher to the airport -- LA for his birthday.
Not much has changed since I left here in December, except the Internet provider at the farm ... and there’s the rub. For some reason I could get on last night; I downloaded a day’s worth of messages. But later in the evening and today, nic (nothing) with the exception of Skype. Weird.
It works! Marek (the Center’s IT expert) arrived, re-set up the system for all of us and now I can not only Skype but also read a day’s worth of email and surf the web. Reconnected at last ... and those of you who know me best know just how crucial that is to my very existence.
I’ve been reading a new Jeffrey Deaver novel. He’s one of my favorites, especially his Lincoln Rhyme series about the NYC crime scene specialist who’s a paraplegic. Denzel Washington played him in a film a few years ago. Anyway, this one centers on a man dying of cancer who blames his disease on the electric utility where he works. So he starts to devise ways to create electrical problems that kill people. Like all of Deaver’s novels, it includes many interesting details, in this case about electricity. All of which just resurfaced a childhood memory. My dad was handy at fixing just about anything, but he would not fool with electricity. Oh, he’d repair a toaster back in the days when one did such a thing instead of tossing it and heading to Target for a new one. But fix a socket, nope; he even hesitated when it came to replacing a fuse in the days before circuit breakers became ubiquitous.
Oh, @#$%^&*(. I’m thirsty and decided to open a bottle of water that Hala gave me for the bedroom. Did that without even thinking about it being fizzy water and it splattered everywhere, including my keyboard! I blotted quickly and am praying none went into the logic board below. That was replaced not long ago when I spilled a whole bottle of water on it back home.
6 May, Czermin
Yesterday afternoon Hala and I visited her neighbor Dorota from whom Hala gets early salad stuff, as I write on my grocery lists at home: lettuce, tomatoes etc., and to whom she gives potatoes and later veggies. Dorota has four beautiful greenhouses, and the one we entered exhibited long, neat rows of maturing plants, well tended and protected from nature. The cucumber plants were climbing their taut strings and well in bloom, and the rows of tomato plants were just beginning to flower. Our interests lay in the outer rows -- the ready-to-harvest lettuce and radishes. Hala pulled huge radishes from the soil while Dorota cut four giant heads of buttery soft lettuce. I was ordered to stand in the door so my shoes didn’t get caked with damp dirt. I collected the booty as it was harvested and savored the idea of future “Michal salads.” Ah, heaven.
Today I drove into Sandomierz with Hala and made my first visit to the recreation center’s swimming pool, only to be greeted by a sign on the door announcing no hot water between 8 am and 4 pm and ‘sorry for the inconvenience.’ Having come that far, I decided I’d brave a cold shower. And it was actually warm, probably residual hot water in the tank. The pool was cooler than I recalled but at least I had a lane to myself. I swam about 10 laps, then did some water aerobics and Pilates. Not as much exercise as I’m used to but enough for my first day of lap swimming.
Tonight we visited Dorota again, this time to collect a cheesecake that Hala had asked her to bake. (We delivered all of the ingredients when we went for veggies yesterday.) We had to see Dorota’s new outfit for her nephew’s wedding on Saturday and help her decide which red wine-colored blouse to wear with the pearl gray suit. And of course, we had to taste the cheesecake. I am determined not to regain the weight and inches I lost recently ... but I also have to be a good guest. I ate a small piece with my fruit tea.
8 May, Czermin
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there. May your children honor you as they should for doing your best to endure their good and not-so-good days and still loving them as only a mother can.
Today is doing double duty -- it is also the 12th anniversary, yahrzeit to my Jewish friends, of my son Peter’s death. If we can make the timing and Skype work, my friend Jean will call today, and we’ll say Kaddish for him. Two years ago Jean and I went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis to say Kaddish at the evening service, but it was so long that we left after an hour. We hadn’t anticipated that it was the day all of the Hebrew school kids were graduating. We said Kaddish in the corridor outside the sanctuary.
This is one of several traditions that I started after Peter died. I went to Temple Israel on the first anniversary with my friend Susan, who’s mother’s yahrzeit is the day after Peter’s. We go together whenever I’m in town. Wherever I am, I spend time alone outdoors remembering Peter, and I honor that memory with a contribution to the Mayo Clinic’s cancer research programs. For his birthday in early September, I try to spend that weekend at the Fosters’ cabin near Brainerd, invite all of the Hagens to join me and celebrate my Godson Craig’s birthday too. He was born on Peter’s birthday.
Today Hala and I will walk to the forest as we often do on Sundays. And I’ll sit alone for a while under the gazebo. We’re being gifted with a sunny day.
10 May, Czermin
How many times have I written that spring is finally here and in how many locations? Two days in a row of sunshine and moderate temps and I’m at it again. Fingers crossed ala the US, thumb buried in fist ala Poland, whatever it takes for the good luck to keep spring marching toward summer with no more backtracking. It was lovely to again be able to take a postprandial walk to the forest with Hala, even if we did have to endure for a few minutes the odorous remnant of a neighbor’s late afternoon field spraying.
11 May, Czermin
Well, after a couple of months of being around and/or helping friends with assorted “bugs,” I have finally succumbed. Late yesterday afternoon my sneezes grew ever louder and more frequent -- you may have heard me, and all that other good stuff that goes with a head cold hit me like a Sammy Sosa home run. I took an antihistamine at midnight and slept sitting up so I could breathe. I finally awoke at just before 8 am when Hala came to check on me. I hadn’t smelled my usual wake-up call -- Michal’s morning coffee, and breakfast was ready. I promised to eat later; my stomach isn’t up to Michal’s delicious but very garlicky morning meal yet. I’ll lay low today, keep taking my vitamin C, perhaps another antihistamine and eat a peanut butter sandwich. Yesterday I went to the new Kaufland hypermarket where I had a choice of peanut butters, including one low fat. Hala was surprised I had found any. Poles generally do not like peanut butter although they do enjoy Nutella, a hazelnut and chocolate concoction that is spread on bread and to me, Ms. Sweet Tooth, is way too sweet. I cannot abide it, even in nalesnini (crepes).
I’m blaming my cold on the busload of guests who arrived at the hotel just before I left. I was sitting in the lobby using the wi-fi when they arrived, loud, noisy and definitely inebriated. They obviously had gotten started on ‘happy hour’ en route, and it was only 4 pm when they poured themselves into the hotel. They were a group enjoying a “wyczeczka” paid for by their company’s social fund. This type of trip is one use for monies that companies must set aside in a fund to benefit employees, a carry over from The Old Days when everyone would’ve gotten a couple of weeks or a month at the company spa or resort. Marzena, who manages the hotel, says these social fund trips are always well laced with alcohol, mostly bottles brought along, and too often accompanied by physical sickness, too much noise and the occasional fight. But they do fill up the hotel rooms with much needed revenue.
12 May, Czermin
Stayed home today again and slept all morning, then showered, dressed and went for a walk to the forest under warm sunshine. I didn’t even need my sweatshirt, just a short-sleeved polo shirt. I noticed that many of the dandelions are turning into white fluff balls of seeds. I’m probably the only person I know who loves the sight of dandelions -- bright yellow dots across a verdant lawn or field. My dad dug them out with a vengeance, added toxic chemicals and cursed loudly every spring as they bloomed anew. Oh, I know they are tenacious weeds but they add a smile to spring, and for that, I love them. (I also live in a condo so I don’t have to deal with them.)
13 May, Sandomierz
I can breathe again. Came into town with Hala and have spent this morning on the laptop. Found and booked a shuttle service in Paris, PDF’d and printed necessary vouchers and instructions. What a relief. I’m not willing to pay for a taxi to the hotel and wasn’t looking forward to trying to learn the Metro so quickly.
Hala and Michal make a great cooking team, seamless, each with an assigned task or role that requires minimal discussion. Their son Marcin called earlier in the week to say his friend would be in the village and could bring some “home cookin’” back to Krakow for Marcin. Lots of his dad’s Bolognese spaghetti sauce and his mother’s pork cutlets, at least six, were ordered. So yesterday before dinner the sauce was prepared, a ginormous amount. I sliced the mushrooms per Michal’s directions. Tonight he and Hala made the cutlets. After Michal sliced the pork roast into cutlets, Hala pounded each within a millimeter of its life. Michal prepared the giant cast iron skillet while Hala prepared the egg wash, flour and fine bread crumbs. She floured, egged and crumbed, he fried. As her fingers became coated, she cleaned off the breading into the egg wash. When the cutlets were all done, she added the remaining flour and bread crumbs, some small bits of pork and additional seasoning to the leftover egg wash and mixed ala pancake batter. Michal made four savory pancakes that we enjoyed as a przekaska (hors d’oeuvre).
All was packaged for Marcin’s friend: several liters of sauce and more than a dozen cutlets, all ready for the hungry graduate student. Some garden fresh veggies were also sent along.
14 May, Warsaw
A lovely day for a long bus ride. Even better for a long walk afterwards. After taking a cab to my old apartment (now Hala and Michal’s daughter Marta’s apartment), I walked back to the center of the city to stretch my legs, breath some reasonably fresh air and enjoy the sunshine and warmth. An amazing number of new dedicated bicycle paths line some of the busy thoroughfares and were being used. Where there aren’t paths, they hit the sidewalks and don’t have bells or use their voices to announce their approaches from the rear, which is very unnerving.
Although I was kind of exhausted after almost an hour of walking, I felt good too. Got my weekend IHT (International Herald Tribune) and started the crossword. If those boxes get any smaller, I’ll need a magnifying glass. Even the Strib version has larger boxes. Got my first Warsaw ice cream cone (coconut and chocolate, of course.) I only eat ice cream when I can get coconut, thus limiting the amount of ice cream I eat. Bought some tram tickets so I could ride part way back to the apartment. And enjoyed tandoori chicken with Marta and her roommate Piotr at a new Indian restaurant near the flat. The Indian Embassy is near the restaurant, thus ensuring tasty, authentic and reasonably priced food -- which is what we got.
18 May, Paris, France
As I typed that dateline, the old cigarette ad slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby” came to mind. Who’d a thunk it -- me, the world traveler? Well, my mother, for sure. She always said I had my bags backed and by the door in case someone suggested a trip. And me -- I have virtually always had duplicates of all my cosmetics and hair care stuff and many more sets of undies that I really need given that I have had a washer and dryer, all in anticipation of travel.
It’s been 20 years since I was in Paris. Between Christmas and New Year’s in 1990 two St. Paul Companies friends and I made the trip for 10 days of almost tourist-free touring. We stayed in “Gertrude Stein’s Paris” -- the St. Germain des Pres area of the Left Bank of the Seine between the Eiffel Tower and the Latin Quarter. We had a ball, walked everywhere in the city and rented a car to see Epernay (champagne country), Meudon (where Rodin is buried) and Versailles.
This trip I’m with Alfreda, a friend I met when we both worked in Macedonia; she now works in Senegal. She arrived earlier in the day than I and was already checked into our hotel in the Montparnasse district, farther from the Seine so not a touristy neighborhood, which I know I’ll like. Tonight we walked down the street to a small bistro for an early dinner. When we arrived and asked for dinner menus, the waiter looked at his watch and said incredulously, “It’s 5 o’clock.” We acknowledged that was early but said we were hungry, then ordered to prove it -- lamb for me, a curried chicken and rice dish for Alfreda and some very good house white wine.
Our room is small and crowded (I think they dismantled a king-sized bed to give us the requested twins), but it’s clean, well equipped and just fine since we won’t spend much time there anyway. The staff is very courteous and helpful and loves that Alfreda speaks such good French.
24 May, Paris
Highlights of the week ... I was way too busy having fun to write daily.
While having dinner the first night (Monday), we noticed a number of people standing at the bar drinking their espressos even though there were tables available. Our tour guide of a few days later explained that in many places, the coffee is less expensive if you stand to drink it. Given the prices, that makes sense.
Our first full day (Tuesday) we started with a petit-dejeuner (continental breakfast) in a nearby cafe. Ah, crunchy French bread with butter and jam and cafe au lait -- I am in breakfast heaven. Couldn’t do this at home or I’d looked like Porky Pig, but here -- well, when in Paris ...
Then we walked for six hours, sightseeing and people watching. Our first trek was from our hotel in Montparnasse to the Eiffel Tower where we didn’t go to the top. The lines at all four legs were very long. Why wait several hours to do something you are terrified to do? Perhaps if it were at night ... I offered to enjoy a sunny respite while Alfreda made the journey, but she declined.
Approaching Le Eiffel
Off we went along the River Seine where first we checked out river cruises and booked a lunch cruise for the next day.
The intrepid walker at the River Seine
Walking along the quai toward Notre Dame, small cars and motorcycles zoom by. The French definitely are aware of the high cost of parking and fuel. The only big cars of any consequence were taxis ... the rest were Smart Cars, small Citroens, etc. And more motorcycles than I’ve seen anywhere and large dedicated parking zones.
Lunch in a small bistro was an incredibly tasty quiche that was more fresh veggies than cheese or eggs, just as I would prefer, and a nicely dressed green salad. Musee d’Orsay’s plaza was packed with people waiting to enter; we kept going; more long lines at Notre Dame. We went street shopping for gifts and stopped for coffee and dessert while we waited for a walking tour of the Latin Quarter to start. Unfortunately I’d mis-remembered the time, so we took the Metro toward our hotel.
A word on the Paris transportation system of Metro (subway) and RER (local trains) -- we didn’t use any buses. Well coordinated and connected but going from one to the other on foot underground can be a real challenge for the novice. I think we walked halfway back to the hotel at one transfer point. But surprisingly clean and under 2 euro.
Back at the hotel, we sacked out, checked email, rested our weary feet and discussed the next day’s adventure ... soon it was after 8 pm. Because it was still very light outside, we had no sense of time, but we were hungry. We both had excellent grilled salmon (do you see a trend here when it comes to the quality of the food?) in the outdoor plaza of a neighborhood bistro. The plaza was named for Flora Tristan, an 19th Century French socialist writer and activist credited with being a founder of modern feminism. I looked her up as I wasn’t familiar with the name.
If it’s Wednesday, it must be river cruise day. But first a stop at Gare Montparnasse for train tickets to Versailles for tomorrow and to Limoges on Friday and to Thiviers on Saturday, the last one gets us within 15 minutes or so of Matt and Will’s place, our weekend sojourn in the countryside. Queuing, as the Brit’s say, was a long and tedious process. Thankfully Alfreda speaks incredibly good French. That was helpful beyond belief when we bought these tickets. She conversed easily with the ticket agent, asking questions and ensuring we got what we needed, including a doable connection for the trip to Limoges (we had to return from Versailles to Paris and change trains).
The weather was perfect for a cruise boat with huge curving windows that offered panoramic views of the sights and air conditioning that kept us from sweating under the sunlight. Once again, we opted for salmon, this time poached. I expected the food to be well presented and good -- it was fantastic. Every course was more perfect than the one before.
Yes, that’s a small Statue of Liberty in the Seine
After two hours of sitting, eating and drinking wine, we were ready for our walking tour, and this time I had the start time correct -- 4 pm under the huge Charlemagne-and-horse statue near Notre Dame. Two Aussies, two Brits, a Bulgarian-American, Alfreda and I made up the group led by Kevin of DiscoverWalks, a free walking tour service offered in Paris (and San Francisco), tips welcome and in Kevin’s case, a generous tip was warranted and given. Kevin not only had a broad and deep knowledge of the Latin Quarter, Paris and French history, he also had a wonderful sense of humor and a gift for storytelling.
We visited many “usual sites” like the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, the Church of St. Julien Le Pauvre (probably the oldest church in Paris) and the Sorbonne (the University of Paris); walked the narrow medieval streets that barely handle a modern automobile; learned that the Latin Quarter is so called because Latin was the universal language when it was settled. We passed a number of REI/Urban Outfitters type stores all with the same name, Au vieux campeur. In fact, we saw five in less than two blocks! Kevin said he didn’t know why they have so many shops and only in the Latin Quarter. Some shops did cater to specific outdoorsy niches (one only seemed to sell maps, for example).
Kevin says, “Don’t make plans before the French Revolution”
Kevin told us about Cardinal Richelieu commissioning a chapel at the Sorbonne, where he was eventually buried. In case you didn’t know, the cardinal was not loved by the masses. So a few years later, the revolutionaries stormed the chapel, removed and beheaded his corpse and tossed it into river. “Don’t make plans before the French Revolution,” Kevin reminded us.
The College de France, we learned, is where all of the best professors teach and only in French. However, the college now has a few Podcasts in English. Per Kevin, they’ve recently discovered that French is not universally spoken because the College of France is not the center of the world, the Latin Quarter is not the center of world, Paris not is not the center of world, France ...
We finished our tour at the Pantheon, originally built as a church in the mid 18th Century but turned into a giant mausoleum for French genius after the revolution (“Don’t make plans before ... “). Rousseau, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marie Curie (more on her later) are among its permanent residents. Some have been moved to this French version of Westminster Abbey. However, not everyone is happy to have his/her family member reinterred there. Camus’ grandson refused to have the writer’s bones reburied there because he doesn’t like the current president. There is a plaque instead.
N.B.: Mme. Curie, who with her husband Pierre discovered radiation, was born Marie Skladowska in Warsaw. And just as last year in Poland honored Franco-Pole Frederic Chopin with “The Year of Chopin,” this is the year of Pani Skladowska-Curie. (Pani is the Polish version of Mme. or Ms.)
Thursday we hauled our luggage over to Gare Montparnasse, a 20 minute walk away, and the water was still running. On a previous trip in that direction we had noticed clear, non-smelly water pouring out of a curb-cut drain and into the street. FYI, when I walked over that way the day before I left for Poland, the water was still running and out of quite a few curb-cut drains. Anyway ...
A word on French trains which are incredibly clean and quick. Ours were all also on time although I understand that is not a given. On the long trains to Limoges and my return train to Paris a refreshment cart came through to sate my desire for a mid-afternoon cappuccino to keep me awake.
Our hotel, Novotel Chateau de Versailles, is part of a French chain that I’ve used in Warsaw, and a bit more opulent that others where we stayed. The room gave us much more move-around room, had a safe that would hold my laptop and a lovely staff. After enjoying club sandwiches in the bar, we set off to see Versailles, a longish walk but easy to find.
Impossible to get all of Versailles into one shot!
I’ve said it before but will repeat ... one look at Versailles and it’s easy to understand why the French peasants not only revolted but did so with such violence. It is far beyond opulence ... and since most of the furnishings were destroyed in the revolution, we aren’t even seeing it at its best (or worst, depending on your perspective).
Banquet hall in Versailles
Upper portion of king’s chapel
Part of gardens, forests behind Versailles
After several hours of exploring the massive, obscenely gilded palace and wandering the extensive formal gardens and grounds, we worked our way toward an exit, got our bearings and trudged homeward. Bone weary, we decided to dine at the hotel. I had the most insanely delicious dark chocolate concoction for dessert; worth every calorie, a few of which I figure I walked off that day.
Friday found us waiting for a fuel oil truck to finish its delivery to the hotel while our taxi’s meter was kachinging off the euros. The truck was blocking the one-lane, one-way, very long driveway out of the hotel. We’d hit 10 euro when we finally left, but in the interim, Alfreda had voiced our complaint to the front desk. We agreed that a letter to the management was to be done when we had a minute. The cabbie didn’t charge us the usual baggage fee; the trip was “only” 18 euro ($24).
Off to Limoges via Paris and thankfully, a smooth transition between trains. Not long after we arrived at our Limoges hotel, the rain started so we had dinner at the hotel, worked on emails, read and relaxed.
Saturday we awoke to sunshine and after breakfast, walked to the national porcelain museum where we explored the ways porcelain is made and decorated, saw incredible examples not only from Haviland and other Limoges factories but also Wedgewood, Meissen and others in Europe and even one from Ohio. I’ll post the photos rather than try to insert any here. However, by far the most fascinating part of the whole museum was this unique fountain in the entry courtyard. If you can’t see it well, the water shoots from the head like growing hair. The base includes several white porcelain water lilies on metal stems.
Fountain at porcelain museum in Limoges
Saturday afternoon we took the short train ride to Thiviers, which is only 15 minutes or so from where my friend Jan’s son Matt and his partner Will have bought a house. I love being met when I arrive from traveling; it’s such a rare event. So it was a special joy to see Matt as we stepped off the train.
The house and surrounding acreage are picturesque and in the middle of “nowhere” (well, actually the French countryside in the northern part of the Dordogne region). Someone else's horses graze in their back pasture and a pony and its pal, a dappled horse, in their pasture across the lane. These were arrangements by the previous owner that continue. A huge garden is under way in the side yard, with the help of retired neighbors who understand farming and helpfulness without intrusion, as well as a mature orchard of fruit and nuts trees. Roses, wisteria and raspberries are nearly gone (the former two) and are coming (the latter) in the front. And silence is all around.
Port 80: excellence in hospitality, beauty, silence
After getting settled, touring Port 80 and kind of meeting Louis and Smoo, Matt took Alfreda and I on a walk in the nearby wood. (Louis and Smoo are adorable big-eared, very short-haired Devon Rex tabbies who were still a bit in trauma from the previous week with a toddler in residence.) The fresh air and chance to stretch my legs were most welcome. In the evening we drove to nearby Brantome ... very medieval French village-y place, solid stone buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, quaint shops. At one point a 17th century princess and her entourage rode by but stopped briefly so I could take a photo. We explored the town, then had a drink along the river, and finally dinner in a garden restaurant. The most perfect lamb I've ever had followed by three of the most delicious ice-cream-filled profiteroles with divine dark chocolate sauce ... I am still salivating. I was so glad I went with entree only and not the four-course prix fixe meals the others had.
Sunday Matt arose earlier than the rest of us and went for fresh bread for the day, pastries for dinner and fish for a shepherd’s pie that he was making for dinner. After fresh coffee, bread, croissants, we went to a flea market in a nearby village. Reminded me of some “Russian markets” I’d visited in Poland -- everyone seemed to have cleaned out his/her closets, plus a few bread, jam, cheese, smoked meat vendors. Matt and Will met some English-speaking friends, we bought some book marks, and I bought some goats’ cheese for a later meal. After lunch, we did a longer walk in the forest, then settled in while Matt fixed dinner. The day was gray and overcast and because the region desperately needs rain, we were hoping it would materialize. But, alas, no such luck.
Apparently it's a French law that every village has to have a bakery. Because there is no bakery in this hamlet, two nearby-village bakeries take turns driving through the area with their wares during the week. So Monday morning, being out of bread, we put off breakfast and anxiously awaited the arrival of the “bread lady.”
Alfreda, Matt and Will waiting for the bread truck
Choosing our daily bread ... and a huge brownie for the next journey
After breakfast and goodbye hugs with Will, Matt drove us to the station stopping en route at “one of the most beautiful villages in France,” a national designation given to 70 or 80 villages including St. Jean de Cole. I took a dozen photos, but none captures why I agree with the French government’s designation. I will post those.
You can read Will’s entry into the Frog Blog about life in the Dordogne as well as our visit at http://www.weesweetiesites.com/frog-blog/index.php/ We’re in the 19 May entry.
28 May, Krakow, Poland
My return to Poland saw me making more quick changes that usual for me these days of retirement. Overnight in Warsaw at the old apartment, airport with driver to meet Steve (the other American on the Center board), very quick drive back to Sandomierz, overnight at farm to do laundry-iron-repack, pre-meeting board dinner (thankfully one course less than usual), board meeting, bus to Krakow, cab to Ula’s, dinner there with Ula and Iza (two Krakow friends from my Peace Corps days), overnight then off to Tosia’s First Holy Communion in the rain. Whew!
Tosia’s communion was the reason I planned my trip as I did. She invited me last November when I spent Thanksgiving with her and her family (David and Inga and older sister Frankie). Having attended Frankie’s, I could not miss Tosia’s. The board had agreed to organize the meeting so that I could be there on Saturday.
The communion service was lovely as was our little communicant. Unfortunately my camera battery died and I didn’t have the iPhone along. David promised to send me some pix as there were lots of photogs. After the service, umbrellas overhead, we all walked a few blocks to Da Pietro, an old favorite Italian restaurant on the rynek (square). We Poland IV PCVs have been going there almost since it opened, and David and Inga’s wedding reception was there. As always, the food was delicious, and in true Polish style, lunch (a four course dinner) took more than two hours. It was fun seeing folks I haven’t seen in a while, Kim from our PC group, friends of David and Inga’s that I’ve gotten to know. In the evening we walked along the river pathway for about 20 minutes to a boat-restaurant and the festivities continued with more wine and finger foods.
Tomorrow Ula, Iza and I will have brunch at Ula’s, then play tourist in Krakow. We are going to explore a new historical and archeological museum that is under the main square. Thankfully Ula made reservations as it is hard to get in otherwise. Then on Monday Iza is going with me to Nowy Sacz, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. Her mother is from there, and she has family she hasn’t seen in some time so may decide to visit ... or to just relax.
31 May, Nowy Sacz, Poland
I am devastated. I hardly know what to say. I have thought of returning here for a visit so many times, even wrote to my friend Ewa’s widower when I was living here in 2009. When I didn’t hear from Marek, I postponed making the trip in case he would not be around or didn’t want company. Someone suggested he night have remarried and a new wife might not like Ewa’s friend visiting. Now I learn that their younger son, Piotr (Peter) who was like a second son to me in so many ways, has died. He had melanoma and died last November. It is like my own Peter’s death all over again.
I met Ewa, a pediatric surgeon, through a work colleague; she wanted to continue practicing English after years of study in Poland and a few months in the US. I was glad to oblige, we became friends and she became the local “PC doctor.” Occasionally Marek, a pediatrician, and Ewa had to work overnight at the hospital at the same time. Ewa always asked me to stay with Piotr in their flat; she wanted to be sure he arose in time for school. And I remember a wonderful day that he, Krzysztof (my PC counterpart who had a car) and I spent in Niedzwiedz, a small town in the mountains. His father, who grew up in what as then Nowy Sacz province, didn’t believe a town with such a name existed. It means “bear” in Polish. So we took pix of Piotr by the town sign, and he had a grand time wading in a creek. I had unearthed them when I was cleaning storage in July last year and reminded myself to visit. In 2001 I returned to Poland for his older brother, Wojtek’s, wedding, which was the last time I saw Piotr. When I visited Ewa the month before she died, he had exams and wasn’t able to come home. Piotr was an IT genius and got the second highest score in all of Poland on the entrance exams for the polytechnics.
Yesterday as Iza and I walked from our hotel across the top of the rynek (main town square), Iza noticed a pretty blouse in a shop window. We stopped to look for a minute, and I commented that the shop was (or used to be, I wasn’t sure) owned by friends of mine, Wanda and Bogdan, a couple that I got to know through Ewa and Marek. As we walked on, I looked through the open door of the shop and there was Bogdan. I called out his name and he recognized me. Into the stop I leaped to give and receive huge hugs, make an introduction of Iza and start to catch up ... all in Polish. When I asked about Marek, Bodgan told me about Piotr. However, I understood that Piotr was ill now; I missed that he had already died and didn’t think to confirm my understanding through Iza.
Iza and I took the long walk toward Marek’s house, rang the bell to no answer and went to dinner at a new karczma (inn) by the river. I tried to call Marek, got no answer and left a message with my phone number. This morning I called Wojtek who is a doctor. I had found his number by googling. It was good to hear Wojtek’s voice and his continuing excellent command of English. That’s how I learned my error in understanding Bogdan. Wojtek told me that Piotr had died last year and since then, as Bogdan had said, Marek had pretty much become a recluse. We agreed this was not a good time to visit, so I promised to send a letter with my email address and we could arrange something for another time. I was glad to know that he and Agnieszka, also a doctor, have two small children and are doing well.