Babcia’s socks and Pani Bożena’s swirly carpets March 8, 2007Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Do not, under any circumstances, go to Poland in winter if you’re watching your waistline. But do go if you like good, heavy, creamy stodge and booze. Not that you can’t have booze (or good, heavy, creamy stodge, for that matter) elsewhere, but innard-warming booze just seems all the more appropriate half-way up a mountain wearing your other half’s soaking trainers because you don’t have any footwear of your own from being the fecklessest winter tourist in Małopolska (or was it Śląsk? I never could tell my voivodeships from my hetmanates).
But, darlings, go on holiday! Why had I talked myself into thinking holidays are cack? “Holidays are for losers!” I’d say witheringly to the Russian whenever he suggested we visit any location further than Lidl. But I’m back in love with the Berlin-busting break and we’ve now got a fantasy holiday-list as long as both Mr. Tickle’s arms brewing for when we’ll both be as rich as Croesus – for about ten seconds, before I grudglingly transfer money to a few of my creditors – at some equally fantastic point in the future.
Lovely southern Poland. OK, perhaps not some of the grimmer industrial bits you crawl through on the slowest train this side of Tal-y-llyn. Katowice can probably be given a miss. Wałbrzych, I’m told (on an almost hourly basis), is one of the nastiest settlements ever to disgrace humanity. But Krakow is properly lovely. Like Prague without the headache, as one of my co-revellers put it. Proper Mitteleuropa beauty. Castles. Jewish bits coming back to life. Stodge. Middle-age-bemoaningly handsome boys with nice Slavic hair.
Speaking of which, my co-revellers and I decided to spend our pink zlotys in a Krakow homosexual tavern one evening. The organiser of the revelry and Poland-lover extraordinaire got chatting to some of the locals. And one of them turned out to be an Israeli who’d emigrated to the land of his forbears. And hands up who knew – BaH, you’re excluded. If that makes me an anti-Semite, so be it – that all Israeli schoolchildren go on a compulsory school-trip to Poland? I didn’t go into greater detail with the Israeli-Pole, but I assume it’s to visit some of Poland’s other landmarks – Auschwitz is just down the road from Krakow, for example – and, I’m even more tendentiously assuming, to see a bit of Europe where Jewish life once flourished. And it was quite a thrill to wander into Krakow’s Jewish bit – I’d missed it on my first trip 15 years earlier – and see that the revival in Polish Jewish life might be more than just talk. Our trip-organiser has studied every language known to man, including Cornish, and he got a thrill when he heard a gaggle of Hasidic boys speaking yer actual Yiddish. And it was here that I got my tingliest cultural sensation of the trip. We wandered into a synagogue and its attached, reconstituted (having been desecrated) graveyard. There was a sort of hollering sound coming from within. I thought at first it was two of the very many vociferous Hasidic boys we’d seen milling around involved in some very loud banter but closer inspection showed it was just one boy, praying with a fervour I’d never before witnessed from such close quarters. He extrasensorily perceived our fascination and spun round mid-sway before turning back round to face wherever it was he was facing – Jerusalem? – to carry frantically on.
And from the wonders of Krakow we trolled on to Zakopane. Alpine towns look much alike to me. Multi-storey pointy houses, folk wandering around in expensive clothes and shoes (apart from me), mountains all over the shop. Were it not for the strapping, great musicians with huge lallies wearing this kind of costume peppering the restaurants of the town, I could easily have imagined I was in Switzerland or Austria. The town seemed just as prosperous too. And there are all sorts of mountain recreations to get up to. Cable-cars here. Funiculars there. Sledding somewhere else. Even skiing and snowboarding, goddammit, if that’s your bag. The Russian and I had a lovely old troll through some pristine bit of National Park, shanks sunk in snow, only remembering to turn round and head back to civilisation and a rewarding mug of grzane wino, or mulled wine, when the avalanche warnings got ever more alarming.
Local wares are hard-sold like nobody’s business. Local cheese. Local honey. (Got ourselves some of that.) Local socks from the local babcia (the Polish take on the babushka, headscarf ‘n all). They came in handy for fending off frostbite and now litter our clothes-horse as a timely reminder of a season almost past. And Poland seems to be trundling along nicely, though Zakopane is presumably loaded from all those tourist zlotys and might paint a false picture.
…but we stayed with a local woman. Pani Bożena has one of those great, big, pointy houses and if it wasn’t for her carpets and her hair, again you might have thought you were in St. Moritz. The Russian and I were in the pointiest bit of the house, with a breakfast view of looming mountains and a frustratingly, just-not-quite-good-enough wireless connection to steal access from whomever it was. By the time Pani Bożena’s been in the business another couple of years, you mark my words, she’s gonna get herself some hair-straighteners, invite nephew Jacek back from plumbing in Peterborough and Poland’s going to be the happiest country in Europe.
Berlin’s nice though too, innit?