The Low Down on the Rest of Crac(k)ow & the Train to Auschwitz
This is what I visited on Monday & Tuesday before leaving for Auschwitz Tuesday evening:
a statue of copernicus,
the christian part of kazimierz, popularly known as the jewish quarter.
the jewish ghetto across the river in podgorze.
the unluckiest church,
celine dion and michael jackson’s stars,
a dragon that breathes fire,
the holiest water in poland,
evidence of dental tourism,
pigeon street (ironically, devoid of pigeons),
a statue dedicated to a dog,
the outside of wawel,
the pharmacy museum,
the ticket counter of the czatorski museum where the da vinci normally hangs (but is visiting budapest now, irony of ironies),
a wonderful bookstore called massolit,
the jewish part of kazimierz, the jewish quarter, particularly the new & old jewish synagogues, the galician jewish museum & the market square.
This is what i did/tasted:
I walked around for like hours and hours and hours a day,
while munching on some bagels they sell all over the city.
drank tea and wine at a bar a nobel prize winner used to hang out at,
ate at a russian restaurant.
tried some walnut vodka, cherry vodka, good vodka, and some georgian white wine,
filled out & sent out postcards i got at a neat poster shop,
picked up some polish books at the bookstore (in english),
dined on herring & clear barzcha (borscht) with meat dumplings, which were wrapped in a really clever and unique sort of way,
stumbled into a gingerbread shop, where i bought some of the good gingerbread my mother knows i enjoy very much, and then proceeded to munch on said gingerbread as i walked towards the jewish quarter. soft, not a cookie, not bread, not snappy, sugar coated, chocolate coated, with some delightful marmalade in the middle. happy happy joy joy.
picked up some plums in the kazimierz market, got yelled at in polish by the woman i bought them from - for what? no idea. NIE speak polish.
in kazimierz, breathed in what i viewed to be the erasure of memory, fetishization of the jewish life before the “terrible time,” somewhat perverse commercialization and rampant heritage tourism. breathed in so much of it, that i had to bail asap. just to be clear - the sites themselves were really wonderful, and i appreciated how they’ve been preserved, and how empty they were. it’s just everything around the sites that got my goat. anyway, i had to bail, so i did.
walked back to the hostel through buckets of rain & took off for the train station.
Hopped on the train headed for ozwiecim (auschwitz) at 17:43. train was beat up, old school, pretty empty. whoever was on it was a local because virtually no tourists head for auschwitz in the evening - for the vast majority it’s usually a day trip from krakow since it only takes 1.5 hours to get there. while on the train, i was pretty weirded out by the fact that i was on a train car headed for auschwitz. the ticket woman yelled at me, god i have no idea why. and every time the train stopped someone would blow a whistle, and then there was a really low cranking/whirring noise and then the doors slammed shut after they were only open for 30 seconds. this made me nervous, because 1: there was no list of all the stops, 2. not every station had a sign, 3. i was on a train headed for auschwitz and the whistling/slamming shut reminded me of every cattle car, railway platform scene in every holocaust-era film i’ve ever watched. spooky? you betcha. especially as the train creeped towards ozwiecim, because before i knew it i was THE ONLY PERSON IN MY TRAIN CAR, THE TRAIN CAR BEHIND ME, OR THE TRAIN CAR AHEAD OF ME. when it got to the station, there was no one working there. no lights on. 5 people max, and the one taxi cab had no lights on, but luckily someone was inside to take me to the center.
Got to the Center, caught the tail end of dinner with participants. Drank some wine with the organizer, a garrulous presenter, and an evaluator in the organizer’s room next-door-to mine. talked about postcolonialism, new york, my presentation, someone else’s presentation. individuality, consumerism, the illusion of choice, multiculturalism, myopia, vapid idealism, tired cliches, etc. etc. the typical pomo fare, but more palatable than usual. back at my room, Downloaded mad men. Watched mad men. Set an alarm clock. Woke up at 7 am. Spent the day at Auschwitz I, attending lectures and a tour.
Created a country called the democratic republic of gastronomica during a wonderful presentation given by james waller (author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing). Comprised of a peninsula and an archipelago, the DRG is located in the mediterranean and its flag features a dove that soars above a diagonally crossed fork and spoon, while carrying a sheaf of wheat in its mouth. Stay tuned.
I’ll tell you guys about the entire auschwitz tour tomorrow night, when the tour portion is over. and maybe i’ll mention some more about the lectures, which continue through saturday evening. Today we saw Auschwitz I and tomorrow we’ll see birkenau. But for now, the end of the trial awaits the eyes of a very sleepy reader.
Gustatory, Oracular, and Olfactory Delights // Soups, Listening Parties & Cracking Walnuts in Krakow
Last night, my new friend Laina and I walked over to Klezmer Hois in the Jewish district, where we sat at a precious crochet-adorned, candle-lit table, with 30 other people and listened to a delightful klezmer band. The double-bassist and accordion player were wonderful, and the violinist/singer had this really surprising low voice - surprising because she looked exactly like a mannikin - a pretty mannikin, but a mannikin nonetheless. The soups were the highlight of the meal, Laina got this awesome vegetable soup sprinkled with caraway seeds and dill. My mushroom soup took comfort to another level, as it looked, smelled and tasted like the earth/soil, and was 100% a pleasure to eat, slurp and cradle.
As we were leaving the restaurant, I noticed a poster on the wall, that said it was for sale, so I lifted it off the wall, and proceeded to buy it. What fun. Reproduction of an old tourism poster for “Palestine,” replete with Zionist sloganry, circa 1930s, and the man pointing to the Holy Land in the poster is wearing safari-esque gear and riding pants (hot!). Pre-Sterling Cooper campaign (Mad Men reference).
We left Klezmer Hois making our way back to the hostel, peered into some bars. But as it was Sunday night and somewhat dead, and we were feeling somewhat dead, we decided to really walk back to the hostel. On the way, I saw some nice green lamps in a Jesuit Institute’s courtyard, so we walked in, and upon doing so, were startled by noises coming from our right within the courtyard gates. It was Laina’s travelling partner, Dani, and this dude named James from the hostel, who were sitting on peet soil (that’s the term for shit smelling dirt, right?), drinking beer and taking swigs of vodka. Of course, we sat down with them, but not for long, because Dani’s liver was crying for attention and an early departure.
Back at the hostel, it was like teens tours of america 2k9 in full force. seriously. mayhem in the kitchen. orange juice, vodka, boisterous shouting. googly eyed american females making uninhibited passes at british boys. boys searching for food to find that dani had stolen one of their beers. This is when Laina and I showed them that the bowl of walnuts could be consumed. After one of the brilliant boys put a walnut complete with shell in their mouth, Laina and I demonstrated our expert cracking technique developed earlier that evening - you grab a mug, you slam it down on the walnut, and voila, fun times.
James, whose job it is to take people out on pub crawls, decided to do all the big people staying in the hostel a favor, and though it was his night off, took all the ragamuffins to Irish Mbassy - a pub nearby. Wondrous it was.
Reading in bed, my hostel roommate, Rob came in. An American flight attendant, Rob is in the midst of a 20 country in 60 days tour. It’s actually as insane as it sounds. 2 days in Bangkok, preceded by a few days in Taipei, Hong Kong, and three days in Tokyo. He even went to Amsterdam for 30 hours, took an overnight to Hamburg for 2 days. Then flew to Helsinki for less than 48 hours. In short, this is the most hair-brained story I’ve heard in a while.
Okay, I’ll report on today’s events later. But for now tata - off to see more of the city!
Oh! I should add. We tried more soup today - zurek, a sour rye soup, that was served with a quail egg in my case. And we went to a CD store, where we had a listening party with the clerk there, who was stoked that we were into experimental, avant-garde and retro music. We picked up a few CD’s.!
Warszaw: The End of Jetlag, The Continuance of Fog & The Joys of Falling into Fall
Czesc from Krakow!
I woke up at about six thirty in the morning (daylight savings time took place last night) in Warsaw. I walked to the old square through another misty fog along streets as barren as you’d think they’d be at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. Along the walk I realized that I may have been too hard on this city in my blogpost last night - I’m not taking back the “Warsaw is weird” comment - b/c Warsaw is weird and hyper-modern, and slightly Disneyish in many ways. But I thought I should make it clear to you all that even yesterday I really enjoyed walking around - I liked the juxtapositions, I liked walking around buildings and walls that were crumbling, and finding my way through courtyards to synagogues and ghetto wall fragments. And, ultimately, it is really incredible how they’ve rebuilt this city since the war and since the commie era. That said, let’s get back to the day’s events:
The old square was really beautiful, in a different way then some of the other eruopean medievel squares I’ve been lucky enough to visit. For one thing, this square was massively reconstructed after the war. Second, it was more colorful. Third, it felt less claustrophobic. Fourth, there’s an awesome church with a huge, and i mean HUGE, image of the Pope on it.
What I really loved about this particular visit to the square was how empty it was. You might be saying - Amy ! Of course, it was like 8 or so in the morning on a Sunday! But honestly I don’t think it ever gets as packed as the Prague one does. It was really pleasant to just sit there and not be peddled or asked to buy anything. In fact because I went so early all the souvenier shops were closed, but really I didn’t see that many anyway. It was really pleasant to just sit and see some random people starting their days, cleaning their cafes, and hang out with the birds while looking out over the city. I had a little breakfast by the square in one of the only cafes that was actually open, and read some more of the trial which is great.
Took the bus down the royal way to lazienkowski park. And this was my absolute favorite stop during the 24 hours I spent in Warsaw. The park is devastatingly beautiful and it was particularly glorious this morning. The misty fog, the crisp fall air, the early hour, the relative absence of tourists and the presence of only a few precious families, small children and some elderly friends & couples made for an absolutely wondrous visit. This was one of the nicest parks I’ve ever been to, and one of the most beautiful autumnal scenes I’ve seen in years. [Recall the last time I was this effusive with my compliments —- right. it was that awesome].
Why was it so awesome ?
1. Again the fog was so special, especially because most of the tree bark was very very dark, which contrasted really well against leaves of all sizes and shapes that were turning every imaginable shade of green/yellow/red/orange.
2. There were wonderful benches all around.
3. There were wonderful little routes throughout the park and whichever way you walked you still didn’t miss any of the beautiful little statues ponds palaces ampitheaters or random freestanding columns.
4. Near the “start” of the park there is a Chopin monument. Chopin sits with hair that does this tremendous free standing wave reminiscent of Disney characters and more ambitous tasteful hipsters. He sits in a circular pond flanked from three sides by rows o benches that sit amongst red rose bushes, which look great decaying. Now is a good time to mention that I really enjoyed the minimal landscaping done here. The trees were beautiful as was the grass. And whatever flowers are there are left to do their ownthing. I think that I’d those rose bushes were in the states they Would certainly have been pulled out of the ground by now. And it serms the leaves are not raked with the same sort of feverish intensity here- in fact I don’t think they’re raked at all in the park.
5. As i walked towards a palace that sits over a river further into the park, I passed by a wonderful courtyard of a resplendent building. There was a pond in the middle and the busts of a lot of dead white men including Julius Caesar. A bit further up there was a tiny “white house” with a little square pond adjacent. Mallards and baby swans swam around, and by the pond a man and his little bitty daughter - 3 ? - crouched down and fed the female peacocks (those are the colorful ones right? i always get confused). That’s right Peacocks ! I love peacocks. If an interviewer had asked me what animal would be, I wouldn’t have grunted like Josh, I would have acted giddy and tweenish, and responded Peacocks! in the same tone I imagine some twelve years would use if saying Zack Efron! to the question “Who would you marry?!”
6. The palace was wonderful to look at from the outside. It faces a river and there’s a little square between it and the water. The man and his daughter now fed the birds who swooped in and around them as the girl giggled. I even saw a dove fly by. If this sounds cinematic brlieve me I would love to have shot a film here. About what ? I dunno ! Not important ! lol ! I walked further along where there was a beautiful mini theater. The stage was on the water and surrounded by columns of varying heights and degrees of intact-ness.
I ambled about a bit longer than made my way out and then headed off in the direction of the hostel, which I should add was rather pleasant to stay at. I slept like a dream last night and the other guests in my room were even very courteous when they came in late. [ I succumbed to the wonders of jetlag by passing out at 930, and am pleased to say that I am totally on polish time today! Daylight savings time and all !]
Then I got on the train to Krakow. Shared a side room with two very nice and quiet Poles. It was one of the more enjoyable train rides I’ve had to date. I read, munched on various items I picked up at the store, and looked out onto the countryside. I saw lots of cabbage growing in fields, beautiful houses, cows that were chewing on grass and resting. Now’s a good time to mention that the cottage cheese here is awesome (STEVE!). Probably has something to do with how the cows luxuriate in the pastures here. What a thought.
Got to the hostel - mama’s hostel - Kells thanks for the tip! Met some Bay area girls, and going to see a klezmer show in the jewish quarter tonight. Maybe I’ll even try some krupnik! Stay tuned.
i am seriously jetlagged. today has been a fog, pleasant, but a complete fog, for so many reasons:
1. when we landed, it was 3 am back in nyc and 9 am here.
2. warsaw was foggy all day, until it was rainy/drizzly all afternoon. i seriously have no idea how the pilot safely descended given that kind of fog. now’s a good time to add that mid-flight we were jerking around like you do on those rodeo bulls - turbulence over the atlantic seriously led me and the croatian girl sitting next to me to hold hands.
3. this city is completely bizarre. yes, it was a gray saturday, but for a city with so many “great glass” skyscrapers, and so many cars whizzing about, my day was eerily quiet, except for the conversations had with kind & complete strangers, the cawing of crows (perhaps), oh! and the fiasco of an experience they call one of the must-sees in warsaw — the warsaw uprising museum. (see below). seriously, this city is quiet. and i didn’t hear any horns being honked — not one.
what did i do today?
1. landed in frederick chopin airport, which is really really really nice. probably one of the nicer international airport experiences of my life to date. though they forgot to stamp my passport, so i’m a little bitter about that, and will need to remedy the situation upon my departure.
2. took a bus to the hostel, got off at the university stop, which is on warsaw’s equivalent of the champs-elysee, and i cannot spell it let alone pronounce it, but it’s like prdnewizie maybe?
3. walked to the warsaw uprising museum, which is when i realized that this is 100% the opposite of a pedestrian-friendly city. at one point, there was no longer a sidewalk and i walked on a dirt trail alongside the furnicular track. this is a main road, fyi, and the road is a nice road, with new cement, and no potholes, etc. etc.
4. had some polish soup at said museum after i finally found it! oh okay - theme of the day, NOTHING is where it says it is on the map. it’s usually hidden behind other buildings, or a few streets away or through a courtyard (see fragments of warsaw ghetto, # 6). great soup, again, consonant issue, grzowonoski?
5. walked around this museum, and realized that it went way overboard with the new multimedia museum trend - it was too intense for me, and i ended up leaving after an hour. best thing about it was this mini-movie theater in an atrium that was showing newsreels from the warsaw uprising. this is telling. i just tried typing out an explanation of the museum, but it didn’t work - if you’re really interested, i’ll tell you about it some other time.
6. went to find the warsaw ghetto fragments. finding it was more satisfying than seeing it, which was kind of unsatisfying, as it was just a brick wall in the middle of an apartment complex.
7. went to see the nodzy synagogue (from the 1900’s, but refurbished so it kinda looks new). couldn’t get in b/c it’s shabbos.
8. walked around the champs-elysee area after sunset, ate some pierogis, and washed them down with some compote and beer. pretty legit.
Throughout the day, I encountered really bizarre juxtapositions of old & new all day long. huge residential buildings from the commie 60s, 70s, brick buildings that looked older, but then i wondered how much older they could have been, b/c of that whole “hitler hated warsaw and razed the shit out of it, during/after that warsaw uprising debacle.” and then right across the street, or right next door are these incredibly tall skyscrapers made of glass, branded with names like “deloitte,” “ernst & young,” “volkswagen”…so as weird as it is being in a city where so much death, and persecution, and destruction, and segregation occurred, really i was more caught up in thinking about all this “development,” and “time.” part of the thinking was due to this jetlag - i’m seriously fascinated by the fact that i feel like its 3 am, even though its 2 pm back home. i’ve been thinking about the illusion of memory, and the real desire to forget. about how it seems that for all of Warsaw’s museums, and monuments, really, the city just wants to forget, and building these buildings, developing these properties, is the way it intends to do that. And even the museums themselves, this Warsaw Rising Museum that is the talk of the town — it might seem like “dwelling on the past,” but it’s not. it’s a rejection of so many rewritings of that past (by the nazis, by the soviets, by the americans) - and it’s a way for this country to garner a sense of pride for itself, and pass it down to its children. hey, maybe that’s why it’s so kid-tastic! Alright, that’s enough Jack Handley thoughts for one blog post, on to some really ridiculous shit!
1. i think i can pass for polish / people thought i was polish today. 3 people came up to me speaking in rapid polish today. and then i said “nie nie nie?” and i think they just thought i was being an asshole, not that i didn’t speak polish. this was confusing to me as i, the jewy brunette with curly hair, was vastly outnumbered on the plane ride last night. at one point while waiting for the “loo,” i looked into the masses, and saw all these blondes, and white haired folk, and began to count the brunettes and gave up, because there was so much hair dye that it wouldn’t have been an accurate measurement.
2. people drink beers with straws. and apparently flavor their beer, which i will do tomorrow or the day after or the day after that. they also have crazy flavored vodkas here, like krupnik, which is flavored with honey, and i fully intend to hit that up, and possibly bring some back if it passes the test (stay tuned for vodka party 2k9).
3. on the bus leaving the airport, i met a swiss-pole. i asked him about this beautiful park we passed by, and he told me the name, and said, incidentally, it’s also the polish word for “bathroom,” or “toilet.”
4. there are little kids staying at my hostel - like 4 years old with their american mom. i think that’s odd - don’t you?
i can’t think of anymore.
tomorrow to the old city, some cafes, and then a train to krakow.