warsaw mural

VISIT WARSAW!

VISIT WARSAW!
click on image

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
JERZY JANOWICZ, click above

EURO 2012

EURO 2012
kuba blaszczykowski, euro's best moments

National Stadium in Warsaw

National Stadium in Warsaw

NOBEL POETRY LAUREATE W.SZYMBORSKA DIES

NOBEL POETRY LAUREATE W.SZYMBORSKA DIES
click on

CHRISTMAS IN WARSAW

CHRISTMAS IN WARSAW
warsaw / by the royal castle

warsaw 2011

christmas market

IZU UGONOH

IZU UGONOH
Polish born professional kickboxer, click on

POLAND ELECTIONS 2011: Prime Minister Donald Tusk Takes Home Victory

POLAND ELECTIONS 2011: Prime Minister Donald Tusk Takes Home Victory
click on for info

POLAND / MOVE YOUR IMAGINATION

POLAND / MOVE YOUR IMAGINATION
click for video

Poznan Film & Music Festival

Poznan Film & Music Festival
click for more

POLAND AT ITB BERLIN 2011

POLAND AT ITB BERLIN 2011
watch trailer, click

RESTAURANTS

RESTAURANTS
rozbrat20, click...

at the chefs' polish cuisine, click..

COPERNICUS SCIENCE CENTER

COPERNICUS SCIENCE CENTER
IS OPEN NOW...

MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
click on to see the project

ANIMATED HISTORY OF POLAND

ANIMATED HISTORY OF POLAND
1000 YEARS IN 8 MINUTES...click on

WARSAW in 1935

WARSAW in 1935
click for more pics

WARSAW IS SAD WITHOUT YOU!

WARSAW IS SAD WITHOUT YOU!
watch video

THE NATIONAL STADIUM, WARSAW

THE NATIONAL STADIUM, WARSAW
click on the picture above

CHOPIN BALLET...

CHOPIN BALLET...
playing now...click on...

EXPO 2010 Shanghai

EXPO 2010 Shanghai

Polish Pavilion, click on

2010 YEAR OF CHOPIN...

2010 YEAR OF CHOPIN...
click for more...

MARCIN WYROSTEK

MARCIN WYROSTEK
I have talent / click on image

SEVEN GATES OF JERUSALEM, PENDERECKI & BAGINSKI

SEVEN GATES OF JERUSALEM, PENDERECKI & BAGINSKI
click for video
Recorded during a concert at the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera in Warsaw. This was a gala performance of Seven Gates of Jerusalem marking Penderecki's 75th birthday, conducted by the composer himself.
The setting for the concert was provided by specially designed computer animations by Tomasz Baginski projected onto a large screen.

TOMEK BAGINSKI

TOMEK BAGINSKI
his newest film, click

krzysztof kieslowski's headstone

SAPAYA....

SAPAYA....

...taste of Vietnam in Warsaw...

...taste of Vietnam in Warsaw...
click on

ROMAN POLANSKI

ROMAN POLANSKI
click on

70th ANNIVERSARY OF WWII

70th ANNIVERSARY OF WWII
click on pic

WARSAW UPRISING'44 anniversary, 65th

WARSAW UPRISING'44 anniversary, 65th
click on, "Go, passer-by, and tell the world That we perished in the cause, Faithful to our orders."

ANNA MARIA JOPEK

ANNA MARIA JOPEK
click to watch video " sypka warszawa"

NEW EP PRESIDENT jerzy buzek

NEW EP PRESIDENT jerzy buzek
click on

OLD TOWN JAZZ

OLD TOWN JAZZ
click on

CHOPIN CONCERTS AT ROYAL LAZIENKI PARK 50th anniversary

CHOPIN CONCERTS AT ROYAL LAZIENKI PARK 50th anniversary
1959-2009 (click on)

FREEDOM WAS BORN IN POLAND, JUNE 4th 1989

FREEDOM WAS BORN IN POLAND, JUNE 4th 1989
click on

jack, jane and stevie (wonder) all supported solidarnosc...

20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FALL OF COMMUNISM (JUNE 4th 1989)


The elections that broke communist power in Poland in 1989 also triggered political revolution across east-central Europe.

The political upheaval that began in Poland continued in Hungary, and then led to a surge of mostly peaceful revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria. Romania was the only Eastern-bloc country to overthrow its communist regime violently and execute its head of state.

The Revolutions of 1989 greatly altered the in the world and marked (together with the subsequent balance of power and collapse of the Soviet Union) the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Post Cold War era.




campaign poster

DR. MARIA SIEMIONOW

DR. MARIA SIEMIONOW
click on

Maria Siemionow is a renowned Polish surgeon (Poznan Medical Academy, receiving her PhD in microsurgery there) at the Cleveland Clinic. She gained public notice in December, 2008, when she led a team of six surgeons in a 22-hour surgery, performing the first face transplant in the United States on patient Connie Culp.[1] She is currently Director of Plastic Surgery Research and Head of Microsurgery Training at the Cleveland Clinic. She is also Professor of Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.

MARIUSZ KWIECIEN POLISH BARITONE

MARIUSZ KWIECIEN POLISH BARITONE
he is regular at metropolitan opera

POLISH PIANIST'S PROTEST

POLISH PIANIST'S PROTEST
click on

Fourth Anniversary of the Death of John Paul II

Fourth Anniversary of the Death of John Paul II
click on

4 years ago...

October 1978...

"May Jesus Christ be praised! Dearest brothers and sisters, we are still grieved after the death of our most beloved Pope John Paul I. and now the most eminent cardinals have called a new bishop of Rome. They have called him from a distant country, distant but always close through the communion in the Christian faith and tradition…"
"I do not know if I can explain myself well in you – in our Italian language. If I make a mistake you will correct me. And so I present myself to you all to confess our common faith, our hope, our confidence in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, and also to start anew this road of history and of the Church, with the help of God and with the help of men."

MELKART BALL

MELKART BALL
click on

HAPPY WOMEN'S DAY!

HAPPY WOMEN'S DAY!
march 8th, international

7th SLED DOG RACE

7th SLED DOG RACE
3/1/ 2009, lutowiska, 120km, click for more pics

NOTHING TWICE...

"Nothing can ever happen twice. In consequence, the sorry fact is that we arrive here improvised and leave without the chance to practice..." ( W. Szymborska, Polish poet, Nobel Prize winner)

WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA

WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA
click on picture to continue...

do you know?

"Stohrer is the oldest continually operating pastry shop in Paris. It was started by Nicolas Stohrer, a Polish pastry chef who came to France with Marie Leszczynska, the daughter of King Stanislas of Poland, when she married King Louis XV of France in 1725. In 1730, Stohrer opened up his own shop in the very location where it stands today. He is credited with inventing the Rum Baba."

blikle pastry shop in warsaw

foster building

pics by cousin lukasz

2010 / YEAR OF CHOPIN

2010 / YEAR OF CHOPIN

the greatest polish composer

The big year in Warsaw is going to be 2010, the 200th anniversary of composer Fryderyk Chopin's birth. FRYDERYK FRANCISZEK CHOPIN was born in Zelazowa Wola, in the Duchy of Warsaw. In November 1830, at the age of twenty, he went abroad; following the suppression of the Polish November Uprising of 1830–1831, he became one of many expatriates of the Polish "Great Emigration."
He died in Paris (burial site: the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.) Although his heart is in Poland, brought by his sister Ludwika, at Chopin’s own request and in testament to the musician’s unwavering loyalty to his homeland, where it was placed inside a pillar of the Holy Cross Church at Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street...
Polish Handmade Shoes
Why Polish shoes? At the turn of the century, a gentleman would buy his suits in London, his dresses in Paris (for lady friends, one presumes) and his boots in Poland. The shoemaking tradition survives in a few specialist shops in the centre of Warsaw.
http://www.grailtrail.ndo.co.uk/Grails/shoe.html
http://www.kielman.pl/en/historia/

wilanow park

BODY LANGUAGE...

"It is not only in terms of volume that Poles are outwardly expressive. There is a joke that the best way to make a Spaniard stop talking is to tie up his hands, and while the same tactic may not mute a Pole, it would certainly cause a speech impediment (...) Poles will often lean forward in their chair, or even stand up, in order to add weight to a specific point they are trying to make."

From "Customs & Etiquette"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

THE SIPHON, WAL-MART AND POLISH ATTITUDE

click on to enlarge

THE SIPHON, WAL-MART AND POLISH ATTITUDE (March 2009)


One of the childhood pleasures for us kids living in the city was the idea of getting together with a couple of friends after school, going across the street, behind the St Kostka church (the same one in the Zoliborz district, where several years later, ft Popieluszko would preach) and chipping in 5 zl for a siphon of pear flavored soda water. The place was known as “U Dziada” translating to "Old Man's Place." On a hot day, it was a much better option than the saturator water at the nearby old Wilson Square, then named Parisian Commune Square (now back to Wilson Square again…). The difference was that the saturator had only one glass that you could pour soda water into and flavor it with fruit syrup. The unofficial name of that mixed drink was “gruzliczanka,” which translated to … “Tuberculosis water,” because pretty much everybody used it and you were expected to get sick and die. Although I had never heard of such case.

The siphon at “U Dziada” came with no glass although we did not need one, simple we squirted that pear water straight into our mouths (you actually needed a second person to do that) without our lips touching any part of the glass bottle and without wasting any water either. That was the whole idea.

Sitting on the curb, in the shade of the church building, drinking from the old fashioned siphon bottle, what a thrill…

After we finished, we got 2 zl 50gr deposit back, which meant that we just experienced one of life’s pleasures for only 2 zl 50 groszy. Some of the best things in life do come cheap…

Just around the corner, walking along the side of the long building at Krasinskiego Street would lead you to the shoe repair shop. On the way, you would pass the vegetable shop marked by the aroma of the sauerkraut and pickles in brine, usually scooped from the barrel by huge wooden claws. Across the street from the shoe repairman’s shop was a “mydlarnia” - soap, cleaning supplies, and cosmetics store. Fabric for my summer dresses came from a shop on the same street. And my whole life (except for the vacation in the countryside) and social crowd evolved around that Parisian Commune Square. The travel agency Orbis, book and record store, Delikatesy, where we bought “Dodoni” canned orange juice, and where kids from school sneaked out to buy kefir and baguettes. The school’s student shop, besides notebooks and pencils, offered some snacks and fresh glazed "paczki" for 2 zl.

Did I expect “U Dziada“ (the siphon filling station) to still be there on my trips to Warsaw over the years? Of course not! I don’t even expect the street name be the same.

Although, the church most likely will be dedicated to the same saint.

There were several movie theaters within walking distance. Repertoire: “Zorro” with French actor Alain Delon, “Headless Rider” (Russian), “In Desert and Wilderness,” the adaptation of the book by Henryk Sienkiewicz. My first movie ever, as I can recall, was “Flip & Flap in the Foreign Legion” in the US known as “Laurel & Hardy.”

As a child I was allowed, as were all my friends, to walk the area alone, my dog came along later on. The light colored fluffy animal, 20 cm above ground level that I could hardly consider a guard dog, anyway, although she barked vigorously at every man in uniform.

Us children were allowed to walk alone even though the wave of the “black Volga” scare spread. Rumor had it that someone was driving such (Russian made) car and was kidnapping children. The small Fiat wasn’t popular yet, and if you wanted to get the fear effect, a “black Volga“ sounds much better than “white Fiat 125P(fiats did not come in black.).

Under communism, small entrepreneurships were in business although they were hardly prosperous unless you owned greenhouses with several of them in the Warsaw suburbs.

Later on, some cashed in on growing … white mushrooms. Now some Poles make money raising … snails to be shipped to France where they become “escargots” and are served on French tables, I’m not kidding…

In the US, over the years, I found several articles about an intriguing (to Americans, not so to us, Polish immigrants) fact occurring in post-war Europe of Jews returning to Germany and the reasons behind it.

Those supposedly highly qualified columnists, well known authors, “experts” on all social and historical issues, all concluded the same, Jews returned (or moved) to Germany for two reasons:

1) Because that’s where their roots were (ancestors are buried, etc).

2) Germans were bad but others were even worse.

And of course, the alleged ever-present “anti-Semitism” in Eastern (and Central) Europe was so high that no Jews wanted to ever return there. Those who stayed behind were robbed and we all know the rest. There are many who stayed, thank God, did well and are still doing fine (to prove the idiots wrong), but that “revelation” would destroy the myth…

Those “experts” are missing one important fact, which is actually the main factor…

Now, ask me why we don’t shop at Wal-mart? That’s right, we are Wal-mart free! Since June 2004!

The answer is simple, because it reminds us of the communist era’s state operated stores. We had them, The Russians had them, and theirs was called GUM. It destroyed all family operated businesses in the area. Whatever wasn’t confiscated died a natural slow death with the remaining few were doing just ok. Nothing spectacular.

Corporate America reminds us of Communism in Poland so why would I support it then? When small businesses can’t compete with the “lowest” prices of big chain stores, the mechanism is the same.

You had to be blind not to see it coming. People wanted things cheap, they got them, but there was a catch… Are there any products made in the US left? Give me some, think, think... any? The things that people used to send to Poland all made in America were the pride of the recipient, always of the highest quality, are now are in non-existence. That was written in very fine print so we missed it…

We let the retailers fool us. We allowed ourselves to believe that more (of the cheap stuff) is better. And now we’ll pay a high price for it. We thought we were so smart...

At some point, “Wal-mart” became the magic solution to all our problems and needs. All my girlfriends always came up with the same answer “I’ll buy it at Wal-mart,” “Wal-mart has it,” “You can get it cheaper at Wal-mart,” as if they were on their payroll.

It had to stop. Whatever happened to Ames, Zaire, Fair, Caldor, Lechmere, or Bradlees?

Gone, replaced by … you guessed it. And when Wal-mart added the Super Food section, you didn’t need to shop anywhere else anymore. In Oxford, MA, it only took Wal-mart four days to come up with the idea of its own Food Store as an addition to the existing store after some supermarket chain decided to build its store nearby.

So now I’m back to the American “old days” way of shopping when the economy was build by immigrants and small businesses. I shop at my local hardware store operated by a local family, and I do not mind paying a little more, I’ll just buy less. They seem to be much more competent than anybody at Wal-mart ever was. And they know my name. And they smile and not just wear a smiley face on their pin. And we chat. Who would have thought that buying birdseeds, ant traps or even a plunger is a good conversation starter?

If in your area you still have some family operated business, support it as an endangered specie...

There are two options: 1) either those columnists, opinion makers, deep thought gurus do not understand the economic situation outside the US, especially in post-war Poland, or 2) they do understand well but also know that the average American reader does not… And the average reader trusts its media. They may not trust the media on political issues, but agree on others, as abstract as European history. Also if they knew the history of Jews in Poland (not the distorted version), they would know, for sure, that the main reason why Jews were there in masses (beside being kicked out from the West), invited by the Polish king, and what they maintained all those centuries was the ability to prosper as small vendors or big merchants, one of the country’s economic engines. Paradis Judeorum was “Jewish Paradise” nowhere else but in 17th century Poland. The Golden Age of Jewish history.

In 1945, having that ability taken away, replaced by the government-operated enterprise, not only crossed out Jewish but everyone else’s hope for good life in peace and prosperity.

Meanwhile over the wall, in Germany…Western not (!) Eastern that is… life was getting better and better, thanks to the Marshall Plan (that Poland was deprived of as Uncle Sam’s good intentions did not charm Uncle Joe), German capitalism went full steam ahead, sided with all the goodies of the free market.

And this is the country that stirred up the war and the one that lost it. And Poland was supposed to be the “winner.”

But understanding requires thinking and some American “experts” seem to be lacking in that concept (or logic). Why else would they call the Soviet brutal occupation and decades of Communist regime in Poland a “guardianship” as they do in the Smithsonian publishing called “Human-Origins, body, mind, culture, peoples…” filled with 500 pages of human studies?

It always starts with one stereotype, a myth and the rest follows but the finished product is more of an invention rather than a logical follow-up of arguments supported by facts.

Someone should have a scientific study of “American expertise.”

Being Jewish does not automatically make you an expert on the Holocaust. Many American Jews of the younger generation are influenced by Jewish and American authors who are openly prejudiced against Poles. Just as being American does not make you an expert on Polish history or specifically communism (as I said, many American “scholars” base their knowledge on repeated stereotypes) only because they claim Poles were lied to by their communist government. Sorry, I guess, over the decades we must have developed that extra sense of knowing when we are lied to.

I wish all Americans did too.

Capitalism in the West, besides giving people a chance to become rich, and live comfortably also had another major “advantage” - those with money could influence those without. The rich could influence others’ opinion by promoting their version of history, the winners write the history, and the winner with money can rewrite history over and over.

To say that the communist government discriminated against the Jews is plain ridiculous. The streets were named after Jewish heroes, monuments erected one by one, and many start up their political career in communist government (a fact that the US passes as a myth).

The notion that some Jews returned after 1989 because of the fall of the communist government that cost them a repression is also quite amusing. The so-called “revival of Jewish culture” in the US is presented as the changing of Polish attitudes toward Jews. Supposedly for what reason?

We all know that Poles are also returning, although, I guess this fact is not worth mentioning by the US media. Does it mean that the government somehow is more Polish friendly now as well? Did the sentiments toward them also change?

Or maybe they ALL return because the old system fell and now the new system welcomes investors because it is business friendly? Maybe it has nothing to do with the changing Polish attitude - it’s only in some columnist‘s head that some strange theories are being created.

Polish Jews are doing quite well except that the American media doesn’t want the American reader to know about it. Another day, another myth - why complicate things when everything can be so black and white?

The sociologists and historians, from this side of the globe will continue their thesis.

There were no Wall Streets in Eastern Europe - no rich clients to grab the money from.

People like Bernie Madoff could not have prospered in communism. Someone of even much lesser wealth wound attract unnecessary attention.

Unlike Americans, communists did not create Forbes’ Fortune 400 to brag about.

That’s why, the world’s famous sprinkler installer, the son of Jewish immigrants could only accomplish the world’s greatest scheme here in the US and not in his parents' native country, Poland.

Sadly for the US, from being the number one country of opportunity, it became the “mecca” for opportunists. I know, I know… I should be sorry for the victims who lost millions, but somehow I cannot force myself to be.

Thursday, February 26, 2009










GOT SNOW?

GOT SNOW? February 2009

Scenes from a winter wonderland are only pretty if you accept the notion that they are soon to be something of the past or if you are looking at them from afar. Here in the center of the snow making machine, it is just plain brutal.
This winter season, Central Massachusetts experienced some major snow and ice storms. As a result, 1 million residents were without power for at least a couple of days. Then when power was restored for most, some 100,000 were still left in the darkness for another week. And that was even before Christmas … Now, try to imagine the Christmas Season minus Christmas lights and music! Although "roasting chestnuts over an open fire" somehow still makes sense. You drive through the area in the evening, and it's pitch black. No street lights, no alarms, police telling people to stay in their homes to prevent break-ins... Some went to shelters. I'm sure that the local kids loved the time off … until they realized that without power, there is not much to do these days besides a round of scrabble perhaps?
I bet some residents received generators as early Christmas gifts. Forget about the Tiffany's friendship bracelet. How about a new shovel decorated with a red bow?

Considering my own town was somewhat spared (we only experienced a 12 hour long reminder of how it was in New England in the old days) but up north, in neighboring towns, it was a site of a true disaster.
I mean, when I, in my living room, watch via satelite, Polish news live from Holden, Massachusetts, reporting on the state of emergency there, it's not good.
And when there is street after street "decorated" with oversized icecles and the electricity pole collapses right behind the reporter, and sparks create some special effects, you know there will be no school tomorrow.

Two days after the storm, we drove through the area, and only then realized the scale of the disaster. The main roads were cleared up for the most part, but one just needed to look on the sides of the streets where the trees had their tops missing as if a tornado came through. Most houses were still covered with ice, I mean entire buildings with cars parked in front, completely covered with ice as if "glazed." Quite a site!

The live Nativity at Heifer Farm in Rutland had to be cancelled. Radio announcers encouraged listeners to check on their elderly neighbors.

We searched for batteries and candles throughout the house, listened to the news via a transistor radio, and during daylight, actually tried to catch up on some reading.

In Sturbridge, Pizzeria Uno's was packed (with a waiting period of an hour) as after a couple of days, you crave a hot meal. The supermarket next door was surprisingly empty, supposedly because, as someone commented, "if your fridge isn't running, what's the point of buying food?" Coolers buried in the snow outside would be my idea of survival…
But then again, my people came from the North. During Christmas Season, we kept a hare hanging outside the kitchen window (so it would be extra crispy!) before Jacek's grandpa made a tasty pate out of it.

Back in the 90s, here in New England, we did experience a heavy snowstorm. It was one of those "winters of the century." Back then, we lost power for three days. Help was on its way from … Canada. For us, the electricity being shut down meant no heat or cooking. We had hot water, but who wants to take a shower when you get icicles in your hair before you put your pants on?

Since the phones did not work and cell phones were non-existent, we did not know if any of our friends had power so we didn't know who to invade. Who should we bunk with? Some were lucky to have a wood stove that not only provided heat, but cooked meal or at least hot drinks. We did pull out our tiny camping gas stove and tried to heat up some Progresso soup. Francis built an igloo … for fun.

In the evening, Jacek took the kids and set up a large sleeper sofa with all of our blankets and comforters. The kids slept in their ski pants and turtlenecks. I comfortably slept in my own bedroom, wearing my regular nightgown, covered with only…a down comforter made by Jacek's grandma. The only problem that I had with it was that it wasn't quilted. So the feather filling traveled from one corner to another as I moved while dreaming of some warm exotic place.
New England weather can be unpredictable, once in the summer, after a tornado warning (that's right, a tornado warning…) we sat in the basement, in our pjs, with the same transistor radio and a gallon of lemonade. I believe that before I left the house, I pulled off the wall the watercolor painting that belonged to my great-grandmother.
Everything else was replaceable... even the hamsters.

It is somehow comforting to know that London (yes, London!) got its share of real winter this season too. The snow not only paralized Heathrow (Tony Blair was late for his lecture at my son's school in Medford, Massachusetts), but caused the major shutdown of pretty much everything… It seemed that the only happy (British) person was Samatha Fox, the 80s popular singer and sex symbol, who enjoyed time in her now renamed "winter"garden. Several young boys showed up and offered to shovel, and who wouldn't?

Here in Massachusetts, some drive around with buckets full of sand while others prefer cat litter. My personal favorite is bird seeds. Last year, I also had (leftover) Christmas tree branches, and I use them for traction when I'm stuck on ice.

I should not complain as this winter weather keeps us Easterners in a good shape, you know from shoveling, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice sculpturing and dog-sledding.
The power shutdown forces children to play outdoors, tubing and tumbling in the snow, until their cheeks are rosy… and our dogs love it too!
Only some of us, gutless, move to Florida for the winter sending us stupid postcards with images of sandy beaches and young tanned women with shapely buttocks.
Very funny…

Our men don't lie around on the beach all day drinking margaritas or chasing other women. In the winter season, ice fishing is the favorite pasttime of real men! Almost each town that posseses a lake organizes an ice fishing derby. Occasionally, one or two trucks won't make it back to the shore. Pulling out is at the owner's expense. You pay for being stupid. I did not say all our men were smart…

In Ohio, on Lake Erie, 150 men who liked to live dangerously and "on the edge" ignored the warnings and got stuck on drifting ice. Eleven fire departments were called along with the US coast guard. Some saved their fish, so they did not come home empty-handed. "Honey, look, I drowned my truck, but I saved our supper!"

The movie theatre is always an option to go to to warm up if the temperature in your house is 55F or below. This time we couldn't even tell the temperature since the new (digital) thermostat was … off.

"Slumdog Millionaire" was sold out! I guess others had the same idea, so we went to see "The Reader" (http://thereader-movie.com/). It turned out to be a brilliant film… two hours of our time and $19 well spent.

It begins in 1958 in Berlin, when a young boy becomes ill and is helped by a woman with whom he … starts an affair. The fact that he is 15 and she is 36 is less important. Except that he gains a new experience for which, in exchange, all she wants is… to be read to. The "kid" is beautifully played by German David Kross, and the shooting of some of the scenes had to be delayed until Kross turned 18.

Maybe watching nude actors when the temperature outside is 0F and dogs would rather dehydrate than go out and pee, may not seem like a good idea, but, how about this … Kate Winslet's hot body will melt any ice.

Ok, the movie is not what you think it is. It actually deals with the so called… German guilt. Here you have a variety of characters, who sometimes don't behave as you expect them to. But that's life. Its not about Germans or Jews. It's about human nature, mysterious, unexplainable and just like New England weather, unpredictable.

The film is based on a novel by Bernhard Schlink titled "Der Vorleser," which, by the way, is mandatory reading in German schools. American students may need to read it too and not only those at the college level. There are many great scenes, and some are quite emotional. One of the best is at the end, and it's between Ralph Finnes and Lena Olin, when a German lawyer, on behalf of a Nazi guard, meets with a wealthy Jewish Holocaust survivor in her Manhattan penthouse. A captivating thought.

Some American critics don't find this move attractive, some accuse the filmmakers of underplaying the Holocaust.
We are so used to the Holocaust playing a front role, based on one-sided testimonies that when the critics see the Holocaust only in the background, they call it "revisionism."

The critics in US and abroad seem to be united in the typical accusations of the "novel simplifying history and compelling its readers to identify with the perpetrators." To which the author replied:

"I've heard that criticism several times, but never from the older generation, people who have lived through it." That's what I thought...

Coffee flavored water (at the theatre convenience stand), not to be mistaken for real coffee sells for $3.25 and could not possibly have ruined my movie. Another option was bottled water for … $4.

You don't have to wait for the snowstorm to see the film as for some, it may never come.

Too cheap to spend money on movie tickets and overpriced drinks? Get a copy of the book from the library and read it at the beach. (But remember, with all the advertising, The Bielski Comrades will make more money this week at the box office…)

My next escapade – "open mike" at Borders. I know, I know, its not a big deal, but I wouldn't change it for anything, nor the moon over the Quaboag river, Salem, Cape Cod and the Oyster Festival, crab cakes, Marconi Beach, the cranberry fields in Maine, Franconia Notch (and the Flume) in New Hampshire, maple trees, or Indian Summer all the way from the Berkshires to Martha's Vineyard…

Those Floridians with "imported" sandy beaches and Californians with "transplanted" palm trees, what do they know?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

HEIFER HAD A LITTLE FARM

click to enlarge
HEIFER HAD A LITTLE FARM (October 2008)

Five bucks may not buy much these days. But if you put your mind to work, you may come up with an idea of how to use it to the fullest. Like putting several kids and babcia in your car, and driving to the nearest Heifer farm. Because that's how much it would cost you to enter (per car) its 260acres, and to be provided with an entire day's worth of entertainment for the whole bunch.

I spent last weekend there entertaining others. For a few years now, my family has been volunteering proudly representing Poland at Heifer's Global Village. We cover one event in June and the harvest festival in October.

For those unfamiliar with the project, Heifer's primary mission, when created, was to breed animals and distribute them all over the world in areas where livestock is most needed. These days, rather than being shipped, the animals are bought in the country to help the economy and save on transportation.

Until now, Poland was one of these places, although as a member of the EU, it's probably less and less dependent on Heifer. The headquarters of the Carpathian region are based in Warsaw. We can trace every Polish family in the Podkarpacie area that received a sheep or a goat.
When communism fell, the new government was preoccupied with the more or less important problems while many farmers had a hard time surviving the new reality. Heifer came to the rescue. Then when in the 90s, some farmers lost their animals due to floods, Heifer reached out to them as well.
The foundation's goals of "working with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth" go beyond its boundaries. Poland is an example where the political situation plays no role. There will always be someone left out. The part that I like the most is that people do not just receive an animal, but they learn to share it (by giving away the firstborn) with others and the "gift of giving" continues…

It all started with Dan West, an American relief worker who distributed powdered milk to the children of Spain during the Spanish civil war when he realized that, "These children don't need a cup, they need a cow." To make a long story short, heifer cows were picked, because they were young and the families who received them were obligated to give a female offspring to another family in the village and so on.
Look through the pages of the online catalog and you will discover that, that for example, $150 buys you a llama, $20 will get you a share of it, or you may pay $30 for the gift of honeybees. Water buffalo may not be appreciated in Slovakia nor a camel in Romania, but it will make some, let's say Filipino family, very happy. And look at the benefits! It is used for power for planting rice and potatoes, for milk, its manure for fertilization but also for … fuel. And all it eats is the grass that is not "suitable for harvesting." How cool is that?!
The farm located in Rutland, MA, is an education site and is open to the public for a variety of events throughout the year. Locals from neighboring churches visit as well as busloads from as far as New York . Volunteers either live on the farm, like students from Texas or Mexico and some even from Poland) and others only come for the event, from states like Vermont or New Hampshire.

My own first encounter took place when a Heifer representative came to my local senior center with the slide show on Ukraine. Someone suggested that I set up a Polish display to introduce Poland alongside. And I'm glad that I came, because the slide show showed no distinction between Poland and Ukraine, so at first I just rolled my eyes, sighed, and then decided to put my foot in the door to see what I can do to improve understanding of other cultures (mainly the Polish culture).

It turned out that Heifer hosts an annual International Fair where countries like Ghana, Kenya, Guatemala, China, Chile, Mexico represent areas of the organization's posts. The United States is represented by Maine, and Poland covers Central and Eastern Europe.

I found out that the so-called Global Village was a camp-like setting of tents and clay huts spread out in the woods, and from whatever your site was, you could barely see another. On hot summer days your only access was through a dusty narrow road, which on rainy days, the path turned muddy. Child volunteers would help to bring your stuff to the site.
They used to carry it all in a wheelbarrow. Back then there was only one, so if you were late (once we were stuck on the main road, behind a cavalcade of motorcycles!), the wheelbarrow was already being used in…the animal parade.
Still, I was more than happy to become their "Polish liaison." I took over the tent with no floor but full of people constantly tripping over the tree roots. Typical were live chickens picking up the crumbs of my gingerbread cookies and vanilla fudge candy from Poland called "krowka" with a cow logo. On hot days, we served an apple mint drink from Poland or blackcurrant juice, both chilled. Student helpers made cutouts keeping the children busy, while I had a chance to chat with their parents and introduce them to Polish history and culture. A detailed map helped many find … small villages
from where their ancestors took their lifetime voyage. One man spent more than 20 min looking for one, and then started reading everything there was on the table until his wife showed up and grinding her teeth, she spat out, "your son is looking for you!" I gave out so much info that many think that I'm a travel agent!

My oversized framed picture of the Black Madonna once broke on the bumpy road, but that is what the duct tape is for. That portrait put a big smile on the faces of some African delegation who remembered John Paul's visit to their native country. I love seeing the great surprised looks on people's faces when they discover our Polish tent there…

Each site gets an animal. I always ask for something cute like a lamb or sheep to attract children. China or Tibet get yaks. Kenya gets goats. One year, when I chatted with a "Kenyan" milking a goat at the next site, I found out that he is one of those lead runners at the Boston marathon!! I have two marathon runners in my household so we know who those Kanyans are, and they are pretty famous in the Boston area. I just never expected seeing one milking goats. He traveled from Washington, D.C to volunteer for that weekend.
At the Global Village, the only time when the traffic slows down is when there is a horse show, and Dale Perkins is the mastermind behind it. His horses can actually jump through fire, but my personal favorite is watching a sheep dog chasing chicks or geese.

The place is an example of a well-organized small community. Everyone knows his place and job assignment. There are volunteers who take care of animals at the site and bring them water. Others make sure we take breaks, and whatever they serve for food is all grown on the farm. Once on a hot day, each of us got a yogurt that came with an environmental friendly spoon that looked like plastic, but was actually made of …sugar cane, so you could feel free to throw it on the ground afterwards.

I noticed that the female volunteers at my site often asked pregnant visitors about their due date, and this is not as if they like to use such line to start a conversation … the practical reason behind it is that they need a baby Jesus for their Live Nativity scene.
And each year they need a new one!

Quite intriguing crowd we have up there!

(My great source of information, one of the sites teaches how to use goat manure.)

And I have to tell you, from displaying the Polish flag upside down at the entrance, stocking up on Ukrainian (that passed as Polish) items, a potato stamp to… a real log cabin for us and our display … Heifer came a long way!
And as we learn from them over time (giving examples how to deal with earthy problems, their solutions and future goals), they too are learning something from us as well. Besides introducing the public to Heifer's work in Poland, we teach people about Polish culture, history, customs, and by revealing some interesting facts and contradictions, we are challenging stereotypes.

In my harvest basket, among other products, I display original 100% rye bread, horseradish, buckwheat, pickles in brine, carrot and blackcurrant juices, plum marmalade, but also unknown in the US, Polish beer or mead.
Poles are often known as meat and potato kind of people, so I have fun talking about fish and the variety of fish served on Polish tables. It makes sense having access to the Baltic sea (a chance to compare to our own …Cape Cod) and Mazury / The Land of Thousand Lakes (a chance to invite young visitors for kayaking, which is very popular in Poland). Smoked eel also makes a list…

When presenting Christmas, we concentrate on why it is so important to Polish Americans to share the same traditions. We explain it through Poland's tragic history, partitions, invasions, and occupation. How millions of Poles were dislocated all over the world. It is incredibly important for all of us to know that at the same time, all of us sit down and, pretty much, celebrate Christmas the same way - it's a bonding experience.

And here comes a chance to tell people that the fact that we still speak Polish is a miracle, because for previous generations, the language was forbidden and German or Russian was imposed upon us. It was up to the parents to teach their children their native language ... and so on.

Here I can talk about how the Italian Princess Bona married a Polish king and brought cabbage and cauliflower to Poland. Or I can give a whole new meaning to "kielbasa" when talking about its Hebrew origins (Kol Basar).

Stuff like this seems to be very amusing. 99% do not know much, a few know some, but do not know why, and if I could be the link between … the pleasure is all mine.

I call it an "adjustment" to the existing profile of Poles.
An oversized picture of "Lajkonik (a Turkish horseman entertaining tourists in the Krakow market square) gets attention and gives me a chance to talk about…invasions, King Jan III Sobieski, battle of Vienna, coffee beans, etc..

My approach is working as we are told over and over that our display was again, a huge hit.

Now, here comes the part that I do not understand. I asked several friends to either help or visit us there. For some unknown reason, they all prefer to go to … some Polish festival rather than help create this site and introduce their heritage. This mentality ought to change if we want to survive (as a group) amongst others.

I know that Pulaski Day Parade is huge. We've been to a couple, and it attracts tens of thousands of Polish Americans, but I would rather cover Heifer because … nobody else will. The Pulaski Day Parade gets a lot of attention in the Polish-American press, and the crowd grows each year, with or without our help.

I get a kick from the fact that at Heifer, those who visit have no clue that in the middle of the forest there will be a Polish log house, and someone will give them a short tour of Poland. Some come through and leave in a rush, others linger on in amazement.
Heifer turns out to be a place where I can correct misunderstandings, where
people can ask, and sometimes get a quite surprising answer.

Once at dinner at a friend's house, a couple of young Polish professionals laughed at me and the idea of a Polish display. I guess they were too cool to ever set foot on a farm. Oh well…you can complain about Poles being misrepresented or you can do something about it and make the existing image look more attractive. There are others who strictly participate only in Polish festivals. And to tell you the truth, those events have very little in common with Polish culture (unless you consider a "Polish platter" of kielbasa, boiled pierogi with lamp of butter and slice of rye bread a "culture.").

What festivals do (besides giving many that warm feeling of belonging to certain ethnic group) at the same time, they separate Poles from the larger community. I never see Polish groups amongst other ethnic groups at multicultural events. The Pulaski Day Parade is great, but the Columbus Day Parade in Worcester, Mass until now did not have Polish representation. And now we march with Italian-Americans and Scottish pipers. Twice, we were invited to join the St Patrick's parade (a huge event in Worcester), but many of us won't participate because of …the cold. Something tells me that if we don't do it next year, the St Patrick's Committee won't bother us again...

Now, it wouldn't be me if I didn't bring out some fact from my childhood that is somehow connected to the Heifer Project. You want to bet that I have one?

Heifer's work in Poland began shortly after WWII when livestock was almost nonexistent due to the fact that either starving people consumed it or occupying armies confiscated it. Before Heifer in Poland, there was the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). UNRRA was already shipping goods to Europe and supplied boats while Heifer donated horses and paid the men who delivered them.

In the UNRRA files, there is a picture of the "poor Polish children of Oswiecim (German name: Auschwitz) awaiting distribution of soap." Now, at my grandma's, my cousin and I often played outside in those huge wooden boxes with the UNRRA logo on them. We collected pine cones in white UNRRA bags that were previously used to distribute flour.

My uncle, who was 6 when the war ended, told me that his family received UNRRA's aid packages "for the children." Among other goodies, there was: bacon, powdered milk, puddings packed in small green containers as if for the army, orange marmalade (very sweet!), juices in large 2 liter cans, chewy candy, beans in tomato sauce, (very) blood (y) sausage, margarine and chocolate. There was also clothing, army boots, sweaters, underwear, sheepskin pilot jacket that my uncle wore even years later as a student at UW (Warsaw University), as well as soap and DDT … for bedbugs and head lice which was crucial! UNRRA packaged those goodies in cardboard boxes that were shipped in those huge wooden crates that years later we used for our plays.
As he put it: "Maybe it's because of those packages that we all grew up to be healthy despite having a tragic childhood."
Heifer picked up where UNRRA left off in 1947.

After two days, my harvest basket was plucked clean and Jacek could finally have his (Polish) beer…
He did not know yet that in a week, at the Columbus Day Parade, he will be asked to carry a speaker that played terrible polka music that for some reason intertwined with La Cucaracha song.

FLIRTING THE TITANS

click to enlarge

FLIRTING THE TITANS (June 2006)

Barbara and Roger just had their 50th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, they traveled to Long Island to visit the church where they got married and were hoping to spent a night at the same motel as they did back then. Although Roger had some objections remembering the rail road crossing nearby and the sound of the horn waking them up at night, for which Barbara's sober response was, "We both wear hearing aids now, so what do YOU care?"

After the stop at the church, the couple found the motel, now called "Hollywood," and Barbara entered it while Roger waited in the car. As soon as Barbara walked in, she noticed some changes - one being the reception desk that used to have a glass window, now the receptionist was reachable to customers, separated only by a counter. The woman measured up the guest from head to toe and asked, "How may I help you?" "I need a room." "How many hours?" Barbara paused but surely answered, "I need it for the night." The receptionist slowly walked around from behind the counter, approached Barbara, and whispered in her ear, "Mam, I don't think you want to stay here…" "I don't?" The receptionist shook her head "We have… mirrors."

So Barbara went to Roger and explained the situation to him. " I don't think this is the place," she summed up. But while they were driving off, the train went by and blew the horn. These are the sure signs of times changing. Long Island's fields where Polish farmers used to grow potatoes, were sold and turned into golf courses. Summer "cottages" have boathouses and helipads. But that's the Hamptons (East Coast Malibu!), and this is still Farmingdale…


The "Cheetah room" offers mood lights, wall and ceiling mirrors and in room – DVD movies. The Dark Dancer room features …a stripper pole with stage. The rates are calculated from 3hours days (before 4pm) and 3hour nights (after 4pm).
That may be too much excitement for both Barbara and Roger, who are in their 70s. The "When the mood is Romance" theme and the "rental discount card (rent 7 times, the 8 th is on us!)" did not convince them either.

The mood in Jurata, the small Baltic sea resort on the Hel peninsula, last week wasn't romance, although there was some flirtation in the air. Presidents Bush and Kaczynski embraced, surely had lots of eye contact, spoke softly through translators, walked through the woods, although never alone.

Kaczynski used his best assets… his cute granddaughter and a dog. And it wasn't just any dog; it was a copy of The First Dog, Barney.
The dog actually played a crucial role; some even went so far and suggested that Tytus should replace the existing minister of foreign affairs, Anna Fotyga. Four legged, he seemed much friendlier, does not answer solely with a "no comment" and actually barks when expected to bark. Polish TV reported that in the
American media, Bush's visit in Poland was overshadowed by Paris Hilton's going in / out of jail. Any world affairs were secondary to the fact that the heiress to the Hilton hotel empire did not like prison food, cried out for "mommy," and was escorted out, and soon afterwards, back to the jail cell. C'mon, can't you design clothes from there? Can't you have a fashion column "Stripes are so "in" this coming season !" But seriously, I feel sorry for kids like Paris, Britney, and Lindsey. They act stupid, because they are allowed to. We want to read about them. We put them on a pedestal, and we love to see them come crashing down. The question remains: WHERE ARE THEIR PARENTS?

Something tells me that even if it wasn't for Paris, there wouldn't be a glimpse of that visit because it would give importance to Poland's affairs. The American media coverage of the anti-missile shields controversy, yes. Reports of Bush and Putin exchanging opinions, statements by Angela Merkel, yes, yes. Tell the world about the Polish government's official accusing Tinky Winky (one of Teletubbies) of being gay, most definitely yes. To give Poland any meaning, no.
The importance of Poland playing a major role is downplayed. Polish public opinion non-existing.
Prof. Lewicki, the great promoter of the shields and anybody from Gazeta Wyborcza hope that although radar may be installed in Azerbaijan, as Putin suggested, the shields still have to be placed in Poland. According to Putin, they may be placed in Turkey or even Iraq. And since the Americans are building a $650 million US embassy there, the largest in the world, why not. The problem is, it's not what Bush and his neocons had in mind. It won't cover the new "Eastern European" frontier.

Putin, black–belt, German fluent speaking ex-KGB agent isn't stupid, he knows Bush' plan and he has a field day destroying it.
And I don't mind him doing it, as long as Russia and US are both in it, hand in hand, nothing bad can happened to Poland, right?

In the interview given by George Bush to Gazeta Wyborcza, the American president assured Poles that Poland is safe because it is in NATO.
That's right, so if NATO does not see such need for building bases, let's just drop it.
The media won't name it, but our president sounds more and more like a spokesperson for the US military industry.
People who are on the Polish negotiating team are openly disappointed "This is a bad deal, it is not what we expected." (I guess they began reading the
small print now.)
Daily news, RZECZPOSPOLITA announced that the American proposal contains conditions, which are inconvenient to Poland. Poles are expected to cover some of the expenses as well as build and run the base with 10 rocket launchers. US will be excluded from paying local taxes. And I like this one: "Any road accidents caused by American military officers outside the base would be also covered by the Polish budget." Peter Brooks, the high ranking American expert answered by saying that Japan and Korea also have to cover the costs. Sure, but see, Poland isn't Japan…

I heard President Bush say about the people of Iraq "We are there per their request."
Which dummy in front of the TV did he direct those words to? Who knows, with such nerve, later on he may even claim that it was Poles who demanded the installation of the bases.

So far, the Czech government accepted the radar, the Czechs did not. The Polish government still pretends to be contemplating the offer, although we all know that the decision was made.
The majority still opposes, but who wants to hear that, and thus, no media reports on what people actually say.
In Jurata, the demonstration took place even dough train services were suspended, and many protesters were removed. Filip Ilkowski from Stop War organization: "We came to protest against George Bush's visit in Poland, against the policy he represents. Moreover against the construction of American installations perversely called "shield", and also against Polish government's participation in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's disgraceful, cruel and bloody.

Bush himself is a politician, who is the head of the biggest military organization in the world, and has more blood on his hands than any other politician. So when he comes too a country, there always are protests against him. Poland is no different."

The US has 702 military bases all over the world, and that's not including Iraq, Israel, Aphganistan or Kuwait. In those bases, even cleaning the latrines is subcontracted to private military companies like Kellogg, Brown & Root. Within days of our attack on Iraq, I saw US soldiers in Baghdad standing in line to Burger King. One of the most distracting pictures that I saw was an image of an Aphgani woman covered in a burka from head to toe begging in front of a huge billboard advertising Coca –Cola. Sun Fun products of Daytona Beach, Florida is doing well after 273,000 bottles of sun block was ordered by the Defense Department. $30 billion goes to subcontractors. Last week, I learned that the National Grid provides electricity to residents of Baghdad, this fact would probably go by unnoticed if it wasn't the same company that I sent my monthly electricity bill to. The only difference is that I have power 24/7, and the people in Baghdad an hour a day. War seems to be a profitable business. Anything related can't lose. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates knows it and he wasn't sightseeing Poland when visited last month.
Just like Newt Gingrich lobbied in the pre-war period.


Now, will the Polish president prove that he has a mind of his own and pass on the deal because it is not in Poland's interest (or for Poland's security) or will he follow the footsteps of the previous Kwasniewski's government, the one accused of hidden CIA prisons, the one who sent Polish soldiers to Iraq, the one who bought a fleet of aged F-16s all in exchange for nothing?

A Polish man wakes up from a coma, 19 years has passed and with it, communism. Free Poland, a free market, free minutes on your cell phone, free first few months of your Internet connection. But I bet many Poles would prefer to go into a coma and wake up when this present government is replaced with another more normal one.

ALLES GUTE IN AMERIKA!

click to enlarge kit kat kid (1986)

ALLES GUTE IN AMERIKA! (May 2007)

In 1986, you paid 67 cents for a dozen eggs, a postage stamp was 24 cents, a gallon of gas 89 cents, and Harvard tuition was only $10,000. We did not know that yet. We were living in Zell by the Mosel River surrounded by the greens of the vineyards broken only by the white church tower. Spic and span German houses were freshly painted every now and then. And every time after the Mosel's water level rose, it turned the streets of this small picturesque tourist town into another famous tourist attraction… Venice. Only with kayaks instead of gondolas. The nearest train station was Bullay, and we sometimes took trips from there to Coblenz where we shopped at Aldi, an inexpensive grocery chain.
In Zell, we lived in an apartment above the inn, which came in handy when I became pregnant and had cravings for "brot und shmalz" (or bread and lard) and einetopf (an all- in-one hearty soup with chunks of meat).

The "in" movie was "Top Gun," and Huey Louie & the News topped the charts. I was watching "Falcon Crest" and "Dynasty" in German, and we exchanged correspondence with S., minister of a Methodist Church. He answered our worries about finding a job in West Brookfield by writing that the gas station offered a job for $3.25 an hour. We thought that was great, and that we would make it. “If you cannot hold down your first job, there is public assistance to help until you are fully employed. Say "public assistance" and not "welfare." There is prejudice against people "on welfare" he wrote. I guess what he meant was, "come and get a job, don't try to use the system, we don't want any more welfare (ab)users ."

Later on, he was amongst the group who welcomed us at the airport. He played the lyre singing, "This land is your land" all the way from Hartford, CT to West Brookfield , MA. S. and his family came to visit us. I remember that they looked odd to me as the mother and three children were wearing ...capes including the baby. It was November, and the baby was not wearing shoes or socks. Later on, when I saw pictures of the pilgrims, they reminded me of this Methodist preacher and his family.
S' wife took Karolina in for a day when I was in the hospital when Francis was born, but somehow Karolina made it to this old lady Ginny's house, a heavy smoker. Later on, she... ended up with Sally, and all in the course of one day! Sally had geese and a pony, and was fun! She had two children (ages 8 and 9) Gave Karolina a bubble bath, dressed her up in her daughter's clothes, and returned her later scrubbed and fed with a smile and bunch of balloons. Sally took the first pictures of newborn baby Francis. Sally's husband, Mike helped Jacek buy our first car, a Buick Skylark. We paid $500 for it, and in the Spring of 1987 we drove it to Niagara Falls. Mike's parents were from Armenia.
Sally made us a pot roast, and Priscilla K. surprised us with golabki, the Blisses gave us $20 and a Christmas tree. (I won't even mention our closest friends; they deserve a whole article.)
I couldn't recall being hungry back in Germany either. In Reidenhausen, where we moved to from Zell, two elderly German sisters supplied us with fresh produce. They were awfully friendly or maybe they had crush on ...Jacek. Either way, he always brought home eggs, butter, vegetables, and cakes. Herr Massman, a rich local contractor, gave us stuff to send to Poland and offered Jacek a job so we had $400 (!) saved on arrival in the United States. Massman restored an old farm tractor and delivered it to a needy farmer in Poland.

"Oma" and "Opa," with whom we lived, loved Karolina, and their own grandchildren lived far away. That love was converted into countless lollipops our daughter brought back home from every visit (that's why I call our American landlord who's a dentist, a Godsend, as we couldn't afford another Oma & Opa in the US). The whistling sound of their lungs, from a lifetime commitment to smoking, sometimes kept us awake at night in our downstairs apartment. The war did not kill them, but lung cancer probably did.

Oma and Opa (Helmut & Erna Lettgen) spoke only German. A three-year-old Karolina answered them in Polish, and they had quite a conversation. When Opa said, "sagmal, shue" and pointed to Karolina's shoe, the kid quickly answered "not shue … "but" (boot in Polish)," and she went on and on correcting Opa. If the lollipops were meant to bribe her, it did not work. The kid strongly fought germanization on her own.

There were other Poles awaiting immigration to the US, and Germans visited us often. When the conversation stomped upon the sensitive subject of war, the Germans recalled fighting it somewhere in… Russia, and we all accepted it. I wasn't brought up to hate anybody although my family suffered a lot during the war. Later on, my grandparents' house was built by German POWs, and my family stayed in touch with them after the war.
Last week near Naples, a 5-year-old daughter of Polish immigrants, was accidentally shot by an Italian construction worker, Alessandro R. He had an argument with two of her father's friends over the lack of space at the bar where they all went after work to have a beer. After the quarrel, two Polish workers went to the apartment of the little girl's father to take a shower as there was no plumbing in their own apartment. Meantime, the Italian went home to get a gun. Guns in Italy are illegal. A little girl stood in the door by her mother's side when the Italian arrived and gave two shots, and one reached her. The chief of police contacted Alessandro's family and they convinced him to turn himself in.

The Italian press dedicated lots of space to this horrible tragedy. The grieving parents are hardworking people, nice, quiet, and well-liked, but when the bullet struck and the father, carrying his dying daughter, walked around screaming for help, nobody answered. They are returning to Poland where they going to bury their daughter.

Emotions ran high. At the spur of the moment, some blame the entire Italian nation for the act (of murder) of one drunken mason forgetting that the entire neighborhood accepted this and many other Polish families. Forgetting how Italians welcomed Karol Wojtyla even after realizing that the new pope is not an Italian!

The German press can be, just like the American press, unjust, to say the least. My experience with German people was different than my grandparents', but it was my grandparents that taught me tolerance. They had every reason to hate the Germans, but they remained sober and fair and objective in their opinions. I cannot blame "Germans" after the landlord's 5-year-old son in Zell gave me chicken pox, which at my age developed into a terrible experience. Oma Lettgen had a picture sitting on a motorcycle wearing a Wermacht uniform.
Amongst old letters, I just found hers and Franz Massman's letters to us wishing us: "Alles gute, viel Gluck in Amerika!" Now when I think about it, as much as what they gave us, we gave them something too. A sense of rehabilitation.
I liked that international connection, in the form of relations that cement us rather than divide us.
Dividing Poles has become the Polish government's domain.
Their newest idea is to remove all the monuments built by the Soviets. If you ask people on the streets, 99% will say that the monuments don't bother them. Instead of spending money on the removal, why not organize summer programs for unprivileged children? The monuments dedicated to the Red Army, whether we like it or not, are part of history, just like the Palace of Culture in downtown Warsaw. Why not place a plaque explaining that the monument was erected by Soviet occupying forces though most people don't care if they live on a street named after them. They actually think that changing it will cause more problems and surely more bureaucracy. Don’t they have better things to do?

The average person always seem to posses more common sense than that government.

The year was still 1986, the refugee camp in Germany, which was an old athletic complex with dormitory like buildings, an orchard and asparagus fields nearby. Immigrants awaiting medical exams, beginning the process of assimilation, some paperwork, for a week or two. It was the place where you get assigned your future apartment and are given permission to travel in a designed zone.

In the cafeteria, there were two lines to the kitchen counter. One was for people like us who ate pork and the other one stood under the sign, "beef only." Most of the people in line were men, different ages, and mostly Muslim. Each meal came with a piece of fruit. I remember those men seeing me with a little kid, without being able to converse in any common language, they gave me their fruit. I did not know them, and they did not know who we were and where we came from. They just saw a child. That's how I like to judge people by, their good deeds rather than their backgrounds. Isn't that how you would want to be judged by as well?

AFRICAN BRIDE

Polish bride, 60s style (author's parents)
AFRICAN BRIDE (year unknown)

Once I knew Anna -Marie (not her real name). Or should I say Anna-Marie once knew me, as she is the one pretending that we have never met. Anna-Marie was a teacher at my son's school, and one day she asked me to do her a favor. Her Polish-born mother just died, and her family in Poland needed to be informed. "I'm sorry for your loss, of course I'll translate a letter for you," I said, and that was how the relationship started.
A short letter turned into a longer one, then another, and then another. In the meantime, letters from Poland started flowing in. These needed to be translated into English. After a while, the letter exchange became …an everyday routine.
Letters came from Hanna Nowak (not her real name), a friend of Anna-Marie's deceased mother, and some other letters came from Beata and Alexandra, Hanna's two granddaughters. These were appreciated ones, but from time to time letter from Aunt Scholastyka (a real name) came and these were less than desired. Auntie's living conditions were bad, and she needed some financial assistance. Either way, I was a person, thanks to whom (I can say it now), both families kept in touch for about two years.

By Christmas I knew the whole family: each member separately, their husbands and wives and whether I liked it or not, I shared their troubles and happiness. Their moments of quarrels and moments of joy.
So when Anna-Marie decided to send them a package, I knew who was getting what and why. Since the agencies that operate at Polish markets charge less for shipping than the US post office, the package was dropped in my car at the beginning of the week, even though Anna-Marie knew that I wasn't going to the Polish store until Saturday.
Frankly, I was growing tired of the situation. I also felt trapped, and Anna-Marie's childish character gave me the impression that if I asked her to stop, she may get back at my son for my refusing to help.

So I drove around with this huge box inside my car, the box that did not belong to me nor would it be received by any of MY relatives.

Yeah, about that box… When Anna-Marie learned that Alexandra was getting married, this great idea popped into her head: she would present the future bride with her own, old wedding gown. Splendid! The gown, that "Dynasty's" Crystal Carrington would not be embarrassed to wear to her wedding to Blake! It was every American bride's dream gown! Pure white with puffed sleeves, and when I say puffed sleeves I mean sleeves that you can make a couple of Sunday dresses out of or hide a robin's nest in it. A handful of pearls sewn into the fabric, lace or whatever, was there. Of course, it came with gloves and a veil that stretched for miles. All of it was sent by me in that special box, and extra insurance was required. Prior to that, the gown was professionally cleaned and pressed into that expensive box for years of storage.
Did I like it? No!! But I figured that if the Nowak family doesn't like it, they could always sell it or turn it into curtains or something useful. Time went by and then one day, a photo album came. Anna-Marie handed it to me with this awful look on her face as if the plane carrying the gown fell into the ocean or some other disastrous event took place. "Please, explain to me what this means?" she said practically in tears. Inside were pictures of Alexandra at her wedding, wearing …a beautiful but rather plain (although decorated with some English lace) dress.

The explanation came later and I was challenged with telling Anna-Marie that Alexandra wanted something different for probably the most important day in her life. Something different from that gorgeous gown from fairy tale. Forget that it wasn't the right size or the fact that it was hot summer day… this modest girl wanted something that resembled her character. She looked beautiful, very feminine but she truly looked as if she was wearing the dress not the other way around.
Oh well, I thought, Anna-Marie will get over it, she may throw a tantrum now but later on, she'll realize that Alexandra did the right thing. But of course, the question remained about the whereabouts of the gown… Did the Nowak family sell it or turn it into some slipcovers?
As I was reading the letter from Hanna...Here came the really hard part…how do you prepare Anna-Marie for this news? Should I kill her slowly, give her pieces of information in small doses or just throw it at her and watch her have a heart attack? Hm, yeah, that would have been my way of revenge for all those days when I sat at night translating her stupid letters because she could not pick up a few simple Polish words.
I chose the second option, to kill right away without torturing the poor woman.

Let's rewind to the wedding scene. The guest of honor at the wedding was Alexandra's uncle Romuald who is a priest, and he also conducted the ceremony. Some Polish Catholic families have all the luck! Or are they stingy? Father Romuald, present at the family discussion about the future of the gown, volunteered to take it and make use of it, and considered giving it to a young bride in his parish. How wonderful! Anna-Marie at this point was getting heart palpitations, but she could not stop me now…I was having such a good time poking holes in her overgrown ego.

As a good Christian woman, Anna-Marie should be happy that her wonderful gown is used by some poor girl in some village who otherwise could never even dream of having such an elegant dress for her wedding.

But that's what I think and obviously my opinion did not matter. Soon I was going to deliver the final blow. But then again, oh let her destroy herself, I waited for her to ask "So where is it then?" "Where is what?" I played with her mind a little. "You mean, the village or the gown?"

"Well, it says in the letter that after Alexandra's wedding, Father Romuald took the gown with him, back to ...Zaire. And it also says that the gown is hung on the altar in the church that he built in this village in Africa, and it will be presented to every bride that has a desire to wear it from now on. Isn't it the greatest idea, Anna-Marie?"
She did not faint as I was hoping for but her pale face got dead serious and then dead red. She started walking in circles, tried to find words but just shook her head and wave her arms at me and left. She left me standing there. See what happens when you give perfectly good stuff to Poles, they're a bunch of unappreciative morons who instead of wearing your gown and praying for your health for the rest of their lives, send the gown to some place in Africa and let the whole village wear it, or at least the female population of it. Bad, bad, bad people…
Several days passed, and I thought we were done with the translating business. But surprisingly enough, the American – African gown did not kill her, as I found blank Christmas cards in my son's backpack.

It was the second holiday season, and once again, I found myself translating Christmas cards to the Nowak family while the pile of cards to my own relatives in Poland waited on the side. And when a new load of cards arrived with my son, I sent them all back without opening. I attached a little note explaining that I was sorry but I simply did not have time to do this. Thinking that by now Anna-Marie, a grown woman, a teacher, should learn some Polish to be able to say "Merry Christmas" in her mother's tongue. Oh, shoot me but I finally realized that I was being used.

I never heard from her since. Weeks later, she was diagnosed with cancer, so for a while I felt like a jerk, a bad, bad person and from time to time, I had to knock myself in the head and say: no more stupid letters, I need to live my life. Later, Anna-Marie beat the cancer, lost weight, and looks great. I see her at different events. She prefers to pretend not to know me or my children for that matter. But the idea of that gown sitting on the altar in some village in Zaire cracks me up laughing everytime.

C'mon, how many wedding gowns from the Brookfields have traveled so far?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CULTURE SHOCK or SHOCKING CULTURE?

click to enlarge 1971


CULTURE SHOCK or SHOCKING CULTURE? (2007)

When life becomes too difficult at times, I reach for "Balance – A Guide to Life’s Forgotten Pleasures," something that I picked up a long time ago at the Eddie Bauer store while waiting for a receipt.
Each chapter gives you an idea of how to cope in a certain situation or simply how to unwind. I like the one, "How to unplug the phone." Assess whether the ringing in the ears is real or imaginary. Resist the strong desire to rip the cord from the wall. Gently remove plug. (Make lemonade.)
This is what I do next; I challenge my memory, I go back in time…
Patricia Kaas sold millions of records. "She is the most successful artist abroad." She travels around the world; she’s blonde, slim and gorgeous. She traveled to Poland several times already. She’s such a huge star, but we will never have a chance to see her in a sold out concert.
My grandma is crazy about Garou. But I won’t see him either unless I travel overseas. Although he may be popular in Canada...
Back then I daydreamed to the tunes of Sasha Distel or Joe Dassin’s "L’Été Indien"(Indian Summer). I had a crush on Guy Bonardot. I always wanted to have a haircut like Mirelle Mathieu. I thought Mirelle Darc was a Goddess. Mom used to lip synch to Adriano Celentano’s "Azzurro." Her taste in men evolved around Ives Montand and Jean-Paul Belmondo. I thought they were old and wrinkled. Well, I was young…
On Sundays I watched a show Zecchino D’oro, group of multicolored Italian kids who sang catchy tunes and couldn’t stand still. Germany gave us Nena’s "99 Luft Balloons" and Falco. I thought Hungarian Zsu Zsa Koncz was prettier than her native Kati Kovacz.
Sounds very unfamiliar? Such a mix of artists, an exchange of cultures was quite a normal occurrence in Poland, and I believed it to be more so in the West. An import from Sweden was ABBA. Later I paid my tribute by naming my dog after the band. I laughed at French movies with comedian Luis Defunes. I loved Russian fairy tales and yes, Russian propaganda war movies. Russians are great filmmakers, and my favorite was "Syberiada." Add some Czech TV series "Szpital Na Peryferiach," French criminal stories "Arsen Lupin" or mysterious sounding "Tiger’s Brigades." Japan gave us the "Oshin" saga, a soap opera about a slave who was sold for a sack of rice and later became a successful entrepreneur.
A main character of a Brazilian soap opera was also a slave, and her name was Isaura. A few Poles actually named their daughters after this character. Australians introduced a series about a beautiful model that was thrown into a swamp with hungry crocodiles. Miraculously she survived and after plastic surgery, she returned to haunt her ex-lover who (literally) dumped her.
Another character of the slave-drama was Kunta Kinte. I never missed an episode of "Roots." My grandma and I admired Rudi from "Pogoda dla Bogaczy" ("Weather for Riches" which in US was known as "Rich Man Poor Man") while my mom went for troubled Tommy. I remember being preoccupied with drawings of princesses. They were not just any queens or princesses. They reflected my love for costume dramas that started with "King Henry VIII"’s 6 wives. I spent hours drawing them all in the right order, with my favorite Anne Boleyn before of course she became a headless corpse to make room for the next wife, Jane Seymour. No, not the Hollywood actress, but the real queen of England.
My very first encounter with American TV was The Price is Right and a Chevrolet commercial. A man wearing make-up and people running around guessing the price of a can of soup. That day, I learned that Chevrolet is the heartbeat of America! I watched every show there was, film, and commercial just to catch up on all the good things we Europeans were missing. It took me some time to realize that all the shows are... English speaking, American made and none are foreign. I thought that was odd. The most cultural and diverse nation had no foreign film or show on the airwaves.
Do our media moguls fear that allowing the public to view foreign programs, films, inviting non-English singing entertainers, may, God forbid, ignite a desire to learn about other cultures? We may not only start to lip synch to some catchy foreign tune, we may even learn another tongue! We may not only start drawing pictures of princesses that REALLY existed; we could actually learn some history here.
I asked around why there are no other than American shows on TV or other than English music on radio, someone answered that "How would you know what they are singing about?"
You are right, how would I know? You may think that a man is singing about woman’s beautiful bedroom eyes and sensual lips but he may actually be... insulting her. Yeah, that makes sense. Better not to know. Who knows what those dirty French men sing about…
But, a small "but", if it does not bother Germans or Spaniards to have Garou serenade in French or Italian Eros Ramazzotti can charm German ladies with his sexy voice (love knows no boundaries or language barrier), why should it bother us? We are the same people as everybody else. Media moguls think otherwise and insult our intellect. Or is it all about money? Why let others make a buck if we can keep all of it to ourselves, and people won’t know anyway. Just make Europeans look bad and stupid.
Once again let’s switch to the old Polish TV guide; mornings were reserved for educational programs for schools. In the late afternoons, Flintstones were on Mondays, and my stepfather never missed one, and the Muppet Show was on Saturdays. As I’m known to be a morning person, I sometimes watched early programs on Sunday which was "W Domu i Zagrodzie" (At home and in ...cattle pen) a program meant for …yes, farmers. Although I wasn’t one nor lived on a farm, it was very interesting and educational.
An hour later, Adam Slodowy showed us how to make something out of nothing. Not exactly. See, you still needed some old coffee can, a paper clip, a piece of cardboard or some wire. Or whatever he could find in his drawer. Slodowy produced about 500 episodes, and made way to a national craze of making a (running) Yogi Bear. Everyone had to have one!
Other American made series "Kojak," "Charlie’s Angeles" or "Colombo" ran on Thursday nights. Serious drama theatre (Polish or British) ran on Mondays, and you have the Polish TV Digest from the 70s and 80s.
But there was also Henry Fonda’s performance in "Twelve Angry Men" and "Grapes of Wrath," "The Magnificent Seven," "Breakfast at Tiffany’s," or the genius of Harper Lee and her only book "To Kill the Mockingbird," Ray Charles, Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood, the most feminine and sexual actress on the planet.
I hate to say it but back then, Communists had good taste in television programs.
All 2 channels of it.

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T...

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON’T…(2003)

I followed the Polish news before, during and after President Kwasniewski’s visit to Washington D. C. Shamelessly, it fell on spring cleaning day at the White House. Day later, the local paper in Worcester, Massachusetts presented a picture of a window washer but the Polish president was nowhere in sight.
I checked the Polish channel, and yes indeed; President Kwasniewski according to the Polish media was in Washington that day. I saw him sitting on the yellow and blue striped chair, and his "best friend" George W. was on his left.
I turned to CNN and saw President Bush siting on the yellow and blue striped chair responding to reporters on an unrelated issue every so often turning his head to some invisible listener.
I turned back to the Polish channel, and there you go, President Bush on Kwasniewski’s left, side by side, same room, same chairs, same date.
Back to CNN, Kwasniewski still missing...
I agree, he probably isn’t the most photogenic person but he isn’t that ugly to be embarrassed to be photographed with. Weeks later, the visit by Filipino President Gloria Arroyo was widely reported and President Arroyo received red carpet treatment and a live press conference. Even the European "bad boy", Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s visit received more coverage. And there are no Italian troops in Iraq...
But the American media is not only prejudiced against the Polish president.
Let’s see what we in the US have missed from President Bush’s visit to Krakow. Unlike the American media, the Polish media widely reported some new controversies. First, the president of Krakow, Prof. Jacek Majchrowski was asked by US officials not to attend the welcoming ceremony although he already received the invitation from Poland’s officials. He set up the press conference and questioned this demand as a reprisal for his article titled "PAX Americana" criticizing the attack on Iraq. Many well-known interviewed figures saw this "request" as a complete lack of diplomatic forms on the American side and somewhat as an act of intervening into Polish affairs. Prof. Majchrowski’s colleagues loyally boycotted President Bush’s arrival.
Then, a priest in one of the churches in Krakow was asked to silence the church bell during President Bush’s speech, which stirred up another controversy. Residents were outraged that many famous and respected people visited, including the Japanese royal couple just recently, and nobody ever made such a demand.
Prior to the American President’s arrival at Balice, the local airport, another plane containing special equipment landed. Part of it was equipment to... light the area near the airport which one of the correspondents ironically reported, after the US officials, as a "need to prevent any possible attack coming from the forest." Many rolled their eyes in disbelief. Blueberry pickers yes, some wart hogs maybe... but nothing armed and organized that one may link to Al-Qaeda! You’ll ask yourself "how come have I never heard about it?" Let’s just say it was the correspondent’s day off.

Back in Krakow, traditionally when distinctive figures visit, flower vendors from Market Square present them with enormous-sized bouquets of fresh cut flowers. Well, they waited and waited, deeply disappointed, since President Bush was nowhere nearby. President Bush never made it there, he was at Auschwitz posing for pictures at the crematorium (Boston Globe 6/1/03). The flower vendors waited with 50 roses, one rose for every state of America. That left some unpleasant aftertaste and feelings of being used. And one should not condemn them for it…But then again, President visited Poland for only 16 hours and that included sleep. I just hope that he dreamt about all those places that he had missed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

EAST MEETS WEST part 1

EAST MEETS WEST (and who won...) Sept 2007

So what we missed the bonfire! For twenty years we had enjoyed the 4th of July small New England town extravaganza. Created on our common, a pile of wood, two stories high, plus hot dog and popcorn stands, adorable little children wearing glow in the dark jewelry, dog poop and lots of mosquitoes.

The other option was to take a road trip to the West Coast in a brand new car sponsored by our daughter who was temporarily relocating there. We were to pay for the gas and split the cost of hotels.

After a long thoughtful discussion, the bonfire lost to El Estado Dorado (The Golden State) or the Sunny state of “Calyfornia” to mimic the Austrian born governor.

Oh well, there will be others…

The plan was to make it there in less than a week and fly back on July 4th. The rules; no driving after dark, we eat one meal at a restaurant per day, cat stays in Boston.
We surprised our friends by choosing the Southern route instead of driving through Colorado but the desert in July seemed so much more attractive to us. I think “challenging” is the right word.

So, on June 24th we packed Karolina’s TV, desk top computer, laptop, load of summer clothes, string of shoes and two pounds of make up.
The crew: dad, mom and one un-domestic diva that also goes by the name “Precious Polish Princess.” Means of transportation: a Honda Fit …in
orange. The crew is also known as the Fantastic Four, minus one; the youngest Francis stayed behind to represent Poland at the Heifer International Annual Fair and opted for the U-20 Soccer World Cup in Montreal, Canada.
That way his sister could pack more shoes.

In three days we made it to Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Zooming through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas.

First stop in Roanoke, VA, Motel 8, friendly service although no restaurants besides Subway. Next morning, everyone wanted to know if we had a good night, and since we experienced a thunder storm the previous evening, a nice lady at breakfast in the lobby shared her reflections, wasn’t that something! It was one of several storms that we encountered; the best was still ahead of us. Tourists with plates from Southern states seem to be more open, friendlier; maybe they just lead simpler lives and have less on their minds. It
takes a while to figure out what they are saying, but when you do, what you hear is often something very pleasant.

Somewhere between Springfield, MA and Scranton, PA, we set up another rule: whoever is driving would control the CD player, so, I assumed that all the way, we may listen to more of British Arctic Monkeys, less of Alaskan Jewel and somewhere between maybe Brazilian Ive Mendes and Simply Red.

It was Karolina’s car but two of us soon realized that it was a stupid rule because it allowed Karolina to play trance music. What were we thinking?

We also learned that people in Knoxville, Tennessee are incredibly nice, I mean old-fashion nice and I mean everybody. Lunch at Macalister’s, great sandwiches, coffee and “sweet tea”, key lime pie, all for $26. Did I mention free refills?
It was hot but all the ladies looked like from a Talbot’s catalog.

The next stop was outside of Memphis, since we zoomed through Nashville in the heavy rain. I was the driver but no music made me happy. In Memphis we left the hotel after 20 min when Jacek noticed too many “We are not responsible for any lost belongings left in your car” signs (there must have been a reason for it) and I discovered remains of Chex cereal and some blood stains on my pillow.

We kept driving. Hours later, after settling comfortably in the bed of some motel in Arkansas, I checked the name of the town on Karolina’s laptop, just to find out that it does not exist; Heth is a truck stop. We wondered about the hordes of mosquitoes that soon entered our room until I remembered the
sign that I saw while checking in, in a hurry. “Due to the fact that we are in the area of rice fields, we have an enormous count of mosquitoes, please keep your door shut while unloading.” What rice fields?
I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t leave New England. In the bathroom, what we thought was a cockroach turned out to be a dead grasshopper.

There were 5 channels on TV, but as long as it had wi-fi connection, our daughter assured us it was fine.
We watched some show called “Nanny” about a woman with a Polish last name who could not restrain her children after her husband’s death so she hired professional help. I looked at my own offspring; she was totally restrained, by…wireless connection.

At night the invasion began. Till the morning I lost quite an amount of blood but I learned that …there are rice fields in Arkansas, did YOU know that? Ahhh, see… you need to get out more, travels educate.
Smooth sailing through Arkansas and Oklahoma, lots of reading on both sides of highway 40, “Needed: drivers, Jesus and you!” or “You call it abortion, God calls it murder.” Both, churches and Adult Centers advertising to lure its adherents. The most popular bumper sticker said, “I “heart” evangel temple – Forth Smith.”
In Clinton 9,000 people are served by 24 churches, on the billboard there is room for… 6 more.

Tranced-up Karolina drove through Little Rock and revealed her theory for buying a small car “Listen, the reason for buying a small car is that I have more room to mess up.” Get it?

Somewhere in Oklahoma, I made this observation in our journal; “If someone has a small car, it is towed behind.”
The conclusion: people here do not mess around. The billboards screamed with “Rolexes” and… miniature donkeys.
They have vineyards there too as billboards promise “Just like Napa Valley but closer.”

We were almost at the end of Oklahoma and had did not seen anybody from Massachusetts yet. Roads aren’t great, where we come from, we see a lot of “Road work for the next 10 miles,” here it’s “Keep our Land Grand.” At the end of construction it said: ”Sorry for the inconvenience,” where we come from it would be “drive at your own risk!”

More than several times we were reminded “Keep Oklahoma beautiful.”
And so we did.


We also left some serious floods in Oklahoma City and later in Amarillo, TX only to find out about them the following day by watching TV in a hotel room.

Best sight so far, Weatherforth, tens of wind turbines. If Germany is leading in the number of wind turbines, Oklahoma must be right after that.
At first, from a distance one looked like a miniature toy, and as we were approaching it, more and more popped up on the horizon. They became larger in scale, enormous; now we were the miniature toy car against the wind turbine forest.

Being under this great impression, I missed the WELCOME TO TEXAS sign, but regardless could tell we were in a different state, from then on the Rest Areas were called “picnic areas.”

Soon we got stuck in traffic in Amarillo, listened to some good music on local stations, lots of money gram commercials in Spanish.
For several long minutes we were forced to stare at that tiny door at the back of the 18-wheeler, finally I said, “It’s probably to smuggle illegal aliens, that’s where they come out.” At this point our completely bored daughter, in
this very serious voice explained, separating each word, “It’s where they put the load into, mother.” We looked at the size of the truck and then the size of that tiny door and burst into laughter “Do you know how much time they would need to fill up the whole trailer? And who’s retarded?” I responded.

Only minutes after a kid from Maryland with an Afro next to us, had hangers up to his roof, probably on the way to college. I suggested to Karolina that she should wave to him one of her hangers, to which she, back then, replied, “That’s retarded.”

Next was New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

After two nights at not so nice hotels, our daughter treated us to comfy beds at, what else, Comfort Inn, great breakfast included. Outside the hotel room, a moonlike landscape, I realized how far we were from home.
I was drawn to New Mexico for several reasons, Bill Richardson being one. The state’s (Roman Catholic) governor was invited by our daughter’s college to speak at her graduation. It was quite a speech, but Richardson himself actually graduated from the college that our son is in.
It was enough coincidences for me to buy his biography. He possesses a quality that president Bush lacks completely, diplomacy. When asked about the size of Poland, I often explain by comparing it to New Mexico, as they are supposed to be equal. So, I thought I better find out about the stuff that I preach.

Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi (first established in 1610) was on our list. Spectacular bronze doors were installed in 1986 on the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral, also the year when our son Francis was born. One of the windows on the main street had a nice display of Art of Poland, Polish pottery. Souvenir shops full of Native American art as well as… “Mom, why are there so many Israeli insignia here?” Hm, that’s a good question.

A road north from Santa Fe lead us to Ojo Caliente spa hot springs where, besides fancy packages for couples, for $16 per person from 8am to 10pm you can use 5 different mineral pools; iron pool, soda pool, mud pool, I forgot what pool and arsenic pool, all sounded so tempting. Temperature ranging from 80-109F. On one side a mountain surrounds the spa. Around the property you are reminded by discrete signs here and there not to talk but whisper.
At the heart of the courtyard there is a Lithia spring and historic pump used since the 19th century. Lithium is known to heal depression so the spa residents call it a happy spring. You see a lot of happy people walking around filling jars and plastic containers.

For an extra $10 you can get relaxation wrap; first they will soak you in geothermal waters, then wrap you into light cotton blanket, then a wool blanket, which “accelerates the release of toxins from you body.“ As you lay in this warm relaxing cocoon, Native American flute music is played softly in the background. Other options, body “buffering” with borax crystals, essential oils, lime and tangerine. Sure, whatever, just bring more of that happy water, I’ll take anything…

Originally Taos was not a part of our plan but… someone said that the best things in life come unexpected. We actually arrived to Ojo Caliente the previous evening when the sky was getting unpleasantly dark and clouds were gathering above, not a welcoming sign. We needed to look for a hotel and decided to come back the next morning, Taos was recommended although our GPS displayed a 60 mile long route there. But the GPS did not tell us that the first 20 miles were unpaved! Still it was the best route ever…
I guess you have to take it at the right time of the day and the season to enjoy all the colors and shades.

Of all shades of brown and red, majestic mountains set against the blues of the sky and disappearing sun. And the only way to tell there must be a homestead somewhere up there is a skinny gate with a driveway a mile long. The sunset was incredible, the evening wind blew and the grass waved, ocean of bright green grass. Somewhere from time to time, a small …junkyard popped up, just so, in the middle of a field. The road was empty; we did not pass a car for miles. It was the most beautiful road. And then we saw it! The Rio Grande Gorge! The next minute we stood 650 feet above it. Breathtaking? You bet! And very peaceful. Place. Ever since I watched Western movies, I knew that if I had the chance that I would cross the Rio Grande. See, in the movies, when they crossed it, you knew that they made it, it was always in the movies and that was the thing, the main goal for the guys. Either they were searching for something or chased by.

In this beautiful setting, we found Taos. A ski valley, laid back kind of town, with plenty of attractions.

The most popular is probably Taos Pueblo, 150 families living in an adobe community, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the US. The adobe buildings date to 1000 to 1450 A.D, Catholicism is practiced there.
You can take a 130 mile long day trip, on a train, riding across Rio Grande on the country’s second highest bridge.

The main street of Taos are lined with little shops and galleries that attract tourists all year around.

Best Western treated us to Indian dancing. A typically family-operated business, grandpa on the drums, grandkids and “Jose” performing. The three-year-old sensation drew the most applause.
Picturesque road from Taos continued.
Did I mention that we left 440 acres of forest fire behind us?

This time we took a different road back to Albuquerque.
Here we were able to put our feet into the Rio Grande, right next to passing rafts. Looking for a shortcut to Ojo Caliente, our GPS directed us to turn right onto the …hanging bridge. And I swear it looked as if it was made of wood or even rope. I wouldn’t walk on it, even with a safety net below it, forget driving. The satellite spotted it but did anybody actually come to check it out?

On Thursday, we made it to Arizona, that’s where advertisements for casinos, and petrified wood started. After a while I realized that if it weren’t for the meteor that hit the area, some 20 000 years ago, there wouldn’t be anything to show the tourists. And I’m not sure about those dinosaurs in paper machér. Dinosaur fossils, second after the meteor natural attraction.

In Phoenix, we stayed with a friend from Massachusetts. Sean had a dog, she liked us the first day, the second, she changed her mind so when we went for a day trip to Sedona, Jacek went to some fancy shmancy dog store and bought gourmet dog biscuits to bribe the dog. He bought us ice cream.
Sedona did not impress me maybe because it is, for my taste, too commercialized. The Red Rock’s natural beauty is without doubt, but too many people want to make a buck off it, an allegedly highly spiritual place. But why, why, why, all those Tommy Hillfiger, Gap and Ann Taylor shops there? The great idea? mist-ers… a misting system above your head, as you walk from one ridiculously expensive store to another. On a hot day, a life saver.
The road to Sedona was terrible, the height, the traffic, the way back just as bad. That evening in Phoenix, I visited my childhood friend, we had not seen each other since 1985. She and her sisters all settled in Arizona, I moved to Massachusetts. I was hoping that after all those years, she was fat and ugly, no such luck, she was fit and gorgeous…
But the dog biscuits worked and we did not leave any disasters this time.

In order to make it to California according to schedule, I had to MISS THE PRESSCOT RODEO!!!! I can’t believe they did this to me! The country’s oldest!! I was by myself against two maniacs; they made me chose between the rodeo and the Grand Canyon!

So we got back on the highway, driving Historic Rte 66 for a while, a cardboard cut out James Dean on the left, the Roadkill Café on the right. Passing through Indian reservations, wild horses, cattle, a man on motorcycle “On the way to LA”, finally… the Joshua Tree Forest.
We entered the holy land of Hualapai Tribe, the Grand Canyon and the Skywalk was next….

Thursday, February 5, 2009

EAST MEETS WEST part 2

click to enlarge EAST MEETS WEST Part 2 (September 09, 2007)

Lazy days of summer in the small town near Warsaw with mandatory "after dinner rest" and cousin Michal reading "Lemonade Joe." Joe was a character in a popular book based on a Czech film from 1964. It was a parody of western movies. He drinks "kolaloka," and cleans the town out of whiskey-drinking cowboys.


What a role model…


It was at that time for us to play the role of great explorers almost like Lewis & Clark, and we pretty much traveled across the States, and sometimes all in one day. I (an artist) was in charge of legal issues like passports as it required drawings of our likeness …and we thought that we needed passports to cross from one state to another. Michal (creator and technician) set up our RV. It was actually a group of small blankets neatly lined up on a grass on the "polana" with a cab and each blanket representing different room. To get from one room to another we moved as if there were some invisible walls.
Grandma's dog, Ajax, did not understand the rules at all and often walked through the walls, laying down halfway in and halfway out.
We used old wooden apple crate as our seats. Grandma set up a rule that we had to take our RV in before the rain.

Cousin Michal was "Mike," and I was Jackie. My idol was …Jackie Kennedy whose style I knew (and adored) from copies of old French Paris Match magazines. My grandma got those from her sister who lived in France, and at that time there were lots of pics from Jackie's wedding to tycoon Ari Onassis.

We traveled each day, fulfilling our dream, while... not moving at all.

In 2007, it took my family three days to make it to New Mexico.

Although we did not need passports, there were two checkpoints, one at Hoover Dam and another when we entered California. An officer from the California Department of Agriculture asked if we had any fruit plants, cherries or live animals. Our daughter's cat stayed in Boston and was going

to be shipped later. Would they take away Frosti if he were with us? He could just play dead. Would he be allowed to fulfill his lifetime dream of becoming a Californian cat? We will never know.


On the sixth day of our trip, we drove from Prescott, a rodeo town in Arizona to Peach Springs (last town before the canyon), on the edge of the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Hualapai people traditionally inhabited an area of … 5 million acres. It stretched from the canyon southward, all the way to the "pine forest of the San Francisco peaks." The area was rocky with Joshua trees scattered all around. Our Honda's rusty orange complimented the color of the sun burnt terrain.


There were times that we drove alongside the endless line of train with every car marked CHINA SHIPPING, the biggest container vessel from…Shanghai. It was one of two sights that I did not appreciate during our trip. The other one was the sight of the Exxon sign all throughout every state. Sometimes in the least expected places.

It was one long dusty road after another with only cattle resting at water towers. They seemed to be there from the very first day of their lives, breathing fresh, untainted air, roaming the steppe…till the very last day, the trip to the meat processing plant day. How different their life is compared to animals squeezed tightly at factory farms and fed hormones. If I have to come back as a cow, I want to return as Angus, 1 st Quality! Before I became Certified Angus Beef, I'll spend my lazy days in the Arizona prairie.
We paused at another "shortcut," which was unpaved surface for the next… 60 miles.
Thanks for the warning.
Of course we turned around.

The afternoon sun reflected in our car's windows.
It was the last intersection, and we were heading straight into one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon.

The only other route had a sign " unpaved surface for the next 20 miles."

Soon we discovered what it meant. The road was long, bumpy and unbelievable dusty. And we were on it…completely alone. Where was all the traffic? We passed one of those Chinese buses that ship spectators from Vegas. They got flat tire.
And again, nothing for miles. Our tiny Honda jumped on every bump, our teeth grinded, and Karolina was close to tears as her father stubbornly steered her new Honda toward the canyon. At this point there was no turning back. Turning back meant losing another day which we could not afford since we booked the flight back for July 4 th. It also meant looking for a hotel etc.. That could be a problem, this is a brand new site, and we are on an Indian reservation. So we kept on driving. When we passed a… Porsche, we knew we could make it all the way. We noticed that driving faster caused less turbulence; we just had to avoid the boulders.
After 20 miles of this roller coaster, we arrived at the place where buses and helicopters take off. The parking lot was spotted with oil leaks from the other vehicles.

At the ticket booth, silly me, I thought that I will just buy a ticket for $25 and jump on the Skywalk. No sir, first you buy a package that enables you to get a bus ride. The cheapest package is $50 but does not include the skywalk!
For that you pay $75 altogether! Included is the shuttle to two sites (Eagle Point and Guano Point), a meal, a photo opportunity with a Native American and a souvenir at the gift shop, which turned out to be a "certificate" proving your visit.

The bus driver was fun but also a maniac, he displayed his sense of humor by driving on the edge of the canyon facing the passengers and telling jokes at the same time. If you ask if walking on the glass with 4,000 feet of abyss below was scary, I'll say no, but that bus ride was!
The skywalk itself is a glass bridge shaped like a horseshoe, hanging over the canyon, and overlooking the majestic Colorado River. To get to it, you need to leave you camera behind (get your money ready for this photo opportunity!), in the locker that will cost you …4 quarters. That's right…so now make it $76 all together per person plus tax. Then, they make you put those funny shoe covers so you don't scratch the glass floor. And now feeling so much more attractive, you can waltz and spend as much time as you want and enjoy the mesmerizing views. The tiny moving point from your left to the right that is disappearing in the caves is … a helicopter. There is another one and another, every couple of minutes…and all seem to disappear into the mountains. But that's a pleasure strictly reserved for those with time and money.

To give you an idea of how much 4,000 feet is: the Empire State building is 1,250 feet high.
Later we enjoyed quite a nice dinner (choice of chicken or beef BBQ, rice, coleslaw and a brownie) sitting at the table on the edge, overlooking the Colorado River. The sinking red sun created a deep warm glow as a background, turning the peaks of the mountains orange where it shone and the mountains below that were surrounded by shade appeared blue or even purple.
It was simply breathtaking…

If only I could snap my fingers and miraculously move us from this divine place to Vegas without driving those 120 miles that were still ahead of us...

The bus driver proudly showed us the future site of the airport and a fancy hotel that will one day pop up here. An airport? What about some pavement on the roads?

Las Vegas at night… Endless crisscrossed rows of lights, bouncing beats pouring out from the arcades, $99 wedding chapels, (Wladziu -Valentino) Liberace museum, "a drive through chapel", hot girls, cold beer, mud wrestling live or bikini bull riding, and casinos, casinos, casinos, what not to like?
Who needs Venice, Paris, or Rome when Vegas has it all!
There was a casino at every corner but what we really needed was a …car wash.

All right, it does make an impression but why, why, why would anyone build a city in a desert? For the view from the Stratosphere Tower? From 1,149 feet above, it's a nice view of the Strip with
planes landing and taking off. A panoramic view of architectural planned concrete lava.
As if the sight wasn't enough, there are three rides located on the top of the tower for those who need a big boost of adrenaline. They either shoot you in the air (Big Shot Thrill Ride), spin you (Insanity) or plunge you (X Scream), all three are located at 909 ft. Or you can just relax and sip coffee at the tallest Starbucks store in the world.

Vegas food is cheap, and parking is free. Everywhere you go, the old from the 70s mixes with new technologies, and massive screens scream with Sin City's upcoming attractions.
Dingy hotels are being replaced with brand new ones. You can hear the clicking noise of the slot machines coming from the bottom floor of almost every one of them. Take a look at seniors with walkers pushing their tokens in, again, and again. Quite a sight. Hot new clubs attract "in "people in the entertainment business and the young crowds that follow.
The climate is the worst possible. I couldn't breathe, and parking underground gave me an idea of how it feels to be buried alive. There are no greens, no parks, definitely a shortage of palm trees, the sun is the enemy, and you spend as much time as possible indoors.

Now the fun part begins, you drive through the Mojave Desert with …the air conditioning shut off. That's what they advise you to do. And after a short while you see why. Traffic is slow, and every now and then you see a car sitting on the side of the road with the engine steaming …from overheating. You see people trying to avoid the
sun, lying down under makeshift canopies, pulled together from jackets, towels or blankets. Young children among them. Some nice new cars and no towing truck around.

Mojave desert is where old aircraft go to die. Some car engines follow the path…

Our Honda passed the test, and on the seventh day of our trip, we are in CALIFORNIA!

We are heading for the City of Angels, a city where fortune cookie and plastic Frisbee comes from so does Barbie, Bugs Bunny and Minnie Mouse.
Where whitening toothpaste was invented and what else? …a Hula-Hoop!
While driving in L.A, our Honda caught the attention of several people. A black man with a funny hat and a dog wearing a "lampshade" by his side pulled down the window of his old Mercedes station wagon, and asked, "What kind of Honda is that? Do they sell them here?" We fit right in! Between trips to IKEA and Target, setting up furniture in Karolina's new home, and checking out Pasadena's neighborhood, we found time to drive to Santa Monica, walk the Pier and dip our feet into the Pacific Ocean even though it was 9pm. The place was full of life with the Bubba Gump Restaurant and the only solar powered …Ferris wheel in the world.
In nearby Venice beach, a surfing Rabbi makes a splash and offers Kosher Surf Camp.

But my only extravaganza was a grain of rice with my name on it, created accurately by a young man from Mexico, our trip was going to the end and so were our financial resources.

The first resident of Pasadena, our good friend, Marty C. gave us quite a tour of the area and took us for lunch.
Betsy was a no show, but I believe she paid for our lunch so THANK YOU BETSY! Your husband behaved well and we had a wonderful time!
.
In retrospect, when we left Massachusetts we had lots of challenges to face… we were chasing time and tried to see as many sights as possible in the short time to get a glimpse of this great country.
We accomplished all of it, except one, which was the rodeo (I'll never forgive them!!!), so I can say that we definitely won!! And we already collected the prize, which is…the extraordinary experience.

From all my thoughts that came to my mind during the journey, two are worth sharing.

One is this quote from Georgia O'Keefe, a great American artist whose museum we visited in Santa Fe:

"Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest."
And the other one is: Girls, do not let your fathers pack your shoes or you are going to end up with shoes that not only do not match in color but also in style…