Friday 9 October 2015

My Latest Visit to Poland Part 2

Good morning! You may be interested to know (or not) that I went to Polish class last night, and it was as if wax had been removed from my ears. I understood 99% of what the teacher was saying until my energy and attention flagged near the end. But as I listened to my fellow students struggle  in a variety of accents and inter-languages, I realized that my vast improvement has come from studying every day for a month with Polish in Four Weeks, not to mention listening to Poles speak to each other. Night school class is just not as effective, especially for an morning lark like me.

But back to Poland. So let me see. I left off on Saturday morning when our wild Russian (and Italian) contingent got on the minibus. Russians safely stowed, the bus driver headed for Kiecle where, we were told, we would be taken to our lodgings to get ready for the wedding.

We drove north-east for two hours or so, and stopped outside and ochre-painted high-rise at the Politechnika Swiętokrzyska,  i.e. a student dorm at the Kielce University of Technology. Unfortunately our Polish de facto leader and his wife had been dropped off at their family's home, so when we foreigners looked around for someone who could consult the bus driver, we discovered she was I. "Wait!" said the driver. "Wait ten minutes!"

Home sweet home.
We waited ten minutes, and the bride's brother pulled into the parking lot. He divided us into three groups: the group that was staying at the bride's parents' house (Chinese), the group would stay in the dorm (all the Russians, the Italian chap and I), and the group that would stay at the wedding hall complex (the other Edinburgh residents and a quiet Latin American). My Single friend was pleased that she was going to the ritzy hall, and I was pleased that I was staying put in the city, where I had easy access to food. I zipped up to my little dorm room, which was a lot like my room in the Krakow klasztor, dropped my knapsack, did a little dance and set out to McDonald's, for I was terribly hungry.

A good rule of thumb for weddings is to eat a big meal an hour before the Mass or service, for you never know when it is you will finally be fed. Going to a wedding hungry will make you cranky and cynical, which is a no-no, especially if the bride might notice your bitter-lemon face. So although I never go to McDonald's, I rushed to this Kielce one with joy and hoovered down two cheeseburgers and a small packet of fries and a reassuringly small cup of Coke, which I never drink. I ordered it all in Polish, which was supremely easy, as a cheeseburger in Polish is cheeseburger, fries are frytki and a Coke is a Coke. The meal cost 11 zł, i.e. £2.20 (or $4.40 Canadian).

Then I rolled out the door and along the busy urban sprawl street and then across it to the ochre building and wrote for some time in my diary before lying down for half an hour like a python digesting an elephant. When my phone alarm went off I did my hair, covered myself in slap, pulled on control-top tights, and then dressed in a blue evening dress and my green McAmbrose tartan sash, which I pinned with the official McAmbrose badge, and my green silk wedding shoes. It was a warm sunny day, so I just wrapped myself in a green and blue cotton shawl and went to wait for the next private bus. 

This next bus was very large for the five people it was sent for, and there was an amusing moment after I spoke to the young driver in pidgin Polish and he revealed that he spoke English, an embarrassment I was getting used to. The domesticated Russian and his girlfriend boarded with the remains of a very large pizza as they were leaving right after the wedding and wanted it for breakfast. The Russians (and Italian) all fussed over wedding cards and how much money to put into them, and the bus got us to the church, which was in a semi-rural spot and yet terrifically modern, as in giant-corpus-on-the-outer-wall-without-any-cross-behind-it modern. It did, however, have a lovely big car-park, which as we know is top priority for the contemporary Catholic. 

Alas, I have promised to write about the wedding for one of my newspapers, so I now leave you at the church door and join you again at 6 AM on Sunday when I and the last remaining Russian emerged from a car outside the Polytechnika. He was still drunk, but not as drunk as he had been, and said good night with charming clarity before disappearing into his room. The sun was rising over the Mercedes-Benz dealership across the road, and I slept fitfully until 11 or so, when I gave up the battle against the unruly sun. I staggered in and out of the shower, got dressed and rushed out to dear, dear McDonalds'a, where I ordered a małą, czarną kawę and slurped down its life-giving properties.  The Russian knocked on the door and told me that a car would pick us up in half an hour, and we went outside to blink in the sun and wait for our Italian and the car.

The car took us to the bride's parents' house for lunch---traditional Polish weddings in Kielce last for two days--and afterwards the Edinburghers and the last remaining Russian were taken in two parties to the railway station. Soon we were on our way back to Krakow. I slept like a baby. Result!

Back in Krakow. After sleepily sending off an Edinburgh couple in the wrong direction, I went back to the klasztor and tried to get more sleep. Sleep eluded me, so I gave up and packed for my trip to
Kosciół Swiętego Krzyża is really hard to pronounce.
Wrocław before going into the dark of night for the Tridentine Mass at the Church of the Holy Cross.

I sadly felt the lack of a missal, let me tell you. The sermon was long and Polish and about the family. The homilist seemed a bit worked up about something, presumably the Synod on the Family, which had just started. All over Krakow were posters of Saint John Paul II with the motto "Patron Rodziny" (Patron of the Family).  My Single friend never showed up, so I ran her to ground in a restaurant--she had gone to Mass in the Mariacki instead. We had a short discussion of the wedding, which had been a very good one for Single women, as it abounded in tipsy, women-chasing men, and then I toddled off back to the klasztor.

On Monday I got up early, ate breakfast and went to Wrocław by Polski Bus, which is nice and cheap. Wrocław used to be Breslau and the Germans loved it, so they fought like hell to keep it, but the Russians bombed most of it to smithereens. Thus it is a bit of a mess, architecturally speaking, though it has some nice old bits left. It also contains Polish Pretend Son's English-speaking pal, so we had a nice lunch at a Thai restaurant, which made for a nice change, and then coffee at Starbucks, which costs as much as it usually does and therefore was expensive for Poland, if not me. This was near various branches of the university (or a university), so there were lots of students about.  
Monument to the Victims of the Katyn Massacre

PPSP told me all about Father Charamsa. (Ksiądz Charamsa, actually--in Poland, secular priests are addressed and described as "Priest", e.g. "Priest Oko".) Having been at a wedding for two days, I naively thought I had a big scoop, so when I went to an internet café near the Stary Rynek, I emailed my CWR editor right away. 

But first I went to Ostrów Tumski, which is the oldest and most beautiful part of Wrocław, and looked at churches because Benedict Ambrose would have been shocked if I didn't. (In Poland I prefer art galleries, which makes B.A. shout, "Secular temples!") Then I had a nice half-lost walk to the Stary Rynek via the National Gallery, the Katyn Massacre memorial, and the Racławice Panorama. I visited only the Katyn memorial, however, and prayed there, and read all the signs with much more understanding than I did last year. 

It is generally forgotten in the West that both Hitler and Stalin did their utmost to murder all Polish leaders and intellectuals, so as to reduce the Polish people to no more than servants and semi-skilled labourers. On Stalin's orders in 1940, 22,000 Polish prisoners of war--officers, policemen, civil servants, intellectuals--were shot in the back of the head. If this needs putting into perspective, the Poles got their country back only in 1919--after dreaming and writing and rebelling and crying for well over a hundred years--and had spent their 20 years of independence trying to create an educated Polish middle-class, complete with an "affirmative action" plan for the universities. These efforts were (literally) shot to pieces in 1939 and 1940. 

The traumatized woman in the monument is Mother Poland asking the Angel of Death why he has murdered her son, and the Angel of Death answers through the inscription underneath in the first person, ("I shot....") which is extremely creepy.

There are horse chestnut trees behind Mother Poland, and every time the wind blew the nuts walloped to the ground. It was a bit dangerous sitting on the bench under them, so I soon continued my half-lost march to the Stary Rynek and the internet café. I was hoping to meet with another Wrocław acquaintance, but I found no confirmation in my email, so I gave that up and instead read and wrote correspondence for an hour (4 zł, i.e. 80p, $1.60). The CWR was indeed interested in Polish perspectives on Ks. Charamsa, so I rushed to an Empik bookstore to see if he was in the magazines, and, my word, he was on the covers of four of them! (A circumstance carefully orchestrated by himself, it turns out.)  I bought three, so the poor cashier must have been confused when I didn't understand (as usual) the word for plastic bag.  Then I rushed out to find the bus station and got really, truly, terribly lost. 

Note to self: Wrocław train and bus stations very far away from Stary Rynek. Plan accordingly.

I did have a map; it is now in tatters, testimony to my panic and bad temper when lost abroad. My bus was scheduled to leave at 18 h, and time seemed to speed right up, leaving me who knows where. Happily, I was rescued by a tiny old Polish man, who saw my worried female face and said the Polish equivalent of, "Darling, do you need help?"

"Oh yes, thank you, sir," said your correspondent in the same language, probably looking incredibly pathetic. "Where is the bus station?"

Time ticked inexorably on as the mały staruszek beamed at me and settled in for a comfortable chat.

"Are you a Polish woman?"

"Well, no. I am from Canada."

"Ah! You are not Polish. You are from Canada, and yet you speak Polish. Very good."

"Yes, thank you."

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. 

"You want to find the bus station, darling? The bus station is very far. But I know where it is. I have lived here in Wrocław my whole life. Very good. Let us first cross this street. Very good. Now you go straight ahead past those lights, then under the viaduct to the next set of lights. You understand, darling? Then you turn left."

"Straight ahead, under viaduct, next lights, turn left. Thank you."

"Then you walk for five hundred metres."

"Fifteen metres?"

"No, darling, five hundred metres."

My heart sank. Defeat. But I consoled myself that although, barring a miracle, I would miss the bus, at least I was having a conversation with this sweet old man and therefore had a story I could tell later. Still, who knew when the next bus would be, and being stranded overnight in Wrocław might not be very fun, and I would lose my 37 zł. Even though this was less than £8 ($16), I was starting to develop a Polish possessiveness about my zł. So although my staruszek now seemed to be telling me that my handbag strap across my chest reminded him of his wife, his heart, whom he had recently lost after years together, I said "Very, very much I thank you, Sir. Good-bye! Szczęść Boże!" and rushed off. God bless him.

Jestem gadatliwy.
As it was, the miracle happened. The bus was later than I was. When I got to the station, I found a group of grumpy looking people, and when I timidly said, "Excuse me, to Krakow?", the grumpy man I addressed said, "Tak." The bus turned up fifteen minutes after I did, the driver as grumpy as his passengers-to-be, and when I read him the wrong number on my ticket, he barked, "Już!" (i.e. "Get in, already"), and I zipped upstairs to the top of the bus and one of the front seats. There I thanked God and several saints and settled in to write in my diary and read what Ks. Charamsa had to say to Newsweek Polska. Every time I felt the urge to kick him, I realized that I miraculously understood what he had said and cheered right up.

We arrived in Kraków only ten or so minutes late, and I found, bought and ate a pretzel at the Galeria Krakowska (i.e. the mall) before taking the tram back to the klasztor and its back, after-hours, gate. As you might imagine, I fished my rosary out of my handbag and went promptly to bed. 

Next: Last day in Kraków

1 comment:

  1. I so enjoy reading your descriptions of things! I wish I could say the same of what I hear from Father C. Sounds like a lovely wedding & trip. :-) It's always so fun to discover you really do know something. I had some Russian, and then when I had to use it was so intimidated. But when I really had to, and when I returned later, it turned out I knew more than I thought. Even now, I delight myself when I remember an unusual word, like "tykva' (which means pumpkin, so you can see why I thought of it, and you reminded me of the cognate "rynok" with the Wroclaw old market). Well done to you. :-)


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