Monday, August 18, 2008

I should say

I'm really glad I came to Prague. Overall, it's been a worthwhile cultural experience, and I'm grateful for the time here. It's just not really the wonder I thought I was getting. And compared to Poland it's a slap in the face. So remember that.

Also, our hotel has a bidet, and that goes in the plus column.

Everyone says you have to visit Prague

But not me. In fact, I don't think I'll ever come back.

This city couldn't be unfriendlier. Finding the metro takes a good archaeological sense of direction. The train station is hidden underground, with signs in German directing you where to go. And the complete dearth of taxis is perhaps explained by the thievery of which most guidebooks warn you. All of which make for one of the longest and most difficult arrivals of my life.

Granted, a day and a half later, I've now seen some taxis, and I think the city is really easy to get around my metro and tram.

But that's not to mention the restaurants. We paid, for example, $12 for three diminutive rolls and two pats of butter that we didn't order. Thing was, the city had tired us out so much by the time we made it to the restaurant that we didn't have the wits to argue the bill. To make it worse, the food was terrible. I chewed my way through the toughest lamb-leg fat I've ever encountered (and the lamb was, apparently, all fat), and the potato coins were just vomitable.

And there's nothing more classless than when the waitress tells you that you should pay a 10 percent tip.

If you want to know, I'm doing my vindictive best to spread the nasty truth about Prague to everyone I can. I just read a magazine article about the declining tourist industry. Is it, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, high prices for abysmal service? The city says, "No! Tourism is booming," despite government statistics to the contrary. But a smooth-talking PR spokesperson shouldn't be able to cover the truth, so I want to stick it back to Prague. May they rot in their own corruption. (I am venomous, aren't I?)

Architecturally, the city is quite charming. It's really nice to wander down narrow cobbled streets between old, well-restored houses. The churches and palaces are gorgeous, the parks and gardens are well-tended and colorful, and the museums are well-organized and informative.

My real remaining rub is all the tourists (yes, I was aware that Prague is big on tourists before I came here). There are so many, speaking so many languages, that it doesn't feel like you're in the Czech Republic at all. It feels like you're in an amusement park. Today we took the metro away from the old city, trying to find the highrises we'd seen from a distance, and it was so metropolitanly peaceful. There were Czech people strolling, sitting on walls, listening to their iPods. I actually felt like I was someplace, not a weird nowhere of broken English.

You may call me picky, or you may say I'm losing my insufferable optimism, or that I'm a whiner, but I don't care. All I care about is that you don't visit Prague until it cleans up its act. It really doesn't deserve the attention.

But Poland! Poland is a different story.

Wroclaw was a mixed bag. Bad hotel, bad lunch, cool panorama and beautiful town square. I got to see an old friend, Grażyna, and meet her year-old daughter, Amelia, and it was really enjoyable to catch up with her. I don't really want to go into it, but there was a little episode where we'd thought Amelia had broken her finger, and Dad felt responsible, so we left Grażyna to take a screaming toddler to the hospital. That was a bit of a downer.

However, dinner was good. But we were tired, as we'd woken up about 5:00 AM.

(Amelia's finger was fine, it turned out. She was just tired and teething.)

Our car tour of Silesia was really enjoyable. I got to visit two more of my old areas (I visited all four this trip), and the drive was easy and comfortable.

Friday night we headed down into the Beskid mountains and enjoyed dinner on a lake, just before the storm sallied down. Saturday, we did some more exploring in the rainy Beskids, and lost a hub cap to a pot hole. Luckily, I noticed and adventured off the road to recover it, from among several other hub caps. (Roads were never Poland's forte.)

Speaking of roads, we met a bit of construction, and about two hours worth of traffic, on our way to Kraków. Then we had the adventure of driving in the city (not worth it, don't try it), and then an evening concert of overplayed classical music in a grand cathedral.

Then it was the night train to this Jewel of the Bohemian Crown.

Then, then, then. I'm sorry it turned into a beaten out travelogue, but all that latter information was more for my memories than for you. All I want you to remember is not to visit Prague: it's not worth it. Poland is cheaper and just as worth seeing.

We'll see how Vienna survives my nitpicking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Lied

Strange is the fate of the Polish traveler. Here I am, in McDonald's, listening to the same corporate-mandated music videos and commercials. Except this time, my dad is here to enjoy it with me. If I were a sadist, I would make him watch the videos so he could attest, but I'll let him read the guidebook so he knows a little bit about where we are and what we can do in the next few days.

We just pulled into Wrocław about an hour and twenty minutes ago (bright and early at 5:20 AM). We took the night train from Gdańsk, and I slept a solid five and a half hours. It wasn't really all that bad, though. It was comfortable enough, besides my height. I tell you what, I found space for my feet in the smallest of crannies.

Last Thursday night totally changed the direction of my week. We went to the Gładun's house for dinner, and Beata cooked the most amazing żurek, which is my favorite Polish soup, and gołąbki, which are my favorite main course. Then her desserts--good criminy high heavens to the milky way they were AMAZING. As you all know, the cafeteria has been the great thorn in my eye this summer, so it was most welcome.

After that, we caught a bus to the philharmonic and watched the Poznań Nightingales, a boys' and men's choir, sing nine numbers. It was heavenly. And the conductor was 84 years old. The best part of it all, was that there were all these butcher-shop basses on the back row singing with human feeling. It totally changed my view of The Polish Male.

Then we got our diplomas and declined white wine.

Friday night was good and tiring. I went to the pub with some fellow BYUers and Karolina, the Polish girl that's so cool. It was an Irish pub, and Karolina had also invited some Irishmen at the school, so we watched part of the opening ceremonies in a strange mash of culture and drank fruit juice. And I got to bed at a reasonable hour to train to Warsaw the next morning.

Our time in Warsaw was fantastic. Saturday we got to the airport in good time and picked up my dad, then we went to my friends' Joanna and Tomek's house for a late Polish lunch. She's been wonderful about cooking poultry for me, and we had a really enjoyable afternoon. They're so hospitable.

That night we decided to try to go to Professor Whipple's fireside-recital. We thought it started at 7:00, but it started at 6:00, so we walk in, an hour late, with me in jeans and a polo shirt, in front of the mission president and everyone. I blushed. On the plus side, we only had to sit in the hot chapel for 20 minutes, then we got refreshments.

We also got to see the Boothe's, an American couple who helped me in my illness while I was here, and we got to meet the mission president and his wife, who are both charming people with lots of smiles and genuine interest.

Sunday we were late to meet Kathryn and her husband, and as I was supposed to lead them to the chapel, I was worried that they were also late, so we waited for a half an hour. When we walked into church, half an hour late, who should be sitting at the front of the room but the mission president. At least I was wearing slacks and a white shirt that time. I still blushed. (Kathryn had found the missionaries and gone ahead to the chapel.)

That afternoon we had dinner at Joanna and Tomek's again, then they went with us to Łazienki Park to enjoy the Chopin concert. It was almost perfect. The musicianship was of high quality, and the milieu was enchanting--except for the busy street that runs just a belt of trees away from the benches. Nonetheless, our time in the park was great. I practiced a lot of Polish, and Tomek practiced a lot of English.

That night at dinner, a South African (we found out later) man invited us to sit at his table, as there were none left, and we had a lovely conversation. He was a safari guide in Africa, met his wife from Australia on his last safari, and they've lived in London for five years with him being product manager for the safari tour company. Now they're traveling Europe for six months before moving to Australia. Beat that, interesting people.

Monday we spent again with Joanna, wandering around the old city, boating on the Wisła, touring the royal castle. Then that night we went to dinner with the Boothe's at a folksy little place with live music and dancing. Everyone agreed that I should have won the whip-cracking contest hands down, but they had a run-off and I lost. What can I say, I lost my form.

First thing Wednesday (by which I mean 10:30 because I couldn't wake up) we headed to Sopot and the beach. It was distinctly unromantic, walking in the sand in tennis shoes, but it was pleasant weather. We went out onto the wharf to see about a boat on the harbor, and instead decided to spend that money on lunch on the wharf. We had just started our meal when a gust of wind popped the tarp roof of the restaurant next to us, and seagull poop rained down on us. Needless to say, we moved inside, and they were nice enough to give us new meals. Oh it was so gross.

Later that afternoon a withering storm blew through Gdańsk. We took refuge in a church (the biggest brick church in the world), but we saw the broken umbrella's being carried away from the restaurants, and Dad got pictures.

The next event of note was the night train here, which was bumpy and cramped, but we slept and it wasn't all bad, though we've been stuck in the train station for two hours and have another hour and a half to wait. But I got time to write this blog.

And in the comments on the last post it was delicately insinuated that I am not satisfactorily optimistic. I must differ, however, as I am looking forward to my return to America with skads of positive energy. Well, and I'm currently quite satisfied; getting away from that cafeteria helped change my attitude as well. I challenge anyone to eat cabbage pancakes with a smile on their face, though I do appreciate the appeal to the positive tenth of my personality :).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Winding Down

(That last post I wrote last Monday while I was sick.)

Just to set the tone, the current music video involves a teenager leading dogs around with remote-control leashes. I'm not sure how to describe it, except crappy.

So, we had our test today and tomorrow is the last day of class and Saturday I'll spirit myself away to Warsaw, in the quiet early morning. School is all winding down and I'm trying to pump myself up for another 20 days in Europe.

What I really want is just to go home, as ungrateful as that sounds. This week has been crappy, as I've still been sick, and I'm searching for energy in all the remote corners of my pancreas and psyche, and I'm not finding it.

Granted, I'm surviving. With the test over and my laundry in the machine, life looks a great deal brighter. I think I'm going to dirty my clothes in joy at the sight of American machines, and then do some laundry. I might kiss the dryer too.

The test was a breeze. The teacher gave us a lot of answers. Her justification was that we're not here to be tested, we're here to learn Polish, so instead of taking a test it was kind of just a learning activity. I might say that she's really cool.

And I'm sure a lot of other worthwhile things happened this week, but I can't think of them. Oh, we had apple pancakes last night for dinner, and it was wonderful. Then they gave us cabbage pancakes for lunch today, and it was awful. As much as it puts me out to cook my own food, I cannot wait to get away from this cafeteria.

I suppose I should also mention that I'm experiencing cultural exhaustion. The music, the clothes, the butcher-shop men (they're all thugs) and the Barbie women are all too much for me. Also the napkins (tissue paper!). If you can't tell, I really miss America. Yes, you may call me a patriot.

I'm not alone, either. Most of our conversations this week have centered on how excited we are to go home. It's just so tiring.

So, I think it's goodbye for now. After all this work to excite myself about my impending tourism, I'm not going to be spending time writing blogs. Well, who knows. Maybe I shouldn't leave you with this great eruption of negative.

Well, I was going to search for something positive to end with, but Avril Lavigne just appeared on the screen. It's all too much. Enjoy your August!

Going Wild

Well, the sad crap of the matter is that I got sick, really sick. On Thursday I began feeling a little bit out of it, then on Friday I was all out of sorts and towards evening I felt awful. Saturday was even worse, and, apart from doing my laundry, which was hard, I lay down all day. Sunday was better, but then towards evening I got worse again.

I’m dizzy and achy and exhausted and I’ve had some abdominal pain, along with wrenching headaches.

I hate being sick in Poland.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time in my room since Friday…well, basically the whole time since Friday night. It’s starting to smell a little funny. For one, we have wood sculptures in here that have a peculiar redolence. For two, we’ve had to dry laundry in here a couple of times in the past weeks, and that certainly moistens the air. And worst of all, the ladies haven’t changed my bed linens (which consist of a sheet and a duvet cover—hardly linens at all) as Professor Whipple told me to expect.

Oh, I’ve been showering in earnest and leaving the room fully open, especially as the heat is barely tolerable, but that has also meant a minor invasion of insect species. Just today I did battle with a wasp. It retreated. But I haven’t been killing the spiders in the corners because they catch the moths, flies and dragonflies. On a more pleasant note a butterfly flew in today. I chased it out though, because I don’t want caterpillars eating my precious bed linens. Well, plus trodding on them barefoot would be nasty.

Thank heaven for shampoo and soap or I would feel entirely feral. As it is, I’m sleeping on a Styrofoam mattress with a thin sheet and forest creatures crawling around me.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Today? Today is a good day, because I don't have to endure the brainless torrent of music videos in McDonald's! How did I gain this favor? My friend Katharina is staying in the university's more ritzy hotel, where they have internet in the rooms, and as she is gone to Toruń for the weekend, she lent me her key and I can have all the internet I want with absolutely no Avril Lavigne. It's like crack without the addiction! although, that metaphor falls apart really quickly.

This week? This week has been a hard week. (In honesty, the first part of today was also harder--but everything in proper order.)

Last Saturday we took our side trip to Warsaw. We were an hour and a half late leaving because they found out at the last minute that the A/C in the waiting bus was defunct (It's at this point I really miss Daniel, because I swear there's a Yiddish word for that that I would rather use. No, it's not "kaput," I already checked the etymology on that one.), so we waited for a new bus. You see, the weather in the past week has warmed significantly, and anyone standing in direct sunlight will quickly sweat his pants.

But the trip to Warsaw was fun. I went with Professor Whipple to a folk art shop on the Old Town Square and got to meet the wonderful folk sculpture expert who helped him develop the beginnings of his collection. I also must say that she was an undeniable saleswoman, but that is all I will say.

We also had a tour guide, though I missed the first part of the tour for the folk art shop. He took us around the old town, then on the bus we drove through the most important streets and it was a great way to see the city, most of which I hadn't seen.

At the end of the day we had a little bit of free time, so I went with Nate and Jake to the Warsaw chapel for the bi-branch picnic. There I got to see a member that attended my branch when I was in Warsaw. Call me forward, but I gave her a hug. Pshaw.

And then I ran, yes I ran, away from the ubiquitous kiełbasa back to meet the group before they went to dinner--and it was beef and barley. Granted, the gravy was really good, so I cleaned my plate (first time! I think), but barley doesn't especially please the palate. I did, however, get to hang out with four fantastic females (Katharina, Ally (sp), Kathryn and Brooke), and it was a good time.

A lot of people don't like Warsaw, whether because it's too busy or heartless, I don't know. I, however, really appreciate it as a fantastic metropolis, and I enjoy my time there. So, if you're ever in the area, I recommend visiting. It has old and new to suit any European traveler, and hopefully someone from the chamber of commerce will see this and hire me to do marketing.

Sunday night I went out to dinner with Katharina, Ally, Dan and Karolina. Katharina is German-American, Ally is half Cuban-American, Dan is Jewish-Canadian, Karolina is Polish, and I am Anglo-Viking-mutt, so it was quite an international crowd, and I had a blast. I think I was born to be friends with hip (yes, hip people use the word "hip"), young, progressive graduate students. I'm still a tiny bit intimidated by their level of education, though none of them parade it at all, but they're just fantastic human beings, and it was kind of the apex of everything I hoped for this summer.

Then came Weird Monday. We got a huge new group of students in to start the second cycle of the summer school, and everything was thrown into chaos. We switched cafeterias, and now instead of round, familial tables we have long, penal tables. You don't really feel as if you're sitting next to anyone, and all our friendly crew was separated from each other. What's more, every time you took something from down the table you felt like a thief, and we were all dismayed by the sudden dearth of strawberry jam.

That night, Brooke and Kathryn and I prayed together, as Professor Whipple was already in Pelplin and Nate and Jake had gone to Gdańsk, and we commiserated a little bit. But just a little bit.

Tuesday I said goodbye to Dan, and it was deeply sad. He's been my sanity-support for the last three weeks, and I already miss him a lot.

That same day, Kathryn and Brooke and I trained our way to Gdańsk. It was a long bit of railroad, and it was stressful for me as the responsible, Polish-speaking party. I shoved my pride in the toilet and obsessively told everyone around me where we were trying to go and would they please let me know if there was an announcement I didn't understand (because I don't understand them). I'm happy to say we made our way entirely successfully.

In Gdańsk we walked town the main tourist street, ate at the hotel, slept in the hotel, and then walked down another major tourist street. We were there too late and too early to do anything else. We also went south to visit Malbork Castle, essentially the capital of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. It's one of the biggest brick castles in the world, and was really an impressive three-hour tour.

Then we made my very nervous way to Pelplin, a town of about 7000 people that, oddly enough, is home to the seat of a diocese. The cathedral is huge and fantastic--tastefully decorated in the baroque style, with the third tallest altar in Europe, one tremendous (according to Professor Whipple) baroque organ, and another huge romantic-era organ, both recently restored.

We stayed in the seminary while we were there, and that was an experience in and of itself. In our rooms were cards wishing us much inspiration signed by John Paul II. We even ate in the refectory, a word I learned just for the occasion. However, the water never got hot, and as religious a person as I am (right), I decided that I probably would have abandoned hopes of the priesthood rather than spend six years taking cold showers. (The Poles, at this point, would call me a scandal.)

Professor Whipple's recital went very well. Everyone thought he was miraculous, and, as that was the whole reason I went on the excursion, I was entirely pleased.

Our journey back had its snags, including conductors that refuse to recognize the student status of anyone who's not Polish, (no matter where we come from, I promise we're not rolling in cash, especially as we're in Poland, versus, say, bleed-your-wallet-dry Norway) but in the end I got the student rate and we made it back to Lublin in time to enjoy a superb dinner at a superb restaurant.

And then I woke up and had to go to school. Oh, I didn't want to go at all, and as breakfast in these parts is no miracle, I had nothing to pull me in the direction of the university this morning. Class was really hard to focus on, and then, to make matters worse, we moved into a really echoey room to watch a movie and I couldn't understand a thing. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I probably wouldn't understand in English either, but that doesn't help the boiling frustration.

So, I was overjoyed to get here to Katharina's room, where it's quiet and cool and I can do all the necessary computer updates using reliable internet connection--in English. Hallelujah, indeed.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Look

Let's just say I don't look like a feminist anymore. I rather look like your average, donkey-talking, Polish hooligan. Well, I actually hope I can maintain a sufficiently intelligent look on my face to get over that, but it's still interesting.

Of course, I want you to read this before you see the pictures, so I'm going to write a little bit of fodder to fill the space and put the pictures (hopefully) down the page.

In an effort to be more healthy, I have decided to stop eating. In Poland, the substitute for meat is mushrooms, and they make me sick. Last night, for example, we were served a sparsely populated plate of boiled dough balls with mushroom gravy. MMM! So, I had my serving of dough balls with sugar, then butter, then plain, then sugar again, and it constituted a few calories. So I'm retaining my staple of bread and jam, and they were actually nice enough to give us more jam last night, so it's not all that bad.

However, I have gone to Subway twice this week, and one day I didn't even bother to go to the cafeteria.

Today in McDonald's there's a crowd of German boys that are dressed in, to my best guess, fireman overalls--it's like a really freaky dream. And they are laughing like my haircut looks. I really shouldn't complain, and I'm not actually complaining because I'm really enjoying the new style. I asked for European and that's what I got. And my hair was too short to do anything major with anyway. After all, I didn't pack my straightening iron.

Anyway, I've held you in suspense long enough. Or else all this filler hasn't been enough to push the pictures far enough down in your window, and it's all a waste of effort anyway. It's alright though: I didn't have to think about anything I've just written, so I've been able to enjoy a crappy Avril Lavigne video.



because I can't resist posting my face all over the internet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I forgot to think of a title

First off, thank you everyone for the great comments. The positive reinforcement has been really good for me, and it makes me want to write more, so, very seriously, thank you.

So very much has happened since I last posted, I'm still trying to gather my thoughts. It's a good thing I committed to this blog thing, because otherwise my journal of Poland would be a lot more patchy.

I'll start with the highlight, because otherwise I'll just be itching to get it out. We took an outing to Kraków this weekend, and I'm sorry Megan and all citizens of Kraków, but the coolest part of the trip happened on the ride home.

There's a woman here from China who speaks Polish. She's a psychiatrist and a gynecologist (at Dan's urging we came up with several jokes along that scenario, and if anyone's interested I'll tell you sometime...but not here) and she worked here in 1995 and she's come back to the summer school several times since then.

So, on the bus ride back from Kraków I ended up sitting next to this woman, and I'd been wanting an opportunity to talk to her more for a long time. (If you learn one thing from this blog, I hope it's that Polish with a Chinese accent is about the coolest thing I've ever heard in my life!) I asked about her profession and why she knew Polish, which city in China she's from (Peking) and if she spoke English (poorly).

Then I got brave and asked her about Chinese politics. She taught me how to say Hu Jintao (President of the People's Republic) properly, and we compared notes on totalitarianism and democracy and other light dinner topics. She asked me what I think of President Bush and then told me her opinion, and she told me about her visits to America and Canada and how she'll prefer the Chinese system forever.

Then I got really brave and asked her about Tibet. (I must say that she didn't treat any of these topics as taboo--she was willing to talk about anything.) She told me some things that I think pretty well fall along the lines of the official party position, but I didn't really try to argue with her, because we were both speaking poor Polish and a bus isn't really the place to evangelize democracy.

But nonetheless, the point of all that detail is that I had a conversation with a Chinese woman, about politics, religion and all the heavy artillery, in Polish, on a bus, in Poland. It was an exalted experience.

That same night I told Chauntelle (sp) (from the vegetarian table) that a certain candy bar (Biały Lion, if you're interested) is orgasmic, and I got a lot of shocked, uncomfortable laughs from my BYU compatriots. I defended myself by saying it's a word we use in my family. Hi Mom and Dad!

In other news, Kraków was really fun. On Saturday we had a tour guide who led us around the old town, including the churches and Jagellonian University, then up to Wawel and through the cathedral and the castle. She spoke excellent English, and it was an incredibly educational experience.

Kraków is a really nice city. There are a lot of tourists, but it's big enough that it doesn't seem too terrible. It's a lot more advanced than Lublin as well, and the restoration of all the old architecture is incredible. A true miracle of tourists' money. I recommend visiting.

Another highlight was seeing my dear friend Megan, who's currently a sister missionary in Kraków. We had planned to meet in the early afternoon and go to lunch, which we did. Though, they told the elders that we were meeting, and I think the elders thought that I was on the prowl or something (oh if only they knew me), so they tagged along. I'm not too bitter, but some missionaries are definitely hard to be around.

We had lunch at a fantastic little basement restaurant and then we went to a park for sport Saturday, a weekly opportunity for missionaries to blow of steam and spend quality time with investigators and members. Several of the BYU crowd came and joined us, and it was actually quite a good time. Hanging out with a missionary necessarily limits conversation topics (their lives don't vary much from day to day), but it was just good to see Megan and chat a little bit.

I think that's all from my end. I've been invited to a party this Thursday, and I haven't yet decided how spirited I feel. At the very least, we're going to see Wall-E tomorrow night, so that's "out on the town."

Just because I know you're interested, the vegetarian table has been in a slump. Last night we had mushroom bigos for dinner. As bigos (sauerkraut and sausage) is nothing to drool over, it was especially disappointing. This evening I went to Subway and got a half-price sandwich ("happy hour!") to complement my baked-apple-rice-abomination. As a pathological optimist, however, I know that I won't die before I get home, barring serious accidents or natural disasters. Always the optimist!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Crows, etc.

Up in my organ room, on the tenth floor, I leave the windows open because air conditioning is a thing of the future. This week there's been a murder of crows circling the air around the building, and it's been kind of eerie hearing them argue. I'm really afraid that someday a bird is going to fly through a window, either in the dorm or at the university, but I suppose that would make a good blog post. At least, a better one than this one.

Grammar and vocabulary building is long, tiring work. I kind of struggled through the first half of my class this morning, but then in the latter half we played a guessing game, describing famous people from our respective countries, and that made for much more entertaining work. I chose William Faulkner, because I'm like that, and the only person in the class who guessed was my teacher. All the Americans were surprised and asked why on earth she knew William Faulkner, and she said that it's important to know such people. I agreed.

Meals have gotten better, as the kitchen has really been coming to terms with the vegetarian concept. The highlight of the last week was the mushroom gałąbki. We didn't have to be jealous of the carnivores at all.

We're still avoided, though. I'll never get tired of seeing the smile drop from people's faces when we tell them that it's the vegetarian table. It is nice to know, however, that they like us up until they find out what we're eating.

Last Saturday I sat down in a park for a complicated reason that I don't want to take the time to explain, and a random, but nice, man named Andrzej asked if he could sit down. I said he could, and we chatted for 20 or 30 minutes about politics and Poland and whether or not Polish girls are pretty. It's something I really wanted, just good solid conversational practice. He asked if I played chess, and I said I know the rules, but that I'm no good at all. Anyway, I hope to see him sometime playing chess, because I'd gladly talk to him again.

The highlight of the week was on Sunday when we went to Kazimierz Dolny, a little town on the Visła about an hour away by bus. The city itself was a veritable cesspool of tourists, which detracted from any photo opportunities. I did, however, buy one of the famous rooster-shaped bread-creations, and I walked down to the Visła and dipped the very tip of my shoe in the water.

But then! then! I went and met Professor Whipple in the church where he was waiting for the organist. Every year, on the Kazimierz trip, Professor Whipple goes up with the organist and plays a little part of Mass and a little bit after. This year was no different, except I got to go up too.

As it happens, Kazimierz Dolny claims the oldest playing organ in Poland, and I got to play it! It was a totally new experience, and I played some sour notes, but Professor Whipple said my artistry was superb, so I didn't complain. I won't bore you with details only an organist would love, but oh it was so cool--so cool!--and I got plenty of pictures.

On a more somber note, a large group of us went to the Majdanek concentration camp today, and it was, as always, a complex experience. I don't really think the internet is a great place to publish my feelings on the matter, but I will take the time to recommend that everyone visit a concentration camp if they have the chance. This is my third one, and you can't trade the experience for anything. I was actually quite honored by my friend Daniel when he invited me to come with him when he visits it later this month, so I'll be going back, and I think it's totally worth it.

And the music videos at McDonald's are still about as pleasurable as an IV. I couldn't get a whole post out without complaining.

Speaking of which, I've been reading about the fundamentals of Buddhism, and I get the feeling that sometime in my life I should stop moaning. Something to work on...sometime soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dinner Lament

Vegetarians aren't welcome in this country.

I've been sitting at the vegetarian table since they established it, because virtually every meat dish has pork in it, and I've really enjoyed myself; we have some great vegetarians at the summer school.

But our meals have gotten rather depressing. First off, the kitchen just can't wrap their heads around the no-meat principle. They brought soup yesterday that had sausage in it, and this evening one of the salads had little ham cubes.

And that's not the worst of it. Today, the main dish was noodles with strawberry sauce. That's good enough on it's face, but how much noodles and strawberry sauce (unsweetened of course) do you think you could eat? Not very filling.

The greatest tragedy of all was this evening, as all the other tables were served plates of enormous sausages with onions. We, on the other hand, had our thoughtless ham salad, bread, butter, jam, soy pate and raw cabbage. I tell you what, I am just stuffed. I couldn't eat another cabbage leaf if you paid me to. So filling!

So, yeah, I ate a lot of bread and jam, which was really good. But I'm by no means satisfied.

We're also bordering on social outcasts now. Our table wasn't in its usual place tonight and people would sit down only to dash away, quite literally, when we pointed out that we were vegetarians. "I'm going to go eat real food," one said. Lovely.

A bunch of malnourished lepers we're becoming. But I always have my protein bars.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Week One

First off, allow me to complain. The music videos they're showing in McDonald's today are really crappy. I may not be able to dance, but that's why I don't try to dance on TV, and I expect the same courtesy from fellow invalids. Just gross. I'm going to bring my headphones from now on, because then it's easier to ignore.

Anyway, it's Friday, and my brain is tired. Three hours of grammar a day isn't too tiring, but five days of three hours of grammar a day is.

Granted, I only learned something partially new one day this week. The rest of the time it was pretty much practicing things I already knew and minor vocabulary building.

Our teacher, Pani Oldakowska, is really nice and easy-going--lets us leave the door open so air moves through the room, lets us share chocolate covered plums if someone happened to buy a lot, and so on. She also speaks very clearly and very correctly.

I'll admit, though, that I've been a little bored, as basically everything is review. My very soul is divided on this issue, because on one hand it's most welcome when school is easy, but this course cost enough that I feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. (By the way, I tried to translate the phrase "get one's money's worth" and was met with an utterly blank stare. Perhaps I'll learn enough humility here to get my money's worth...)

Anyway, in my moderate boredom, I've practiced the organ for two hours both today and yesterday. I'm close to having the new piece I brought down, so Professor Whipple is sharing some of his music with me. The organ I've been practicing on is on the tenth floor of the building, and the windows look out across Lublin, so it's a far cry from practicing in the bowels of the HFAC, and I like it.

I've also made some friends at the vegetarian table, because I'm effectually a vegetarian in this pork-addicted country. There's a girl each from Australia, Slovenia and Croatia, then a Jewish man (also an effectual vegetarian) from Canada and another David from America. Today I tried sitting at the meat eating table, because of fish on Friday, and I missed the vegetarians, so I'll be back tonight.

It's kind of interesting how the various food prohibitions interact. Daniel, my Jewish friend, has his laws to follow, I can't drink the ubiquitous tea and coffee, and the Catholics keep me healthy on Friday. It's so much more exciting than BYU.

Speaking of Daniel, I'm going over to his room tonight when he lights his Sabbath candles. Another opportunity I'd never get at BYU.

I'm also being reminded daily of some of the quirks inherent in Polish nationality, like the unabashed staring (and for no other reason than my apparent American look). My favorite, however, is when someone walking in front of you stops and turns around and acts like they're looking at something just long enough to let you walk by, then they continue behind you. The English-speaking people must maliciously follow them everywhere, or else someone needs to keep an eye on us. I have no idea why they do it, but I find it hilarious.

Wow, these sucky music videos sure drain you. It's worse than grammar. Anyway, I can't come up with any more coherent things to write, so I'm done. Happy weekend.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The (Failed) Tunnel Video

Well, my video is going to take a long time to upload, so I'll write a little bit more here.

We had our placement exams this morning, and I don't think I did too poorly. The written exam was straightforward, and since I didn't want to do better on it than I deserved (one of those rare but welcome exams), I didn't try to guess on the questions as to whose answers I had no idea, and I didn't have to check through my answers at all.

After that I had an oral exam, which was basically a conversation with a couple of professors about living in Poland, learning Polish and what I like to do in my free time. One of the professors didn't speak at all, but the one I spoke with was very nice. I actually met her last night when we were in the park watching the dancers.

Lublin was in the throes of a folk dance festival this weekend--that's why the Burley crew was here--so we went last night to see the final show. They had dancers from Turkey, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Burley. Some of the groups were quite good, though the clogging from America was rather floppy, and I mean that literally.

It was interesting to see a lot of dances and costumes that the BYU folk dancers recreate exactly to style, like the Slovakian and Ukrainian dances. But all the groups had live music from little bands they brought with them, and that was fun to hear. Folk music has a certain style when it's played by natives, and I enjoyed it a lot.

We find out the results of our test this afternoon, then we have our first class tonight. We generally have class in the morning, but they want to get things going on the first day. I expect I'll be in an intermediate or advanced class, and I'm interested to see what that's like. I have no idea how one studies Polish in an advanced way. Probably a lot of writing...

Ah, we started meeting some of the other students this morning, and I'm excited for that. I walked to school with an Italian woman who speaks Polish better than English, so that's how we communicated. She had the most startling eyes I'd ever seen, really dark and deep (and that was the shallowest description I've ever given).

At breakfast we sat next to three nice French girls who smiled and nodded but weren't much on conversation. If only I spoke French. Then we met some of the other people from the States. There's a mother and daughter from Connecticut (or it might have been Kentucky), a girl from California, and a group of about 10 from a university in Wisconsin. One of the kids from Wisconsin told me I absolutely have to go to the discoteka, so we'll see what comes of that. When it comes to it, I'm a very meek person, after all.

Well, it looks like my video isn't going to upload before we need to leave to go back, so you'll have to watch it later.

I'll leave you with my life metaphor (we've been thinking of them as a group, and I got mine last night). Life is a one-act opera: one would think it should be longer, but most of us probably couldn't stand it anyway.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Me in a fjord!

Me and Siv-Iren on a train.

Baran the sculptor.

A Romanesque cathedral built in the 12th century.

A mind-bogglingly large palace from the 17th century: Krzyżtopor.

The town square in Zamość.

Belarus and Ukraine


There's just so much to write about!

The information I must include is that we were lied too: there will not be Internet in our bedrooms; there is only a computer room in the basement with six machines. And the basement is a steaming pit of laundry and smoke, because that's where the wash-room and smoking-room are. So, we're at McDonald's, and, unless they kick us out, we'll probably be here often. I just wish it were a groovy coffee shop. Oh well.

I also haven't taken caffeine for three days! I've been going to bed at 9:00 or 9:30, yes, but I'm sleeping enough.

Today we got the very good news that I won't have to move again. I had moved down into the other room in Professor Whipple's suite and we'd moved the man who was supposed to be there up to the 3rd (in America, the 4th) floor. Well, turns out that man is 76 years old, so the summer school people were mad at us, but Professor Whipple finagled it so I can stay where I am. As I am basically an old person, it's perfect for me. I don't have to deal with noisy roommates who stay up late.

Last week has been a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment. I'll get the worst over with, because I hate talking about it.

On Friday we went to see one of the greatest organs in Poland. Professor Whipple has played it once, as he chanced there last time just as Mass was ending and the organist was really kind, so we went there with some trepidation, hoping we'd get lucky again. I tried to be a staunch pessimist so I wouldn't have my hopes dashed.

Well, we got there just as Mass was ending, and Professor Whipple and I sneaked up into the organ loft. The organist was new and young, but very nice, but he wouldn't let us play without permission from the Father Superior.

Well, the Father Superior turned out to be a (swear word). "No foreigners are allowed to play unless they are giving a recital." The nice organist said that there was a tour group waiting to hear a 30 minute recital at that very moment, so the Father Superior agreed to let Professor Whipple play that, but no students were allowed into the loft.

So, I stood next to one of the greatest organs in Poland, let myself get excited about playing even one simple hymn, and had my hopes dashed by a fat, probably indigested monk.

On the other hand, I got to see Belarus and Ukraine across the Buk river, so that was cool enough.

We've also eaten really well. In Zamość we sat in a restaurant right on the historic and beautiful town square, with the town hall in view. Last night, we ate at a superb little restaurant in Lublin right in the old town.

Lublin is a nice enough city. Our neighborhood is something of a hair-clogged drain, where the swill of society congregate. The building across the street is basically ruined, and hooligans and bums and aspiring race-car drivers (it's not even a through street) make for a nervous atmosphere.

But, we're only five minutes away from the old town, on foot, and since its summer they have evening concerts and fun to-dos. I'm getting used to walking a lot more, even though I still think I'll ride the bus to school (as soon as I have time to figure out the routes), because I don't want to spend the time walking. I don't know, I should walk an hour a day, but I'd rather walk and see new places, rather than the same street over and over.

I still haven't bought sunglasses, because I don't have anyone to go with me and tell me whether they're damn sexy. I will settle for no less than damn sexy.

If you couldn't tell by word choice, all the irreverence in my soul is at a steady boil.

Today at church we had a crew of folk dancers from none other than Burley, Idaho--middle-schoolers and leaders. Since there were two Poles there, it meant that sacrament meeting was in English, so I was recruited to translate for a nice Polish woman, and I had to do a running translation, because no one cared to speak slowly.

As it was my first time translating, and it was continuous at that, I felt I did pretty well. I got totally flummoxed when the leader of the Burley group started talking about BYU's folk dance team and how they decided to form the group and tour the world because it would be too hard for the kids to get into BYU. Try explaining all that to an elderly Polish woman in the space of a single sentence.

We had some really unique experiences this week with folk artists. Because Professor Whipple is such a connoisseur of Polish folk art, he has some friends in the trade. We visited one whom Professor Whipple hadn't even met, who is in his seventies and lives very primitive circumstances. Three others who we visited have a big presence in Professor Whipple's collection, and they were all very gracious hosts and it was a side of Poland few people get to see.

All of them carve and paint wood, and it's quite a craft they've developed. I wished I had more money so I could take more of the beauty home with me and show you. I did get plenty of pictures.

Speaking of which I shall now figure out how to post some pictures and videos, and those will be posts unto themselves.

Starting tomorrow, I have to start studying Polish in earnest, but I'll still try to find time to write.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Follow Through

I'm continuing my goal, just so you all don't think I'm a quitter.

We still don't have the internet at our dorms, so we're at McDonald's using the WiFi. For that reason, I don't have a great deal of time to spend on this post, because I want to go home and maybe do some laundry and go to bed.

Really, I don't want to catch up, so I'll describe Norway in one word. EXPENSIVE. A McChicken meal at McDonald's (something of an obsession in the post, thus far) cost $16. Jeans cost, at their cheapest sale price, $200. Cheapest, remember. But then, everyone makes more. People just out of college are making $60,000 or $70,000 a year. Oh but it was painful for a poor American student.

But, I saw the fjords. My friend Siv-Iren very generously drove me five and a half hours across the mountains to see them. On the way we drove through a tunnel that is 24.5 kilometers long. I got a time lapse video that's at 30x speed, so I'll see if I can figure out how to post that here. I couldn't believe how long it was. It took 20 minutes to drive through.

Gosh, I'm too tired to do anymore tonight. Our dorm rooms are on the east side, and that means the sun lights them up at 4:00 every morning. And we're sleeping on what is, for all intents and purposes, polystyrene foam. Poland never was too comfortable. By the time I get home, I'll be a caffeine addict, and I mean that quite seriously. Oh well.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I Will, At Least, Begin

However, I don't know whether I should synopsize or just share a bit. We'll see where it takes me.

So, I arrived in Poland eight days ago this afternoon, and it has been a very full eight days, though I think my legs will be much more defined when I get home. Heavens above, these Europeans do a lot of walking.

I was quite relieved to make it to the airport with all my baggage, even if we were 30 minutes late. The flight was uneventful, besides the blinding knife-pain in my sinuses during the pressure changes: I caught a cold earlier this week, and it left me with a friendly infection to travel with.

I also sat next to some friendly foreigners—I was excited to sit by four different people from four different countries. My first rowmates were a nice, pleasantly sunbaked Dutch couple (“We are joining you here then, yes?”) returning from vacation in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was their second trip to Utah and the west and they plan to come again, so we talked about National Parks and what there is to see in Colorado.

On the Atlantic crossing I enjoyed the company of a German-sized German (if I may so boldly stereotype) returning home from a business trip. Oddly enough, his wife is Polish, and he’s lived in Lublin (where I’m going to study). We tried to speak Polish for about a sentence, but with my English accent and his German accent, things quickly fell apart, so we switched back to English, where his German accent made things difficult enough.

My stopover in Frankfurt was about two kilometers long—I walked so far. The airport was terrifyingly large, like a small city, and it took about an hour of solid walking (even with the help of the ubiquitous moving walkways) from arrival gate to departure gate. I was so glad to get there. What excited me even more was hearing Polish everywhere while I sat at the gate! Granted, I started to get scared because I understood so little, but I was never good at eavesdropping, anyway.

The last leg of my trip was quiet. I sat next to an angst-filled Canadian girl on her way to meet her Polish-Canadian boyfriend whom she hadn’t seen for four months. On my other side was a very Polish and very sleepy Pole who spoke excellent English. We got on well enough, but the half hour delay at the gate taxed our conversation topics—two passengers didn’t show up, so they had to search through the baggage to get their bags off the plane in case they were intended to blow us up.

Looking at Poland from the air was about the smileyest thing I’ve done recently. All the apartment blocks and sensible European cars—I was just overjoyed, bouncing up and down like a toddler (on the inside).

I was met promptly at the airport by my friend Joanna and her husband Tomek, who very efficiently drove me to my hotel and helped me carry in my bags. After I checked in we drove down to their apartment in a neighborhood towards the south of Warsaw, and (I apologize for this hackneyed phrase) it was surreal to be back in my old area. Of course, it was weirder to be in my old area in a car, but I just couldn’t believe I was back!

I confess, I broke my terrified-of-trichinosis diet within my first three hours in the country. Tomek’s parents were in town visiting, and Joanna or Tomek’s mom (I never caught exactly which one, I think it was Joanna, though they said Tomek’s mom also cooked very well) had made gałąbki. Now, I love gałąbki, but I never got to eat real Polish gałąbki on my mission, so that was tempting, then Joanna and Tomek thought my hesitation was unfounded because they’ve never gotten sick from the meat. So I gave in. But Sunday, at breakfast, I did refrain from ham, so I’m not entirely unprincipled.

I hung around at Joanna’s and Tomek’s for a couple hours. Tomek practiced his English with me, which is quite good, and Joanna and I talked a lot about English verbs and their conjugations. Joanna was fascinated by my vowels ("Reng, reng, reng?" "No. Ring, rang, rung."). It was wonderful to talk to her without worrying about her progress as an investigator or about keeping the appointment under an hour. We talked honestly about religion, a little bit, like we did when I was a missionary, but now just as friends. It was wonderful.

The next day at church, I got to see several of the missionaries who taught me when I volunteered in the MTC, and there was one missionary I knew from when I was in Warsaw. He’s a great kid. It was really weird to see him so fluent in Polish, because he hadn’t been here long when I was here. And he’s a zone leader now. I almost felt like someone who reaches old age and begins to revert to childhood. I’m so much older than him, as a missionary, but also younger, in a way, because my mission stopped short.

That afternoon I went back to Joanna’s, and they cooked chicken so I wouldn’t have to eat the gałąbki. All seven of us ate dinner in that tiny kitchen, and I sat next to Tomek’s parents and tried to describe to them taco soup. We also talked about green and yellow beans. My vocabulary makes for riveting dialogue.

That afternoon, I went with Joanna to Mass, and I'm really glad I did. Granted, the only words I understood were "announcement" and "God" (it was echoey!), but we got to sit in the organ loft because Joanna is friends with the Nun-organist. Joanna and another woman sang a little bit, and it was eerie and beautiful, with their high clear voices echoing around the stone-and-concrete church.

I also think it helped me understand Joanna, to see her participating. I think if I had gone to Mass with her as a missionary, it would have totally changed my ideas about how to talk with her. At any rate, now I feel like we're better friends, and I'm happy for it.

And that brings us to the end of my first weekend. The next morning, I flew to Norway, but I think I'll leave that for another post. I've probably drowned you in details already.